Saturday, 26 January 2008

Suharto: As He Lays Dying

Singaporean senior minister Lee Kuan Yew (left) and former Indonesian dictator Suharto after a meeting in February 2006. (Photo: Dewira / AFP-Getty Images)

Andre Vltchek
Jakarta, Indonesia
January 25, 2008

It is 4 p.m., Jan. 13, 2008. The main entrance to Pertamina Hospital in South Jakarta is besieged by dozens of journalists. Almost all of them are local, as Indonesia doesn't attract international media conglomerates, unless there is a deadly landslide, tsunami, or airplane crash. Some reporters are placing the lenses of video and photo cameras against the glass of the hospital entrance, hoping to spot at least some action.

But there is hardly any detectable movement inside. Gen. Suharto, the 86-year old former military dictator who ruled Indonesia for more than three decades, is lying somewhere deep inside this unattractive concrete structure, dying or more precisely in a "very critical condition" after almost all organ functions failed, as his doctor told a news conference. He was rushed to the hospital nine days earlier suffering from anemia and low blood pressure due to heart, lung, and kidney problems.

There is no end to the flow of dignitaries offering support or early condolences to his family.
Today arrived the stone-faced and tight-lipped former Singaporean Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Suharto's close friend, contemporary, and fellow anti-Communist crusader. Lee, who refused to answer questions of Indonesian journalists, later loosened up to his countrymen, offering his sentiments to Channel News Asia and other Singaporean media: "I feel sad to see a very old friend with whom I had worked closely over the last 30 years not really getting the honors that he deserves. Yes, there was corruption. Yes, he gave favors to his family and his friends. But there was real growth and real progress," Lee was quoted as saying.

Nine years after Suharto stepped down, Indonesia remains one of the world's most corrupt nations. According to Berlin-based Transparency International, it occupies 143rd place out of 180 countries ranked, tied with Gambia, Russia, and Togo (The 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index).

According to the United Nations and the World Bank, there was much more than just average corruption and nepotism during and after Suharto's reign: Suharto tops the list of embezzlers with an estimated $15-35 billion, followed by former Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos, former president of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) Mobutu Sese Seko, and Sani Abacha of Nigeria. An impressive achievement considering that Suharto's salary in 1999—the year he was forced to resign after massive demonstrations that shook Jakarta—was only $1,764 a month. Critics say that Suharto and his family actually amassed more than $45 billion, even more than concluded by both the United Nations and the World Bank. The family is said to control about 36,000 square kilometers of real estate in Indonesia, including 100,000 square meters of prime office space in Jakarta, and nearly 40 percent of the land in East Timor. More than $73 billion is said to have passed through the family's hands during Suharto's 32-year rule.

But even to allude to such information can still be illegal in Indonesia. The United Nations and World Bank listing arrived just one week after Indonesia's Supreme Court ordered Time Magazine to pay $106 million in damages to the former dictator for defaming him in a 1999 article that accused Suharto and his relatives of amassing billions of dollars during his regime.
Offers made by international organizations to the Indonesian government—to help to identify, freeze, and repatriate money from accounts held by Suharto's family abroad—were spurned and very rarely discussed by the media.

Suharto was charged with embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars of state funds, but the government subsequently dropped the case on grounds of the dictator's poor health. In 2007, state prosecutors filed a civil suit seeking a total of $440 million of state funds and a further $1 billion in damages for the alleged misuse of money held by one of Suharto's charitable foundations. But President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who had risen as a general under the Suharto regime, instructed Attorney General Hendarman Supandji to seek an out-of-court settlement of the civil case with the Suharto family, as the former dictator was fighting for his life in Pertamina Hospital.

Like almost all mainstream Indonesian politicians, Yudhoyono refused to criticize Suharto openly. "Pak Harto [Father Harto] was a leader of this nation. His contributions to this nation are not small. As a human being, however, like other people, Pak Harto has weaknesses and mistakes," he told the press, referring to Suharto by his endearing name.

The Jakarta Post, the pro-establishment English-language daily newspaper, on Jan. 12, captioned its front page photos: "In Their Prayers: Vice President Jusuf Kalla … visits former President Suharto at Pertamina Hospital in South Jakarta on Friday. Suciwati…, the widow of human rights advocate Munir Said Thalib, and relatives of other victims of human rights violations place flowers in the lobby of Pertamina Hospital on Friday. They said they would continue with their legal battles against former President Suharto for human rights crimes that occurred during his rule. All the visitors said they were praying for Suharto."

What The Jakarta Post "forgot" to mention was that many human rights activists, as reported by the Indonesian-language daily Kompas, wished for Suharto's recovery so that he could stand trial.

Garda Sembiring, head of P.E.C. (People's Empowerment Consortium)—the Indonesia N.G.O. that tries to unveil human rights crimes, including mass murder cases that took place during 1965 military coup—was himself a prisoner of conscience during the Suharto era. In a phone interview, he expressed outrage at the present situation: "Everybody is now talking about Suharto's illness. I am in shock! Political elites are turning the situation into a political drama.

They have a motive: they want the Indonesian people to forget the past. And me personally? Why should I forgive him? I'd love to see him recover, so he could be brought to justice. That's why it would be better for him and for all of us if he survives."

Attempts to try Suharto on charges of genocide have failed not because of his failing health but above all because of the unwillingness of the post-1999 political establishment to openly deal with the past. Indonesia experienced no profound political change in the wake of Suharto's ouster. The country has been ruled by the same business and military elites, with the exception of the brief presidency of Abdurrahman Wahid, who was forced out of power when he sought to separate religion from the state, apologize to the victims of the1965 massacres, and introduce social changes in Indonesia's market-driven system.

Human rights organizations as well as almost all leading historians are accusing Suharto of playing a key role in the 1965 United States-supported military coup designed to sideline nationalist President Sukarno and destroy the Communist Party of Indonesia (P.K.I.), at that time the third largest communist party in the world.

On the night of Sept. 30/Oct. 1, 1965, a group of Sukarno's personal guards kidnapped and murdered six of the right-wing anti-Communist generals. Sukarno's guards claimed that they were trying to stop a C.I.A.-backed military coup, which was planned to remove Sukarno from power on "Army Day." Suharto joined surviving right wing Gen. Abdul Haris Nasution to spearhead a propaganda campaign against the P.K.I. and Sukarno's loyalists.

What followed was a military takeover and a months long orgy of terror, the mass murder of P.K.I. members, citizens of Chinese origin, left-leaning men and women, intellectuals, artists, and anyone who was denounced by neighbors or foes. Massacres were mainly performed by the military and by the right-wing religious groups who went on a rampage against "atheists." Between 500,000 and 3 million people vanished in several months, making the Indonesian killing fields some of the most intensive in world history.

The United States supported the coup and the C.I.A. supplied Suharto and his allies with a list of 10,000 suspected communists. A subsequent C.I.A. study of the events concluded, "In terms of the numbers killed, the anti-P.K.I. massacres in Indonesia rank as one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century" (George McT. Kahin and Audrey R. Kahin, "Subversion as Foreign Policy: The Secret Eisenhower and Dulles Debacle in Indonesia." New York: The New Press, 1995).

Political dissent was destroyed, so were the trade unions. Indonesia became "open for business," mainly for multinational mining and oil companies willing to take advantage of a scared and docile work force and prepared to pay undisclosed amounts in bribes in exchange for access to the country's abundant raw materials.

Thousands of teachers were murdered. Artists were silenced, film studios closed down. Places where intellectuals of different races used to mingle were destroyed and replaced by the anonymous concrete walls of shopping malls and parking lots. Books were burned, including those of Southeast Asia's greatest novelist, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, who became a long-term prisoner of conscience in Buru concentration camp. Pramoedya, until his death in 2006, never forgave Suharto. But not for his personal suffering, rather for "having no culture; for turning Indonesia into a market; for destroying Sukarno's spirit of enthusiasm."

