Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Phnom Penh Vespa Club attracts new members

Vespa barbecue at Rubies bar.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Nathan Green
Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Vespa enthusiasts gather at Rubie’s Sunday to share their love for the unique machines

Cambodia's Vespa society doubled its membership numbers at a barbecue hosted by Phnom Penh's Rubies bar last Sunday.

The event, organised by Simon Power, saw membership of the Phnom Penh Vespa Club swell from 10 to 20.
"It's still mostly Westerners, but more and more Khmers are getting involved in Vespas," Power said.

But Tong Soprach, co-organiser of the club, said the limited number of Vespas in Cambodia will prevent membership expanding much further.

Only around 50 Vespas are currently in the country, and those held privately are at constant risk of being repatriated offshore, Tong Soprach said.

"Many Westerners buy Vespas, but when they leave, they take them with them," he said.

The Vespa was created by Piaggio & Co SpA of Pontedera, Italy, in 1946. While the company initially manufactured a single model, it rapidly expanded to produce a full line of scooters.

Piaggio is currently Europe's largest manufacturer of two-wheeled vehicles and the world's fourth-largest motorcycle manufacturer by unit sales. The largest market is still Italy, followed by the United Kingdom.

Many westerners buy vespas but when they leave they take them with them.

While the production base is still Italy, Vespas are also manufactured under licence in India, Taiwan and Indonesia.

Vespas are recognisable by their painted, pressed-steel unibody, which combines a complete cowling for the engine, enclosing the engine mechanism and concealing dirt and grease, a flat floorboard and a prominent front fairing to provide wind protection.

Vespa is the Latin and Italian name for wasp, derived from the high-pitched noise of the two-stroke engine and referencing the vehicle's body shape, where a thick rear part is connected to the front part by a narrow waist.

Sam Hong, known as Bo, is the heart of the Vespa community in Cambodia.

He inherited the love for Vespas from his father, who began tinkering with and selling the machines in the 1980s.

Sam Hong‘s workshop on Street 217 is widely regarded as the best place for Vespa repair and maintenance. It is also the key distribution point for new Vespas in the Kingdom. The dealership currently has 10 Vespas for sale, Sam Hong said.

Vespa enthusiast Stephane Guihard, who owns Phnom Penh's Factory bar, joined the Vespa club Sunday at Rubies.
He said interest in Vespas was growing rapidly, driving up prices.

"I was lucky to buy this one for US$300," he said. "Now, prices are growing to a starting price of around $900."

Power said people who wished to join the Vespa community needed to be prepared to search around rather than wait for a new Vespa to hit the market.

"Now there are few Vespas for sale, and a lot have been shipped out," he said. "You can buy it off an expat for a crazy price or talk to Bo and try to import one."

Mondulkiri's roads less travelled offer respite

Photo by: Christopher Shay
Bou Sra falls in Mondulkiri.

Photo by: Christopher Shay
Mondulkiri falls.

The Phnom Penh Post

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Christopher Shay and Sebastian Strangio
Wednesday, 29 April 2009

As construction of a new highway cuts travel time from the capital, Mondulkiri emerges as a rugged yet relaxed alternative for visitors

Sen Monorom

BEYOND the well-worn beach-and-temple circuit, with its tour buses and happy hours, lies another Cambodia: a land of rolling hills, lush forests and tribal minorities, where elephants still outnumber sealed roads and fireflies flicker in the night sky.

Mondulkiri has long been the road less travelled for foreign tourists. But as the construction of a new highway cuts dry-season travel time from the capital to as little as six hours, it has emerged as a rugged yet relaxed alternative for expats and visitors.

The owner and manager of Green House bar and restaurant in Sen Monorom, Sor Samnang, said word-of-mouth has led to a steady increase in visitors since he opened his business in mid-2007.

"This province is starting to get very popular and people have started telling each other about it," he said. "In Mondulkiri, there is a lot of jungle trekking and elephants and people can visit minority villages."

Sen Monorom town offers visitors some pleasant diversions: In the local market, one can witness Phnong minority people hawking vegetables, carving up the local livestock and tipping back strong Vietnamese coffee at spit-and-sawdust cafes.

While commercial flights to the town have been discontinued, its old airstrip still dominates the centre of town and is now used by local youth as a motorbike drag-strip.

Sen Monorom is an ideal base for exploring the surrounding area, and most sights are accessible on day trips from the town - and the grassy hills, pine trees and green valleys around Sen Monorom are a nice change to the flatness of the Mekong Valley.

As an extra bonus, the weather is refreshingly cool compared with the sticky heat of Phnom Penh.

Turbulent history
The region was heavily bombed by American B-52s during the civil war between the Khmer Rouge and Lon Nol's Republican regime in the early 1970s, and the hills surrounding the town are scarred with craters that are still visible under the mask of pastoral tranquility.

On one hill near the city, with commanding views of the surrounding area, lie the ruins of a villa built by then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk and destroyed by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. Only the foundations, smashed tiles and a section of an outer wall remain amid the foliage - another reminder of Mondulkiri's history as a communist stronghold.

Five kilometres from the airstrip - and easily accessible by foot - is Sen Monorom falls, one of many waterfalls in the area, which tumbles 5 metres into a pool that is perfect for a swim or nearby picnic. During our visit, local teenagers jumped from the top of the falls 5 metres into the pool below without injury, but be warned: The depth varies, so watch to see where the locals land.

With the exception of Sen Monorom falls, the rest of the area's waterfalls are beyond walking distance: The smaller Rum Near falls - about 10 kilometres along the highway towards Kampong Cham - make for a rewarding trip, but the picnic area surrounding the falls is regrettably choked with garbage.

Most impressive of all the falls is Bou Sra - the largest waterfall in Cambodia - which lies about 37 kilometres from Sen Monorom. Cascading from a height of about 10 metres, the falls lash down over a flat rocky platform.

Also worth a visit is Bou Sraa village, a Phnong community a few kilometres further on from the falls: This area is now a controversial hotspot for agribusiness, and two 10,000-hectare rubber plantations are planned for the surrounding hills. The influx of cash has changed life in the community, with many families abandoning the traditional Phnong thatch houses for the wooden Khmer equivalent.

In terms of accommodation, Sen Monorom runs the gamut from characterless concrete guest houses to a new crop of Western-run lodges.

Since it opened three-and-a-half years ago, the Nature Lodge has become a popular spot with expats and foreign visitors.

The guesthouse, which lies 2 kilometres from the centre of town, bills itself as being built "by travellers for travellers", and the eco-friendly setup is indeed unique. The entire lodge, which consists of gardens, detached bungalows and a central building, is run from a homemade hydropower system, and all its furniture is produced from recycled timber offcuts - in contrast to the hardwood furniture adorning most of the area's guest houses. Double bungalows with hot water are available for US$10 per night.

Sothan Sokha, who runs the Nature Lodge, said he looked everywhere for the opportunity to build an eco-lodge, but nothing compared with the natural scenery in Mondulkiri.

"You can feel it every morning when you wake up. You see the view - a nice view with open space - and you can feel it," he said. "After a few days in Phnom Penh, when I get back to [the Nature Lodge] I feel new again."

Ministry expects rebound in construction projects

Developments like this one on Street 240 will continue to grow, the construction minister says.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Soeun Say and Nathan Green
Wednesday, 29 April 2009

There are already signs that the building industry is recovering from the global financial downturn, the construction minister said at a recent meeting

Cambodia's top construction official says a slowdown in the construction sector in the second half of last year was a temporary blip induced by the global financial crisis - and he expects the rapid growth in the sector seen over the last decade to resume by the end of 2009.

Im Chhun Lim, the minister of land management, urban planning and construction, told Prime Location on the sidelines of the construction ministry's annual meeting last Thursday that signs were evident that the sector was already rebounding after a number of high-profile developments were slowed, cancelled or put on hold towards the end of last year, resulting in mass layoffs across the sector.

"We recognise that the number of construction sites declined due to the economic crisis, but many construction sites continued," he said. "We are now looking forward to the end of this year when we expect the problems that we have had to change for the better."

Figures released at the meeting show that, despite the crisis, the book value of major construction projects approved by the ministry fell just 1.14 percent last year to $2.96 billion from a little over $3 billion in 2007. In all, the ministry approved 181 projects last year, up from 167 the year before.

Ministry approval is only required for projects over a certain value, with the bulk of projects approved at the municipality or provincial level. Ministry figures show there were 1,975 such construction projects valued at $224.8 million approved in 2008, up 6.5 percent on a year earlier.

