Thursday, 27 November 2008

Changing the life of another changes one's own

The Oregonian

Posted by Davin Mao
November 26, 2008

Editor's note: Davin Mao wrote this last spring, as a Sunset High School junior.

As a junior at Sunset High School, my life didn't consist of much more than homework, homework and more homework. With one exception: I was an active member in the Cambodian-American Community of Oregon (CACO), serving as the group's youth president.

When the opportunity came for me to spend 15 days in Cambodia with Medical Teams International earlier this year, I saw it as a reprieve from the monotony of high school life. Little did I know that it would prove to be a life-changing experience.

The humanitarians of Medical Teams International, led by Dr. Dale Canfield, traveled at their own expense to Cambodia to offer their dental services to orphans, many of whom have never received dental care in their lives. I went with them, one of two ordinary high school students with extraordinary dreams of aiding people in their ancestral land.

CACO has a project called BOBism, which extends compassion "Beyond Ordinary Borders" to Cambodia. We raised more than $700 for BOBism, $200 approved by the CACO board and the rest from community contributions.

That money would eventually purchase 200 Hacky Sacks, 12 badminton sets, 15 soccer balls, a curry dinner and much more. These items may be ordinary novelties to us, but to the Cambodian children they were luxuries otherwise beyond reach.

As a high school student traveling with seasoned medical professionals, I expected to be in the way, but under the expert guidance of Canfield and the rest of the team, I was soon able to assimilate the procedures of a crude yet effective dental clinic. By the end of the experience, I felt more at home in the assistant's chair than any other.

Traveling to Cambodia to help orphans would have been gratifying to many. But for a Cambodian American teen who has never seen the hardships of Cambodian life, it was an epiphany. It has given me not only a sense of identity, but also a steadfast motivation to extend the luxuries I enjoy every day to parts of the world that lack even the basic necessities.

My thanks go out to Medical Teams International, Foursquare Children of Promise in Cambodia, Canfield and his medical team, and the Cambodian-American Community of Oregon. All of them played a vital role in bringing care to the more than 200 patients we treated. Last but not least, my thanks to my parents for making it possible for me to be on this trip.

The final message I wish to extend to all youths, or even adults, who read this is: You can do more than you think you can. I know I did. Changing the life of another is a life-changing opportunity in itself, so seize every opportunity as it arises.

Thailand insists it is ready to host ASEAN summit

International Herald Tribune

The Associated Press
Published: November 27, 2008

BANGKOK, Thailand: Thailand insisted Thursday that it will be able to host a regional summit in December, even after three neighboring countries raised concerns that ongoing political turmoil in the Thai capital could force the meeting's cancellation.

In recent days, protesters demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat have stormed Thailand's two main international airports, forcing their closure and the cancellation of hundreds of flights. They have occupied the prime minister's office since August, vowing to stay put until Somchai and his government step down.

Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos voiced fears Thursday that Thailand may not be able to host the annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, scheduled to take place Dec. 15-18 in the northern city of Chiang Mai.

ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan must consider postponing the summit "to ensure the successful outcome ... given the current political situation in Thailand," the three countries said in a statement.

Surin was not available for comment Thursday.

Thai Foreign Ministry Spokesman Tharit Charungvat said the summit would not be rescheduled.

"Everything is still going ahead as planned and we are still ready to host the summit," Tharit said.

The 10-nation ASEAN bloc comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

The summit venue already has been shifted from the capital, Bangkok, to Chiang Mai. The foreign ministry has denied the move was to avoid the anti-government protests, insisting it was because the weather is nicer in the north.

Thailand's powerful army commander stepped into the fray Wednesday, urging Somchai to step down and asking protesters to leave Suvarnabhumi.

Neither side heeded his calls, leaving the country paralyzed.

Cambodia, EC to meet on ban of Siem Reap Airways

PHNOM PENH, Nov. 27 (Xinhua) -- Experts from the European Community (EC) will meet in February with the Cambodian civil aviation officials over the EC ban of the Siem Reap Airways' flights to its market, an official said here on Thursday.

EC banned all flights of the Siem Reap Airways to its countries, because it was gravely concerned with safety standard, Rafael Dochao Moreno, Charge d'Affaires of EC's diplomatic mission to Cambodia, told a roundtable discussion on economic and political cooperation between Cambodia and EC.

It also involved the company's technique, training and other confidential report, he said.

After EU put it on blacklist, the Cambodian government also banned its domestic flights, he said.

"We hope the matter will be solved soon," he added.

Earlier this month, EC added the Siem Reap Airways, a local subsidiary of the Thailand-based Bangkok Airways, to its blacklisted airlines, citing its failure to comply with international and Cambodian civil aviation standards.

Editor: Zheng E

More affordable OK Condom launched to ensure more access

Photo by: Eleanor Ainge Roy
A couple takes a quiet moment at the Phnom Penh riverside.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Eleanor Ainge Roy and Khoun Leakhana
Thursday, 27 November 2008

Retailing at 500 riels for a package of three, the OK Condom brand will play central role in a renewed push to combat HIV/Aids in the Kingdom

THE United States and the United Kingdom launched a new condom under the brand name OK Condom Tuesday as part of a renewed push to combat HIV/Aids in Cambodia, which has declined from two percent in 1998 to 0.9 percent in 2006.

The new condoms will be available from Monday next week and will sell in pharmacies, guesthouses and entertainment venues across Cambodia, retailing for 500 riels for a package of three. It will be the cheapest condom currently available on the market.

Piper A W Campbell, deputy chief of mission of the US embassy in Cambodia, said at the launch party on Tuesday that the condom price would differ according to the means of the customer, and the very poorest in society would be offered the condoms for free.

"This ‘Total Market Approach' will ensure that all Cambodian people - regardless of their income, gender or social status - will have access to this health product," she said.

According to Population Services International (PSI), a key partner in the OK Condom launch, more than 90 percent of condoms distributed in Cambodia are purchased with donor support.

PSI research indicates that OK Condoms will be affordable and available to consumers with the highest risk of contracting HIV/Aids, including brothel and street-based sex workers, gay men, male clients of sex workers, intravenous drug users and people already living with the disease.

Education in rural areas

Mom Bun Heng, minister of public health, said that education of the rural populations on the risk of having sex without a condom is an absolute necessity when it comes to combating the spread of HIV/Aids in Cambodia.

"If lovers don't understand about ... the benefits of using condoms, they will be vulnerable to danger," he added.

"We would like to appeal to all NGOs who work with HIV/Aids issues to continue to expand their activity in dissemination of information and to offer services to people who live in the countryside as well."

Condom use is very important. I myself use condoms with my wife because I think that using condoms has a lot of benefits. It can prevent the spread of diseases, especially HIV/Aids, and it can prevent pregnancy," he said.

Vietnamese culture week hits Phnom Penh

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Khouth Sophakchakrya
Thursday, 27 November 2008

VIETNAM Culture Week will be celebrated in Phnom Penh's Chaktokmouk Conference hall this Friday and Saturday, ahead of celebrations in Siem Reap on Monday and Tuesday next week, Meas Sarun, general director of Technique of Culture, told The Post Tuesday.

"For the event in Cambodia, there will be an art show, concert and art fair with 40 Vietnamese delegates and artists, including the deputy prime minister of Vietnam," he said.

"We do believe that over 1,000 people from both Cambodia and Vietnam will join together in the hall because both Cambodian and Vietnamese artists will perform there," he said, adding, that solidarity songs from both countries will be sung during the show.

The art exhibition will showcase 60 paintings focusing on Vietnamese customs, traditions and culture, as well as statues that will be displayed at Wat Phnom, Meas Sarun said, adding that the Vietnamese delegates and artists will visit the Angkor Wat temple on Monday and Tuesday next week.

"Vietnamese artists will also perform [in Siem Reap] on Monday, and on Tuesday there will be a show by Cambodian artists from the Cultural Village of Siem Reap province," Meas Sarun said.

Cultural exchange

Sim Sarak, general director of administration and finance at the Ministry of Culture, said that Vietnam Cultural Week has already been celebrated in Cambodia once in 2006.

Cambodian artists also performed during Culture Week in Hanoi in 2007, he added.

"Normally, Cambodia and Vietnam agree to an exchange of art and culture," he said, adding that Cambodia has also signed a similar cultural exchange agreement with China, Thailand, Laos, Russia, South Korea and India.

In late 2008, Russian delegates and artists will perform in Phnom Penh for the forthcoming Russian Cultural Week, Sim Sarak said.