Indonesia after 1965 was experiencing its "Year Zero," like Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. It closed itself to the world for several years, until those who were targeted were rounded up and slaughtered. According to eyewitnesses, the Brantas River in East Java, as well as others throughout the archipelago, was clogged with corpses and red with blood.

The West did not protest. Suharto was viewed as an ally by the United States, Britain, Australia, and other nations who were delighted to have the leader of Indonesia a free-marketer and an ally in the Cold War rather than the populist and non-aligned movement proponent, Sukarno.

Indonesia is an enormous archipelago. It was easy to suppress information, to keep its people in oblivion, to bombard them with propaganda, to isolate them from the rest of the world. No films but Hollywood and local production, with some syrupy soap from all over the world. No serious topics. Only pop, outdated music. The Chinese language was banned, and so were words like "atheism" and "class." For the rest of the world that was barred from learning about the tragedy of 1965-66, it was easy to believe the mass media, which hailed Suharto as an ally and statesman. It was the time of the Cold War and the major American preoccupation was Vietnam.

When the dust settled, bodies buried, washed away, or decomposed, Indonesia opened up again: for business and tourism. The Indonesian people, for the most part, were terrorized into silence, with no memory and no desires except to move rhythmically to the latest pop tunes and prayers, close to starvation but grinning as ordered, with no complex thoughts and questions; lobotomized.

And Suharto, a man now fighting for his life, was in charge.

Then came East Timor. In 1975, Suharto sent troops to the newly independent nation that had long suffered from Portuguese colonial neglect—a country that finally won independence and sought to adopt a social (not Communist) course. What followed was a massacre not unlike the one in 1965 (and performed by many familiar faces). Two hundred thousand people—one third of the entire nation—vanished. It seemed that Indonesia was determined to break the record for brutality. The Cold War again played into Suharto's hands. He bombastically justified the invasion of the defenseless little nation—"We will not tolerate Cuba next to our shores"—and received applause and a green light once again, from the United States, Australia, and others. Then came Aceh, Papua, and "trans-migration."

Suharto may have embezzled more money than any other leader in modern history, turning the economy into his private checking account. But he also may be a man responsible for more deaths than any other dictator since World War II.

"I am very disappointed with S. B. Y. [President Yudhoyono] and the attorney general," says Ditasari, leader of the only progressive opposition party in Indonesia—Papernas—for this article. "Statements made by both of them make no sense. We shouldn't hesitate to go on with the legal process, despite Suharto's illness. But the government is scared of those who support Suharto."
As he is dying, Suharto continues to hold the entire country hostage. With fear and opportunism, business and political leaders are goose-stepping in front of his bed. In central Java, country folks say that he sold his soul to black magic, which is why he cannot depart from this world.

Everybody seems to be petrified about saying anything that might be deemed inappropriate or offensive.

Behind the windows of the hospital, the decaying city is covered by smog. Despite official statistics, more than half of Indonesians live in misery (even the World Bank classifies 49 percent of Indonesians as poor). Behind the windows lies an enormous, ruined, uncompetitive, and uneducated country, suffering from decades of fear that has left a legacy of blind obedience and, finally, of intellectual stagnation.

Tens of millions of Indonesians can still hear the cries of terror of those who were hacked and beaten to death, decades ago. But they have learned to doubt their own eyes and ears. They have learned to obey.

Suharto may die a free man, surrounded by elites, by servile compliments. But surely even he will not be able to avoid some memories, even in a coma. It is not easy to forget a million people, a million deaths. Standing next to each other, they can fill enormous space and their screams, coming in unison, can break the walls of any hospital—even a private one. And once these screams and cries reach him, he will know that he departs a criminal.

Telekom Malaysia eyes Laos, Myanmar assets

Saturday January 26 2008

(Recasts with details, background)
By Jennifer Tan

SINGAPORE, Jan 26 (Reuters) - Telekom Malaysia's mobile arm, TM International, is eyeing mobile assets in Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, and will invest $100 million in Cambodia in the next two years to build its networks, the unit's chief said on Saturday.

Chief Executive Yusof Annuar Yaacob also expected TM International's revenues to grow up to 20 percent in the next three years.

"We're investing about $100 million in Cambodia over the next 18 to 24 months, and we're looking at a transaction in Laos at the same time -- we're talking to the government about taking over one of their mobile operations," Yusof told Reuters in an interview.

"As for Myanmar, which is the El Dorado of Asian telecoms, we're quite keen to do something there too -- we've been engaging with the government there."

The company is also keen on Vietnam and will wait for an opportunity to open up, he said.
"We've been engaged with the respective telecom companies for a couple of years now," he said, pointing out that MobiFone, Vietnam's second-largest operator, has been working to select a foreign adviser for an initial public offering.

A MobiFone executive said in December that the company's IPO would be delayed till May or June this year.

"It's also a partnership issue. Despite the war, they like American companies, but for an American company to come in the door, it might not be politically acceptable, so it might be an idea for us to partner one of these guys to increase our chances of taking a stake," Yusof said, adding that possible partners included AT&T Inc and Vodafone Group plc

Relations between Vietnam and the United States have warmed recently, culminating in the first visit to Washington last June by a Vietnamese head of state since the 10-year Vietnam War ended in 1975.


Last September, state-controlled Telekom said it would spin off its mobile business into a separately listed firm, TM International, to help unlock the value of its fastest-growing operations, separating it from its more staid fixed-line and broadband units.

TM International will house its domestic Celcom mobile unit and operations in nine other countries, including India, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Earnings growth at Telekom, Malaysia's fifth-largest firm by market value, has mainly been driven by revenue from Celcom and its 67 percent-owned Indonesian mobile unit, Excelcomindo Pratama Tbk

Looking ahead, Yusof said he expected TM International's revenues to grow above 20 percent, but this figure would fall when combined with Celcom's slower growth rates. Celcom accounts for about half the group's revenues.

"The numbers are between mid- to high-teens (in percentage terms) for the blended organisation, over the next three years," he added.

When Telekom decided to spin off TM International, there was a rush of interest from operators such as Vodafone, Emirates Telecommunications Corp (Etisalat), Orange and China Mobile, because there were so few attractive telecom assets left in Asia, Yusof said.

"But so far we have not made a decision on two things: one, whether we will go ahead with that strategic partnership, or two, when that will happen. Everybody is engaging us regularly."

He added that if a decision was made on the sale of a stake to a foreign investor, the size would be at least 20 percent.

"But the key is not what that number is, but what they would bring to us -- do we want somebody who comes with an asset that makes sense?"

The listing of TM International would be finalised in early or middle of the second quarter, ahead of the earlier target of end-June, Yusof added.

TM International would not need to raise capital following the spin-off, but if it did, it would raise between $300-$700 million, smaller than earlier projections of $1 billion, he said.

(Editing by Ramthan Hussain)

Volunteer in Kampot, Cambodia

Southeast Asia, Travel and Photography
Cambodia is almost certainly the best place in Southeast Asia to be a volunteer. Hardly a day passes without another article about an opportunity to help, mostly in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, but the need also extends to villages elsewhere, such as the sleepy port town of Kampot, pictured above.

Welcome to Kampot Interact

Want to volunteer or enjoy a unique cultural experience in Cambodia?Look no further than beautiful, laid back Kampot.

Kampot is a small, friendly town on the Tuk Chhou River south of Phnom Penh, 5km inland from the sea. Fishing and farming are the main activities.

