Tuesday, 23 February 2010

No more aid for KKrom, NGO says

Photo by: Sovan Philong
Thach Soong, a Khmer Krom who fled from Vietnam to Thailand and was deported to Cambodia in early December, is interviewed by a police officer last week in Meanchey district.

via CAAI News Media

Tuesday, 23 February 2010 15:04 Cameron Wells and Tharum Bun

THE NGO that has been covering rent and food expenses for the group of 22 Khmer Krom seeking asylum in Phnom Penh informed them on Monday that it could not afford to offer support past the end of February, giving them just five days to come up with new living arrangements.

The news comes three days after district police and local officials informed the Khmer Krom, many of whom have been staying in Meanchey district since being deported in December from Thailand after a failed asylum bid, that their request for identification cards had been formally denied.

Am Sam Ath, a technical superviser for the rights group Licadho, which has been aiding the Khmer Krom, said Sunday that staff members there would meet Monday to discuss whether they could extend their support in light of the decision on the identification cards. On Monday, however, he confirmed that Licadho would stick to its original timetable, under which it is set to suspend its support at the end of the month.

“We confirm that we can no longer provide assistance,” Am Sam Ath said. “However, we will continue to monitor their safety.”

He said budget issues were preventing Licadho from providing more help than it already had, and he suggested in a meeting with the group on Monday that they keep requesting help from other organisations until their situation is resolved.

“We suggested they seek help from other NGOs and the [UN High Commissioner for Refugees],” he said.

Thach Soong, a representative of the deportees, said many are concerned they will have no options if they cannot find another organisation to assist them.

Identification cards are seen as essential in finding jobs, enrolling in schools, renting accommodation and accessing health care, among other things.

“I appeal to local and international NGOs to continue to provide assistance so we can wait for the government to solve this problem,” he said in an interview at the Boeung Tumpun commune home where the group has been staying.

“I don’t know what to do. Being here without any legal documents [means] I have no way to find a job or live legally here,” he said.

“If I return to Thailand [to seek asylum] I don’t know what will happen to me.”

Ever since the group arrived in Cambodia on December 5, government officials have stressed that all Khmer Krom are granted the right to live in Cambodia under the constitution, and that they do not face discrimination here.

However, observers have argued that the government does not always live up to this claim, most recently during a session of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination held in Geneva last week.

Citing other recent cases of Khmer Krom asylum seekers in Cambodia, Thach Soong said he feared ultimately being sent back to Vietnam, where members of the group have been persecuted. “Tim Sakhorn and other Khmer Krom monks were sent back,” he said, referring to a monk who was sent back to Vietnam in June 2007 but has since been given asylum in Sweden.

Thach Soong’s wife, Kim Soun, also expressed concern about what would happen to them after March 1. “After this [rent] runs out, I don’t know where I will be going,” she said. “I haven’t thought of any way to move on.”

Meanchey district officials could not be reached for comment on Monday.

No jurisdiction: UNHCR
Kitty McKinsey, spokeswoman for the UNHCR in Bangkok, noted on Monday that the UNHCR does not have jurisdiction to process the Khmer Krom because they are considered Cambodian citizens.

“This has nothing to do with the sub-decree,” she said. “Our understanding is that the Khmer Krom are recognised as Cambodian citizens.”

Rainsy to face fresh charge in border row

Photo by: Pha Lina
Chief border negotiator Var Kimhong points to a document about frontier markers as he stands in front of a projected map of the border with Vietnam at a press conference Monday.

via CAAI News Media

Tuesday, 23 February 2010 15:04 Meas Sokchea

THE government has again gone on the offensive against opposition leader Sam Rainsy, saying he will soon face charges of falsifying public documents in order to support allegations of Vietnamese territorial encroachments.

Var Kimhong, Cambodia’s chief border negotiator, said at a press conference on Monday that the government had lost patience with the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) president and his “exaggerations” about the situation on the Vietnamese border.

“The SRP is not confused about the situation. Their purpose is to twist our work and criticise the government very strongly,” he said. “This is a national betrayal. The government will sue him again on accusations of faking public documents.” He did not mention when the charges would be laid, saying only that the case had been forwarded on to government lawyers.

Last month, the SRP posted on its Web site what it described as “unprecedented evidence” that Vietnamese border markers 184, 185, 186 and 187 were placed well inside Cambodia’s legal territory as defined by French and American maps.

On January 27, Sam Rainsy was sentenced in absentia to two years in prison and fined 8 million riels (around US$1,927) for joining villagers in uprooting six temporary border markers in October. The villagers said the markers were placed in the rice fields by Vietnamese authorities.

