Monday, 28 April 2008

Cambodian tourism can combat poverty, says minister

Apr 28, 2008

Phnom Penh - Cambodian authorities will canvas beggars in popular tourism spots to determine why they beg and what it will take to stop them, Tourism Minister Thong Khon said Monday.

One of the world's poorest countries with thousands of beggars, Cambodia is trying to turn tourism dollars into a means of fighting poverty and enhancing the tourism industry at the same time, Thong Khon said by telephone.

'We want to research beggars at the tourism areas and find out why they need to beg and how we can help them,' he said. 'If there are problems we can solve, such as providing education or jobs, tourism revenue will go towards that.'

Although rights groups have said they doubt the government's sincerity, the plan is already working at some popular tourist sites, according to the government, and it has encouraged support from private companies to continue the trend.

For instance, the Choueng Ek 'Killing Fields' museum, controversially leased to a little-known Japanese company in 2005, now offers scholarships for students in need and is training former beggars to grow and sell flowers for visitors.

'This is how tourism can cut down poverty,' Thong Khon said.

Cambodia expects more than 2 million foreign tourists in 2008, and tourism is a staple of the narrowly based Cambodian economy.

The minister's comments came out of a meeting earlier this month when tourism experts met in the northern tourism capital of Siem Reap to discuss ways to combat endemic begging in tourist areas which the government says is damaging the lucrative industry.

Davik fundraising dinner draws 350 people

Davik Teng gets a hug from Chantha Bob, who helped bring her to the U.S. from Cambodia, as she and her mother, Sin Chhon, thank pediatric cardiologist Dr. Mark Sklansky during a fundraiser for Hearts Without Boundaries in Long Beach. (Jeff Gritchen/Staff Photographer)

Press-Telegram, Long Beach
By Greg Mellen, Staff Writer

LONG BEACH - A full house of 350 residents and supporters filled Hak Heang Restaurant in Long Beach for a fundraising dinner to celebrate Davik Teng, a 9-year-old girl from a remote village in Cambodia who is recovering from open-heart surgery.

An emotional Peter Chhun, who organized Friday's event and is the founder of the nonprofit that sponsored Davik's journey to the United States, thanked the community for the outpouring of support, which will go to the child's continued care.

"From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for your hearts to help me give Davik a new heart," Chhun told the crowd.

"Two-and-a-half months ago I cried," Chhun said of his emotions when he first saw Davik's impoverished village. "Two-

and-a-half months later, I still cry."

Davik, who underwent the surgery a month ago, beamed as she circulated among tables in a traditional green Cambodian dress. Posing for pictures and steepling her fingers and bowing in the traditional Cambodian greeting, Davik showed no ill effects from the surgery that repaired a large hole in her heart known as a ventricular septal defect.

Dr. Mark Sklansky, the cardiologist from Childrens Hospital Los Angeles who has been treating Davik, was one of the guests in attendance and was presented with a plaque from Davik and Chhun. Previously Sklansky has said although Davik's recovery has gone very well, her heart still needs to become stronger.

As a result, Davik remains under a regimen of heart medications and is expected to remain in the United States until August, when her six-month visa expires.

In addition to dinner, guests were treated to dances presented by the Khmer Arts Academy. Alex Ouklore, Reachny Tan and Khannia Ok, performed a blessing dance and Nicky Ouklore did a monkey dance.

There was also a video presentation and music.

Among the guests were City Councilman Dee Andrews and Vice Mayor Bonnie Lowenthal.
Lowenthal described the discovery and the saving of Davik as a miracle and said it provided a challenge to the community.

"The city's duty is to replicate the miracle," Lowenthal said. "We should think of ways to mend a heart and mend the world."

Laos opens secret wartime cave city to the world

Siphanh Vandouayang, director of the cave's visitors' centre

Laos students inside the main cave in Viengxay town

Students take inside a cave in Viengxay town

VIENGXAY, Laos (AFP) — Hidden deep inside the jungle-covered carst mountains of northern Laos lies a secret cave city where revolutionary leaders survived nearly a decade of US bombing during the Vietnam war.

Now, over 30 years since the conflict ended, the communist country has opened up the remote wartime hideaway to tourism, hoping to bring development to this explosives-littered and dirt-poor part of the country.

The network of almost 500 caves was home to 23,000 people and boasted all the facilities of a city, including not just bomb shelters but also shops, schools, a printing press and a hospital cave staffed by Cuban doctors.