Kampot offers a variety of volunteer opportunities that would welcome your support.

Kampot Interact, a self funded information centre helps to link visitors with local projects.

They include helping to teach English to local children and young adults, visit the local orphanage and much more.

Every 3-4 months, the Kampot Dar-laing newsletter is published with information and updates on volunteer projects, community enterprises and local cultural events.

There are also many tourist attractions and tours on offer in and around Kampot, including Bokor National Park, and nearby Rabbit Island. If you are interested in coming to Kampot and may have a few hours, days, or months to volunteer, we'd love to hear from you.

Don’t look back in Angkor

Wat an adventure: A biker takes a break by the Kbal Spean river in Cambodia

Friday, January 25, 2008

Come on Jules, let's hit the road,' shout my new-found companions Mike and Dan, who are just back from a test spin on their own motorcycles.

The two boys and their bikes are totally covered in mud and I suspect, as I try to kick-start my Honda XR250, that I will be soon, given the road ahead is a barely passable series of potholed broken tracks.

Welcome to motorbiking Cambodia style, where the boys and I have decided, for a few days at least, to eschew the relatively new luxury hotels and the well-trod Angkor Wat by heading into the far north of the country on the trail of the once-fearsome Khmer Rouge.

To do so, we've roped in the expertise of Cambodia Expeditions and legendary local biker and tour guide Zeman See.

He can hire you a bike, take you on a traditional itinerary or totally customise a tour.

And, while in this age of guidebooks, global positioning systems and Google Maps you could probably navigate the country by just hiring a bike on the cheap, it's hard to find dirt bikes powerful enough to take on the rough roads.

Ancient carvingsLater, rather too many bum-numbing hours out of the capital Phnom Penh, we pull up in a small village near Kbal Spean – an Angkor-era site in the Kulen Hills that were one of the last strongholds of the Khmer Rouge.

As the dust cloud around us settles, it reveals a curious crowd from which emerges a small girl who speaks broken English. She leads us across makeshift ladders and, by means of a Tarzan-style vine, to the site by the side of the Kbal Spean river.

Here, as the muddy brown water swirls around, we see why it is also called the Valley of 1,000 Lingas (symbols of the Hindu god Shiva): the riverbed and surrounding rocks are covered in ancient carvings.

Many have a phallic theme and were designed to bring fertility to land downstream.

Our next stop is Preah Khan, a temple hidden in thick jungle. On full throttle, we hit the main logging highway north to make for the original Angkorian road that runs east to west through the heart of the country.

I say road, but it's the rainy season and the potholes have already turned into motorcycle-swallowing craters. This, combined with deep sand, several river crossings and no clear route, make it a challenging ride.

To make matters worse, the guys have raced on ahead, I've run out of water and my only food supply is two roasted and MSG-coated tarantula spiders that I'd picked up as a joke in the village of Skuon.

As the Sun begins to set, I'm forced to munch on one and find the legs taste a little like ginger biscuits.

Monuments to faithBy nightfall, I catch up with the boys at Preah Khan just as they set up camp and, as I decide to explore the temple by torchlight, I keep to the main pathway. As a permanent and deadly echo of the civil war, landmines still dot the area causing hundreds of casualties each year.

At first light, we head upland to Preah Vihear – a mountain top temple perched on the border with Thailand.

Reaching its stone walls, I discover the 1037AD site, built 100 years before Angkor Wat, also boasts exquisite Buddhist and Hindu carvings along with a view that stretches far across Khmer country.
Our final stop is Anglong Veng, where Pol Pot died in April 1998. The Cambodian government plans to turn the site into a massive macabre tourist attraction using former Khmer Rouge soldiers as personal guides but, while they speculate as to its tourism worth, the region continues to struggle under crushing poverty.

Back in Phnom Penh, I reflect on the stone temples that remain defiant amid the jungle shadows of Pol Pot's Killing Fields.

As monuments of faith and beauty, they have survived the worst of human nature and the vagaries of Mother Nature. With any luck, the better side of both will preserve these unique sites for another 1,000 years.

Or at least until motorbike seats are made more comfortable and Cambodian roads more passable. Direct flights to Phnom Penh from London with Korean Air and cost from £613.

For bike tours, visit From $150 (£77) per person per day,including bike hire and accommodation. Make sure your insurance covers

Thailand downplays row over Preah Vihear

Preah Vihear is on a remarkable cliff-top location which is geographically in Thailand, but legally belongs to Cambodia.


In a bid to downplay conflicts surrounding the Preah Vihear temple on the Thai-Cambodian border, Defence Minister Boonrawd Somtas said Thailand had decided not to protest against Cam-bodia's unilateral move to have the ancient temple ruins listed as a World Heritage site.

The minister said it was a misunderstanding on the part of defence spokesman Pichasanu Putchakarn and his statement was personal, not the resolution of the Defence Council.

''It is not a resolution of the Defence Council. It was just an internal meeting of agencies concerned to assess the situation. It was not intended to be announced and the information [given by the defence spokesman] was incorrect and included personal views,'' Gen Boonrawd said yesterday.

He was referring to a statement by Lt-Gen Pichasanu that Thailand was risking the loss of the disputed areas should Cambodia get the ancient temple listed as a World Heritage site without Thai participation, and that the government should protest and condemn the neighbouring country for the move.

Gen Boonrawd also tried to tone down the defence spokesman's remark that Cambodia attached a ''false'' map to claim the disputed areas with its World Heritage application. That referred to the use of a ''different'' map to claim the disputed areas, the defence minister explained.

Lt-Gen Pichasanu said the Defence Council had not reached a resolution, but it had held a discussion to prepare to take the right position.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat said Cambodia's Preah Vihear move had nothing to do with the feared loss of Thai territory.

''Whether Preah Vihear will be listed as a heritage site or not is a matter for the World Heritage Committee (WHC). It will not involve the loss of Thai territory,'' he said.

Thailand has discovered that the information or map that the Cambodian side has proposed to the WHC includes the areas in dispute. Thailand has protested as the border demarcation is not concluded and Thailand's rights to the areas in question have been recognised, he said.

The spokesman said a Thai representative who joined an international committee's trip to Cambodia on Jan 11-12 had already complained about the territorial issue with the Cambodian authorities.

Meanwhile, Cambodian Defence Minister Tea Bahn said he already received an explanation from Lt-Gen Niphat Thonglek, the Thai border affairs director-general, that the matter was a misunderstanding.

Gen Tea Bahn said although Cambodia was building a walkway to Preah Vihear on its soil, the construction would not affect Thai territory.

''There is a joint committee working on border demarcation. But its work is quite sluggish,'' he said.

Thanks for believing in us, teacher

Electric News
By Chong Zi Liang
January 26, 2008

AS secondary school student Gabriel Tay, 18, awaited his O-level results yesterday, confidence was not on his side.

After all, it was only on his second try that he had managed to score nine points for the N levels, barely making it into Sec 5.

It also didn't help that media reports had been focusing recently on the slim chances poorly performing N-level students had of getting into the polytechnics.

Points are scored on an aggregate system, with As getting 1 and 2 points, Bs 3 and 4 and so on.
N-level students need an aggregate score of 10 points or less for their three best subjects in order to take the O levels.

They must also pass English.

Yesterday, it was English that was worrying Gabriel the most.

'I know my English is not strong, all I could do was try my best,' he said shortly before receiving his results.

But his fears, and those of many of his school mates in his situation, were unfounded.


When he opened his result slip, Gabriel realised he had done well enough for a place in a polytechnic.

He also passed English, getting a total of 27 points for six subjects.

And he was not alone in his Sec 5 cohort at St Gabriel's Secondary.