Photo agency to launch in capital

The colonial mansion on Sothearos Boulevard will provide ‘a meeting point’ during the Phnom Penh Photography Festival.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Eleanor Ainge Roy
Thursday, 27 November 2008

Photo agency Melon Rouge set to provide 'meeting point' during the Phnom Penh Photo Festival

PARIS-based photo agency Melon Rouge is set to launch an Asian branch this month and will be basing itself in Phnom Penh.

To launch the Asian arm of Melon Rouge, the company will be hosting a collection of its photographs as part of the Phnom Penh Photography Festival and will be exhibiting works in the Bodega centre at 32 Sothearos Boulevard, which has recently been bought by the FCC.

Film screenings, slideshows, debates and food and drink will also feature, making what organisers hope to be a "meeting point of the festival".

The Bodega's faded colonial beauty will be open to the public from November 28 until December 8, and director Thierry Merre said they are very happy to have acquired such a unique piece of Phnom Penh property.

"We never imagined we should be able to access the Bodega. So many people dream of visiting and owning it."

Melon Rouge has backing from the French Development Agency and is interested in supporting young up-and-coming Khmer photographers, who it hopes will form the broad base of its contributors.

Merre said the company would like to help launch Khmer photographers into the world arena. Archives of Asian photographs will be available via the web, and the company has plans to operate on a financial tier system, with photographs and prices to suit a wide range of customers, including NGOs, advertising agencies and corporate clients.

"Cambodia is a very interesting place for photography, and development is happening so rapidly here it is an excellent place to base a company that we hope will be synonymous with Asian photographs," Merre said.

First American-owned bank opens doors in Phnom Penh

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Nguon Sovan
Thursday, 27 November 2008

CAMBODIA'S first American-owned bank opened its doors Wednesday bringing the number of foreign-owned banks in Cambodia to 25.

Chea Chanto, governor of the National Bank of Cambodia, said that the launch would strengthen US-Cambodian ties and that the increase in foreign-owned banks demonstrates confidence in the local banking sector.

"The bank will focus on loans, especially for small and medium enterprises, which need capital to expand their businesses."

"I hope that the bank will bring more cross-border activity and further innovation and financial products and services to meet customer demand and make the Cambodian banking system work competitive and efficiently in line with market disciplines," he said.

John Kevin Baldwin, chairman of Angkor Capital Bank, said Wednesday that Angkor Capital Bank's investment capital is US$13 million.

"The bank is more than the first American-owned bank in Cambodia; it stands as an American-Asian bridge connecting my home country to yours.

"Baldwin said that although he is familiar with the tough challenges of the world economy, he is grateful for the prudent regulatory framework implemented by the National Bank of Cambodia.

"This country's banking industry remains solid - even amid the turmoil in the world's economy.

Though we recognise this turmoil, our belief in Cambodia's potential for growth remains unshaken and that it is why we are here."

The primary company is named Bridge Capital and is based in Saipan. "As one of the largest US investors in Cambodia, our financial and personal commitment to this is clear," he said.

"Cambodia is poised to become a leading business centre because nowhere else in Asia is there such a hunger for knowledge and growth."

He said that the bank would offer deposits accounts, commercial and individual loans, ATM services, and trade financing with innovative features.

Soon the bank will launch a debit and credit card, accompanied by full service online banking plugging Cambodia into the world, he said.

Foreign countries scramble for agricultural land in quest for food

Cambodia looks set to capitalise on its vast swaths of underused farmland.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Brendan Brady and Nguon Sovan
Thursday, 27 November 2008

The food crisis this year generated unprecedented interest in Cambodian agricultural land, and governments are scrambling for access to the country's vast food-growing potential

ARAB and Asian countries are in talks with the Cambodian government to access large tracts of farmland, in a deal that could double the Kingdom's agricultural revenues, government officials say.

Over the last six months, representatives from Kuwait, Qatar, South Korea, Indonesia and the Philippines have signalled - during meetings with Cambodia's Ministry of Commerce - that they are intent on bolstering food stocks following a year of high commodities prices that set off food security crises around the world, said Suos Yara, an undersecretary at the Council of Ministers.

According to Suos Yara, the countries were "very interested" and there was "high potential" of reaching agreements that, combined, would develop Cambodia's infrastructure and double agricultural revenue from US$1.5 billion to $3 billion.

Yuos Sara said foreign officials have been offered three types of deals: economic land concessions, land leasing and contract farming.

Economic land concessions would involve unused public lands, while contract farming and land leasing would be conducted through direct contracts with farmers, he explained.

"The countries are currently conducting economic feasibility studies, and then we'll know what kind of contracts there will be."

He added that any transactions would be made at current market prices - not fixed future rates - but he would not specify the profit-sharing scheme with the farmers owning or working the land.

"Cambodian farmers need access to markets, and this will secure business for them," he said. "This will be good for the Cambodian people."

Farming or leasing?

While Cambodian officials have remained mum on the expected outcome of the talks, Tim Purcell, director of the Cambodian office of the private consulting group Agricultural Development International thought the countries would opt for contract farming over land leases.

Contract farming would see foreign governments secure produce at the beginning of the harvest, rather than lease the land and wait for years before seeing results.

"If these countries need to secure food for the next couple years, it would need to be through contract farming since land concessions take a while to become operational," he said.

For Kuwait and Qatar, land concessions or leasing seems to be in the works, as Cambodian officials have spoken of Gulf state companies providing feedstocks and infrastructure investment.

"If it's an economic land concession, it's more risky," said Purcell. "They bring technology, infrastructure and cash investment in exchange for something. But the land set aside for concessions tends to be less arable; otherwise, it would have been used already."

"I'd wonder about the expectations of investors who want to develop this kind of land for food production."

High commodities prices have made food exports lucrative, and Cambodia, with its vast swaths of underutilised farmland, is in a strong position to partner with cash-rich nations.

" Farmers need access to markets, and this will secure business for them. "

Despite requesting a $38 million emergency food aid package in September from the Asian Development Bank, the government's actions suggest it will continue with plans to establish itself as a major regional food exporter.

Food prices have recently fallen but a global food crisis early this year, in which dozens of countries faced acute shortages, has governments clamoring to guard against the problem arising in the future.

The Middle East faces an especially pressing need to buttress its food security.

The Gulf Research Center, a Dubai-based think tank, in May highlighted the region's increasing food vulnerability.

In a report, it advised the Gulf Cooperation Council's six member states, which includes Qatar and Kuwait, to forge ties with foreign countries rich in arable land.

High food prices were a key contributor to the Middle East's inflation problem this year, as a lack of fertile land and water forces the region to import more than two-thirds of its food.

Well before the recent round of talks, Cambodia, Qatar and Kuwait had courted each other for commercial engagement.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabor al-Thani visited Cambodia in April to offer technology in exchange for arable land. During the visit he announced plans to invest $200 million in Cambodian agriculture.

Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheik Nasser al-Mohammed al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah visited Cambodia in August, as part of an eight-nation Asian tour to secure agriculture-related investments. Talks during the Kuwaiti premier's visit included offers of technical assistance for oil exploration and a proposal to exchange agricultural technology for leasing large swaths of land dedicated to growing food for export to Kuwait.

Kuwait also announced it would provide Cambodia with more than $546 million in soft loans for infrastructure projects, largely in the agricultural sector. The deal marks the second largest influx of cash to the Kingdom's coffers from a single country, after China, which last year gave some $601 million.

And in a statement published during the tour, the Kuwaiti finance minister said his government's proposed commercial partnerships with each country involved $3 billion to $4 billion in investment.

While ostensibly the deals appear to match countries with complementary resources, there are risks tied to land investments in a country notorious for official land-grabbing and poor land ownership rights.

Son Chhay, a parliamentarian and spokesman for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, doubted the government would broker major agricultural deals responsibly. He said that, especially with big bucks on the table, the government could not be trusted to respect local land rights.

"Already, two million hectares of land have been given away in these concessions over the last decade - some of it taken from people - and it's not used."

But he acknowledged the overwhelming appeal of what the deals could offer Cambodia as it braces itself for the local impact of a major global economic recession.

O'Russei vendors protest prices

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by May Kunmakara
Thursday, 27 November 2008

THOUSANDS of vendors at O'Russei Market protested an electricity price hike on Wednesday saying the tariff should be cut due to lower oil prices.

Organisers say all of the market's 8,000 vendors joined the onsite demonstration.

"I don't agree with this hike while oil prices are dropping and the prime minister pressured oil companies to decrease their price," said Sok Kun, a shoe vendor.