It is a great sign that construction of sub-cities is continuing…

However, the ministry figures do not detail actual spending, nor do they give the month-by-month breakdown required to evaluate the effect of the global financial crisis, which kicked in around the middle of last year.

The decline in approval values came after the value of approvals grew 313 percent in 2007 from just $726.1 million in 2006, when 127 major projects were approved.

But figures released Tuesday at a semi-annual donor review meeting show the ministry approved 42 new construction projects in February, only slightly down on the 49 approved in February 2008. February showed a marked improvement on a month earlier with only 28 projects granted approval in January, well down on the 52 approved the same month a year earlier.

Ministry Director General Im Chamrong told Prime Location Tuesday that the sector was already showing signs of a rebound, citing Minister Im Chhun Lim's attendance today at the groundbreaking ceremony for a new city in Preah Sihanouk province called Kuch Asia as evidence.

"It is a great sign that construction of sub-cities are continuing during the crisis period," he said.

AMCO Construction, an affiliate of South Korea's Hyundai Motors, was also preparing to begin construction of a 22-storey office tower on the corner of Monivong and Sihanouk boulevards, to be called Phnom Penh Tower, AMCO sales and marketing manager Tim Sovanara said.

Eight smaller office buildings also hit the rental market in Phnom Penh this month, while Canadia Bank's new 29-storey office tower is expected to be unveiled later this year. Vattanac Bank is building an even taller office building next door, though no date has been set for its delivery.

Sear Chailin, the director of Visal Real Estate, said growth in the construction sector over the past few years meant that a lack of demand rather than a lack of investment in new buildings was the biggest problem Cambodia was facing, leading to rapidly falling property prices.

"The construction sector grew rapidly over the last two years and, while it is still growing slowly, prices have dropped 30 to 40 percent as nobody is buying or renting and a lot of people have announced they want to sell their properties," Sear Chailin said.

Many owners of the new office buildings have revealed in recent weeks they are bracing themselves for lower rents than they had anticipated when they began building at the height of the boom a couple of years earlier.

Many in the sector are hoping a law change under consideration that will allow foreigners to own apartments, houses and condominiums from the second floor up will boost the sector if passed.

The draft law, which has long been in the works, was circulated to the private sector last week for consultation, after which it would be sent to the Council of Ministers and the National Assembly for consideration.

Brett Sciaroni, partner at local law firm Sciaroni and Associates, said the law would boost the troubled property sector and make Cambodia a more attractive investment destination when passed.

Sciaroni said it was uncertain when the law would take effect.

"I would hope this year," he said. "The sooner the better. What is clear is that this is on a fast track. By Cambodian government standards it is moving through the process very quickly.

It's time to help Cambodia diversify

Photo Supplied
The European Commission’s new delegation head, David Lipman.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Brendan Brady
Wednesday, 29 April 2009

New European Commission head of delegation to Cambodia, David Lipman, speaks to the Post’s Brendan Brady about agriculture, the economy and his plans in the Kingdom

Last year, the Cambodian government requested food relief from development agencies even as it signed contracts to export significant stocks of rice to foreign governments. Should the government abstain from selling food stocks if it is simultaneously requesting food aid?

The basic problem in Cambodia with food production is that they don't have a lot of storage capacity, and unless you have the storage capacity, you can't keep the food in the country.

So, often, it is wiser to export because you can't stock it. One of the things we will be doing with the food facility will be to help them increase storage.

Does Cambodian agriculture require an overhaul?

I think the main problem is to try to help them increase production because, according to statistics, 65 percent of rural households in Cambodia are net food buyers, which is enormous.

Does Cambodia have a food security problem?
There's a problem. The very fact that we have this food facility which is going to help with production means there is a serious production problem. I wouldn't say food crisis, but help is needed.

A common criticism of the economy is that it relies on two sectors: tourism and garments. How resilient does the Cambodian economy appear in the face of the global downturn?

We need to help Cambodia diversify. It only has two export sectors. Garments make up 80 percent of exports; manufacturing of shoes makes 11 percent.

They need to do other things and we want to help them diversify into light manufacturing. And there's more that can be done in the agricultural field, with processed agricultural products.

Has the EC identified Cambodia as a country that may be in need of a bailout in response to local fallout from the global recession?

Bailout is not the word we would use.

We are focusing on helping the poorest Cambodians - in terms of food supply and primary education.

In fact, the EU as a whole - that means the EC plus its member states - have programmed assistance between 2009 and 2011 of the order of €600 million. So we are giving a great deal of assistance to Cambodia.

We need to help cambodia diversify. it has only two export sectors.

They are the major beneficiary per capita in the whole region.

We're focusing on rural, agricultural development. We're focusing on working with the government on its strategy; what's important is ownership.

We don't want to do things that the government doesn't want us to do. We want to focus on things the Cambodians are doing themselves.

We're helping with primary education. We have a €35 million program for education.

We're focusing on helping with public financial management, which is very important - helping them to manage their finances better than they do at the moment.

Human rights and democracy is an area of great importance, as well.

We've got a huge program of €10 million that's up-and-coming, including supporting the tribunals, judicial reform, areas like that.

The story of Cambodia's oil prospects has attracted a lot of attention. Critics warn of a textbook "oil curse" while the government has told critics to ease off as oil extraction has yet to start. Do you believe Cambodia is well positioned to manage its potential oil resources?

What's important in all of these processes is accountability and transparency.

We - within the framework of our various programs for assistance, budget support - are taking into account the questions of transparency and accountability in these areas, and we attach great importance to this.

They haven't started production yet and won't start yet until 2011, according to my understanding.

But we are working with the government of Cambodia to ensure everything is done in a transparent and accountable manner.

We have not been involved in the preliminary contracts [with the companies concerned].

Government targets miners

The BHP Billiton’s office in Phnom Penh. BHP is among those that have updated the governemnt. Sovann Philong

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kay Kimsong
Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Ministry of Mines targets companies in Mondulkiri province that have failed to update officials on mining activities in official announcement in the press

TWELVE international mining companies prospecting in Mondulkiri province have come under the government's spotlight, according to officials in the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, who said they are requesting each come forward to account for its activities in Cambodia.

"We need to get information about them, and what is going on with those companies," said Ith Praing, secretary of state at the ministry, adding that the government was unsure whether the companies had withdrawn from the country because of the global economic crisis, or whether they were merely not reporting their activities to the government. "We don't know what they have done or whether they have yet to start operations," he added.

Ith Praing said it was important for companies to keep officials notified of their operations so they can monitor whether they are fulfilling the terms of government concession agreements.

Kong Pisith, director of the Department of Industry, Mines and Energy in Mondulkiri province, said the 12 mining companies - who the government addressed in a newspaper announcement Monday - had been requested to submit reports within 15 days.

"All of the companies have business licences, but they have never reported to us what they are doing," he said. "We want each of the mining companies to set up representative offices in our province so it will be easier to gather information about their development."

We want each of the mining companies to set up representative offices.

He said that some of the companies had supplied the government with false addresses in Phnom Penh and that the ministry had not been informed of the results of their prospecting and research. "We have no right to cancel the contract or licence but will inform the ministry so they can consider whether to make a decision," Kong Pisith added.

Despite having licences, he said, only three companies have worked with authorities in Mondulkiri to establish their prospecting operations - BHP Billiton, Metal Group and Southern Gold. Of the others, the China Forwin Investment Co Ltd reportedly withdrew from Cambodia after a Chinese expert died of malaria, Kong Piseth said, while authorities have not met anyone from the other eight firms.

Thon Virak, deputy director general of the General Foreign Trade Department, said Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh wanted updates on mining in Mondulkiri, as the government sought to step up development of the Cambodia-Vietnam-Laos border region.

Group 78 seeks court action to revoke City Hall eviction notice

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by May Titthara
Wednesday, 29 April 2009

FAMILIES from Phnom Penh's embattled Group 78 community filed a complaint at the Municipal Court on Tuesday seeking to overturn an April 20 eviction notice that gives them until May 5 to vacate their land in Tonle Bassac commune.

"We have come to file a complaint to the Municipal Court in order to revoke City Hall's eviction letter that asks us to accept replacement housing and US$5,000 in compensation, and to move out within 15 days," community representative Lim Sambo said at the court.