On Monday, Var Kimhong also challenged Sam Rainsy’s claim that Vietnamese border officials had uprooted the four posts in response to the SRP’s allegations, saying they had excavated certain sections of the border in the course of the joint demarcation process. “The Vietnamese did not pull up the posts because we have not planted any posts yet.... If Sam Rainsy has evidence of this, please show us,” he said. “We cannot tolerate him anymore because we have already explained to him about this.”

SRP spokesman Kimsour Phirith rejected the government’s allegations against Sam Rainsy, saying the threat of charges was merely an attempt at “weakening” the opposition. He also said that if the government wanted to eliminate criticisms that it is turning a blind eye to Vietnamese incursions, it should allow impartial observers to scrutinise the placing of border posts.

“To show whether or not the planting of the posts was legal or illegal, the government must allow border experts and civil society activists to attend the border demarcation,” he said.

Kimsour Phirith added that although the party did not have photos of Vietnamese officials in the act of uprooting the border markers, it had collected testimony from witnesses along the border.

French tourist says he did not know prostitute was underage

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Tuesday, 23 February 2010 15:04 Chrann Chamroeun

A 63-YEAR-OLD French tourist accused of purchasing child prostitution from a 16-year-old girl in Daun Penh district last year says he thought the girl was over the legal age of 18, Phnom Penh Municipal Court heard on Monday.

Jean-Michel Raymond Charlot was arrested on August 20 last year during a police raid in which he was caught having sex with the girl at his guesthouse in Srak Chork commune, according to testimony.

The accused, who was on his third trip to Cambodia, told the court he had paid US$30 to a tuk-tuk driver to act as his translator and guide for half a day. He said the driver helped him negotiate a price of $10 for sex with the girl, who had told him through the driver that she was 18. Throughout the hearing, the defence blasted the victim, accusing her of making a business of trying to get foreigners arrested.

The 16-year-old told the court that she regretted the arrest and had no intention of entrapping foreigners, but had worked as a prostitute since she was 14 to support her poverty-stricken family.

“I feel terribly sorry and regretful that some foreigners were arrested and convicted because of me, but I didn’t know that the police were following me,” she said.

Questioned by court officials about his intentions, Charlot said he was attempting to have intercourse with the girl, but said he had ultimately been unsuccessful.

“I was having sex with [the victim], but she was in pain, and then the police came into my room and arrested me,” he said.

One of two lawyers acting on behalf of the victim, Peng Maneth, who was provided by Action Pours Les Enfants, a group which campaigns against the sexual abuse of children, said that Charlot should be banned from returning to Cambodia and forced to pay $5,000 in compensation on the basis of his having confessed to having sex with a minor.

Under Article 34 of the Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation, which regulates the purchasing of prostitution involving minors, Charlot faces between a two-year and five-year prison sentence if found guilty.

The court is expected to deliver its verdict on Thursday.

Police Blotter: 23 Feb 2010

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Tuesday, 23 February 2010 15:02 Sen David

A woman in Battambang province says she believes she was robbed after a thief saw her sporting expensive jewellery during a wedding party last week. The victim said she went to the party last week and noticed a man staring at her. She was wearing a lot of jewellery, police said, including rings, a necklace and flashy earrings that piqued the thief’s interest. The next day, thieves cleaned out the woman’s house, swiping everything of value and escaping. Police are still investigating the case.

Police have arrested a 22-year-old man in Takeo province after the man allegedly threatened to kill his own father. Investigators say the son was addicted to drugs and threatened to stab his father Saturday. But the plan was thwarted when the mother arrived home and screamed for help. Police say the man was addicted to “drugs and wine”. The father reported that he had previously sent his son to the Orgkas Khnom, or My Chance, drug treatment centre in Phnom Penh, but that his son quickly returned to drug use when he returned home.

A 13-year-old boy died because he gagged on his food in Kampong Speu on Saturday. Police said that the boy choked on a mouthful of rice while he was eating his lunch. His mother said that when his son choked on the rice, she ordered him to drink water, but he died immediately. His mother did not believe he was dead and sent him to the hospital. The doctor said that he had died of asphyxiation. A neighbour expressed sorrow for the death of the boy.

A Kampong Cham court sentenced two men to 15 years each in prison on Saturday after they were convicted of robbing and killing a 10-year-old girl last month. Police said the men robbed and then killed the girl before throwing her body in a river. Investigators said “rancour” was the reason for the robbery, since it was unlikely such a young girl would have had much money. The victim’s mother was not pleased with the decision and said that the killing of another human being should have resulted in a much stiffer punishment.