She said the market head informed vendors that prices would increase from 1,200 riels to 1,500 riels per kWh.

The company says the municipality approved the change and that it needs to cover high energy costs.

The market has told vendors they must pay the higher prices or have their electricity cut at the end of November.

"Why has the company increased the price at this time? They even force us to pay 2,500 riels for public lights that they rarely turn on," Sok Kun.

Keang Lak, the head of O'Russei Market, said he was merely following an order from the municipality to hike energy tariffs. "I cannot do anything besides tell them to lodge a complaint to the municipality because only the governor can iron out the matter," he said.

Sun Srun, governor of Prampi Makara district, urged the vendors to select 10 representatives to negotiate with the municipality.

"I don't want you to protest. I suggest that you file a complaint and I will bring your complaint letter to municipal governor to find a good solution for you," he said.

Bus operators report huge fall-offs in travel

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Passenger buses are parked at a Phnom Penh bus depot near Olympic Market.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sam Rith and Cheang Sokha
Thursday, 27 November 2008

Passenger numbers down 30-60 percent, operators say

LONG the most popular, practical and affordable mode of transport within Cambodia, bus operators are now struggling to survive with operators saying ridership has plummeted as much as 60 percent this year as people feeling the pinch choose to stay at home.

"Customers taking my company's buses have dropped about 20-30 percent this year compared to last year,"said Chhem Chomnan, marketing officer for the Phnom Penh Sorya Transport Company - the pioneer of Cambodian bus companies. There are 13 major bus companies currently operating countrywide.

Chem Sophal, deputy manager for Samphors Phnom Penh Express Bus Co Ltd, reported a 60 percent drop in ridership this year. "If it weren't for the cheaper gasoline, my business would go bankrupt," he said.

No fun even at festivals

Sorya Transport's Chhem Chomnan said that last year his company, which operates 100 buses, did not have enough buses to meet demand during major festivals and had to rent cars to keep up.

"Last year during these festivals, up to 20 full buses with 45 people per day would travel along each route, but this year only about 10 buses per day make these journeys with about 30 to 35 customers per bus," he said.

The slowing local economy is being blamed for the drops in bus ridership with many Cambodians cutting back on travel expenses.

Chhem Chomnan said his company has cancelled two routes, Phnom Penh to Kampong Chhnang and Phnom Penh to Chhrey Thom, and the company would soon be stopping the Phnom Penh-Takeo route.

"Sometimes there were customers from Phnom Penh to Takeo, but there were no customers for the return trip," he said. "We cannot earn a profit when we calculate what we spend [running these routes]."

He said the drop in demand had offset any savings his company saw in lower fuel prices. Kong Sophearak, director of the Statistics Department at the Tourism Ministry, said both tourist arrivals and domestic travel had dropped.

From January to October this year, there have been 1.7 million international visitors.

In Brief: Union elections get under way

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Unn Sophary
Thursday, 27 November 2008

The Cambodian Construction Workers Trade Union Federation's third annual election is scheduled for today at the Siem Reap office, with formalities due to wind up at 5pm. About 120 workers are to attend, with representatives from the Ministry of Labour, the International Labour Organisation and a group of supportive local NGOs. Ray Chreb, the union's Knowledge Improvement Teacher, said recruitment drives have been very successful. But he said discrimination is still strong and there are very few women members.

In Brief: Ministry joins cleaning campaign

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Unn Sophary
Thursday, 27 November 2008

The Ministry of Environment in Siem Reap has endorsed and joined the cleaning campaign to begin Friday from 7am to 9am, initiated by a partnership between local restaurants. Management and staff will participate, but the call for action has now gone out to the public at large. Khoeurn Sokunvisith, deputy director at the Ministry of Environment, told the Post that people can gather at 6:45am at the BBQ Suki restaurant. "One group is to start cleaning from Chong Kavsou bus station to Wat Damnak bridge. The second group will start at the New Bridge behind Amansara Resort and clean to the crocodile farm," Khoeurn Sokunvisith said.

Ancient Angkor temple complex goes Hollywood

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Elizabeth Kiester
Thursday, 27 November 2008

Siem Reap

IT'S lights, cameras and action at Angkor as the already crowded temple complex is now being transformed into a showbusiness venue.

The trend started last year when Siem Reap's Bayon CM Organizer Co Ltd, a joint venture with Bayon TV, launched its lavish under-the-stars "Legend of Angkor Wat" show at the famous temple.

A new version of the show is being staged at the temple from December 5 to January 31.

Then, on December 7, two days after the Angkor show launches, an international rock concert starring big acts such as Placebo and Click 5, and organised by MTV Networks (Asia), MTV Europe Foundation and USAID, will be staged at Angkor.

The reality TV series Amazing Race now stages a fairly tacky annual event at the temple, and also early next year work is expected to start on a $75 million Hollywood-style Angkor-themed water park, theatre and night entertainment complex, to be constructed near the temples.

Now comes news of yet another large-scale showbiz musical extravaganza to be permanently staged at the Angkor complex by Korean company Sou Ching Electronic Co Ltd.

New Yorker Mark Rowley was recently listed as a director with Sou Ching, and he's been running advertisements, recruiting a vast stable of staff - including a dance instructor-choreographer; performers; Angkor-period, traditional-Khmer and modern-day dancers; circus acts; martial artists skilled in weaponry; and a music director-sound engineer.

The company also seeks a "former army officer (drill sergeant and army trainer)" who can "manage large numbers of soldiers and train them to perform Angkor-period army tactics".

Night lights

Earlier this year, Sou Ching Electronic began advertising "Night Lighting" tours of Angkor, charging $15 a head. But Sou Ching started in business as a provider of electricity, through a 2006 decree by the Electricity Authority of Cambodia.

Since then, the company has not only supplied electricity to the Angkor complex, but installed lighting throughout and started selling tickets to see the subsequent light show.

In the decree, registered owners of the company were listed as CH&J International Co Ltd (1887 shares), Mr Va Chouda (1113 shares), and Damul LJC Co Ltd (700 shares).

Turning dreams into reality

Kenro Izu holds a young visitor to the Angkor Hospital for Children in Siem Reap.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Peter Olszewski
Thursday, 27 November 2008

Siem Reap

Photographer Kenro Izu made a healthy living from the temples of Angkor Wat. Now he's giving back through his Centre for Friends Without a Border

JAPANESE photographer Kenro Izu had 650,001 reasons to smile during the colourful opening ceremony of the state-of-the-art Centre for Friends Without A Border's new building, next to Siem Reap's Angkor Hospital for Children.

The opening of such a smart new "green" building, funded by Sterling Stamos Capital Management - a US private investment firm practising corporate philanthropy - was one reason the slightly built and unassuming photographer was smiling.

The other 650,000 reasons were because since Izu founded the Friends organisation 14 years ago, 650,000 children have received medical treatment, and many of those had their lives saved.

In 1993, Izu first came to Siem Reap to photograph the famous temples, and during that visit he met many injured children, including one land mine victim with no arms or legs.

He returned the following year, visited the Siem Reap Provincial Hospital and witnessed the death of a sick little girl.

"She died in front of my eyes while I was interviewing her father. She died because her father spent all his money, US$3, to transport the girl from their village."

By the time he arrived at the hospital, there was no money left. The result was that she didn't get the treatment she needed and died after a few days of being in a coma. The doctors at the hospital didn't do anything even though they knew she was critical.

"I was really hurt to see that because the girl was the same age as my daughter, so I immediately felt like I was that father seeing my own daughter die."

A ‘wild dream'

It was at that point Izu developed what he calls his "wild dream" - his dream to do something to prevent more children from dying in Siem Reap simply because their parents could not afford a few dollars for adequate treatment or medicine.

"Back then, I knew that I couldn't save the world. But I also knew I had to do something," Izu said. "I had very satisfactory results, both commercially and artistically, from my photography at Angkor Wat.

"At that time, I also had a complex that my photography, which was mostly architectural, wasn't really doing all that much for the world. War photographers could possibly make things happen because of the power of their work, but my photographs were just nice to look at it. And, as I say, I developed a complex about this.

"I then decided that because I was making money from my Angkor Wat photography, and taking its out of the country, it was time to put some back.

"I decided to sell some of my photos in America and Japan and send the proceeds back here to set up a simple clinic.

"I wasn't that ambitious. I just envisaged a little clinic to treat children for emergencies so that they didn't have to die needlessly. They didn't have to die simply because they weren't born in America or Europe."