Only two students who had scored between eight and 10 points during the N levels - considered a borderline score for entrance into Sec 5 - failed to make the cut for a polytechnic.

A whopping 98 per cent made it, well above the national average of 60 per cent.

So what makes a school like St Gabriel's different? The key to its success lies in its network of caring teachers, said vice-principal Jackie Cheng.

'The Sec 5N classes are the pride and joy of the school,' said Miss Cheng, who had taught many Sec 5 classes herself prior to becoming vice-principal.

And that special bond between teachers and pupils showed. Every student was quick to thank their teachers for not giving up on them, despite their mediocre N-level results just a year ago.

'Even when my teacher handed me my N-Level result slip last year, he encouraged me to continue working hard,' said Nicholas Chow, 18, who had scored nine points at that time.

'In this school, no teacher has ever told me I cannot make it,' added Nicholas, who is now eligible for a polytechnic education.

Sec 5 students from Mrs Chang Chin Ngan's form class said that she was a huge source of motivation for them.

When told about this, Mrs Chang was modest about her role in her students' success.

'It's true that nine and 10 pointers have to work hard to get into poly,' she said.

'So I used examples of formers students who did well despite poor N-level results to show them it could be done.'

Another student who thanked the school for turning what he called a rebellious lifestyle around was Avery Wong, 18.

'I was the rebel type and out to prove I was right,' he said. 'But after I was retained, I became more responsible and started to connect well with the teachers.'

And St Gabriel's was not the only school whose weaker students did well.

Over at West Spring Secondary School, Samuel Koh and Shah Izwah, both 17, were also celebrating their successes in qualifying for the polytechnics.

But, more than that, they were part of a group who proved naysayers wrong, having scored nine and 10 respectively one year ago in the N-levels.

Samuel recalled how a study trip to Cambodia changed him.

'My teacher pointed out how poor the Cambodians were, but they still studied so hard,' he said. 'That really inspired me.'

Izwah paid tribute to his Chemistry teacher, Mr Koh Tse Hong, a teacher who was 'powerful in getting our attention and giving us encouragement'.


Mr Koh emphasised a good teacher-student relationship was the secret behind improving students' academic performance.

Back in St Gabriel's Secondary, the rapport between its vice-principal and Gabriel was evident.

As MissCheng reminded him not to forget his teachers, Gabriel assured her he would not, saying it was she who taught him the virtue of being grateful in the first place.

He also promised to return to StGabriel's to visit the teachers who have helped him in his six-year journey to the O Levels.

One teacher in particular is Mrs Cheng, his math teacher, who spent many an evening poring over textbooks with him.

'She is definitely someone who I will come back and visit,' he said.

Cambodian study hints at subclinical H5N1 cases

Jan 25, 2008 (CIDRAP News) – A recent study in Cambodia suggests that some human cases of infection with the H5N1 avian influenza virus escape detection because symptoms are mild or absent, according to a report from an international avian flu conference this week in Bangkok.

The meeting drew about 500 experts from 40 countries to discuss research and ideas on a wide range of topics. Some other topics discussed included the idea of stockpiling vaccine adjuvants to prepare for a pandemic, the use of engineered human antibodies as a defense against the H5N1 virus, and the high H5N1 case-fatality rate in Indonesia.

Cambodian studyThe Cambodian researchers tested 674 people in two villages who were exposed to the virus and found that seven of them, all between the ages of 4 and 18, had antibodies signaling previous infection, according to a Jan 24 Bloomberg News report.

The finding contrasts with previous serologic studies of people in areas affected by H5N1 outbreaks. A review published Jan 16 in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) said the few serologic studies since 2003 of people with potential exposure to H5N1 suggest that asymptomatic or mild cases are rare. The studies involved people living with backyard poultry, workers in live-bird markets, and healthcare workers.

More cases of mild disease might suggest that the virus is improving its ability to spread among humans, while becoming less virulent. Based on the current global count of 353 cases with 221 deaths, the case-fatality rate is almost 63%.

The Cambodian researchers, led by Sirenda Vong of the Pasteur Institute of Cambodia in Phnom Penh, conducted their study in early 2006, according to the Bloomberg story. The researchers asked villagers about their exposure to poultry and tested their blood for antibodies to H5N1.

The median age of the seven people who had antibodies was 12 years, compared with 27 years for those who had no antibodies, the story said.

Vong and colleagues had conducted a similar study of 351 Cambodian villagers in 2005 and found that none had antibodies to the virus. The study was published in Emerging Infectious Diseases in 2006.

Malik Peiris, a microbiology professor at the University of Hong Kong, told Bloomberg that the latest study supports findings from the 1997 H5N1 outbreak in Hong Kong, in which human cases were first reported. The virus infected 18 people, 6 of whom died. Peiris said children were less severely affected than adults and had a better survival rate, Bloomberg reported.

"Most of the children diagnosed in Hong Kong in 1997 had a very mild course of infection; they basically had a mild flu-like illness and they recovered," Peiris was quoted as saying. "I don't think there is any evidence to say the situation has changed."

The recent NEJM review said H5N1 infections involving febrile upper respiratory illnesses without pneumonia in children have been reported more often since 2005, but early antiviral treatment may account for this.

Stockpiling of adjuvantsAnother topic raised at the meeting was the idea of separately stockpiling adjuvants, immune-boosting chemicals that enable vaccine producers to reduce the dose of antigen in a vaccine without reducing immune response. Global health officials, including those at the World Health Organization (WHO), hope this dose-sparing approach could dramatically increase the world supply of pandemic vaccine.

Albert Osterhaus, a virologist at Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands who spoke at the conference on Jan 23, said stockpiling adjuvants would be useful if the pandemic strain turned out to be a subtype other than H5N1, according to a Jan 23 Reuters report.

"There's a lot of discussion to vaccinate people against H5N1 with adjuvanted vaccines," Osterhaus said. "We might do that, but it's very expensive and it might well be that the pandemic outbreak may not be caused by H5N1 but by H7, H9, or H2 [viruses]."

Osterhaus said adjuvants should be stockpiled separately from antigens, Reuters reported. "Adjuvants can be stockpiled and H5 antigen as well," he said. "So if the pandemic is going to be H5N1, you just mix them and you get a vaccine. If not, you rapidly produce the antigen and add it together with the adjuvant."

Currently, the United States has no licensed influenza vaccines that contain adjuvants, according to a previous CIDRAP News report. However, a few studies of influenza vaccines with alum-based adjuvants have shown acceptable protection levels. In August, researchers working on a GlaxoSmithKline vaccine reported positive results for a split-virus vaccine combined with a proprietary oil-and-water adjuvant. A month later, Sanofi Pasteur reported promising results for its inactivated vaccine paired with its own adjuvant.

Using engineered antibodiesIn other developments, a researcher from Crucell, a Dutch biotechnology company, reported at the conference today that engineered human monoclonal antibodies to the H5N1 virus protected mice from several strains of the virus, according to a Reuters report.

Crucell created the human antibodies by mixing antibody fragments taken from nine blood donors with antigens from two H5N1 strains found in Vietnam and Indonesia, Reuters reported.

Mark Throsby, project director for antibody discovery at Crucell, told the conference that in vitro studies showed that one line of the engineered antibodies neutralized several strains of the H5N1 virus, including strains isolated in Hong Kong in 1997, Indonesia in 2005, and Vietnam in 2003, Reuters reported.

In the animal studies, he said, researchers injected the engineered antibodies into mice that had been given normally lethal doses of H5N1 virus 3 days earlier. "We were able to protect all the animals," Throsby was quoted as saying. "It reduced their disease and they became well again."