Toxic pesticides rife in Kingdom, NGO reports

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Tuesday, 23 February 2010 15:04 David Boyle and Khouth Sophak Chakrya

A NEW report released by the Pesticide Action Network at a UN Environment Programme forum on the use of toxic chemicals has found that Cambodia and 10 other Asian countries are awash in highly hazardous pesticides.

Case studies conducted across Asia in farming areas that included Peam Chor district, Prey Veng province, showed that 66 percent of pesticides used in agriculture were highly hazardous, according to standards set by international bodies such as the World Health Organisation.

The report found that 90 percent of farmers in Prek Krabrau commune who sprayed their crops with pesticides routinely suffered from dizziness, 87 percent suffered from headaches, 70 percent experienced blurry vision and 52 percent reported hand tremors.

Cambodian law already prohibits the use of 116 chemical pesticides and restricts the use of another 40; however, the enforcement of these bans has been consistently undermined by the illegal importation of the chemicals, mainly from Vietnam.

Bella Whittle, the author of the report and a programme officer at the Pesticide Action Network, said better international coordination is needed to stem the flow of illegal chemicals.

“As I understand it, there has been pretty genuine attempts in many of the Asian countries to phase out class 1 acutely toxic pesticides; however, those pesticides are still being used in some countries illegally,” she said.

Hong Narit, cabinet chief at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said the report would help the public better understand that overuse of chemical pesticides harms farmers, consumers and the environment.

“The report is good for raising awareness in Cambodia, and now we are preparing legislation on the management of the chemicals as well,” he said.

The report was released Sunday, the first day of the 11th UN Environment Programme Global Major Groups and Stakeholders Forum in Bali, Indonesia.

Adhoc targets smuggling in Ratanakkiri

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Tuesday, 23 February 2010 15:03 Tep Nimol

THE Ratanakkiri provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc has filed a complaint against the head of a suspected illegal timber-smuggling business, who stands accused of attempting to take more than 200 pieces of luxury wood out of the country and threatening to kill anyone who got in his way.

Pen Bonnar said that 230 pieces of luxury wood, each measuring 2.5 metres in length, were discovered Wednesday in the forest by residents of Pong commune, Veun Sai district, who promptly reported them to Adhoc and local officials.

He charged that the wood belonged to a man called Cheang Thai, and that, in violation of proper procedure, officials did not secure the 150 pieces that were left in the forest.

A total of 80 pieces were sent to the district Forestry Administration office, but the ones that were left are now unaccounted for, he said.

“We suggested that authorities deploy security forces to protect the timber, but officials said they didn’t have enough forces because it was in the evening,” he said.

La Bun Peng, a representative for the forestry community in Veun Sai district that discovered the wood, said Cheang Thai threatened members of the community who threatened to break up his operation, saying, “If you seize my timber, I will kill all of you.”

Reached on Monday, Cheang Thai denied the allegations against him.

“The complaint against me about illegal wood smuggling and threatening villagers is not true,” he said.

Toeur Nouthorn, Veun Sai district police chief, said Monday that he had summoned villagers to be questioned in the case on Tuesday, and that Cheang Thai would be asked to meet with police soon.

Meanwhile, Vong Somethy, the head of the Forestry Administration in Veun Sai district, said that the confiscated timber was at his office, though he declined to comment further.

Pen Bonnar said his complaint was to be filed with the provincial court by 4pm on Monday.

Hospital faces malpractice claim

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Tuesday, 23 February 2010 15:03 Mom Kunthear

THE DIRECTOR of a referral hospital in Stung Treng province has launched an investigation after medical workers there were accused of malpractice in the death of a pregnant woman.

The woman’s family says she died as hospital workers haggled over the cost of transferring her to a larger facility.

Oung Soveat, director of the Stung Treng referral hospital, said he knew little of the case but promised to look into the matter.

“I really regret what happened to the woman. I would also be upset if her death was related to my staff,” said Oung Soveat, who pledged a thorough investigation.

“It needs to take a long time to do the investigation because I need to ask my staff, check documents and other relevant information in order to see whether my staff committed malpractice or not.”

Hong Sren, 37, died last week as she was about to give birth. Her family said doctors told her that her baby had died in her womb, and that she would have to be sent to Kratie provincial hospital to remove the baby – a move that would cost 350,000 riels (US$83.50).