Exceeding expectations

Izu's idea for a makeshift emergency clinic to stop children needlessly dying tugged at the heartstrings of those he approached.

Within the space of five years his wild dream became a reality that far exceeded his initial plan - his humble clinic quickly grew to become a major children's hospital that opened in 1999. It remains one of the best of its kind in Cambodia.

"It all grew so fast," Kenro told the Post. "Donations in New York increased so quickly that I then decided to open a little hospital.

"At first, we started with just the outpatients' clinic and then, when the staff was capable, we opened an inpatients' ward. Then, an emergency ward, a surgical facility and an operating theatre, and an intensive care unit, until we had the hospital that stands here now."

Corporate funding, private donations, and free help from American architectural firms and others meant that, in the span of five years, the little clinic that lived in Kenro's dreams became a major hospital.

Meanwhile, back on the home front. the Friends Without A Border organisation has taken over Kenro's life, and his wife, also a photographer, has had to take over the running of the family business, a photographic studio in New York.

"My wife now runs the photo studio because she said someone has to take care of business while I chase my dream," Kenro said. "I succeed simply because I just trust everyone. I'm very, very proud of what together we have been able to build. I trusted many people, and in turn I am very thankful to the many people who trusted me, shared my dream and supported me."

101 killed as gunmen rampage in India city

Firefighters try to douse a fire at the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai, India, Thursday, Nov. 27, 2008. Teams of gunmen stormed luxury hotels, a popular restaurant, a crowded train station and a Jewish group's headquarters, killing people, and holding Westerners hostage in coordinated attacks on the nation's commercial center that were blamed on Muslim militants.(AP Photo)

A local man ducks for cover as he crosses an alleyway exposed to fire from alleged gunmen holding a family hostage in Colaba, Mumbai, India, Thursday, Nov. 27, 2008. Teams of gunmen stormed luxury hotels, a popular restaurant, hospitals and a crowded train station in coordinated attacks across India's financial capital, killing at least 101 people, taking Westerners hostage and leaving parts of the city under siege Thursday, police said. A group of suspected Muslim militants claimed responsibility.(AP Photo/Saurabh Das)

Associated Press Writer

MUMBAI, India – Teams of gunmen stormed luxury hotels, a popular restaurant, a crowded train station and a Jewish center, killing at least 101 people and holding Westerners hostage in coordinated attacks on India's commercial center that were blamed on Muslim militants. Dozens of people were still trapped or held captive Thursday.

Police and gunmen were exchanging occasional gunfire at two luxury hotels and dozens of people were believed held hostage or trapped inside the besieged buildings. Pradeep Indulkar, a senior official at the Maharashtra state Home Ministry said 101 people were killed and 314 injured.

Among the dead were at least one Australian, Japanese and British national he said. Officials said eight militants had also been killed in the coordinated attacks on at least 10 sites that began around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Gunmen also seized the Mumbai headquarters of the ultra-orthodox Jewish outreach group Chabad Lubavitch. Indian commandos surrounded the building Thursday morning and witnesses said gunfire was heard from the building.

Police loudspeakers declared a curfew around Mumbai's landmark Taj Mahal hotel, and black-clad commandos ran into the building as fresh gunshots rang out from the area, apparently the beginning of an assault on gunmen who had taken hostages in the hotel.

Soldiers outside the hotel said forces were moving slowly, from room to room, looking for gunmen and traps. At noon, two bodies covered with white cloth were wheeled out of the entrance and put in ambulances.

A series of explosions had rocked the Taj Mahal just after midnight. Screams were heard and black smoke and flames billowed from the century-old edifice on Mumbai's waterfront.

Firefighters sprayed water at the blaze and plucked people from balconies with extension ladders. By dawn, the fire was still burning.

At the nearby upscale Oberoi hotel, soldiers could be seen on the roof of neighboring buildings. A banner hung out of one window read "save us." No one could be seen inside the room from the road.

Officials at Bombay Hospital, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a Japanese man had died there and nine Europeans had been admitted, three of them in critical condition with gunshots. All had come from the Taj Mahal, the officials said.

At least three top Indian police officers — including the chief of the anti-terror squad — were among those killed, said and A.N. Roy, a top police official.

The attackers specifically targeted Britons and Americans at the hotels and restaurant, witnesses said.

Alex Chamberlain, a British citizen who was dining at the Oberoi, told Sky News television that a gunman ushered 30 to 40 people from the restaurant into a stairway and, speaking in Hindi or Urdu, ordered everyone to put up their hands.

"They were talking about British and Americans specifically. There was an Italian guy, who, you know, they said: 'Where are you from?" and he said he's from Italy and they said 'fine' and they left him alone. And I thought: 'Fine, they're going to shoot me if they ask me anything — and thank God they didn't," he said.

Chamberlain said he managed to slip away as the patrons were forced to walk up stairs, but he thought much of the group was being held hostage.

The motive for the onslaught was not immediately clear, but Mumbai has frequently been targeted in terrorist attacks blamed on Islamic extremists, including a series of bombings in July 2006 that killed 187 people.

Mumbai, on the western coast of India overlooking the Arabian Sea, is home to splendid Victorian architecture built during the British Raj and is one of the most populated cities in the world with some 18 million crammed into shantytowns, high rises and crumbling mansions. The Taj Mahal hotel, filled with Oriental carpets, Indian artifacts and alabaster ceilings, overlooks the fabled Gateway of India that commemorated the visit of King George V and Queen Mary.

A spokesman for the Lubavitch movement in New York, Rabbi Zalman Shmotkin, said attackers "stormed the Chabad house" in Mumbai.

"It seems that the terrorists commandeered a police vehicle which allowed them easy access to the area of the Chabad house and threw a grenade at a gas pump nearby," he said.

Around 10:30 a.m., three people were led from the building and escorted away by police: a woman, a child and an Indian cook, said one witness, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.

He said he did not know the status of occupants of the house, which serves as an educational center and a synagogue.

Early Thursday, state Home Secretary Bipin Shrimali said four suspects had been killed in two incidents in Mumbai when they tried to flee in cars, and Roy said four more gunmen were killed at the Taj Mahal. State Home Minister R.R. Patil said nine more were arrested. They declined to provide any further details.

"We're going to catch them dead or alive," Patil told reporters. "An attack on Mumbai is an attack on the rest of the country."

An Indian media report said a previously unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen had claimed responsibility for the attacks in e-mails to several media outlets. There was no way to verify that claim.

The state government ordered schools and colleges and the Bombay Stock Exchange closed Thursday.

Police reported hostages being held at the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels, two of the best-known upscale destinations.

Gunmen who burst into the Taj "were targeting foreigners. They kept shouting: `Who has U.S. or U.K. passports?'" said Ashok Patel, a British citizen who fled from the hotel.

Authorities believed up to 15 foreigners were hostages at the Taj Mahal hotel, said Anees Ahmed, a top state official.

It was also unclear where the hostages were in the Taj Mahal, which is divided into an older wing that was in flames, and a more modern tower.

State Department spokesman Robert Wood said U.S. officials were not aware of any American casualties, but were still checking.

"We condemn these attacks and the loss of innocent life," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said.

Blood smeared the grounds of the 19th century Chhatrapati Shivaji railroad station — a beautiful example of Victorian Gothic architecture — where attackers sprayed bullets into the crowded terminal.

Photos in the Mumbai Mirror newspaper showed a young gunman — dressed like a college student in cargo pants and a black T-shirt — walking casually through the station, an assault rifle hanging from one hand and two knapsacks slung over a shoulder.

Nasim Inam, a witness said four of the attackers gunned down scores of commuters. "They just fired randomly at people and then ran away. In seconds, people fell to the ground."

Other gunmen attacked Leopold's restaurant, a landmark popular with foreigners, and the police headquarters in southern Mumbai, the area where most of the attacks took place. The restaurant was riddled with bullet holes and there was blood on the floor and shoes left by fleeing customers. Gunmen also attacked Cama and Albless Hospital and G.T. Hospital, though it was not immediately clear if anyone was killed.

Early Thursday, several European lawmakers were among those who barricaded themselves inside the Taj, a century-old seaside hotel complex and one of the city's best-known destinations.

"I was in the main lobby and there was all of a sudden a lot of firing outside," said Sajjad Karim, part of a delegation of European lawmakers visiting Mumbai ahead of a European Union-India summit.

As he turned to get away, "all of a sudden another gunmen appeared in front of us, carrying machine gun-type weapons. And he just started firing at us ... I just turned and ran in the opposite direction," he told The Associated Press over his mobile phone.