Hundreds of troops and villagers could shelter in the cathedral-sized Elephant Cave, where propaganda movies were screened and visiting theatre troops from socialist countries performed to bolster battlefield morale.

Smaller caves connected by tunnels were the homes of Communist Party chief Kaysone Phomvihane and his politburo, set near an emergency shelter with a Russian oxygen generating machine in case of a gas attack, which never came.

"This is the birthplace of modern Laos," said Siphanh Vandouayang, who spent much of his childhood here and now runs the local visitors' centre.

"Most of the members of the revolutionary leadership lived and studied here."

The picturesque landscape of limestone peaks and rice fields between 1964 and 1973 became the most heavily bombed place on earth as US jets targeted Pathet Lao fighters and North Vietnamese supply lines, he recalled.

"Every eight to 10 minutes the American aircraft bombed, between 6am and 5pm," he said. "At 7pm they came back to fire rockets and for surveillance for the next day's bombing... People farmed only between 4am and 6am."

For decades after the war, which ended in communist victories in 1975 in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, the area remained off limits to foreigners and the site of political re-education camps that are still shrouded in mystery.

As Laos has opened up since the 1990s, the occasional backpacker has strayed to Viengxay, two days' drive from the capital Vientiane, in northeastern Houapanh province, and 55 kilometres (34 miles) from the Vietnamese border.

Laos is hoping to change this and, with the help of foreign development groups, turn the historic site into a war-theme tourist stop, similar to the Cu Chi tunnels of southern Vietnam and Cambodia's horrific Killing Fields.

Laos has so far opened only seven caves, most of them the former homes of communist leaders, where busts of Lenin, kerosene lamps and weathered communist tracts are among the few historical artefacts on display.

But the mountains hide more secrets to be opened and discovered by outsiders as more funding and tourist dollars arrive, including an underground sewing factory, bank, bakery, fuel depot and a radio station.

"Not many foreign tourists have come to Viengxay over the years because it's so remote. We call it a hidden city," said Janet Pontin, a heritage expert with the UN World Tourism Organisation working here.

"What Viengxay needs is economic development because Houapanh is the poorest province in Laos. The great thing about what happens when tourists come to visit Viengxay is that their visit benefits local people."

As part of the project, run by Dutch development agency SNV, historians are now recording oral histories of people who survived the war years, such as garlic farmer Bounthong, who lives near the Cuban hospital cave.

"During the war, US planes flew intense bombing missions," said Bounthong, who like many Lao people has only one name. "Many soldiers and villagers died, 300 in my district alone. If not for the caves, many more would have died."

Despite the war's deadly legacy, he said he now welcomes foreign visitors.

"I am not angry with the foreigners who visit here because now our country is open," he said. "In the past I knew only foreigners who were armed to make war in Laos. My ideas have changed since the war ended."

Forced to skip Cambodia

Borneo Bulletin
April 27, 2008

Norhayati Abu Bakar and husband Harun have experienced numerous difficulties during the first 16 weeks of their "Bringing Brunei to the World" expedition.

Many of the difficulties have involved their vehicle Jambo - Jambo has been "imprisoned" overnight before being released and carried on the back of a transporter lorry. Last week, Jambo was again the focal point - but this time, the desired solution came too late.

The seemingly simple task of moving on from Laos and into Cambodia proved to be a step too far. Norhayati and Harun's visas were in order, but the vehicle documentation was not accepted by the Cambodian customs officials. Despite earlier assurances from the Cambodian Ambassador in Brunei, the local official could not be persuaded to change his mind.

A 500-kilometre return trip into Laos and onto the Thailand border was one immediate result of this bureaucratic hassle.

The purchase of two airline tickets from Bangkok to Phnom Penh to ensure that Cambodia could be visited on foot was a second costly implication.

I think we can all understand Norhayati's frustration when the Cambodian authorities later overturned their customs official's decision, by which time they had already purchased the flight tickets.

But, maybe within a 19-week expedition, one problem of this type is not too bad.

And the enforced schedule change did enable them to enjoy Thai hospitality sooner than expected. Brunei's Ambassador in Bangkok, Pengiran Dato Paduka Hj Sharifuddin Yusof, welcomed his adventurous compatriots with kueh and tea around the Embassy's Conference Room table, whilst Norhayati shared with His Excellency and his staff tales of their journey and experiences.

On the following day, the opportunity to explore bustling Bangkok could not be missed. One of the world's largest cities, with a population of 10 million, houses Central World, believed to be Asia's largest shopping mall with no less than one million square metres of retail space.