“I told them that we only had 200,000 riels ($48) and we will give them the rest later, but they refused,” said Chan Sokha, the woman’s sister-in-law.
By the time a neighbour offered to pay the rest of the bill, Hong Sren had died, she said.

“She died with her eyes open in the ambulance while the hospital workers prepared to transport her to Kratie provincial hospital,” she said.

The woman’s husband, Vann Samet, said his wife had come to check on her health every month with no problems.

“The doctors think that money is more important than my wife’s life,” he said.

An official with local rights group Adhoc urged an external investigation into the death.

“Those doctors betrayed their professional and moral standards,” said Chhay Rath, Adhoc’s coordinator in Stung Treng, who is preparing to file a complaint to the provincial court and police on behalf of the family.

Chhay Rath said he couldn’t recall any other cases at the hospital in which alleged negligence had led to the death of a pregnant woman.

Govt warns against travel to Thailand

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Tuesday, 23 February 2010 15:03 Cheang Sokha and James O’toole

CAMBODIAN citizens travelling to Thailand should exercise extreme caution this week, ahead of a potentially explosive court verdict set for Friday involving fugitive former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement Monday.

Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said Cambodians who are planning to travel to Bangkok within the next few days should postpone trips that are not absolutely necessary.

“We are afraid that violent incidents will happen” on Friday, Koy Kuong said, noting that other governments have also warned their citizens to avoid the Thai capital this week. These countries include the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia, whose warning said last week that Thailand’s security “remains unpredictable, and further political unrest and violence cannot be ruled out”.

The tens of thousands of migrants from Cambodia who are working in Thailand must avoid public demonstrations, Koy Kuong added, as political demonstrations in Thailand have turned violent on several occasions in recent years.

On Friday, Thailand’s supreme court will decide whether to seize more than 76 billion baht (US$2.3 billion) of Thaksin’s assets based on allegations that he abused his political power for business interests.

Thailand’s opposition Red Shirts – supporters of the former leader, who was ousted in a 2006 coup before going into voluntary exile in 2008 to avoid a prison term for corruption – are planning massive rallies in Bangkok to coincide with the verdict, launching calls of bias against the Thai judiciary.

Chawanon Intharakomansut, secretary to the Thai foreign minister, said Thailand was “prepared for anything”, emphasising the ability of government forces to maintain order.

“I think we have assured foreigners ... that Thai people can protest peacefully and unarmed,” Chawanon said. “If something goes out of control, I think we can guarantee that the ministry and the police and the officials can handle the situation.”

Starlet victim of acid attack to seek treatment in South Korea

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
At their home on Monday, Soam Sichoun, 52, shows the wounds that her daughter, Hang Srey Leak, 16, sustained in an acid attack last year.

via CAAI News Media

Tuesday, 23 February 2010 15:03 Mom Kunthear

A TELEVISION talent show star who was the victim of an acid attack late last year will be flown to Korea in another attempt to treat her wounds, the girl’s mother said Monday.

Hang Srey Leak was doused with half a litre of acid in December while she was leaving a Daun Penh district beauty salon. She was sent to Vietnam for treatment after the assault, but her mother said Monday that the wounds still have not healed.

“Until now, I have spent about US$20,000 to treat my daughter’s injuries,” said the mother, Soam Sichoun, who said her daughter will go to South Korea near the end of the month. “I want to appeal to other donors to help my daughter remove her scars so that she can compete in the talent show finals in April.”

Hang Srey Leak was crowned one of the winners of TV9’s weekly talent show High Star in November.

Soam Sichoun said her daughter had developed unsightly scars on areas of her body where the acid was poured.

Hang Srey Leak was attacked in December by two men police later identified as her cousins. Her family says the attack was motivated by jealousy.

Soam Sichoun said her daughter will only be allowed to compete on High Star again if her wounds have healed.

“I really regret what happened to my daughter, and it is her bad fortune, but I will push my daughter to be a singer or movie star outside the country, maybe in Australia or America,” she said. “I don’t want my daughter to stay in Cambodia anymore because I am afraid of someone doing the same thing to her again.”

Car sales start to grow after a dismal early '09

A mechanic looks under the bonnet of a 1997 Toyota Camry Monday at a car dealership in Tuol Kork district, Phnom Penh. Car dealers say that some buyers have started to purchase new vehicles this year instead of second-hand cars, a sign the industry is beginning to rebound.

I am seeing demand on new cars increase as customers buy new vehicles over old ones."