"I don't know when the court will find a resolution for us, but we will stay in our houses even after the deadline arrives. I cannot accept [City Hall's offer]."

No jurisdiction
Yin Savat, a lawyer from the Community Legal Education Centre, which is representing the residents, said the eviction notice was illegal under Cambodia's Constitution and the 2001 Land Law.

"City Hall does not have the right to evict people. Only the court can do that," he said.

The eviction notice accused villagers of living on land belonging to Sour Srun Enterprises, a local developer, and encroaching on a public road.
It also warned that if residents remain beyond May 5, it would take unspecified "administrative measures" and disavows responsibility for "any damage to the residents' property or any property lost".

But resident Si Sopheak said the community merely wanted fair treatment under the law.

"I want the company to explain to us whether it came to occupy this land before us or whether we were living here before them," he said. "We have been here since 1983, and the company came in 2006."

Duch describes purges of cadres as 'evil eating evil'

Duch speaks in court in this photograph of a television set broadcasting the proceedings at the ECCC earlier in the trial.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Neth Pheaktra
Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Former prison chief addresses killings of regime officials under his command as trial continues to explore S-21.

FORMER Khmer Rouge prison chief Kaing Guek Eav told the UN-backed war crimes court Tuesday he knew the actions of the regime were "unjust" when it began turning on its own people, referring to the purification of Khmer Rouge cadres inside the S-21 security centre as "evil eating evil".

"The work [of S-21] expanded, people were arrested illegally, right or wrong.... S-21 smashed members of the party including permanent committee members.... I consider it evil eating evil," the former cadre, known as Duch, said.

"I knew that the security work to arrest people was unjust, but I was obliged to do it by my superiors and the party.... I was an absolute instrument of [the communist party]. That's why I admit my responsibilities in front of the ECCC," said

On day 13 of his trial, the former jailer continued to flit between regretting his alleged crimes and defending them, saying that he was not only an "instrument" of the regime, but like a "Berger [dog], very loyal to the superiors".

"Since I became chief of S-21, I received orders to purify the internal cadres of the party," he said.

"We could not protest against the decision ... If we protested, we would have been sentenced," Duch added.

Duch told the court on Tuesday that he was trained by his superior Son Sen, as well as Vorn Vet, Lon Nol and the colonial French police, to interrogate prisoners.

In response to questions from co-prosecutors, he admitted to also reading books about interrogation techniques, including former CIA director Allen Dulles's The Craft of Intelligence and others by the KGB.

But he told the court that he had not read the books in full because of language difficulties. "I only read some of the pages ... after, I sent them to Son Sen because of time and language difficulties," Duch said.

Regarding the Tuol Sleng prison, which was part of the wider S-21 security complex, he said that he now believed the transformation of a school into a torture centre was a "mistreatment of the culture and civilisation of humanity".

NGOs call for more monitoring of efforts to help the disabled


- Implement the currently signed UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by 2010
Promote education for children with disabilities to ensure that 100 percent of them are able to attend primary education by 2010

- Collect statistical data about children with disabilities out of and in schools by 2010 Implement the Law on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of People with Disabilities by 2010

- Promote the implementation of the National Plan of Action for Persons with Disabilities including Landmine and ERW survivors by 2010

- Implement the national survey on disabilities by 2010

- Promote disability-related adjustment and implementation of sector policies for education, health and employment by 2010

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Tom Hunter and Vong Sokheng
Wednesday, 29 April 2009

In statement during meeting of donors and officials, NGOs argue that a failure to monitor such progress could hurt MDG effort

THE NGO community argued on Tuesday that the failure to address the needs of disabled Cambodians would prevent the Kingdom from meeting its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), particularly those pertaining to education, poverty, and demining and victim assistance.

Estimates of the number of disabled people in Cambodia vary widely, according to data provided by the NGO Committee for the Monitoring of Cambodia Development Cooperation Forum Indicators (NC). While the government's official estimate is 4 percent, the United Nations estimates that between 7 and 10 percent of Cambodians are disabled. The Asian Development Bank estimates that 15 percent of Cambodians are disabled.

At the 14th Government Donor Coordinating Committee meeting, which brought together government officials and representatives from NGOs and donor countries, the NC pressed for the establishment of a "joint monitoring indicator" (JMI) to assess the government's progress in assisting disabled Cambodians, noting that this group must cope with "limited access to education or medical care, and employment". Current efforts to measure such progress are lacking, the NC said in a prepared statement.

"We need a specific JMI to measure the progress and promotion of people with disabilities in Cambodia," said Ken Ratha, project manager for Handicap International, in an interview with the Post. "Without the proposed JMI, Cambodia will fall short of its MDGs."

Kem Sokha, president of the Human Rights Party, said, "It's necessary to have a law that promotes both the dignity and the political, social and economic rights of disabled people."

Kham Piseth, program manager of the Cambodian Disabled People's Organisation, echoed this call for a law supporting disabled people, calling the lack of such a law one of the "main impediments" - along with discrimination - facing the disabled.

R'kiri villagers turned away from govt-donor meeting

Indigenous minority villagers watch as delegates arrive at Tuesday’s donor forum.

The Phnom Penh Post

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Representatives in town to highlight indigenous land-rights issues

AROUND 40 indigenous minority villagers from Ratanakkiri province were refused access to a government-donor forum Tuesday after attempting to address delegates about indigenous land rights.

The villagers, along with other community representatives and rights activists, were turned away by security guards after they tried to enter the Government Donor Coordination Committee (GDCC) forum to present their statement in person.

In the statement, the group drew attention to the loss of rotational farmland, spirit forests and burial grounds to economic land concessions, and the consequent loss of livelihood and community identity.

The statement also called on government and donor countries to "stop or reduce the number of economic land concessions in indigenous community areas" and to "speed up the process" of indigenous land registrations, laid down in the Kingdom's 2001 Land Law.

"We want the donors to intervene by pushing the government to resolve the problems of indigenous minority people," Oum Meach, 46, an ethnic Koy representative from Kampong Thom province, said outside the GDCC meeting.

"The development of the country should not impact the rights and farmlands of indigenous minority people."

Sev Twel, a Kong Yu village representative, said villagers wanted to enter the meeting to find a resolution to their ongoing land dispute with Keat Kolney, the sister of Finance Minister Keat Chhon - a keynote speaker at the GDCC meeting.

But Sev Twel added that a recent spate of land grabs had led to the loss of "land, forests, mines, rotating farms, spiritual land, burial grounds, natural resources [and] wild animals" belonging to indigenous communities across the country.

Unfulfilled promises
Action to protect and register indigenous land is one of many benchmarks - or Joint Monitoring Indicators (JMIs) - agreed between the government and overseas donors as measures of aid effectiveness.

But while the Kingdom's 2001 Land Law contains articles outlawing the sale of indigenous land and allowing it to be registered, rights groups say implementation has been nonexistent.

Yeng Virak, executive director of the Community Legal Education Centre, said the Land Law was "relatively progressive" in that it recognised indigenous land rights, but that its utility was undermined by a lack of political will.

"If implemented strictly and properly, [it] could mitigate a lot of problems. But it needs to be implemented," he said.

According to a statement released by a coalition of land rights groups Monday, the government has consistently failed its legal commitments to protect indigenous land since 2002, and that donor money continues to flow despite the government failing related JMI targets for seven years straight.

"In the seven years since benchmarks have been set, not a single square metre of indigenous communal property has been registered," the statement said.

On Friday, the Council of Ministers passed its long-awaited Subdecree on the Procedures of Registration of Land of Indigenous Communities, but NGO sources contacted by the Post said they had not been given a copy of the edict and suspected it contains few changes from an eariler version.

"Any sort of public policy document has an effect on the public and there should be a genuine consultation process," Yeng Virak added.

Mark Grimsditch, a legal adviser for rights group Bridges Across Borders, said the old draft raised a number of concerns, including a provision (Article 7) that communities could only register their land once outstanding land disputes were resolved, which he said created "a significant barrier" to land protection.

Article 4 of the subdecree also restricts communities' spirit forests and burial grounds to 7 hectares in size - something that is "against traditional practice".

But Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said the government was committed to solving land problems, and that it had held "discussions with NGOs and commune chiefs" over the subdecree's contents. He said the new draft would be posted on the Council's website by today or Thursday.

Regional flu cases cause concern

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Hor Hab and Christopher Shay
Wednesday, 29 April 2009

But Cambodian officials say they are prepared to respond to pandemic.