Hours later, Karim remained holed up in a hotel restaurant, unsure if it was safe to come out.

India has been wracked by bomb attacks the past three years, which police blame on Muslim militants intent on destabilizing this largely Hindu country. Nearly 700 people have died.

Since May a militant group calling itself the Indian Mujahideen has taken credit for a string of blasts that killed more than 130 people. The most recent was in September, when explosions struck a park and crowded shopping areas in the capital, New Delhi, killing 21 people and wounding about 100.

Relations between Hindus, who make up more than 80 percent of India's 1 billion population, and Muslims, who make up about 14 percent, have sporadically erupted into bouts of sectarian violence since British-ruled India was split into independent India and Pakistan in 1947.

Victims speak of night of terror in Mumbai

Pigeons fly near a flame from the Taj Hotel hotel in Mumbai, India, Thursday, Nov. 27, 2008. Teams of heavily armed gunmen have stormed luxury hotels, a popular restaurant, hospitals and a crowded train station in coordinated attacks across India's financial capital Wednesday night, killing at least 82 people and taking Westerners hostage, police said.(AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade)

Associated Press Writer

MUMBAI, India – Western visitors and Mumbai residents ducked under tables at luxury five-star hotels as staff members locked restaurant doors at the first rattle of gunfire and explosions in the lobby below.

Not far away, army commandoes in battle-ready camouflage uniforms battled attackers in black shirts and jeans carrying shoulder bags filled with ammunition at Mumbai's main railway station, which was filled with commuters waiting to catch trains home.

Twelve hours after the first shots were fired at about 10 p.m. at a busy Mumbai cafe, the terror attacks continued Thursday inside two of the city's best-known and most opulent hotels where terrorists still held hostages.

"We were at dinner when we heard shots fired. There was gunfire and explosions. We stayed on the floor, many were lying under tables, under furniture, and the hotel staff told us to be quiet," said Cheryl Robinson, a British tourist who was trapped inside Mumbai's Taj Mahal hotel with two friends. "The hotel staff were stupendous. They locked the doors and warned us to sit tight."

She said restaurants and rooms were flooded with water after a pipe burst in the chaos of the gunshots and blasts. "We lay down in the water. We could hear the sound of people running outside. It was terrifying."

Seven long hours later, a barefoot Robinson shivered as she stood outside the burning but still majestic stone-columned hotel that belched out black smoke from shattered windows. Soldiers and firefighters helped her and several others to climb down ladders and escape the blazing edifice as the firing continued inside.

A clutch of weeping tourists from Spain, Italy and Britain, also barefoot, huddled together holding bottles of water and haversacks. They waved away journalists eager for news.

At another Mumbai landmark, the Chattrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station, Nasim Inam's hands shook as he spoke of seeing commuters mowed down while walking to catch the late trains home.

Four young men carrying big guns and wearing black T-shirts and blue jeans rushed in, Inam said. "They just fired randomly at people and then ran away. In seconds, people fell to the ground."

Sobbing and shaking his head, he said the attackers were 25 years old at the most.

"They were so young. They were young boys," said Inam. "I was standing behind. I was just behind. If they had turned around, it would have been me."

Just a few miles (kilometers) away, eyewitnesses said gunmen hijacked a police van then opened fire on crowds that had collected near two hospitals close to the police headquarters.

"We felt the ground shake and heard the explosions," said Manish Tripathi, at a police cordon near one of the hospitals. "We heard a car speed up behind us, it was a police van, but the men inside were firing at us."

He said in seconds people around him were shot at. "Men were screaming that they had lost their fingers. There was blood all over," said Tripathi who escaped unhurt. "Some were shot in the leg, some on the shoulder or hand. I feel they are still screaming."

Inside the two Mumbai hotels and the railway station, green uniformed soldiers in helmets took over from the khaki-uniformed police who moved out to patrol the streets and warned residents to stay indoors.

The state government has ordered schools and colleges closed Thursday.

Opposite the multistory Oberoi hotel, a tense college student Preet Desai paced on a deserted promenade as dawn broke. He said a friend's father was inside the hotel at a business meeting when shots were fired.

"My friend is shattered. His dad is not answering his cell. What do we do?" said Desai. "Do you know anyone in the hotel who can give us information, any information?"

Dazed tourists just want out of Thailand

A tourist waits with his luggage due to flight cancellations at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok early Wednesday, Nov. 26 after anti-government protesters besieged the airport. The anti-government protesters are demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat. (AP)

The China Post

Thursday, November 27, 2008

BANGKOK -- Bangkok’s shiny new airport resembled the aftermath of an all-night rock concert as thousands of confused people wandered aimlessly in search of food and help while others, wrapped in beach towels, slept where they could.

With the US$4 billion terminal besieged by anti-government protesters, forcing the cancellation of all flights on Wednesday, foreign tourists had little option but to bed down on benches, behind check-in desks, and even luggage carousels.

“This is a big problem,” Dutch tourist John Crushak said as he lay on a makeshift bed of clothes and suitcases in one of the world’s biggest airports. “I just want to go home. I don’t care what has happened. This can’t go on any longer.”

Dishevelled men and women wandered around the terminal soon after sunrise in search of coffee, food and some word about what was going on.

Many resorted to a breakfast of cup noodles and potato chips from a convenience store, one of the few businesses inside the futuristic terminal building that was not shuttered up or deserted by staff.

“I understand the people, but the airlines are terrible. They’ve given us no information,” said Swede Christopher Persson, who spent the night underneath a check-in desk.

“I haven’t had any sleep. I don’t know whether to go to Bangkok or stay here. It’s just terrible,” he said.

Despite the anger, People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) supporters camped outside the terminal doors were unapologetic.

They said their airport protest was justified as part of their six-month-long campaign to remove an elected government they believe is a puppet of ousted leader Thaksin Shinawatra.

“We will stay until the government steps down. This government is not legitimate. Thaksin is in control,” said retired university lecturer Sunthorn Kaewlai, dressed in the PAD’s obligatory yellow worn in honour of Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

“We have not interfered with passengers’ travel. The airport authorities have to run this airport,” he added.

Behind him long queues snaked out of the toilets, the flooded, filthy floors of which were likely to dent the reputation of the “Land of Smiles” as a premier tourist destination drawing 14.5 million tourists last year.

The industry, which directly employs 1.8 million people and brings in 6 percent of gross domestic product, has survived the SARS epidemic, the Asian tsunami, bird flu and a 2006 coup.

But the long-running protests have hurt, with many big hotels losing conference business after a state of emergency was briefly declared in Bangkok in September.

“It’s not the people stranded in the airport who are the big problem in terms of their view of Thailand. It’s the people who now won’t come in December or January for their holidays,” said Chris Bruton of corporate risk firm Dataconsult.

“It’s the business people who will be cancelling meetings and deciding against investment projects here,” he said.

American Gary Biermann, who was resigned to not getting home in time for Thanksgiving on Thursday, echoed that view.

“I understand these people want change, but to shut down an airport for their cause is a bit much and it won’t help this country,” he said.

“It shouldn’t affect the way I feel about Thailand but it will,” he said.

For others, it was an awful end to a good holiday.

“I just want to go home,” said Canadian Jason Walsh. “I had a great time here, but this has been a big disappointment.”

Thailand shuts down second airport in capital

27 November 2008

BANGKOK, Thailand - Thai authorities have closed a second airport in the capital after anti-government protesters stormed the terminal.

The country's main international airport has been closed since early Wednesday because of tens of thousands of protesters laying virtual siege on the terminal in their push for the government's resignation.

Serirat Prasutanont, chief of Thailand Airport Authority, says that the city's main domestic airport, Don Muang, was closed early Thursday as authorities feared that protesters might harm passengers and planes.

He said authorities are considering using an air force base outside Bangkok and have alerted all airports nationwide to be ready to receive more diverted flights.

The closure of Don Muang cuts off Bangkok completely to air traffic.

Foreign marriage ban lifted

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chhay Channyda
Thursday, 27 November 2008

New rules tighten up process, mail-order unions still illegal

ABAN on marriages between Cambodians and foreigners aimed at curbing human trafficking has been lifted, officials said Wednesday, adding that new regulations will seek to prevent internet websites from featuring mail-order Cambodian brides.

The suspension, begun in late March, was lifted on November 3, but the "new subdecree [regulating marriages] has not yet been widely publicised", said Bith Kimhong, director of the Interior Ministry's Anti-human Trafficking Department.

The ban came into effect amid alarm over the rising numbers of brokered unions between South Korean men and poor, uneducated Cambodian women.