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Tuesday, 23 February 2010 15:03 May Kunmakara

Toyota, Nissan, Ford and Chevrolet distributors see an upswing in business, but some say full recovery is still a long way ahead

FOUR leading car dealers in Phnom Penh said Monday they have seen business pick up again after the global economic crisis led to a dismal 2009, with one firm exploring new credit options for buyers in an attempt to increase sales.

Kong Nuon, president of Toyota distributor TTHK Co, said sales had picked up compared to the same period last year, citing improvements in the agriculture and tourism sectors.

“This year sales won’t be as bad as last year,” he said Monday. “Although we are seeing that the property sector has not recovered ... other sectors have.”

Car buyers in the Kingdom have in recent years traditionally funded purchases through profits generated in the agriculture and property sectors in particular.

Sales of new Toyotas – the bestselling cars in the world, despite the recent recall of about 8 million vehicles, mostly due to faulty braking systems – were expected to hit between 600 and 720 units in Cambodia this year, said Kong Nuon.

Total demand for new vehicles was expected to reach about 2,800 units per year, according to a previous estimate by Kong Nuon, with a further 20,000 secondhand vehicles expected to be sold annually.

Nissan’s official reseller, Narita Motorcare Cambodia Co Ltd, which saw sales drop 50 percent last year, has also noticed an improvement so far this year, Managing Director Long Narith said Monday citing an improvement in the general economic climate.

“The global economy is getting better, especially our economy,” he said. “I am seeing demand on new cars increase as customers buy new vehicles over old ones.”

The company plans to import about 500 new vehicles this year, added Long Narith.

Ford dealer RM Asia Manager Seng Voeung said Monday that there is still a long way to go before there can be talk of a full-blown recovery in the auto sector.

“It is a little better but not too much.... The price of cars is still high” for Cambodian buyers, he said.

Sen Voeung warned that a recovery in the auto industry could be hit by government plans reported at the end of last year to raise car taxes based on engine size.

“I think the increase in tax will be a barrier causing customers to hesitate buying new cars,” he said.

Chevrolet dealer Auto Sale Cambodia has seen demand pick up this year, said Manager Chanchal Singh, as the company this week launched a new credit financing system for its vehicles in collaboration with three banks that he declined to name. Under the new credit plan customers would be required to place a 40 percent down payment and would have to show evidence of collateral, said Singh.

“The car business here is growing very fast,” he said.

Other dealers have not experienced the recent upswing, however. Horn Seam, assistant to the director of Ssangyong Motor Co Ltd, said Monday that sales have not recovered, and that the firm is still trying to sell last year’s vehicles.

“I recognise that sales are better now for other companies but my firm remains stagnant because we need to clear stock first before importing new vehicles,” he said.

Logging: Govt sends delegation to Thai court

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Tuesday, 23 February 2010 15:03 Tep Nimol


The Cambodian government said Monday that it had sent a delegation to Thailand’s Surin province to inquire about a court decision issued last Friday sentencing six Cambodians to prison terms for illegal logging in Thailand. Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong said the delegation was hoping to enlist the services of a Thai lawyer to help in filing a complaint in the case. “We are seeking a Thai lawyer who knows Thai laws and can explain if the trial held by the Surin provincial court was just or not according to the country’s legal procedure,” Koy Kuong said. The six villagers, from Oddar Meanchey province’s O’Smach commune, were sentenced to 27 months in prison last week after their arrest on January 25. O’Smach residents say the group was only collecting rattan in an undemarcated area it had visited many times before. Cambodia had planned to dispatch a team of legal advisers for the trial on Friday before being erroneously informed by the Thai court that the trial had been rescheduled, Koy Kuong said, voicing suspicions that the move was an effort to prevent the villagers from receiving legal assistance.

CDC notes investment down 25pc in January

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Tuesday, 23 February 2010 15:02 Chun Sophal

APPROVED investments were down 25 percent last month on a year earlier, figures by the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) showed Monday, as tourism investment continued to suffer.

Data showed that US$75 million in investments were approved in January, down from $100 million the previous year when the tourism sector accounted for $89 million in projects. Last month no tourism projects were approved, CDC figures showed.

“We are still optimistic that the value of investment will increase this year as the world economy – which has been in crisis for a few years now – shows positive signs of recovery,” Duy Thouv, the CDC’s deputy director general, said Monday.

The figures were just temporary, he said, adding that the situation will likely improve.

Monday’s data were particularly discouraging given the very low base achieved last year. Approved investment dropped a huge 46.18 percent last year as the tourism sector in particular saw the influx of new capital grind to a halt – tourism projects passed by the CDC plummeted $5 billion last year, official figures showed.