WITH 19 countries having suspected or confirmed cases of swine flu - one case as close as South Korea - Cambodia's health authorities remain alert but confident that the country is prepared for a swine flu pandemic.

The surveillance infrastructure already laid down to prevent bird flu "helps an awful lot" with the current situation, said Dr Nima Asgari, a public health specialist at the World Health Organisation.

"Having created a network and a surveillance system, we can now use that to see if there is an increase in the number of respiratory diseases.... Then we can go into more detail and do lab testing to see if it's swine flu," Asgari said.

On Tuesday, airport authorities dusted off and fixed their thermal imaging scanners, but Asgari says relying on scanners is not enough. Simple educational steps can make a big difference.

"Much more important than thermal imaging is giving passengers information about what to do when they feel sick," he said.

In terms of ensuring that infected pigs do not spread the disease to Cambodia, the Cambodian Pig Raiser Association said it has told the government it should ban live pig imports.

But Khlauk Chuon, the deputy director of Camcontrol at the Ministry of Commerce, said they would only ban live pig imports from a country that has been hit with swine flu.

"We are very worried about this new disease because it can transfer from pig to human, from human to human and from human to pig," Khlauk Chuon added.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation said it would test pig samples from risk areas like urban slaughterhouses and border checkpoints to ensure that swine flu has not infected the pig population.

Rik Reay squares off with Canadia Bank

The head of Canadia Bank, Pung Kheav Se, speaks to protesters from the Rik Reay community outside the bank's Phnom Penh headquarters on Tuesday morning. The community has refused to accept compensation for the loss of their city-centre land to a housing development project.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by May Titthara
Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Talks focus on newly installed fence, compensation options.

MORE than 60 Rik Reay community residents and 30 students from Russey Keo High School staged a demonstration outside Canadia Bank's Phnom Penh headquarters Tuesday, drawing the bank's head into a sometimes tense streetside meeting with villagers claiming they were unfairly losing their homes.

The demonstrators gathered at the headquarters at 9:30am, some holding signs that stated, "Canadia Bank and Bassac Garden City have robbed the Rik Reay community of its land".

The students were there in support of their teacher, Pen Thay, a resident representative and member of one of 54 families who have yet to leave the site so that high-end residential villas can be built on it.

A government directive dated January 30 instructed the community's 219 families to vacate the site and offered them one of two compensation options: US$10,000 and a house in Dangkor district, or onsite housing, in which Bassac Garden City, the company developing the site, vowed to invest between $5 million and $6 million.

Shortly after the demonstrators gathered, Pung Kheav Se, the Canadia head who is also chief executive officer of the Overseas Cambodian Investment Corporation, appeared and told the students to go home. "Why are you here?" he asked.

"Don't waste your time. Go back to study. Let me negotiate with your teacher and the residents," Pung Khean Se said.

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN The remaining residents of Rik Reay community turn out in force Tuesday to confront Pung Kheav Se, the head of Canadia Bank, over the ongoing work on the land they call home.

At the meeting
He then met with the residents, led by Pen Thay and Chan Bunthol, who is also a resident representative and teaches at Phnom Penh's Preah Sisowath High School.

Pen Thay said the meeting focused in part on Bassac Garden City's decision to install a fence on Saturday night behind some of the residents' homes.

"The owner said he would take the fence down after no more than one week if it was impacting the residents," Pen Thay said, referring to Pung Kheav Se.

Kong Sareth, a 50-year-old Rik Reay resident, said the installation of the fence had reduced the length of his plot of land from 62 metres to 12 metres. "I will stay here until I meet the owner," he said before Pung Kheav Se appeared, "because I don't know what I would do if I went back home."

Pen Thay said compensation was also discussed at the meeting.

"Some of the residents asked for compensation of $30,000," he said.

He noted that 12 of the 54 families asked to develop buildings on the site themselves, a request that Pung Kheav Se reportedly said he could not accommodate because there were not enough families who wanted to participate in the scheme.

"[Pung Kheav Se] said we would need 20 to 30 families to [justify onsite development of alternative housing]," Pen Thay said.

Pung Kheav Se told the crowd that Canadia, which provided a loan to Bassac Garden City to fund the development, "had never done anything illegal" in facilitating the development of the centrally located site.

"I want to have a balanced negotiation, so residents should come to speak directly to me," he said. "I will find justice for all of you."

Angkor Palace Resort & Spa in Siem Reap launches Travel Trade Promotion

The Angkor Palace Resort & Spa in Siem Reap, Cambodia, has launched a special rate available exclusively for travel trade personnel and media.

The rate of US$85 nett per room per night, is based on a generous pay 1 night and get the 2nd night free basis, and is valid until 30 September 2009. The deal includes:

- Room accommodation (Run-of-house) with daily buffet breakfast for a maximum of two persons per room

- Free internet in the guestroom and most of the public areas

- Royal Khmer Cuisine: US$10 off from the travel agent contract rate of US$35 in the hotel restaurant.

- Traditional Khmer Massage: US$10 off the published rate of US$35 at the Kainnora Spa

Located 20 minutes from the temples and 10 minutes from town, the Angkor Palace Resort & Spa exudes the serenity of a secluded retreat tastefully influenced by fine Khmer artistry and creativity.

Guests can delight in the Western and local cuisines including the hallmark Royal Khmer cuisine. For recreation, relax by one of Siem Reap’s largest outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, gym, driving range and the Kainnora Spa providing a choice of traditional Khmer and modern therapies. For golfers, the Angkor Golf Resort is located only 10 minutes away.

To avail the special trade promotion, presentation of valid employee ID is required upon check-in. One staff can book a maximum of 4 rooms per stay with an option to extend to a maximum of 10 consecutive nights at the same rate. An extra bed with breakfast is chargeable at US$40nett per night. No discount for second night.

Cambodia PM proposes emergency meeting of ASEAN to deal with swine flu

Special Report: World Tackles Swine Flu

By Xia Lin, Long Heng

PHNOM PENH, April 29 (Xinhua) -- Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen Wednesday proposed to hold an emergency meeting of ASEAN countries to seek measures against the deadly swine influenza outbreak.

"We should have an emergency meeting among the ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries, if possible, to take actions against the deadly swine flu," he told a student graduation ceremony of the National Institute of Education in Phnom Penh.

Thailand has to play the role of chairman for this meeting, he said, adding that currently Thailand is the chair country of ASEAN.

"We have to find measures to prevent and fight against this fast spread of pig flu," he said.

We also need to seek ways to prevent this epidemic from affecting bilateral trade among the regional countries, if it occurs in one of them, he added.

Meanwhile, the premier appealed to the local people not to panic over swine flu, as pork is still edible if properly cooked.

However, people with high body temperature must wear masks and rush to hospital, he said, adding that "Cambodia has weak facilities, but our spirit is strong."

The Ministry of Health (MoH) will require any citizen or foreign visitor, who are suspected of catching this illness, not to fly to other countries, he said.

"We will take him to hospital for treatment," he added.

In addition, the premier confirmed that there is no sign of swine flu occurrence among pigs and human beings in Cambodia, adding that the government has not adopted any ban on pork importation from its neighboring countries.

Also on Wednesday, Sem Sovan, secretary general of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forests and Fisheries, told Xinhua that the ministry has been closely tracking the development of swine flu since it was first found in other countries.

"We selected some samples from the pig farms across our own country to test for swine flu, but up to now, we don't spot any sign of it. There are no suspected cases of swine flu on pigs in Cambodia at all," he added.

In the mean time, Ly Sovan, deputy director of the Anti-communicable Disease Department of MoH, also testified this updated information made public by the premier and the secretary general.

"At the airports, our unit is monitoring the passengers who traveled here from the affected countries," he added.

The government installed a thermal scanner at the Phnom Penh International Airport on Tuesday and another one at the Siem Reap International Airport on Wednesday.

These two terminals are the only international airports in the kingdom. A third airport is situated in Sihanouk province, but only serves domestic flights.

In 2007, over two million foreign visitors arrived in Cambodia.

On Monday, The World Health Organization (WHO) and MoH issued a joint statement late Monday, saying that "medical clinics are asked to immediately report any unusual influenza like illness cases to MoH. WHO Western Pacific Regional Office is closely monitoring the situation in the region and has activated its outbreak and emergency management protocols," it said.

In addition, "Cambodia has increased its surveillance for unusual respiratory illness in hospitals, health centers and airport," it said.