In 2004, the South Korean embassy in Phnom Penh issued 72 marriage visas to Cambodian women. By 2007, that figure had jumped to 1,759, with an additional 160 visas issued in the first month of 2008.

The new subdecree states that marriages made through agencies or brokers are still illegal, adding that "all fake marriages aimed at labour exploitation, human trafficking or sexual exploitation are prohibited".

The subdecree also insists that marriage must be based on the "voluntary policy and will" of the individual.

New procedures
Bith Kimhong said that under the new rules, foreigners must be physically present in Cambodia in order to be married and must apply for permission with the Foreign Ministry.

"The Ministry of Interior, after receiving documents from the Foreign Ministry, has to inform to all the relevant authorities on where the marriage will occur," Bith Kimhong said.

"We cannot do like before. This time, foreigners must come to Cambodia to register for marriage," he added, referring to internet unions.

Nop Sarin Sreyroth, secretary general of the Cambodian Women's Crisis Centre, said that while she applauded the reinstatement of legal marriages between Cambodians and foreigners, the new rules do not outline punishment for foreigners who violate the rules.

"We are looking forward to monitoring the government's implementation [of the subdecree]," she said.

2010 mine removal target unrealistic for Cambodia

Yoeun Sam En, 44, a victim of a leftover submunition, sits in front of his shop in Kratie province.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sam Rith and Sebastian Strangio
Thursday, 27 November 2008

The Ottawa Convention gives Cambodia until next year to rid the country of mines, but officials say they'll need more time

CAMBODIA is unlikely to meet its 2010 deadline for the eradication of anti-personnel land mines, according to government officials, who say the sheer number of remaining mines and continuing tensions at the border have affected the country's ability to meet its obligations under the Ottawa Convention.

At the ninth meeting of the signatories of the 1997 anti-landmine convention, which opened Monday in Geneva, 15 signatories - including Great Britain - announced their failure to meet 2009 deadlines for mine clearance, according to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).

"The lack of urgency displayed by these countries in removing their mines from the ground shows a lack of respect for the treaty and for the people living on a daily basis with the landmine threat," said Tamar Gabelnick, ICBL's treaty implementation director, in a statement Monday.

Article 5 of the Ottawa Convention pledges signatories to "ensure the destruction of all anti-personnel mines in mined areas under its jurisdiction or control ... not later than 10 years after the entry into force of this Convention."

Although Cambodia was not one of the countries listed by the ICBL, the Kingdom has just over one year to get in line with Article 5.

Unrealistic targets

But officials said the number of mines laid during the civil war of the 1980s and 1990s had forced the government to set a more realistic deadline.

"Due to the fact that land mines are still everywhere in Cambodia, our government's strategy is to clear all the mines in Cambodia by 2020," said Khem Sophoan, director general of Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC).

Rupert Leighton, Cambodia program director of the Mines Advisory Group, an international demining organisation, said Tuesday that the Article 5 targets were unrealistic and that, in the best-case scenario, Cambodia could expect to clear the majority of its mines within a decade.

"What [the Treaty] says is very difficult to do," he said. "It sets some targets that in theory are good, but in reality are extremely difficult to achieve."

Khem Sophoan added that CMAC's 2,000 miners and 87 mine-clearing dogs had already removed around 360,000 anti-personnel mines, 9,000 anti-tank mines and 1.3 million pieces of unexploded ordnance left over from the civil war.

Chan Rotha, deputy secretary general of the Cambodian Mine Action Authority (CMAA) added that the Cambodian government was preparing documentation to justify to donors an extension in the deadline for mine eradication.

"We hope that the donor countries will agree with our request to continue clearing mines until 2020," he said.

"We have prepared transparent documents and other evidence to show the donor countries."

Border tensions

Deminers said also that the presence of battle-ready Thai and Cambodian troops on the countries' border was an impediment to demining, which requires the controlled explosion of concealed ordnance.

"These are very sensitive areas ... where there is a degree of dispute between the two sides about the exact location of the border," said Leighton. "The military doesn't want indiscriminate explosions."

Phay Siphan, secretary of state in the Council of Ministers, said military operations would certainly impede mine removal operations.

"CMAC activities depend on the situation in that area, so the presence of the military in that area will affect the demining process," he said, but was confident the two countries would adhere to an agreement made during a military meeting in Siem Reap on July 28, in which both agreed to the formation of a joint border demining team.

CMAC Deputy General Heng Ratana and CMAA Secretary General Sam Sotha are representing Cambodia at the talks in Geneva, which conclude Friday.

UN representatives call for investigation into prison death

Principle 34 of the United Nations' Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment of 1988 requires the death of an imprisoned person during detention to be investigated by a "judicial or other authority".

The Phnom Penh Post
Written by Chrann Chamroeun and Georgia Wilkins
Thursday, 27 November 2008

The family of Heng Touch maintains that the 24-year-old was fatally beaten by prison guards while detained on charges he stole a chicken

UN representatives have urged the government to conduct a full investigation into the death of a 24-year-old man who died last week as a result of head injuries sustained while he was detained at Prey Sar prison.

The victim's family says that prison officials savagely beat their son, Heng Touch, leading to his death.

"We have written to the Ministry of Interior to recommend a credible investigation," said Christophe Peschoux, director of the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

"A death in prison is a very serious issue that should be treated with professionalism and humanity by prison authorities, especially when there are allegations of ill-treatment," he told the Post via email Wednesday.

Heng Touch was imprisoned in September on charges of robbery.

Torture an ‘exaggeration'
Mong Kim Heng, director of Prey Sar prison, denied that prison officials tortured Heng Touch, calling the allegations "an exaggeration".

"I deny every allegation that Heng Touch was tortured by prison officials. It is an exaggeration and an allegation without a proper legal basis," he told the Post Wednesday.

"His death was caused by him attempting to commit suicide by hitting his head on a wall. We sent him to the hospital to try to save his life, but he died there," he said.

An Sam Ath, a monitoring supervisor for the rights group Licadho, said that they were preparing to meet with government officials over the matter.

" I deny every allegation that heng touch was tortured by prison officials. "

"Licadho, Adhoc and the UN are meeting to urge the Ministry of Interior and Department of Prisons to find out the real cause of Heng Touch's death," he said.

"We don't know yet the real reason of Heng Touch's death. If we find out his death was caused by torture, we will ask the authorities to penalise the perpetrators," he added.

Heng Touch's uncle, Chheng Ka, told the Post that denials by prison officials were not credible.

"I don't believe prison officials who have said that my nephew tried to commit suicide by hitting his head on the wall," he said.

"I will lodge complaints to several institutions, including ... Prime Minister Hun Sen to inform him about the torture that led to my nephew's death."

Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak declined to comment on the matter Wednesday.

Protests slow tourist arrivals

Photo by: AFP
Cambodian Cham Muslims sit at Phnom Penh International Airport on Wednesday after their flight to Thailand was cancelled.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sam Rith and Sebastian Strangio
Thursday, 27 November 2008

The storming of Bangkok's main airport by anti-government protesters has stranded hundreds of visitors to Cambodia, say local tourism operators

THE political demonstrations that have brought Bangkok's airport to a halt have slowed tourist arrivals into Cambodia and stranded hundreds more visitors inside the country, according to local tourism operators.

A pro-monarchy mob from the People's Alliance for Democracy stormed Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport - a key gateway for Cambodia-bound tourists - forcing its closure and casting thousands of travellers into limbo Tuesday.

"Travel agents in Cambodia have informed us that hundreds of their customers have been stranded en route from Phnom Penh/Siem Reap to Bangkok or from Bangkok to Phnom Penh/Siem Reap," said Ho Vandy, president of the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents. "Now, it is a bit quieter at [both] airports."

Thong Sophat, deputy director of Phnom Penh International Airport, said that all Wednesday flights to and from Bangkok had been cancelled.

"Customers who have to fly [to Bangkok] today from Phnom Penh airport have had to postpone," he told the Post Wednesday.

Bangkok Airways, which operates two flights a day between Bangkok and Phnom Penh, confirmed it had cancelled both its flights Wednesday, airline representative Mary Dao said, but she could not say when services would be reinstated.

At Raffles Hotel Le Royal, more than half of the 170 guests had been stranded and were delaying their flights, said reservation officer Malis Chea, while another half were stuck in Bangkok and had postponed their trips to Cambodia.

Kong Sophearak, director of the statistics department at the Ministry of Tourism, said that the upheavals in Bangkok would certainly affect the domestic tourist industry, since 30 percent of tourist arrivals to Cambodia came via Thailand.