Drug resistance in Indonesia?Yesterday Menno de Jong, a virologist at an Oxford University clinical research unit in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, spoke on the topic of drug failure in the treatment of patients who have H5N1 infections. The case-fatality rate for the disease in Indonesia is especially high—82%, compared with about 63% overall, based on WHO figures.

De Jong told the conference that researchers are conducting studies to see if H5N1 patients in places like Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam require higher doses of antiviral medications, Reuters reported yesterday.

"It could be they are treated later, or the virus is different, more virulent," de Jong told a Reuters reporter. "There are many maybes, including differences in the susceptibility of the virus."

He told Reuters that the H5N1 viruses in Indonesia appear less susceptible to osteltamivir, the antiviral recommended as first-line treatment for H5N1 infections. "It's not a resistant virus, it's just that a bit more drug [may be] needed to inhibit these [H5N1] clade 2 viruses," he said.

De Jong was a member of the WHO expert panel that wrote the recent review in the NEJM on human H5N1 cases. In line with de Jong's observations at the Bangkok meeting, that article said clade 1 viruses appear to be 15 to 30 times more susceptible to oseltamivir than clade 2 viruses from Turkey and Indonesia. However, the panel wrote that the clinical relevance of this difference in oseltamivir susceptibility "remains to be determined."

Cambodia Warns UN to Change Rights Policy

By Chun Sakada,
VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
25 January 2008

Audio in Khmer - Listen (MP3)

Top officials Friday warned the UN Human Rights Commission’s Cambodia office to be more cooperative with the ruling government, following several visits of a UN envoy highly critical of the government’s rights commitment.

“We have had a Memorandum of Understanding with this office, and we’ll see if we need to renew the MOU when it expires,” Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said. “But our request is that the representative office of the Human Rights Commission implement what is in the MOU, and not more than that, just as what it is.”

UN special envoy Yash Ghai said following a visit in December that Cambodia’s rights abuses, weak judiciary and increasing land thefts could cause the populace to “rise up” against the government.

His visit was not officially recognized, and he met instead with rural villagers, human rights groups and political parties. His remarks angered the government, including Prime Minsiter Hun Sen, who has in the past sought Ghai’s removal.

The UN rights office has said it will adjust work procedures to “sit with the government and get the problems solved,” government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said. “Now we just wait and see if they can make it.”

“But on the whole we can shut down [the rights office] any time regardless of whether they are right or wrong,” he said.

Preah Vihear Temple must be benefit to both - Cambodia and Thai ?

The lawyers defending Cambodia at The Hague International Court of Justice in 1962 (Photo:

The Hague International Court of Justice which handed the ownership of Preah Vihear Temple to Cambodia (Photo:

Ranariddh's public appearance

Cambodia's Prince Norodom Ranariddh, right, talks to journalists at Pertamina hospital, where former Indonesian dictator Suharto is recovering, in Jakarta, Indonesia, Friday, Jan. 25, 2008. Doctors treating Suharto said Friday he could be released from intensive care within a couple days after breathing on his own and beating back a blood infection.(AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim )

Cambodia Warns UN to Change Rights Policy

By Chun Sakada,
VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
25 January 2008

Audio in Khmer - Listen (MP3)

Top officials Friday warned the UN Human Rights Commission’s Cambodia office to be more cooperative with the ruling government, following several visits of a UN envoy highly critical of the government’s rights commitment.

“We have had a Memorandum of Understanding with this office, and we’ll see if we need to renew the MOU when it expires,” Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said. “But our request is that the representative office of the Human Rights Commission implement what is in the MOU, and not more than that, just as what it is.”

UN special envoy Yash Ghai said following a visit in December that Cambodia’s rights abuses, weak judiciary and increasing land thefts could cause the populace to “rise up” against the government.

His visit was not officially recognized, and he met instead with rural villagers, human rights groups and political parties. His remarks angered the government, including Prime Minsiter Hun Sen, who has in the past sought Ghai’s removal.

The UN rights office has said it will adjust work procedures to “sit with the government and get the problems solved,” government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said. “Now we just wait and see if they can make it.”

“But on the whole we can shut down [the rights office] any time regardless of whether they are right or wrong,” he said.

Tire Bursts as Plane Carrying MPs Lands

By Heng Reaksmey,
VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
25 January 2008

Audio in Khmer - Listen (MP3)

The rear tire of a Thai Airways flight burst Friday, as the plane, which was carrying a delegation of parliamentarians, landed in Phnom Penh, officials said.

Among the 147 passengers and 13 crew members were National Assembly President Heng Samrin and 30 more parliamentarians.

The delegation was returning from an official trip to New Zealand and had transited through Bangkok, the Associated Press reported.

The cause of the burst tire was not immediately known.

Thai Comments Over Temple ‘Stupid,’ FM Says

By Mean Veasna,
VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
25 January 2008

Audio in Khmer - Listen (MP3)

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong condemned as “stupid” comments made by a Thai official Friday over a disputed border temple in the north.

Preah Vihear temple, known to the Thais as Khao Phra Viharn, has become controversial in the unmarked border area, claimed by both Thailand and Cambodia.

Thai Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Pichasanu Putchakarn told the Bangkok Post Friday that Cambodia’s recent unilateral request seeking UN World Heritage Site status for the temple could upset relations between the two neighbors.

“Thailand has to think of its national interests. We may protest to the Cambodian government through diplomatic channels and try to explain to other countries that Thailand has tried to cooperate with Cambodia in requesting the World Heritage listing of the sanctuary together,” Pichasanu told the Post.

“That general is stupid, as he does not know anything,” Hor Namhong said Friday, referring to Pichasanu. “Preah Vihear temple belongs to Cambodia. That we want to put it into Unesco’s World Heritage is our right.”

Cambodia had shown a willingness to negotiate with Thailand “several times,” Hor Namhong said. “More Thai experts than the international ones showed up in the negotiation. That is a stupid claim.”

Cambodia and Thailand both have troops stationed at the border near the temple, Pichasanu said.

“If Thailand still objects to Preah Vihear being listed as a World Heritgage Site, that is fine. We’ll still keep going,” said government spokesman Khieu Kanharith. “We have warned Thailand that if it blocks the entry to Preah Vihear from Thailand again, we will block it forever. Then it is Thailand that will totally suffer from the loss.”

Brief News From Cambodia

A Female Student Robbed as Riding Motorbike

A 20-year-old female student was robbed as she was riding her new Honda C-125 motorbike to visit her friend in Sangkat Chba Ampov I. The robber occurred in the afternoon along road No 361, Dermakleou village, Phnom Penh. The victim lost her new motorcycle just bought several days before. Witness said that they saw 2 unidentified men with a handgun following the victim before the thief started.

Donors Commits Fund Nearly 60US$ Million to Cambodia

Donors has committed fund around 57.4US$ million through World Bank to Cambodia to strengthen education sector. The fund will be contributed to Ministry of Education Youth and Sport to enhance education at under-secondary school. Due to Tompang Snang Russei Newsletter, the fund will not be used to increase salary of teacher.

AngKor Wat Temple Pictures Printed on Shoes

Phnom Penh: Foreign affairs ministry’s top officials said on 23 Jan 2008 that they were contacting Vietnamese foreign affairs ministry to investigate the producers who printed Angkor Wat temple pictures on the shoes. Long Visaloa, secretary of state of foreign affairs ministry, said that printing Angkor Wat temple, which is regarded as Khmer Nation Symbol, on the shoes is looking down on Khmer Nation. Vietnamese foreign affairs ministry is doing the investigation on the case, he added. Svay Rieng Province report said that one suspected that the shoes were produced in Thailand before being imported to sell in Vietnam.