"While there is no vaccine against this type of influenza, there are a range of possible treatments although it is not yet clear which will be most appropriate," it said.

"Cambodia has prepared stockpiles of various resources, including medication to treat viral illness, and has access to additional regional supplies if required," it added.

Meanwhile, according to Sok Touch, director of the Anti-communicable Disease Department of MoH, the ministry will use the existing equipment and system nationwide for combating bird flu to monitor swine flu.

The ministry will cooperate with WHO to take actions on the pig-farming industry if necessary, but the very next step will focus on travelers from the infected areas, he added.

So far, swine influenza has killed 159 people in Mexico, led to68 human contamination cases in U.S., and affected altogether 23 countries in the world.

Editor: Sun

30 years on, spotlight on Cambodia's killing fields once more


by: Noor Khan
Wed, 29 Apr 2009

New Delhi: The world sat up and took notice when Hollywood director Ronald Joffe captured bloodied images of Cambodia, ravaged by the dread Khmer Rouge militia in his 1981 screen masterpiece 'The Killing Fields'.

Now, as a handful of Khmer Rouge leaders face a UN-backed trial 30 years after the fall of the regime, journalist Dan Rivers, the CNN correspondent in Bangkok, has revisited Cambodia's dark years with his camera crew to re-capture the memories of horror and take stock of the ongoing trial, tainted with allegations of corruption.

His documentary 'Killing Field: Long Road to Justice', will be aired May 1 (at 8.30 a.m. in India).

'The reason why I wanted to explore the Khmer Rouge massacre once more was that the trial was on and after 30 years, I wanted to do an in-depth story. Quite a lot of people don't know. Perhaps Cambodia is too remote and forgotten,' Rivers told IANS on phone from Hong Kong.

Rivers, in his movie, goes in quest of Ta Chan, the chief interrogator of the Khmer Rouge's notorious S-21 prison camp. Ta Chan, in the documentary, is shown on a tour of Khmer Rouge jungle prison.

'There were at least 189 torture camps in Cambodia,' says Rivers.

As S-21 commandant Comrade Dutch and four of his Khmer Rouge colleagues currently face the UN-backed trial, Ta Chan continues to live in a remote Cambodian village.

Rivers tracks down the village and talks to Ta Chan's family as the alleged former torture mastermind ducks the lens. The documentary chronicles details of the torture - that was part of S-21 daily regime. It resulted in 14,000 deaths.

'Many historians like to compare the Khmer Rouge atrocities with the Nazi holocaust. But the scale of killing in Cambodia was incredible. (Between you and me) A lot more people were killed than that officially registered,' Rivers said.

An estimate says the Khmer Rouge killed a greater proportion of its own people - over 1.7 million men, women and children - than any other regime in the 20th century.

Everyone in Cambodia, says Rivers, has a story to tell. 'You can't meet anybody who has not been touched by the violence. Pol Pot's (the Khmer Rouge leader) legacy continued till the 1990s. The country is still in the process of recovery,' the journalist says.

Pol Pot died in 1998 just before he could be brought to justice.

One of the docu-feature's most extraordinary moments is when a survivor of S-21 sees himself in an old footage shot on the day he was rescued.

'Nong Champal was nine years old in 1979 when he was rescued from a jungle camp. His mother was killed by the Khmer Rouge,' said Rivers. Even today, the 39-year-old breaks down as he recounts the horrors of the death camp.

Everyone wants Ta Chan to be prosecuted, says Rivers.

'But with the United Nations being forced to accept a hybrid court system with the Cambodian government, corruption is eating into the trial,' he says.

Rivers also probes the allegations of kickbacks at the Phnom Penh trial of Khmer Rouge leaders.

The costs of the proceedings are spiralling out control, according to him. 'The trial budget would have swollen to more than $100 million by the end of this year.'

Cambodia confronts its bloodthirsty past

The China Post

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

By Dan Rivers, CNN Bangkok-based correspondent

Cambodia is a country that throws up the most staggering barbed facts that catch the mind and should stick inconveniently in our conscience.

As I put together “Killing Fields: The Long Road to Justice” for CNN, I kept tripping across breathtaking statistics that seemed too incredible to believe. Like, for example, a Yale University history professor's analysis of declassified military data that showed during America's bombing campaign over Cambodia from 1965-1973, the United States dropped more tons of ordnance on this tiny nation than the Allies dropped during the whole of the Second World War. A total of 2,756,000 tons of explosives was dropped on Cambodia, compared with 2 million tons dropped during World War II, worldwide.

It goes some way to explain how and why the vicious, bloodthirsty and unstoppable phenomenon that was the Khmer Rouge came to power. Simply put, faced with utter destruction by the United States or the promised utopia offered by Pol Pot and his ultra-communist henchmen, many Cambodian peasants chose the latter.

But that was before the killing started. Another head-spinning fact: After the Khmer Rouge swept to power in 1975 they killed a greater proportion of their own compatriots than any other regime in the 20th century.

It's facile and pointless to make some sort of genocidal league table, but what happened in Cambodia in just three years, eight months and 20 days was certainly as awful and unfathomable as events in Nazi Germany, Stalin's Russia, Rwanda, Yugoslavia and Darfur.

I decided to revisit this terrible period, because it's now 30 years since the Khmer Rouge regime fell and finally a handful of its leaders are being put on trial at a special U.N.-backed war crimes trial. It's garnered few headlines internationally. Perhaps Cambodia is just too remote, too forgotten, and too insignificant in many peoples' minds to warrant attention. But that is exactly why I felt it was vital to shine a spotlight on what happened.

Another remarkable fact: Pol Pot's men remained a potent force in Cambodia's power struggle that verged on civil war for almost 20 years after they were forced out of power by the invading Vietnamese — a sinister culture of impunity that has strangled Cambodia while countries around it grew and prospered.

Even more incredible, the Khmer Rouge was backed by the United States, Britain, and other Western powers during the 1980s, despite the nightmarish mass-murder perpetrated by so many of the Khmer Rouge's Cadres. The United States viewed the Chinese-backed Khmer Rouge as a useful counterweight to Soviet/Vietnamese influence in Indochina. The U.S. doctrine seemed to follow the maxim “My enemy's enemy is my friend.”

The impunity enjoyed by the top Khmer Rouge leaders is something the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia is trying to address. But it's taking a very long time. And as I found out in making our program, the trial process itself is mired in corruption allegations which some think may mean the entire process may collapse.

The United Nations is in a terrible bind over the issue. It's been forced into accepting a hybrid court system with the Cambodian government, which means the U.N. is not free to alone root out corruption quickly and surgically. Instead, as one defense lawyer told me, the corruption has been allowed to fester like a “cancer” eating away at the credibility of the trial. The prosecution, clearly worried about the courts credibility, also is pushing for the corruption to be addressed.

Already the costs for the proceedings are spiraling out of control: The budget will have swollen to more than $100 million by the end of this year, about US$20,000,000 per defendant. Or to look at it another way: the trial is costing a mere US$59 per victim.

What's also worrying is that the Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, himself a junior figure in the Khmer Rouge, has said that the trial should be limited to the current five defendants - and no more. He's said that expanding the circle of prosecution risks the stability of the country. But that means in practice that many of those involved in the slaughter during the Khmer Rouge period would remain unpunished.

The most notorious camp in Phnom Penh, called S21 or Tuol Sleng, was set up in a former school. The camp was designed to extract confessions from internal enemies of the regime, using whatever means deemed necessary. The result, according to meticulous Khmer Rouge records and survivor accounts, was the most brutal and sadistic torture camp imaginable: More than 14,000 prisoners were killed after enduring horrendous torture.

The chief interrogator at S21 was a man called Ta Chan, who led a team of interrogators. He has never officially been charged with any crime.

After quite some effort, we found out where Ta Chan lives. When we arrived at his modest wooden house in the far west of Cambodia, I got a glimpse of him. But he was apparently too scared to face our cameras, leaving his son to do the talking. His son said Ta Chan was old and his health was bad and that none of the family wanted to talk about the past.

By a stroke of luck we obtained and salvaged an old, barely functioning tape, shot by a Thai cameraman 10 years ago, that had never been broadcast. It contained the grinning image of Ta Chan showing off another prison he ran for the Khmer Rouge after they'd been forced to abandon S21. Here he was — one of the most notorious figures of one of the most bloody regimes in the world — and after twenty years, he was still in the prison business.