But Ho Vandy said the problems in Bangkok would not be fatal for the industry since many tourists were also arriving from Singapore, Malaysia, China, Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam, all of which are linked by direct flights to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

So Mara, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Tourism, declined to comment Wednesday on the situation in Bangkok, saying only that Thailand needed to "take care of its problems".

Diplomat returns to publicise memoirs

The Phnom Penh Post

Thursday, 27 November 2008

FORMER US diplomat to the United Nations Sichan Siv, the highest-ranking Cambodian-American ever to serve in the US government, is visiting Phnom Penh to publicise his recently launched memoirs, Golden Bones.

The book documents his escape from the Khmer Rouge in 1976, how he ended up as a taxi driver in New York City and, 13 years later, his appointment by President George HW Bush as an adviser to the White House.

Sichan Siv will speak at Pannasastra University (Norodom Blvd campus) at 6pm Thursday, will visit the National Library at 4pm Friday and will attend a book signing at Monument Books at 6pm on Saturday.

Global Witness targets graft in Cambodia's oil and mining industries

The Phnom Penh Post

Thursday, 27 November 2008

The London-based group says foreign donors have not done enough to hold the government to account for failing to fight corruption

ENVIRONMENTAL watchdog Global Witness has released a scathing attack on what it says is rampant asset-stripping and graft in the country's mining and oil sectors, saying that foreign donors needed to get tough on the Kingdom's government for failing to tackle corruption.

The statement, dated Tuesday, comes as donor countries gear up to meet in Phnom Penh on December 4 and 5 to decide on this year's aid budget, which amounted to about US$600 million last year.

"Cambodia's extractive industry is fast developing and has reached a crucial point. Revenue will soon be flowing, and opportunities to influence the government on this issue will decline. Cambodia's donors need to wake up to the potential disaster," said Gavin Hayman, Global Witness's campaign director, from London.

The statement precedes a major extractive industries report the group plans for January 2009.

"Cambodia is on the verge of a petroleum and minerals windfall, but both sectors are already exhibiting early warning signs of the corruption, nepotism and state capture, which plagued Cambodia's forest sector," Hayman said.

Anti-corruption row

The statement comes as NGOs zero in on the Cambodian government's failure to deliver on promises to pass an anti-corruption law.

Thun Saray, president of the human rights group Adhoc, said that the annual donor meeting has become little more than a showcase of the government's failure to deliver on its promises.

"If we look into the background of the government's promises to produce an anti-corruption law, we'll see that nothing changes. After the meeting, everything will remain the same," Thun Saray said.

Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association who last week participated in a closed-door debate about the draft anti-corruption law, was also pessimistic.

He said that the demands of civil society groups have not been taken into account and that the proposed legislation contains vague definitions of corruption and how corrupt government officials would be punished.

John Johnson, spokesman at the US embassy in Phnom Penh, told the Post that each year Cambodia loses millions of dollars to corruption that would be better spent on improving the lives of its citizens.

"We continue to encourage the Cambodian government to pass an anti-corruption law that meets international standards," Johnson said.

"We have been encouraged by the signs that a draft is currently being formulated and look forward to its passage in the coming months.

"Finance Minister Keat Chhon said that the government expects massive Chinese government aid next year.

China is not participating in the donor meeting.


Ailing rogue reporter needs release from jail, wife says

Photo by: Rick Valenzuela
Seth Borin in Pursat province last month.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by May Titthara
Thursday, 27 November 2008

Rights groups express concern over conditions in Pursat prison, while officials say the reputed journalist is not that ill

SETH Borin, the wife of Him Mao, a purported journalist who was arrested in Pursat two months ago, has appealed for help in order to free her husband, who, she says, has become sick during his incarceration.

Ngoun Lay, the chief of police at Pursat prison, said Him Mao is not seriously ill and is suffering only from a mild cold.

Seth Borin has been harvesting rice to make money to visit her husband, who is being held in Pursat prison, a half-day journey from her home in a remote village.

She says her husband has been requesting her company and cooking, but she does not have the money to visit him regularly.

"I have not got any way to get my husband released from jail. Previously, I depended on his editor-in-chief to help, but he kept telling us to wait and wait, and now I get the news that my husband is not a member of his staff."

This doesn't make any sense to me," she said, "because the editor-in-chief has come to our house before. He doesn't want to be responsible, and now I don't have anywhere to turn."

Him Mao was arrested on September 27 in Bakan district while attempting to photograph illegal loggers. He has been accused of fighting with police, a charge he denies.

Human rights organisation Adhoc has said it will not be working for Him Mao's release because he was drunk at the time of his arrest.

The Cambodia Centre for Human Rights, however, has said it will continue to look into Him Mao's arrest and that it is trying to find him a lawyer. Ien Kongchit, the case investigator, said there are reports from villagers that Him Mao slapped a police officer, but no further attack was witnessed.

Him Mao told the Post in October that he had been working for the Khmer papers Koh Ke and Bayon for four years and used to take bribes from ministry officials to withhold discriminating stories.

He said he was forced to act dishonourably because he was a poor man without any other skills.

"Sometimes I write stories about ministers and ministries and the bad things they do. Then I show them the story before it is printed, and they usually pay me to stop it being published. I never receive a lot, just 5,000 riels here and there. I know that is not how journalists are supposed to work but what could I do?" he said then.

The Pursat Provincial Court is demanding US$1,000 for his release, a sum his wife called exorbitant.

Lay Pitou, the deputy chief commander of the military police in Bakan district, said that he did not want to arrest Him Mao but was ordered to by his superiors.

"If Him Mao was not drunk we would not have had this problem. We just wanted him to say sorry, but he wouldn't do it," he said.

Illegal wildlife trade thrives; 'common' species threatened

Earlier this month, media reported that the military police had confiscated 139 kilograms of wild, live turtles in Kampong Chhnang province and arrested three Cambodian smugglers. According to the wildlife office, most illegal catches are smuggled by car.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Vong Sokheng and Cheang Sokha
Thursday, 27 November 2008

Despite recent seizures by police, officials have admitted that a lack of enforcement has contributed to a boom in wildlife smuggling

THE government has expressed concern over the booming illegal wildlife trade, which it claims is spiralling out of control and even threatening species once thought to be common to Cambodia.

Chheang Dany, deputy director of the wildlife office at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery, said Tuesday that the wildlife trade had become so big that the authorities were virtually helpless to confront the problem.

"We are concerned about the continuation of smuggling, but we do not have any means to form nationwide protection," he told the Post.

He said that although several hundred turtles and pythons were confiscated earlier this month, there was still no method of monitoring the level of enforcement of anti-smuggling laws. This had led to even protected areas in several provinces falling victim to the underground trade, he said.

Seng Teak, coordinator of the World Wildlife Fund's Cambodia Conservation Program told the Post Tuesday that smuggling had reached a point at which it was not only threatening rare species of wildlife but also species once thought to be common, such as turtles, snakes and pangolins.

"We are still concerned about the situation of illegal wildlife smuggling, which we cannot seem to stop," he said.

He added that illegal activity had become embarrassingly high in protected wildlife conservation areas, especially in the northeast of the country.

" We are still concerned about [smuggling], which we cannot seem to curb. "

"We have laws against wildlife smuggling, but we have to do more to strengthen and enforce these laws, especially in protected areas," he said.

According to Seng Teak, the WWF and the government are working together to establish a mobile wildlife enforcement team expected to be operational by next January.

Officials deny smuggling

Sun Savuth, deputy police chief of O'Chrov district in Banteay Meanchey province, an area prone to smuggling, denied that illegal activity was increasing.

"The period between 2002 and 2004 saw the most illegal smuggling of cobras and trakuot [large lizards] from this area to Thailand," he said Tuesday. "Since then the amount of illegal smuggling has declined because authorities have cracked down on offenders."

Chheang Dany urged cooperation between the government and NGOs to help raise awareness of the gravity of the problem. "More work needs to be done to preserve these species," he said.

NEC plans bid to fine Sam Rainsy for slur

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Mom Kunthear
Thursday, 27 November 2008

THE National Election Committee will lodge a complaint with the municipal court to force opposition Sam Rainsy Party President Sam Rainsy to pay millions of riels in fines for calling CPP leaders "thieves" during the election campaign, officials said Wednesday.

The NEC attempted to dock money from Sam Rainsy's salary for his campaign slur earlier this month but failed in parliament because it was deemed illegal.