Despite the drop in the value of projects approved last month and the complete absence of tourism developments, there was some good news for the stuttering economy.

The CDC said it passed nine projects last month, compared to just four a year earlier, and there further signs that Cambodia’s agricultural sector – the largest in the country and the best performer last year in terms of growth, according to 2009 projections – was receiving a more capital.

In January 2009 the CDC did not approve a single dollar in agriculture investment. However, three projects worth $38.85 million were given the green light last month, representing just over half the total approvals. A further $4.28 million investment in food processing was also approved, CDC figures showed. In January last year, the CDC approved a food processing investment worth $8.47 million.

“Paying attention to the agricultural sector through investment activities can be advantageous for … economic growth in a developing country like Cambodia,” said Kang Chandararoth, president of the Cambodia Institute of Development Study.

The economy had not yet seen signs of recovery, he added, although he noted an increased focus on agricultural investment, including some from the government.

Health reforms see success

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Tuesday, 23 February 2010 15:02 Rann Reuy and James O’toole

Siem Reap district makes progress amid criticism of manager.

A SIEM Reap health official whose management drew a public protest from subordinates last week has achieved resounding success in improving health outcomes and cracking down on unlicenced clinics and pharmacies in recent years, public health experts say.

More than one-third of the 120 staffers who work at Siem Reap’s Angkor Chum district hospital gathered last Thursday to protest against Angkor Chum operational district director Mak Samoeun, accusing him of behaving like a “dictator” and preventing them from offering private health services to supplement their incomes. According to a USAID-funded report released last month, however, Angkor Chum has become one of the most successful operational districts (ODs) in the Kingdom’s health sector, due in part to the forced closure of unlicenced medical facilities.

“The Angkor Chum OD has a reputation among government officials and NGO staff for providing highly successful health-care management and effectively providing health services to the population,” reads the report, written by health professionals Tong Soprach and Peng Vanny.

In 2005 and 2006, the report says, health professionals in Angkor Chum noted several instances in which local residents died because they relied on unlicenced medical practitioners who were siphoning patients and revenue from the district hospital and health centres. Over the next few years, Mak Samoeun led an effort to bring patients back to provincial health facilities, quickly improving maternal and child health indicators and increasing revenue for the health sector.

By 2009, all illegal pharmacies and private practices in Angkor Chum were closed or in the process of being closed, and care was available at local health centres 24 hours a day. In addition, 88 percent of child births were aided by trained health personnel – compared with just 26 percent in 2005 – and the average revenue at health centres in Angkor Chum jumped from 7.5 million riels (US$1,789) per month in 2005 to 38.2 million riels per month in 2009.

Opponents, Mak Samoeun said, hope to oust him not because they are concerned about the district health sector, but because they have lost money since their illegal facilities have been shut down.

“Some of my superiors have urged people to protest because what I have done makes them lose profits,” he said.

Sao Sim, director of the Angkor Chum referral hospital, said all 45 of the protestors had thumbprinted a petition against Mak Samoeun of their own volition, and were waiting for an official solution to the dispute from provincial health officials.

Sieng Kheng, a doctor at Angkor Chum referral hospital, said he had protested because he needed to run an unlicenced clinic out of his home in order to boost his meagre earnings.

“Mak Samoeun exaggerates about how all his staff have high salaries … but in fact, this is not the truth,” Sieng Kheng said.

Although Mak Samoeun has often faced criticism for implementing his reforms, his achievements in improving Angkor Chum’s health outcomes are undeniable, said Tapley Jordanwood, a health financing expert with the Phnom Penh-based Better Health Services project.

“He has a deftness with which he addresses issues in his OD,” Jordanwood said. “He so clearly has the trust of a wide variety of people up there.”

Minister of Health Mam Bunheng referred questions to Dy Bunchhem, director of the Siem Reap Provincial Health Department, who could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Deal to sell local paddy to Vietnam

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Tuesday, 23 February 2010 15:02 Chun Sophal

TAUCH Tepich Import Export signed an agreement this month to supply 10,000 tonnes of unprocessed paddy worth US$2.3 million to south Vietnam-based firm Tri Mai, said the president of the Cambodian company.

Tauch Tepich said Sunday that it would begin delivery this week.

According to the agreement, Tauch Tepich will supply 1,000 tonnes of paddy a month by water across the K’orm Samnor border crossing in Kandal province.

“We hope Cambodian farmers will get more market opportunities to sell their paddy under this agreement,” he said.