An Unknown Man Found Died

Phnom Penh: A construction worker found a corpse of man on the national road 4 near Phnom Penh international airport on 23 Jan 2008 in Prey Tea village, Dang Kor district’s Choam Chao commune. The victim, who is around 30 years old, was knifed many times on his body, and he had disguised himself as woman, keeping his hears long with dying them white. Two knives were left near the victim at the scene. The body was kept at Toul Sophea Khuon pagoda, police said.

March Appealing for Wrong Murderer Released

22 January is the death anniversary of Chea Vichea, leader of Free Trade Union, who was murdered by unidentified perpetrators in 2004. Around 100 attendees from civil society organizations, Union’s members and also SRP leader Sam Rainsy and Human Rights Party’s deputy president Keo Remi in the march to commemorate the death. Sam Rainsy appealed for release of fake killers Born Samnang and Sok Sameoun.

Sokha Hotel to Take Control S’ville Beach

Sokha Hotel Group has announced that they will take over a large chunk of Sihanoukville’s popular O’Chheuteal beach as part of a major new resort they are planning. The new hotel and golf course will include around 54 hectares of beach front. “The government cannot give these contracts to only one company,” Sam Rainsy Party leader Sam Rainsy said. “There must be more open and competitive building process.”

Appeal for Aid to Keep Khmer Literature, Culture

Cambodian people in former Khmer province Surin in Thai land now are carrying Khmer tradition and culture. People living there are still celebrating Buddhism ceremony and conserving Khmer literature. Mr. Thangleoung Buoch Prum, volunteer teacher at Surin, said that Thai authority has recently approved Surin residents to study Khmer literature. Many villagers read Khmer letter fluently. For people who want to contribute for Indigenous Language Education Project contact: Room#1, Chom Surin Bldg, Surin.Fixed Line: 044-520-179

Only Cambodian Royal Member Doing Politics

Cambodian Royal family members are different from Royal family in Thailand and Japan; Cambodian Royal members get in politics but those in Thailand and Japan do not, Prime Minister Hun Sen said at a military headquarter inauguration ceremony. When doing politics, people always get word impact from others. Prince Norodom Ranaride used to say that if he stopped doing politics, he would leave Royal line.

A Youth Robbed in Kien Svay

A youth was robbed by three thieves while he was riding his SL motorbike alone along a road. The victim lost his SL motorcycle in the robbery. Witness said that the thief occurred at around 9:30pm on a point near Prek Eng road in Prek Eng commune, Kien Svay district, Kandal province.

Philippines' Debt Rating Outlook Raised by Moody's

Five-hundred Philippine peso notes are displayed at a currency exchange in Manila on Nov. 6, 2007. Photographer: Nana Buxani/Bloomberg News

By Clarissa Batino and Francisco Alcuaz Jr.

Jan. 25 (Bloomberg) -- The Philippines' debt rating outlook was raised to positive by Moody's Investors Service, which cited the nation's improving economy and a narrowing budget deficit.

The outlook on the nation's 3.8 trillion pesos ($93 billion) of debt was raised from stable, Moody's said today in a statement. Moody's B1 rating on the Philippines is four levels below investment grade, the same as Cambodia, Pakistan and Uruguay, and one level below Indonesia.

The Philippines, experiencing its fastest economic expansion in at least two decades, is scheduled to balance the budget this year, freeing up funds to build roads and schools.

``Improved macroeconomic conditions and fiscal performance are mutually reinforcing each other,'' Moody's Senior Vice President Tom Byrne said in the statement. ``Low inflation has anchored inflationary expectations, despite upward pressure from high international food and oil prices.''

Peso and government bonds rose before the announcement, and will probably extend their gains, said Michael Calleja, vice president of treasury at Bank of the Philippine Islands in Manila. ``Government bonds and the currency will benefit as investors perceive the Philippines to be less risky,'' he said.

The Next Challenge

Moody's cut the Philippines' debt rating by two levels to B1 in Feb. 2005, on concern the government couldn't raise revenue and curb debt. The government approved a value-added tax change later that year, helping slash the budget deficit to 64.8 billion pesos ($1.6 billion) in 2006 from 146.8 billion pesos in 2005. The deficit peaked at 210.7 billion pesos in 2002.

``This is deserved,'' said Edward Teather, an economist at UBS AG in Singapore, though an upgrade of the sovereign rating ``is going to involve a lot of hard work.''

Standard & Poor's and Fitch Ratings have a stable outlook on Philippines' debt rating.

``The next challenge is to further intensify our efforts to improve policy and sustain high growth, lower inflation, a better fiscal position and a stronger financial system,'' Philippine central bank Deputy Governor Diwa Guinigundo said today in an e- mail.

For the rating to improve, the government has to demonstrate ``continued commitment to fiscal consolidation, through a stronger revenue effort, expenditure restraint'' or both, Moody's Byrne said.

A Dream For Darfur: Stop the slaughter

Phnom Penh Post
Issue 17 / 02, January 24 - February 7, 2008

American actress Mia Farrow, known predominantly for her film career involving over 50 films such as Rosemary's Baby and a handful of Woody Allen classics, was in town last week on a campaign to raise awareness about the atrocities that have been on-going in the Darfur region of Sudan in Africa. Her Dream for Darfur campaign has been stopping in places where mass murder has taken place to honor victims and survivors. She spoke to Post publisher & editor-in-chief Michael Hayes about why she was in Cambodia.

Post: Why are you here in Cambodia?
Farrow: We came to Cambodia as it was the last on our list of countries or communities that has experienced genocide or mass atrocities.

We lit a symbolic torch on the Darfur-Chad border several months ago and then took it to Rwanda and there the Rwandan survivors participated and really shaped a ceremony there that was meaningful to that. It was extraordinarily powerful. The US ambassador attended and Congressman Donald Payne, one of our finest, spoke as did the head of the survivors group there. Hundreds of Rwandans were there and they passed the flame from survivor to survivor all the way from the school where a massacre occurred-I think 5,000 people were killed-to a grave site which had been a garbage dump where perhaps a 100,000 died.

We went to Armenia, Sarajevo, Berlin and here we are in Cambodia.

I'll speak for myself. I gave up on governments addressing the issue of genocide. My government, the United Nations and all the nations of the world abandoned the Rwandans, abandoned the people of Sarajevo, abandoned the people of Cambodia in their darkest hours. They were abandoned. And so we were hoping to gather a constituency of... what more powerful civic base could there be in the world then that of the survivors....We wanted to journey into communities that have experienced genocide to gather a civic base to position itself towards ending the on-going genocide in Darfur.

Post: Was this your idea?
Farrow: It wasn't my idea...we conspired to do this. Last March, together with my son, I wrote a piece called "Genocide Olympics" and that sort of triggered a lot of things. Among those things was Dream for Darfur because "Genocide Olympics" seemed a very provocative title and perhaps misrepresented what we really hoped for... The piece "Genocide Olympics" made the link, I think, for the American public between what is happening to the people in Darfur and China's complicity on that-the fact that China is basically underwriting the atrocities in Darfur to the tune of roughly $2 billion a year going into Khartoum's coffers. Some 70 percent of that, according to Human Rights Watch, is used in the expensive business of genocide's unique style-the purchase of Antonov bombers, attack helicopters, the steady flow of arms and ammunition, all of which is used against a civilian population in Darfur. And this for a country that has no self-defense need for any armed force.