Now, finally Ta Chan's face will be known to the world. The question is, will he ever face trial for the heinous crimes survivors say he committed?

Dan Rivers is CNN's Bangkok-based correspondent reporting for 'WORLD UNTOLD STORIES: KILLING FIELDS: LONG ROAD TO JUSTICE' airing on CNN International May 1 at 1100, May 2 at 1630, May 3 at 0100, 0630 & 2230 and May 4 at 1030 Taipei Time. For more info visit

Long Beach woman helped create library in Cambodia

Students at the school where Peace Corps volunteer Emi Caitlin Ishigooka raised funds for a new library decorated the space with a large mural of the world. (Photo courtesy of Caitlin Ishigooka)

Children of all ages in rural Takeo Province, Cambodia now have a library and books to call their own. (Photo courtesy of Caitlin Ishigooka)

Press-Telegram Long Beach

By Greg Mellen, Staff Writer
Posted: 04/28/2009

LONG BEACH - One sign came when she couldn't enter the existing library because the floor was covered with six inches of rice that had been put there to dry during harvest season.

Another was the selection of volumes, such as the organic chemistry textbooks, in English, that a well-meaning but obviously clueless charity donated to the rural school in the poor farming community.

Still another was the abundance of books in French and English, but the paucity of books in Khmer.

So, Peace Corps volunteer Emi Caitlin Ishigooka from Long Beach jumped at the opportunity to create a new library when approached with the idea by the director of the Cambodian school where she was teaching high school English.

A 26-year-old UCLA and Poly High graduate who will attend USC graduate school in public administration in the fall, Ishigooka recently returned from a two-year stint as one of the inaugural group of Peace Corps volunteers assigned to Cambodia.

While she has come back to the U.S. with the usual bucketful of stories about life in a village with no running water, strange encounters with the local fauna and edible delicacies such as fried tarantulas, it is the library she built in her second year abroad that has the most meaning.

In the truest of the people, by the people and for the people tradition, Ishigooka says that from the outset she wanted the students to be the driving force.

"From the beginning they had a major say," Ishigooka said. "They gave me the titles and subjects that interested them. I did keep one Norton Anthology, though."
Ishigooka applied for a grant from the Peace Corps, eventually raising about $3,500, including $300 or $400 from the students and the families themselves.

Once a new non-produce storing building was found, students began cleaning and decorating the new facility, including painting a large mural of the world on the wall.

"With the grant money, we were able to get books for all grade levels," Ishigooka said. And they were able to get them in Khmer: novels, history, poetry, even an edition in translation of Harry Potter.
The library was also outfitted with a listening center to help students with languages and other learning areas.

For Ishigooka, as important as getting the actual volumes, was giving the students a sense of ownership and responsibility for the library.

This included students volunteering to staff the library, setting schedules and actually be there during operating hours, along with maintaining the facility.

"This was built by an incredible group," Ishigooka says.

The best part, was "to see students make it their own. Now the student librarians are leaders and role models. And in the process we were promoting volunteerism, which for a Peace Corps volunteer is pretty phenomenal."

As she sits at a Starbucks near the Traffic Circle and begins to renew her relationship with coffee, finds a job, visits with friends, checks text messages, prepares for graduate school and negotiates with her mom for use of the car, the 26-year-old is very much back into the hectic flow of life of an young American woman on the upward career and educational track.

But a part of Ishigooka will always be in Cambodia, beyond the retainer a rat absconded with.

When Ishigooka looks back, she hopes she left something lasting and tangible.

"The kids are are so proud and took such good care of (the library) that I'm confident years from now it will still be there and be a big part of the school and community," Ishigooka says., 562-499-1291

Cambodia dreaming

Bangkok Post

Published: 29/04/2009

Some stories are long, or at least longer than the story-teller expects. When New Zealand film-maker Stanley Harper set out to make a documentary at a refugee camp on the Thai-Cambodian border in the late 1980s, he didn't realise that the story of one woman he encountered there would take him almost 20 years to capture and recount.

Harper's documentary, Cambodia Dreams, will screen at the Foreign Correspondents' Club tomorrow, followed by a talk by the director.

The movie centres on Yan Chheing, a displaced Cambodian grandmother who fled starvation to the UN camps on the Thai side after the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979. She thought she'd stay there "only a few months", but ended up stuck in a stateless void much longer than she'd imagined.

Meanwhile, the film tells the parallel story of Yan's daughter, Tha, who grew up in a farming village in Battambang province with her adopted family without ever seeing her biological mother. While Yan, through a series of interviews that comprise much of Cambodia Dreams' narrative, longs for the day she can return home, where she believes everything is better than in the camp, her daughter relates the reality of prolonged hardship that most Cambodians have experienced through the past two decades. Finally, the mother-daughter reunion represents the hope that accompanies the effort to rebuild the war-ravaged nation.

In the late 1980s, Harper came to the Thai-Cambodian border to shoot a documentary for the BBC. There he met Yan, and after completing the assignment for the TV station he decided to make another documentary based on her life story. He started filming in 1991, then he followed Yan, in the Thai camp, and her daughter, in her village in Cambodia, until 2002. The sense of passing time adds certain poignancy to the story, but in the end, the belief in rebirth and a new generation shines a light through a dark period that has finally come to a close.

World on higher alert for swine flu outbreaks

Cristina Trejo, who works at the Mexicana airlines counter, wears a surgical mask with a butterfly painted by herself at Mexico City's international airport Benito Juarez April 27, 2009.(Xinhua/Reuters Photo)


Special Report: World Tackles Swine Flu

·The whole world is on higher alert for the new deadly H1N1 swine flu virus.
·The H1N1 swine flu has claimed 152 lives in Mexico and is confirmed to have hit Europe.
·The WHO on Monday raised its pandemic alert level from Phase 3 to Phase 4.

BEIJING, April 28 (Xinhua) -- As the H1N1 swine flu is reported to have claimed 152 lives in Mexico and is confirmed to have hit Europe, the whole world is on higher alert for the new deadly virus, with the World Health Organization raising its pandemic alert level.

About 2,000 people in Mexico have been hospitalized with swine flu as of Monday, 776 of them in serious condition, according to official statistics.

In a new preventive measure, the government ordered the cancellation of school activities at all levels, from kindergartens to universities, across the country through May 6.

Up to 40 cases of swine flu were confirmed in five states across the United States as of late Monday, prompting the government to release 25 percent of a federal drugs stockpile to states fighting the pandemic.

U.S. health officials said the cases were in the New York city and the states of Ohio, Kansas, Texas and California.

A 51-year-old South Korean woman, among three back from a recent trip to Mexico, was confirmed the first suspected swine flu patient in the country early Tuesday.

The flu was designated by the South Korean government as an infectious livestock disease and allowed authorities to limit movement. The government also ordered to destroy and bury the sick animals, and compensate farmers if the outbreak of swine influenza is discovered in the country.

Scottish Health Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed Monday two people coming back from Mexico have been tested positive for swine flu in Britain.

A couple wearing surgical masks kiss each other goodbye as the woman is about to board a plane at the international airport in Cancun, Mexico April 27, 2009.(Xinhua/Reuters Photo)

The minister added that seven of the 22 who had been in contact with the two patients have developed "mild symptoms," but they have not been confirmed as swine flu cases and are being "appropriately cared for" at home.

In Spain, Health and Social Policy Minister Trinidad Jimenez also confirmed the first case of swine flu in the country.

Amid the rapid spread of swine flu in some countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday raised its pandemic alert level from Phase 3 to Phase 4, indicating a significantly increased risk of a pandemic, a global outbreak of a serious disease.

The increased alert under the advice and guidance of an emergency committee means the virus can cause sustained human-to-human transmission and "community-level outbreaks."

The tough situation impelled countries around the world to take precautious measures to protect themselves and stop the spread of the flu.

In Japan, a task force headed by Prime Minister Taro Aso has been set up to deal with the situation.

The Japanese government said it will conduct quarantine activities on flights from Canada and the United States at three of Japan's key international airports as well as on flights from Mexico, and will have quarantine officers check passengers in the cabin before they disembark the aircraft.

Romanian Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Dan Nica said all measures suggested by the health ministry have been taken to prevent a possible outbreak of the flu in Romania.

At Germany's biggest air hub Frankfurt international airport, airline crews on jets coming from swine-flu-affected areas were instructed to report any sick passengers.

The Health Ministry of Cambodia planned to set up scanners at the Phnom Penh and the Siem Reap international airports to check travelers' body temperature against the possible entry of swine flu.