Agricultural analysts say the Kingdom should be taking advantage of rising processing power to add value to the sector rather than shipping raw materials to the likes of Vietnam – a major competitor in agricultural exports – where Cambodia-produced crops are usually processed and sold overseas.

“I think it is better if the company could export rice instead of paddy because it brings greater advantages for the economy,” said Yang Saing Koma, president of the Cambodian Centre for Study and Development in Agriculture.

This year the Rural Development Bank (RDB) has lent $12 million to rice millers for purchasing paddy at 7 percent interest per year.

“We have given loans at very low interest rates to encourage companies that wish to buy paddy to process rice for export,” said RDB President Sun Kunthor.

Beeline adjusts tariffs in bid to conform with pricing rules

Photo by: Rick Valenzuela
A juggler performs as part of a Beeline promotion in Phnom Penh last August. The Moscow-based firm has announced changes to its pricing, an issue that prompted legal action from Mobitel last year.

via CAAI News Media

Tuesday, 23 February 2010 15:02 Ith Sothoeuth

After long dispute in sector, it remains unclear whether tariffs follow new rules

BEELINE, the Moscow-based mobile-phone company at the centre of a price-dumping dispute that led to the government issuing edicts to regulate the sector at the end of last year, has announced it has raised prices to confirm with the new regulations.

In a text message distributed late Sunday, the operator told users it had ended its “Super Zero” pricing plan enacted in September that at the time the firm described as “more aggressive” than the controversial “Boom” tariff it replaced following complaints from the rest of the sector.

“Based on MPTC prakas! Your Super Zero price plan will now be changed to Super Plus price plan,” said the message, referring to the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications prakas, or edict, issued in December that set minimum tariffs across the sector.

The new tariff was effective from Monday, it added.

However, it remained unclear whether the new price plan conformed with the prakas, given that within-network callers on Beeline would only be charged US$0.06 per minute for the first two minutes of a call of up to 15 minutes, according to details of the plan issued Monday by Beeline’s Lead PR and Media Specialist Nhem Socheata. Between the third and 15th minute, customers would be able to call each other at no additional charge.

According to December’s prakas, within-network calls are supposed to be no lower than $0.045 per minute; however, mobile operators are permitted to run temporary price promotions if they receive prior approval from MPTC. There was no indication as to whether the Beeline promotion was temporary or had received approval.

A Beeline service operator said Monday that there was no specific end date for the new pricing plan, but that users would be informed when alterations were made.

Nhem Socheata did not answer questions asking Beeline to elaborate Monday.

“Beeline has launched its new tariff plan compliant with [the] MPTC prakas– Super Plus – on February 22,” she said in an emailed statement. “This plan is applicable for all new and existing subscribers.”

MPTC Director General Mao Chakrya declined to comment on whether Beeline’s new tariff complied with his ministry’s regulations, referring all questions to the company.

From Monday, Beeline said it would price across-network calls at $0.06 per minute. The new regulations set a minimum tariff of $0.0595 per minute for calls between users on different networks.

This week’s move by Beeline, which is operated by Russia’s Vimpelcom Ltd, comes after months of wrangling particularly with market leader Mobitel, which in August took legal action against its rival over allegations of illegal use of its prefixes and price-dumping. The status of the case remains unclear.

Since around the middle of last year Mobitel sought to put pressure on Beeline – the newest entrant in the crowded Cambodian mobile sector – to raise its cross-network tariffs under the former “Boom” plan which charged just $0.05 per minute, a price other operators also said violated minimum tariff agreements. The ministry subsequently appeared to agree, as it established a minimum tariff in a prakas in December.

Under a separate, earlier tariff also issued in the wake of the dispute, MPTC ruled that providers should guarantee coverage across networks after Beeline alleged Mobitel was deliberately blocking interconnectivity in retaliation for its low prices.

Myanmar painter uses canvas to open gateway into the spirit world

Soe Naing's oil paintings, most of which are untitled, evoke an alien realm populated by hermaphrodites, weapon-wielding humanoids and phantom figures on horseback.

Nat statues preside over a shrine near Mount Popa, Myanmar. Douglas long

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Tuesday, 23 February 2010 15:01 Douglas Long

Working in a trance-like state, artist Soe Naing brings nat culture to life in his vivid paintings

EVERY year in the middle of monsoon season, the town of Taungbyone in central Myanmar hosts a festival that draws thousands of spirit worshippers from across the country. The six-day event is unusually raucous for Myanmar, often characterised by hard drinking, gambling and other boisterous behaviour.