Absolutely everything from luxury goods to very cheap imports can be viewed or purchased, with the only requirement for visiting shoppers being plenty of baht in the purse or pocket and lots of stamina.

But shopping is not everything for the Thai people; they are also a very religious nation.

There are numerous beautiful, ornate temples and even at the side of many streets will be found exquisite statues devoted to, for example, Pinkanet, the elephant deity which is believed to bring luck and hope.

A passing schoolgirl had prayed for help before her recent successful entrance examination and was now returning to pay thanks. And nearby, Trimurati is a golden four-faced goddess, famed for bringing blessings for life and love.

Of course, past visitors to Bangkok will be familiar with Bangkok's other legacy, heavy traffic and the resulting snail's pace for cross-city journeys. At least this is improving slightly with the recent opening of an extended SkyTrain MRT rail network.

All of this hectic, fast-paced lifestyle experienced in Bangkok was very much in contrast to their final days in Laos.

One of the strangest and most remarkable sights to confront Norhayati and Harun on their whole trip appeared in the vicinity of Phonsavan. Here is the famous Plain of Jars.

Spread across a wide area in 12 separate groups are gigantic stone jars, each weighing more than 15 stones and standing up to two metres in height.

It is a matter of much debate to this day as to their origin.

One French archaeologist has suggested they are funeral monuments, each containing a number of bodies, but other experts believe they were used as containers for the possessions of the dead.
But, an unanswered question given that they date back two thousand years ago - before mechanisation in any form had been invented, how were these giant containers moved into place ?

There were also further examples of more modern and more lethal technology to add to those witnessed by Norhayati a few days earlier.

The bombs which rained down on Laos from American aircraft three decades ago left not only unexploded munitions, but also the human consequences of modern warfare.

She came across many men and women lacking one or more limbs who were unable to find the money to pay for prosthetic replacements.

One such man had been a young healthy farmer 30 years ago, but now a one-legged cripple, unable to undertake any real work since.

Alongside their memories of beautiful scenery, magnificent buildings and generous hospitality, these less happy images will still loom large.

Meanwhile, a warm Bruneian welcome is being planned for Norhayati and Harun at Sungai Tujoh in just two short weeks from now, on Sunday, May 11.

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Asian finance ministers to map out forex reserve pool

A cash transaction is performed at an unofficial market in HCMC

Thanhnien News
Monday, April 28, 2008

Vietnam and Japan will co-chair the meeting of the Association of South East Asian Nations in Madrid next month to discuss the region’s inflation control and risks from the US economic woes.

Asian finance leaders will aim to upgrade a regional scheme to ward off any future financial crisis when they meet next month, boosting currency-swap deals in a new pooling arrangement and tightening economic surveillance, Japan’s top financial diplomat has said.

Finance ministers from the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) member nations along with China, Japan and South Korea (ASEAN+3) will also discuss how to balance the need to control inflation and risks from a slowdown in the US when they meet in Madrid on May 4, Naoyuki Shinohara, vice finance minister for international affairs, said.

At their last meeting a year ago, they agreed to set up a self-managed reserve pooling mechanism governed by a legally binding single contract as a way to transform the existing web of bilateral currency swaps, called the Chiang Mai Initiative (CMI), into a more powerful multilateral scheme.

Ministers agreed last year to set aside part of their US$3.4 trillion foreign reserves for emergencies, without deciding the size and when they would start the fund.

Shinohara told reporters that all the details for the reserve pooling scheme would not be finalized at this year’s meeting as there were “complicated” factors to negotiate, such as how to activate currency swaps while making sure borrowing countries would return the money after a crisis is over.

“We don’t want it to be a mechanism to give out easy money,” Shinohara said.

“The most important issue is how to strengthen surveillance,” he added.

Japan, along with Vietnam, will chair the meeting of the Association of South East Asian Nations in Madrid and Shinohara said he wanted to maintain the momentum for creating a more powerful regional scheme to avoid a repeat of the 1997/98 financial crisis.

The existing bilateral swap arrangement network under the CMI totals $84 billion.

But that includes two-way pacts, under which both countries in the deal would come to each other’s aid to prevent a financial crisis.

Shinohara said, however, that if one side were in trouble, that country would not be able to provide the amount earmarked for the bilateral currency swap arrangement.

That means that in reality about $58 billion would be available under the current initiative, he said.

“We aimed to create the multilateral pooling arrangement to be bigger than $58 billion,” he said, adding that $80 billion was one figure to keep in mind.

None of these CMI credit lines has been tapped so far.