Post: How has your experience been here in Phnom Penh? I understand you had some problems this morning.
Farrow: First of all, the people of Phnom Penh have been extraordinarily supportive in all kinds of ways...The trouble we experienced this morning...none of it come from the people themselves. Our intention was to have a ceremony which is again is to light the flame. Each time we say this prayer...It's intended to represent those who perished, all those who were lost but also to celebrate the courage of those who survived, and the commitment that we share for an end to mass atrocities everywhere. So far our flame lighting ceremonies have gone very smoothly and very movingly. The reasons are best known to themselves. Our permission to have this ceremony on the sight of the memorial was revoked. Yesterday we found that out....So we restructured our ceremony to eliminate the flame and make the flame a flower. As we were not allowed on the premises of the genocide museum we would leave our flowers just to honor the victims and the survivors, but then the streets were cordoned off so it was impossible to get anywhere near the genocide museum. ...So, I don't know, there were 60-80 armed police everywhere. So we came with our flowers and we had thought that we would just put them at the feet of the soldiers but Theary [Seng], I mean it is after all her family that was lost here, [she] did not want to put the flowers on the ground, did not want to see them trampled, so we stood there for perhaps 40 minutes while she spoke to the officers, the policemen saying 'Look then, we just want to put our flowers outside the memorial. We were forbidden to go within the memorial but we won't we will leave them at the gate. I don't want flowers to honor my parents left trampled on the ground.'

And then she said 'Could just Mia and I , two women, go? You can escort us if you like to leave our flowers there and we would gather them in a bouquet and take them there.' But all of this was denied and in the end we gathered the flowers-a big handful-and gave them to one of the policeman and we left.

There was a press conference afterward and someone said 'Did you feel you failed?' And Theary most openly said 'No'. And I think all of us shared this, not at all, because it isn't about success or failure. We came to honor the victims and the survivors and that is a matter of the heart and we did that. We did that.

Post: On the bigger picture concerning Darfur, how do you assess whether you are making a difference?
Farrow: We would assess it by whether the people on the ground, in Darfur, are actually experiencing any relief, and they are not. If anything things are worse. So what we know that the UN peace force was deployed but you know that it was reduced from the prescribed number. UNAMID. Just last week, I think, it deployed. But not the 27,000 recommended in previous resolution nor the 26,000 in UN Resolution 1769 but rather some...I don't even think the 9,000 are there yet which is a scant expansion of the UN force of 7,000 that is there, so unsupported and, not their fault, but ineptly. They were under supported in every way and really there was just a change of hats.

The government of Sudan has ...I mean if you look at that UN Resolution 1769, and I looked at three incarnations of it, and you can see where some of its sharpest teeth were removed, at leaving the composition and capabilities in the hands of the government of Sudan. And they have used that to make sure that this force is not as effective as it could be. And you have heard Jean-Marie Vahannah (sp?) say 'Do we send in a force that is not capable even of protecting itself, let alone the people?'

Post: So the original numbers of 26,000, were those not offered by UN member states or did Sudan say no?
Farrow: They were offered...It was in the resolution that said it should be a predominantly African [operation]...The government of Sudan has insisted that it be exclusively African. And that of course limited the numbers. Countries that have volunteered-Sweden, Norway, others-have been refused, denied access. So what we're really left with...I think the only countries that are in are Egypt, perhaps Pakistan. I'm not sure. I'm not on steady ground here but only two countries other than African countries were accepted. But I don't think the people of Darfur have been super happy about Arab countries coming in since the perpetrators have been Arab.

Post: Suppose readers learn of your presence here, and say 'Geez, I want to do something.' What would you tell them to do?
Farrow: I'm not Cambodian and...I wouldn't presume to say what the Cambodians should do...I would say support our humanitarians who are risking their lives every day to do what the world has turned away from, sustaining the lives of over four million people, two and a half million in camps, others exist in makeshift camps across Darfur, unable to sustain themselves. There is no protection for them and there is no protection for the aid workers. Attacks upon aid workers have risen 150 percent in the last 12 months, so those who are there dedicating ...their days and hours and resources to sustaining these fragile lives are really to be supported... but I don't know what Cambodia can do in terms of what political weight you may or may not have.

We do know, there is of course a partnership with China, and this is the moment to say 'Please China, do everything in your power. Use your extraordinary leverage with your close business partner, Sudan, to bring an end to the suffering, to stop the aerial bombardment of civilians and admit the peacekeeping force, of the sort outlined in the Resolution that they themselves signed, without the blockade.' And the blockades are enormous. Just for you, I mean it's water rights, it's where they can have their barricades, restrictions on what sort of vessels can land at Port Sudan, what sort of vessels can land at A-Fashir. There's a lack of helicopters, which is an appalling lack of support of the international community. But Khartoum retains control of communications...all these things make it very difficult for the force to be effective.

Longer waits to become citizens
By Maria Sacchetti
Globe Staff / January 25, 2008

Millions applied before fees were increased in July

Immigrants in Massachusetts and nationwide could wait 16 to 18 months - more than double the usual period - to become US citizens because of a massive backlog, leaving thousands possibly unable to vote in November.

The backlog is the result of millions of applications for citizenship, green cards, and work permits that swamped immigration offices last summer before hefty fee increases went into effect July 30.

Federal immigration officials across the nation are hiring hundreds of staff members, paying overtime, and streamlining bureaucracy to process the applications more quickly. In Boston, officials will add more officers and in March will add an extra day, Saturday, to help break up the backlog in citizenship interviews.

Officials in Massachusetts had hoped the delays would be shorter. But after opening hundreds of applications that came in before the fee increases, a process they finished just recently, they realized the wait could be as long as 18 months, which is also the national average. Before the fee change, the wait here was four to five months, and about six months nationally.

"We're hoping that people won't have to wait that long," said Shawn Saucier, spokesman for US Citizenship and Immigration Services. But, he added, "What we're facing is immense."

In Lowell, Phana Sin's heart sank after learning it could be more than a year before he becomes a citizen, because citizenship will help him bring his three children to the United States from Cambodia.

"It's too long," he said, shaking his head.

Advocacy groups are also critical of the processing slowdown, pointing out that immigrants were doing exactly what politicians and others have been urging them to do: learning English, studying US history and government, and getting in line to become citizens, especially so they can vote and officially have a stake in this country.

"It's unforgivable," said Juan Vega, executive director of Centro Latino, a nonprofit in Chelsea that prepares immigrants to become citizens. "Some of this anti-immigrant sentiment has been about how people should be more invested and become citizens. This community has worked toward that, and now the government is saying that they can't keep up with that demand?"
Lucy Pineda, founder and director of Everett-based Latinos United in Massachusetts, said she feared the delays were attempts by the Republican administration to thwart would-be Latino voters, who tend to vote Democratic nationally, in the presidential election. "Unfortunately, they're not going to be able to vote," she said. "They're trying to close the doors."

But Saucier said it is "absurd" to suggest that the delay is politically motivated, and pointed out that applications for citizenship and other benefits jumped even more than officials had anticipated after the July 30 fee hike, from $400 to $675.

By the end of 2007, more than 1 million citizenship applications were pending across the United States, almost double the previous year. As of December, pending applications soared to 27,134 in Massachusetts, also twice the previous year.

Applicants for legal permanent residency, known as green cards, and other benefits are also facing delays because of an influx of requests.

In July, the fee to apply for a green card more than doubled to $1,010 from $395. As of December, 832,173 green-card applications were pending in the nation, compared with 587,930 that were pending at the end of last year. Statewide figures are unavailable.

Immigration officials in Boston will expand the number of staff who decide immigration applications, help with paperwork and testing, and perform other duties, Saucier said. The number of officers who approve or reject applications will increase this year to 54 officers from 38 last year - and so will their workload. A typical officer conducts 12 interviews a day, but in March the goal will be 18.

In general, applicants for citizenship must be legal residents for five years, have a basic command of English, pass a test of US history and civics, have good moral character and swear to adhere the US Constitution. They also undergo background checks for security.