Cambodian health officials said all people who once traveled to the infected areas will be observed.

A string of countries including Norway, Sweden, Australia, Israel, France and Guatemala were testing suspected cases of the Mexican flu.

The Chinese Ministry of Health (MOH) has required local authorities to immediately organize experts to provide medical consultations and treatment at designated medical institutions if people were suspected to have contracted the virus, and has ordered medical institutions at all levels to step up monitoring of suspected swine flu cases, and to report them to the ministry promptly.

According to MOH spokesman Mao Qun, a diagnostic reagent for use in testing for swine flu is under development in China, and the research on a possible vaccine and medication to combat the deadly virus is also underway.

UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki moon told reporters the H1N1 swine flu is of "the most serious concern" to the international community, including the United Nations.

"We are concerned that this virus could cause a new influenza pandemic...It could be mild, in its effects, or potentially severe," he said.

One confirmed case of swine flu in Ind.


Swine-Flu Cases in U.S. Jump to 64, Led by New York (Update2)

By Tom Randall

April 28 (Bloomberg) -- The number of confirmed cases of swine flu in the U.S. jumped to 64, as global health officials monitored New York City as a second possible epicenter for the international outbreak.

The virus has taken its biggest hold in four states in Mexico, the only country in which deaths have been recorded. The U.K., Israel, Canada, New Zealand and Spain have also confirmed cases. The World Health Organization said it’s watching New York to see whether the virus has become rooted in another country, a finding that would boost the agency’s pandemic alert system.

At least five states have confirmed outbreaks, including New York with 45, California with 10, Texas 6, Kansas 2, and Ohio 1, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on its Web site today. The U.S. can expect to see hospitalizations and deaths, and businesses and schools should plan for a pandemic, said Richard Besser, the acting head of the Atlanta-based agency. Yesterday, the agency reported there were 40 cases in the U.S.

“We’re in a pre-pandemic phase and it’s going to be hard to know until we’re much further along what this is going to progress to,” Besser said in an interview today. “Given the case in Mexico, where we’re seeing much more severe disease, I would expect we’re going to find hospitalized individuals and, unfortunately, I expect we will see deaths in this country.”

New York Cases Tracked

The WHO raised its global pandemic alert yesterday, saying the disease is no longer containable and it’s time to prepare for outbreaks. It’s the first time the level has been raised to a 4 since the measure was adopted in 2005. It’s been at level 3 since 2007, when it was elevated for an outbreak of avian flu.

The biggest concern is whether the virus is spreading efficiently outside Mexico, said Keiji Fukuda, the WHO’s assistant director-general for health security and environment on a conference call with reporters today. The confirmed New York cases have been limited to a private school in Queens.

The WHO is working with U.S. and state health officials in tracking the speed and ferocity of the New York-based transmissions as a way to determine how the flu may spread in the future, he said.

“There is definitely the possibility that this virus can establish that kind of community-wide outbreak capacity in multiple countries,” Fukuda said. “It’s a very serious possibility, but it’s still too early to say that it’s inevitable.”

California Cases

California health officials said today on the state’s Web site that it had confirmed an 11th case, though the added instance was not reflected in the CDC data.

As many as 152 people have died in Mexico with suspected swine flu, and the number of worldwide cases confirmed by laboratory tests reached 79, officials said. Japan said today it will suspend visa-free entry for Mexican nationals, while Asian countries, including Singapore and South Korea, are screening air passengers. The Geneva-based WHO isn’t recommending travel restrictions.

The threat level, increased to 4 from 3, “signifies that we have taken a step closer” to a pandemic, Fukuda said yesterday. “It is also possible that as the situation evolves over the next few days we could move into Stage 5.”

Defining a Pandemic

Scientists are trying to determine why swine flu, a respiratory disease that’s caused by a type-A influenza virus, has been more severe in Mexico. In the U.S., where the number of confirmed cases today reached 64, only one person has required hospitalization, Besser said.

“In terms of defining a pandemic, there is no requirement that it cause severe disease,” said Arnold Monte, a scientist from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “It doesn’t have to be killing millions. The virus may be bad in terms of the likelihood of getting infected, but not necessarily in terms of severity.”

A pandemic, rated 6 on the WHO’s alert system, is an unexpected outbreak of a new contagious disease that spreads from person-to-person across borders. In such cases, almost no one has natural immunity.

The World Bank, in a worst-case scenario published in October, said a flu pandemic that’s similar in scope to the 1918 outbreak known as the Spanish flu could kill 71 million people worldwide and push the economy into a “major global recession” costing more than $3 trillion.

The raised level indicates health officials need to prepare for a pandemic, though it isn’t inevitable, WHO’s Fukuda said.

Dynamic Situation

“The situation is very fluid, very dynamic, and it is rapidly evolving,” said Tim Uyeki, an epidemiologist in the CDC’s flu division. “The cases in the U.S. don’t have any links to contact with pigs. This appears to be ongoing human-to-human transmission.”

Production of influenza vaccine for seasonal outbreaks, which U.S. health officials have said is ineffective against the new flu, should continue, Fukuda said. The WHO is working with companies to prepare for a swine-flu vaccine, and would help produce it if the outbreak becomes a pandemic, he said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration signed emergency authorizations yesterday that will permit the CDC to use an unapproved lab test for swine flu and more dosing options than currently recommended for influenza treatments Tamiflu, sold by Swiss drugmaker Roche Holding AG, and Relenza, from London-based GlaxoSmithKline Plc.

Antiviral Stockpiles

There are enough stockpiles of Tamiflu to meet current demand, said Roche spokesman Terence Hurley. Roche has the capacity to manufacture, over one year, enough courses of treatment for 400 million people, Hurley said by telephone.

The WHO has told Roche that it appears Tamiflu would work against this strain of the virus, Hurley said yesterday. Glaxo has increased production of its antiviral Relenza and is in contact with the WHO and CDC, said a Glaxo spokeswoman, Sarah Alspach.

U.S. officials yesterday recommended that nonessential travel to Mexico be avoided and the European Union told travelers to avoid outbreak areas.

Governments in Asia heightened their alert for the spread of the virus. Japan advised its own citizens to defer trips to the Latin American nation.

Yellow Alert

South Korea raised its national disaster level to yellow from blue, the lowest on its scale, after it found one suspected case of swine flu, the health ministry said today.

Cambodia is installing thermal scanners at its two international airports to identify passengers who show symptoms of swine flu, joining Australia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea among nations screening air travelers.

Swine flu results in symptoms similar to those of seasonal influenza, such as fever, lethargy and cough, and may also cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, according to the CDC.

Swine-flu viruses aren’t transmitted by food, and eating properly handled and cooked pork and pork products is safe, according to the CDC. There’s no evidence the disease is spread by exposure to “pork or pigs,” WHO’s Fukuda said.

Indonesia said today it will destroy all imported pork and swine products and fumigate agricultural goods bought from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico as a precaution.

Imports Banned

China, the world’s top pork consumer, banned imports of swine products from Mexico and parts of the U.S. The Philippines also barred pork product imports from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

U.S. President Barack Obama said the emergence and spread of swine flu in the U.S. merits heightened concern “but it’s not a cause for alarm.”

He declared a public emergency after 40 U.S. cases were confirmed in California, Kansas, New York, Ohio and Texas. New Jersey has identified five probable cases, the state’s Department of Health and Senior Services said. All five cases are awaiting confirmation by the CDC, the department said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued an emergency declaration as a “precautionary tool” to free resources to monitor and respond to the spread of the virus, Obama said yesterday.

New York confirmed 28 cases at the St. Francis Preparatory School in Queens, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said yesterday at a news conference. All the cases were mild and as many as 100 may ultimately be found at the school, the mayor said.

‘Gentle Pandemic’

If the world is facing a pandemic, “this is a nice, gentle pandemic,” said John Oxford, a virologist at Queen Mary’s School of Medicine in London. “Virulence seems low.”

Mexico’s Health Minister Jose Cordova said three more flu- related deaths occurred in state-run hospitals yesterday. As many as 149 people may have died in Mexico from the outbreak of swine flu as of April 26, although the cause of the deaths hasn’t been confirmed.

Eight people in Canada contracted swine flu, said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan. New Zealand officials have confirmed three cases, and are monitoring at least 56 people, South Korea has a suspected case, the U.K. confirmed two people contracted the disease, and Spain and Israel each confirmed one case.