"We are now turning to the court once more and arranging to lodge a complaint to make Sam Rainsy pay 10 million riels (US$2,500) in fines," said NEC Secretary General Tep Nitha.

"It is illegal to cut a parliamentarian's salary, so we told the NEC to take action to the court," CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said.

SRP spokesman and lawmaker Son Chhay told the Post Wednesday that the party had not heard about the NEC's new complaint, but said it was not concerned.

"We are not worried about this. We did not recognise the result of NEC's decision [justifying the CPP's complaint]," he said, adding that there is nothing to lodge a complaint about.

"We have not seen anything written in electoral law that allows NEC to take this case to the court, that's why we are not worried."

However, Son Chhay said that SRP will look for a lawyer if the case is confirmed. NEC officials on Wednesday could not say on what date they will file the complaint to the court.

Victims of time: growing old in the Kingdom of the young

An elderly resident at Wat Ounalom surrounded by members of the younger generation

Elderly retire to temples for refuge and dharma
Thousands of Cambodia’s elderly spend their last years in Buddhist temple compounds. For some, the temple is a refuge. Others come to devote their last years to the acquisition of Dharma, hoping for a better reincarnation. Ouk Set, 78, has been living in Wat Svay Popar since 1979. Her husband and two sons were killed during the Khmer Rouge regime, and when it fell, she had nowhere to go and no one to care for her. “Even if my children were alive I would still come to the temple, as it is a good place to learn Dharma. I will live here until I pass away and I am happy. This place is my home. Even if I don’t have family, I have many old friends, and we all look after each other,” she said. Pech Poy, 50, has been living at Wat Ounalom for eight years, devoting the rest of his life to the acquisition of Dharma. “I see that most old people live in difficult situations because they don’t have a place to stay, so I am luckier than most,” he said. “When I die my next life will be better than this. I believe I will be reborn in a good condition because now I try to do good and save the Dharma."

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Mom Kunthear and Eleanor Ainge Roy
Thursday, 27 November 2008

Shifts in youth culture and the abandonment of traditional models of family care leave a growing number of Cambodia's elderly to fend for themselves in their final years

IN a small hut by the side of the road, Long Hang has been lonely for many years. Her roof is built of plastic tarp and coconut fronds that leak in the rain. The 70-year-old was turned out of her family home when she became too weak to work. Now, she spends her days lying on a dirt floor, too ill to move and blind in both eyes.

"I used to live with my niece, but she kicked me out when I lost my sight. I became a beggar on the road, and some travellers who saw my hardship would stop and give me money. But most people were indifferent. I don't have any relatives left, and all I hope is that strangers will give food to help me," she said.

Long Hang is a survivor of the Khmer Rouge, but a victim of old age - spending her final days in a society that lacks a welfare system and where traditional methods of family support have been increasingly abandoned.

"Old people in Cambodia have a very difficult time," said Ou Virak, director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights."They are not a ‘sexy' cause, and people like giving to sexy causes," he added.

‘Vulnerable group'

The National Strategic Development Plan 2006-10 has identified the Kingdom's elderly (60+ years old), which represent six percent of the population, as a "vulnerable group requiring priority attention".

But their care is being neglected in favour of sectors such as defence, whose budget was recently doubled, Ou Virak said.

"The primary caregiver for elderly people in Cambodia is still the family, and there is a long tradition of this in Cambodia," he said.

Generation gap"During the Khmer Rouge [era] and in the years preceding and following it, there were not many babies born. And many of those that were did not survive infancy. There is a big generation gap now, and we have a lot of old people and a lot of young people. But we lack earners in society, working-aged people between 35 and 45. This is going to become a big problem in the future and it is one that needs to be faced now," Ou Virak said.

Ven Sarith, director of Aged Care International based in Battambang, agreed with the assessment of the generation gap but said hard data is scarce.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Development and the Ministry of Health were unable to provide the Post with official statistics on birth rates before and after the Khmer Rouge regime.

Ou Virak said a shift in youth culture - which has young Cambodians looking to the West for cultural guidance-has also contributed to the demise of traditional methods of aged care as young people adopt materialistic habits and evaluate their success in terms of the individual rather than the family.

"Education is on the rise, and people in rural areas are moving to the cities to attend university and look for jobs. Now, young people no longer have to rely on their families so much for support, but this also means that they don't expect to be looking after their parents," Ou Virak said.

" I know old people in their countries have been taken care of by their government — the opposite to the situation in Cambodia. "

"A wide disconnection is beginning between the older generation, the younger generation and a big, black hole in the middle," he added.

Worst in the region

The 2004 Survey of Elderly in Cambodia determined that older residents of the Kingdom were worse off than their counterparts in neighbouring countries, including Myanmar, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia.

The study found that elderly people in rural areas suffered more than those in cities, being forced by poverty to work well into old age. In urban areas, 30.9 percent of people aged 60 or older participate in the workforce, while in rural areas almost 65 percent continue to work, primarily as agricultural labourers.

The results of such work mean Cambodia's elderly have the worst health in the region and substantial difficulty performing daily tasks such as sitting up, washing and eating.

Mental disorders

Many older people also suffer silently from undiagnosed mental conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, the study found - an enduring legacy of the Khmer Rouge years.

But Aged Care International's Ven Sarith sees Cambodia's high rate of working elderly as a point of pride for the country, and thinks their experience and skills should be further harnessed to contribute to the Kingdom's development.

He said the government should encourage NGOs to be more involved with elderly people because they have the potential to be productive members of society.

Keo Chantha, director of the Cambodian Elder Support Program, runs a centre for elderly people in Sen Sok commune on the muddy outskirts of Phnom Penh. He set up the centre because he feared his children would not care for him in his old age.

"When I was a child, there was a family that lived near me and treated their grandmother very badly. They beat her and refused her food, and eventually locked her up in a very small room. She died, and from that time I have been afraid that maybe as I get older the same will happen to me. It has not, but it remains a persistent fear. I was scared that if no one looked after me or my children abandoned me, I would end up as a beggar on the street," he said.

Keo Chantha, a former French professor from the Royal University of Phnom Penh, founded the centre in 1997 with private funds. Over the years, he has received sporadic help from donors in Canada and South Africa, but the centre is principally funded from his own savings and the minimal support he gets from his children.

He has written many times to Prime Minister Hun Sen and King Norodom Sihamoni requesting assistance for his projects, but has so far received no response. His eyes fill with tears when he talks of their silence.

"The government and most NGOs are not interested in old people. They focus on people who have enough energy and power to work."

Keo Chantha's centre helps 45 elderly people in his commune, feeding them and providing a safe, clean place to live. For many old people in the area without family or government assistance, the centre provides a vital service.

"I consider all old people as my parents. I didn't have the chance to take care of my parents because they died in the Pol Pot regime. This is my chance now to do good by their memory."

Future plans

Amid claims of government neglect from elderly people throughout the country, Dr Pay Sambo, deputy director of retirement and pensions at the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, says plans are under way to care for Cambodia's aging population.

He says a meeting is planned for Monday among the various interested ministries and aged-care professionals throughout the country.

"I am currently in the process of securing funds to build a big centre where old people can stay, and I am working very hard to make this plan a success," he told the Post.

"But the government does not have enough funds to help everyone, and so I am trying to implement aid step by step. Our country has greater problems than neighboring countries because of the legacy of the Khmer Rouge and our status as a developing nation. But we have not forgotten the old people."

Lich Sreng, 70, lives near a new nursing home in Chong Ampil commune, Prey Veng province. He takes Pay Sambo's promises with a grain of salt.

"I want the government to take care of older people. Then, we will feel warmly about our leader. I feel shy now in front of foreigners because I know old people in their countries have been taken care of by their government - the opposite to the situation in Cambodia."

More national sport coverage, please

Children play football outside Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium in this file photo.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Andy Brouwer
Thursday, 27 November 2008

Dear Editor,

To say I am disappointed with the local football coverage provided by the Post is an understatement.[On Tuesday] I read a back-page article on homeless football, a full-page article no less, about five teenagers! Good luck to them, I say, but at the weekend the final matches of the professional Cambodia Premier League were played and new champions crowned with absolutely no mention at all in the Post.

There is too much coverage of international sport and almost zero coverage of national sport, especially football, which is so immensely popular in Cambodia. Very soon, the national team will take part in the AFF Suzuki Cup in Indonesia, but so far no articles about the build-up to this competition have appeared at all.

I think the Post needs to urgently review its sporting priorities to ensure a good mix of national and international stories, without an emphasis on the latter.

Andy Brouwer
Phnom Penh