In Lowell, Phana Sin's application for citizenship is especially poignant because his full-time job, as citizenship coordinator for One Lowell, a nonprofit group that works with immigrants, is to help others become US citizens.

The 42-year-old former human rights worker fled death threats in his native Cambodia in 2001, applied for asylum, and married a US citizen. But he worries daily about the three children he had to leave behind, a 17-year-old stepdaughter and two sons, ages 15 and 13, whose mother died in 1999 of bone cancer.

He applied for citizenship in September and has thrown himself into his work. At kitchen tables and senior centers, he helps other immigrants fill out forms, pay the fees, and prepare for the oral examination of US history and civics. Because of his gentle manner - and command of five languages, English, Khmer, Vietnamese, Laotian, and Thai - his cellphone buzzes constantly with requests for help.

On Wednesday, he rode the commuter rail to Boston with seven other Cambodian immigrants, ages 35 to 64, so they could take the test. On the train, he quizzed them with flash cards - how many stars in the US flag, who is the Supreme Court chief justice, who is the mayor of their city?
He nodded reassuringly to them as they greeted the security guards at the towering John F. Kennedy federal building. Sometimes, Cambodian immigrants he assists are afraid of the uniformed guards, remembering the decades of war in their homeland. He reminds them that most Americans trace their roots to a foreign land.

"We are all the same," he says. America is the country of "second chances."

Last year, he helped more than 200 people become citizens - not counting the seven who passed their test Wednesday morning and two more that afternoon.

In the meantime, he waits his turn. "I wish my day would come, too," he said.

Chinese FM to visit Cambodia, Brunei, Australia

January 25, 2008

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi will pay official visits to Cambodia, Brunei and Australia from Jan. 31 to Feb. 5, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu announced on Friday.

Yang was invited by Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Nam Hong, Brunei's Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Mohamed Bolkiah and Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, Jiang said.

She said China and Australia will start up a China-Australia strategic dialogue during Yang's stay in Australia.

Source: Xinhua

Cambodian officials to outnumber athletes at Games

Fri 25 Jan 2008
By Ek Madra

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia will send almost three times more officials than athletes to this year's Olympics -- including the families of the country's sports chiefs.

The impoverished nation, which has never won an Olympic medal, will send 11 officials to Beijing to accompany just four athletes, Cambodia's Olympic committee chief said on Friday.

"We will have a team of two athletes and two swimmers," Meas Sarin told Reuters. "For the chef de mission and Olympic committee president and secretary general, guests such as wives or children can accompany us."

The athletes will each receive $200 (101 pounds) from the government and the country's Olympic committee for attending the Games, with top officials given an allowance of $7,000, he added.

The announcement comes just over a year after Prime Minister Hun Sen blasted the country's Olympic committee for freeloading after officials had squandered over $1 million, much of it on taking large entourages to international events.

The two gold medals won by Cambodia's petanque players at last year's Southeast Asian Games were among the country's proudest sporting moments.

"We don't have a hope of winning anything (in Beijing)," he said. "We have no qualified coaches, how can we get medals, it is impossible.

"At least we will be there, to show our faces to the world that we are there joining the Games."

Thai PM counsels mutuality as Preah Vihear World Heritage option

MCOT English News

BANGKOK, Jan 25 (TNA) – Any Preah Vihear (Khao Phra Viharn in Thai) border declaration must benefit both countries, Prime Minister Gen. Surayud Chulanont asserted Friday, reiterating Bangkok's commitment to mutuality in the matter.

Bangkok said that Phnom Penh's plan for a United Nations-related World Heritage listing of the ancient Khmer ruins along the Thai-Cambodian border would not affect Thai sovereignty over disputed areas there.

The matter is deeply emotional for both countries. The ancient temple was built over one thousand years ago on a majestic cliff top adjacent to what is now Thailand's Sisaket province.

Gen. Surayud said he had once told his Cambodian counterpart Somdej Hun Sen that a solution to the dispute must lead to a win-win situation for both sides.

The Thai prime minister said his government would not insist that Preah Vihear is partly owned by Thailand, but should the mountain be declared a UNESCO world heritage site, the move must benefit both countries.

Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Tharit Charungwat told a press conference Friday that Cambodia has tried to list the temple as a World Heritage site since 2005, but Thailand had affirmed sovereignty over part of the area to UNESCO and Phnom Penh.

Thai foreign ministry and defense officials are deciding what Bangkok will do as the next step.
Gen. Surayud said the Preah Vihear issue must be resolved because it is a chronic issue between the two neighbours.

"The issue is under negotiation. The Foreign Ministry has liaised for the negotiation with Phnom Penh all along. We have to discuss the matter carefully because it is a sensitive issue," he said.

The two countries have established a joint committee to settle the boundary demarcation dispute relating to some border areas around the ancient temple, said Mr. Tharit, adding that both parties had agreed to find measures to settle the dispute soon.

The World Court in June 1962 judged that Preah Vihear belonged to Cambodia, but Thailand and Cambodia have not yet settled a demarcation agreement on land around the ruins. The temple is approached from the Thai border district of Kantharalak in Si Sa Ket province.

The problem arose again Thursday when Lt-Gen. Pichasanu Putchakarn, spokesman of Thai Defense Ministry, hinted that Cambodia had ignored the Thai government's suggestion that both countries jointly propose the historical site to UNESCO, saying Thailand may lose its land yet to be demarcated if Cambodia did it alone.

But Gen. Pichasanu Friday clarified his statements, saying that his earlier remarks were partly his personal opinion and not that of the Thai Defense Council.

Senior Thai Army officers who spoke with ranking Khmer officers Friday said the situation has returned to normal. "The Cambodian officials may have misunderstand after learning about (Thursday's) report," Gen. Pichasanu said.

Cambodian court declares former Khmer Rouge leader statement stands

Fri, 25 Jan 2008

Phnom Penh - Cambodia's Khmer Rouge tribunal Friday announced it would not annul statements made by the man alleged to have been "Brother Number 2" of the Khmer Rouge movement, Nuon Chea, made without a lawyer present because they were consensual. The joint UN-Cambodian court set up to try former Khmer Rouge leaders said the man accused of being Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot's right hand man, Nuon Chea, had been advised repeatedly to wait for legal representation but made statements regardless, and they were admissible in court.

In a statement issued through the press office, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) said statements made by Nuon Chea immediately after his arrest on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity would stand.

Nuon Chea's legal team had argued that the statements should be annulled because he made them without a lawyer present, but the court found he had chosen to waive his legal rights against advice.

"In reality, it appears difficult to imagine a situation where the waiver could have been clearer and more deliberate than in this case, without questioning the intellectual capacity of Mr. Nuon Chea, which does not appear to be in question here," the court said in a statement released through its media office.

Nuon Chea was arrested in September. He had earlier stated publicly that he did not trust lawyers and could not see how a lawyer "who was not there" could understand enough to defend the Khmer Rouge's 1975-79 Democratic Kampuchea regime, under which up to 2 million Cambodians died.

He later hired Khmer Rouge survivor, Cambodian lawyer Sun Arun to defend him.

The court said it found that Nuon Chea, who is believed to have been former Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot's closest deputy, was transported by helicopter to the court after his arrest, and was fed and rested when he made his decision to speak and was therefore competent to make the still confidential statement.

Octogenarian Nuon Chea is one of five former leaders currently in custody. Former leader Pol Pot died at home in 1998.

Remanded in custody since his arrest, Nuon Chea is scheduled for a public hearing at the ECCC on February 4 when the Pre-Trial Chamber will hear his complaint against provisional detention.