Travel restrictions are unnecessary and based on political, not medical considerations, Chan said on a conference call with leaders from health groups around the world.

Closing Countries

“By definition, pandemic influenza will move around the world,” Chan said on the call yesterday. “Does that mean we are going to close every country? Does that mean we are going to bring the world’s economy to a standstill?

“We know from past experience that transmission of influenza or the spread of new influenza disease would not be stopped by closing borders and would not be stopped by restricting movement of people or goods,” Chan said.

The Mexican government requested that bars, movie theaters and churches be closed in Mexico City. It also extended its school closure to May 6 and may shut down more activities, Mexico’s Cordova said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tom Randall in New York at

Last Updated: April 28, 2009

Four Vietnam gang members sentenced to die

Policemen stand guard at Ho Chi Minh-City's Court

HANOI (AFP) — A Vietnamese gang leader who began life on the streets aged just 11 will die in front of a firing squad after a court sentenced him and three henchmen to death, a report said.

Huynh Van Hoa, 40, who led a murder and robbery gang, was convicted in Ho Chi Minh City after a five-day trial, Thanh Nien newspaper reported.

Court officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

In 2005, Hoa used a gun bought in Cambodia to shoot a man dead while robbing him of his motorcycle, the report said.

The following year, another man was shot and killed when Hoa and other gang members tried to rob him of 128 million dong (7,100 dollars), it said.

Hoa began his life on the streets when his mother committed suicide and his father was jailed. A year later, he was arrested for his first robbery, Thanh Nien reported.

Sixteen other members of his gang were also convicted at the trial, with sentences ranging from probation to life in prison, the report said.

Hoa and his three fellow gang members are the most recent of 21 criminals sentenced to die this year, according to reports compiled by AFP from state media and court officials.

Khmer Rouge jailer: infamous regulations sign fake

Associated Press

A Khmer Rouge jail chief on trial for the torture and execution of thousands of people said Monday that an infamous sign listing prison regulations was fabricated by Vietnamese who overthrew the late 1970s regime.

Kaing Guek Eav, 66, alias Duch, commanded Phnom Penh's S-21 prison, where as many as 16,000 men, women and children are believed to have been tortured before being sent to their deaths.

He is being tried by a U.N.-assisted genocide tribunal for crimes against humanity, war crimes, murder and torture. An estimated 1.7 million Cambodians died under the 1975-79 communist Khmer Rouge regime from forced labor, starvation, medical neglect and executions.

Duch's prison is now the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, and its exhibits include a sign purporting to show 10 "security regulations" during his time in command. The museum is a major tourist attraction in the Cambodian capital.

"While getting lashes or electrification you must not cry at all," and "If you disobey any point of my regulations you shall get either ten lashes or five shocks of electric discharge," were among the rules, which have been reproduced in Cambodian and English.

Duch has admitted overseeing torture and execution, but denies the prison had such rules. He freely admits the prison was part of the Khmer Rouge's system of oppression, and said last week that one reason he has admitted to its activities was his anger at an interview the late Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot gave claiming that the group's atrocities were actually committed by the Vietnamese.

After the xenophobic Khmer Rouge regime began attacks on Vietnamese border villages, Hanoi responded with an invasion in late 1978 and was able to oust the Khmer Rouge regime in early 1979. After discovering S-21, where freshly killed prisoners were found chained to bed frames, they helped establish the museum. Its most striking feature is haunting portraits of many of the victims, discovered among the copious documentation left behind by Duch.

Duch in his testimony Monday said that the rules for prisoners he was alleged to have established never existed and were "fabricated by Vietnamese when they came in."

Duch also said his daily duties were to look after interrogation documents and prisoners' forced confessions although at least once he personally interrogated a very important prisoner.

He said he was appointed to his job in March 1976 because he was much better at interrogation than his predecessor. Previous testimony in his trial described how he headed a jungle prison during the 1970-75 civil war that brought the Khmer Rouge to power.

Another reason he was appointed was because "I was the one who was very faithful and honest to" to the Khmer Rouge, he said.

Duch is the first senior Khmer Rouge figure to face trial, and the only one to acknowledge responsibility for his actions. The other four in custody are likely to be tried in the next year or two.

The Construction of Hydro-Electric Dams along the Mekong River Leads to Serious Dangers for Cambodia - Monday, 27.4.2009

Posted on 28 April 2009

The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 610

“International experts warned last week that the construction of hydro-electric dams along the Mekong River will contribute to long-term and severe impacts on the environment and on the life of millions of people living along the Mekong River. Countries along the lower Mekong River region, including Cambodia, should consider the long-term impacts resulting from the construction of hydro-electric dams along the Mekong River.

“During a discussion about the development of hydro-electric dams along the Mekong River, organized by a center in Washington D.C. in the United States of America, a senior expert said that producing energy from hydro-electric dams built across the river is an out-of-date concept which has already made some countries to suffer from the consequences of such developments and now, they are reversing the destruction.

“Experts said that at present, among the 11 hydro-electric dams believed to be under construction in Cambodia and Laos, two hydro-electric dams are planed to be constructed in Cambodia. Companies from China, Siam [Thailand], Yuon [Vietnam], and Malaysia are involved in these developments, but China is most heavily involved by controlling four big projects. This number adds to the eight hydro-electric dams constructed by China or planned to be constructed in the upper regions of the Mekong River.

“Environmental and fish experts claimed that the construction of hydro-electric dams can change the flow of water, and they warned that the environmental impacts resulting from these constructions will appear on a large scale, which affects the life of people and destroys the spawning places of fish to lay their eggs, and the habitat of some important fish species.

“A regional director of the World Fish Center from an international organization based in Cambodia said that hydro-electric dams can block the movement of fish during the dry season between the low lying Mekong River basin and the upper Mekong River. That regional director added that actually, those dams form obstacles for the movement of fish; many species of fish move from the Tonle Sap River and from some flooded areas to the Mekong River and to branches of the river at the upper areas of Cambodia and Laos, some of them can move up to the north of Laos.

“Environmental experts mentioned that China had already operating three hydro-electric dams built across the Mekong River, and it is constructing and planning to construct five more dams. Cambodia had expressed concerns over the impacts of the construction of hydro-electric dams in China on the environment of the countries in the lower areas of the Mekong River. China constructed these hydro-electric dams without discussing it with the low-lying countries, and whenever there were protests, China always claimed that it had thought about the impacts in advance already.

“Among the hydro-electric dams planned to be built in Laos, one is located next to the Lbak Khon area of Cambodia, and this leads to agitated discussions and protests from environmental and fish experts, because this project will have serious impacts on the breeding and movement of fish and fish yields in Cambodia. According to the plan, this project will provide about more than 300 megawatt of electricity, which is small compared to the severely negative impacts. The vice-chairperson of the Cambodia National Mekong Committee, Mr. Sin Niny, told foreign reporters that the low-lying countries are waiting for results from that study. Environmental officials criticized that the construction of hydro-electric dams across the Mekong River in Laos will seriously affect the environment in Cambodia. Together with this concern, Cambodia is studying to construct a hydro-electric dam at Sambo in Kratie with investments from China; and the planning research for this project is expected to be finished in 2010.

“Environmental experts advised that countries at the lower areas of the Mekong River that need energy could decide to form a network to produce and distribute electricity in the region, and let the upper Mekong countries build hydro-electric dams in areas that do not affect the movement of fish much, and the energy produced should be distributed to other countries, because the Mekong River is the collective property of countries lying along the 4,000 km of the Mekong River. Experts suggested that the construction of a hydro-electric dam by Laos near the Cambodian-Laotian border, and the plan of Cambodia to construct several dams ought to be cancelled in order to avoid the impacts on the natural environment of both countries.

“As seen on maps, the Mekong River originates from the Tibetan plateau of China and extends over more than 4,000 km. It flows through the five countries of Burma, Laos, Siam [Thailand], Cambodia, and Yuon [Vietnam]. The Mekong River is among the four longest rivers of the word, it provides many fish to support the life of millions of people living along this river. In contrast, the construction of big hydro-electric dams in China as well as in Laos can affect the natural environment of this river seriously, and Cambodia will become a country which suffers the most, because Cambodia does not have any plan to prevent the impact from the construction of hydro-electric dams on the Mekong River.”

Moneaksekar Khmer, Vol.16, #3742, 27.4.2009
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Monday, 27 April 2009