The pool will be between $80 billion and $100 billion, State Bank of Vietnam Deputy Governor Phung Khac Ke said earlier this month at the 4th ASEAN Governors Meeting in Vietnam’s Da Nang City.

Ke added members’ contributions would depend on the size of their economies and their ability to pay.

The basic idea is to replace the currency bilateral currency swap network with the new multilateral mechanism, but Shinohara said some countries could still have bilateral frameworks as needed.

Having a “self-managed” reserve pooling arrangement means member countries would still manage their funds at home, rather than having one place to pool their reserves.

The multilateral framework could be a stepping stone to a regional monetary fund, but it would take time before mapping up such ambitious goals, officials say.

Even if the ministers agree on the skeleton of the pooling mechanism next week, it would take at least another year to nail down details to make it as a single contractual agreement, a Japanese finance ministry official told Reuters.

The pooled reserves would still be counted as part of participating countries’ own foreign reserves, he added.

Other sticking points include how much funds from the new multilateral arrangement could be withdrawn without using the IMF-supported program or how to include countries with immature markets, such as Laos, and Cambodia in the scheme.

Source: Reuters, Bloomberg

Cambodian siege school gunmen are unmasked

Evening News, The Edinburgh Paper
Saturday, 26th April 2008

GRIEF overcomes the parents of a two-year-old boy shot dead during a school siege in Cambodia as they weep over their child's body.

The Canadian boy was shot in the head during an eight-hour stand-off in which 70 people were held hostage by masked gunmen who had demanded $1000. Police today arrested a security guard suspected of masterminding the hostage-taking at the school near the famous Angkor Wat temples.

Ul Samnang, 29, worked at a souvenir shop and did not take part in yesterday's hostage drama at the international school in Siem Reap.

The four hostage-takers, all Cambodians in their 20s who were seized at the end of an eight-hour siege, were also being held in the tourist town.

After a night of questioning by police, the four were paraded battered, bruised and caked in blood in front of the media.

Armed with a handgun and knives, the men stormed into the international school yesterday morning, first demanding $1000 and a van, increasing the sum later to $30,000, police said.

"This group are gangsters and they committed crimes of robbery and kidnap. We are expecting to send them to court to be charged tomorrow morning," Ou Em, chief of Siem Reap's serious crime office said.

The two-year-old Canadian boy was shot in the head after talks to free the 29 infants hit a stumbling block over the kidnappers' demands for weapons, he said.

"The gunmen demanded we give them money, a van and grenades.

"We did not agree to give them grenades and guns, so they got mad and shot the kid in the head," he said.

Doctors at the town's main hospital were setting up a trauma unit for the children, who came from as many as 14 different countries, to help them overcome the ordeal.

Unesco calls off joint talks : Separate meetings now on Preah Vihear listing

The Bangkok Post
Monday April 28, 2008


The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation has cancelled a meeting with Thailand and Cambodia in Paris over efforts to put the Preah Vihear temple on Unesco's World Heritage list.

The meeting was supposed to be this Friday and Saturday, with Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama leading the Thai side in the talks.

The meeting has been tentatively rescheduled for May 13, Mr Noppadon said.

The talks will concentrate on Cambodia's proposal to register the ancient ruins, which are right on the border with Thailand.

The only easy access is through Thailand, and some of the border is not demarcated and claimed by both sides.

Unesco will now send its representative, Francesco Caruso, for separate talks with the Thai and Cambodian governments.

The UN agency gave no reason for the change.

Mr Caruso has been appointed by Unesco as a special coordinator between Thailand and Cambodia on the issue and is due in Bangkok next month.

"The Thai government welcomes the proposal and is ready to meet and discuss in good faith with Cambodia the outstanding issues so as to facilitate the process of registration of the temple," the ministry said.

Thailand and Cambodia have agreed in principle to jointly manage Preah Vihear and other ruins in Thailand in the area, but will not allow the project to affect the plan to demarcate the border there.

Preah Vihear, called Khao Phra Viharn in Thai, is on the Cambodian side of Si Sa Ket's Kantharalak district.

But it does not look like the issue will be easily settled.

On April 10, the government handed an aide-memoire to Cambodian ambassador Ung Sean to protest against the deployment of Cambodian troops at the ancient temple.

The government said the troop deployment violated Thailand's territorial sovereignty in the disputed areas along the border, and was also against the spirit of a memorandum of understanding in 2000 concerning the area around the temple.

The Cambodian government countered by summoning Thai ambassador Viraphand Vacharathit to deny all the allegations a day later.