The main attraction of the festival are the spirit mediums, invariably gay men dressed as women who channel supernatural beings while dancing and spinning to the clanging rhythm of traditional Burmese percussion music. Swigging rum straight from the bottle, the possessed cross-dressers provide a flesh-and-blood vessel through which the spirits can dispense wisdom and prophecies to their eager followers.

The culture of venerating these spirits, known as nats, has its roots in animist belief, but in Myanmar it has, for many people, become an integral part of Buddhism. Statues of the most powerful Burmese nats, known as the 37 Lords, can be seen at Buddhist pagodas, as can figures representing numerous lesser regional and ethnic nats. The spirits are worshipped at home, at public shrines and at festivals known as nat pwe, of which the one at Taungbyone is the biggest.

The vivid colours and frantic dynamism of the nat subculture would seem to make it a natural choice for visual artists looking for interesting subject matter, and yet the overwhelming majority of painters in Myanmar take the more traditional, static images of Buddhism as their primary source of inspiration.

One artist who has broken from the pack in this regard is Soe Naing, a 49-year-old painter whose images of nats and vahanas (animals closely associated with Hindu deities) are on display at the French Cultural Centre (CCF) in Phnom Penh until February 28.

Soe Naing’s trajectory as an artist started in the early 1980s with formal training under painters U Lun Gywe and U Thein Han at the University of Yangon, from which the painter graduated in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in zoology.

Uninspired by the rigid demands of formal training in traditional art forms, Soe Naing did not start painting seriously until the early 1990s, when he met contemporary artist Aung Myint and was introduced to the works of abstract expressionists like Willem De Kooning and Jackson Pollock.

Soe Naing’s work quickly took on many of the characteristics mid-20th century abstract American painting, but he wasn’t willing to completely abandon traditional art. In 1996 he caught his first glimpse of the religious murals at the ancient Burmese temple complex of Bagan and started integrating some of the mythical images into his own paintings.

Erin Gleeson, the curator of the CCF exhibition, said Soe Naing’s style was a “marriage of his experience” of abstract expressionism, his visit to Bagan and his zoology studies. “In one way it’s biographical, and in another way it’s derivative of abstract expressionism in the West.”

However, she added that since 2004 the artist has made strides towards carving out his own distinctive style. She attributes this jump in development to Soe Naing’s residency with Networking and Initiatives for Culture and the Arts (NICA) in 2003, through which “he was able to have some money and take some time to explore something new”.

Chu Chu Yuan, NICA’s director for programmes and training, agreed that from the early 2000s the artist “gradually developed his own language coming from influence of American expressionism”.

According to Soe Naing, this new language grew out of his efforts during his residency to rid his mind of any sense of expectation or any need to adhere to a specific artistic tradition.

“When I was an artist-in-residence for NICA, the obligation to paint for [the program] was pressure for me,” he said in an email interview. “All the paintings were ruined by the clouding of my mind by the greed for being able to say ‘I painted this’ and show off my paintings, and the grief of the worry about not being able to produce.”

He explained that he wasn’t able to create satisfactory images until he left the studio where he usually painted and went out to his front porch with little pieces of cardboard and red and black paint.

“I scratched this way and that, like a chicken, and that was the real painting – A Little Human and Other Creatures,” Soe Naing said, referring to the series of images featured in a book published by NICA following his residency.

Chu Chu Yuan observed in an essay written for the NICA book that Soe Naing’s resulting images “became infused with strange permutations of life forms”.

The images had an eerie quality described by Myanmar art critic Zaw Zaw Aung as “grotesque” and “ominous”. “They could be said to evoke a sense of unbalance, unpleasantness or just disappointment,” he wrote. “Some images appear pessimistic and even inauspicious, giving a sense of impending ill.”

Although Soe Naing has developed stylistically since his NICA residency, thematically the oil-on-canvas paintings now on display at CCF, which were created in 2007 and 2008, do not represent a huge departure from what the artist has been making for the past decade. Indeed, as early as 1997 artist Naing Zaw observed that Soe Naing “has been influenced by the bright colours and images of Myanmar nat festivals”.

At the same time, the images are not nearly as unappealing as Zaw Zaw Aung’s descriptions seem to indicate.

The paintings are rendered in thick dollops and sweeping swathes of paint that are placed on the canvas with a palette knife rather than a brush. Seeing the grain of the strokes, it is easy to visualise the artist’s vigorous gestures as he worked. The colours are often fresh and cheerful, standing in opposition to any sense of pessimism.

One visitor from Myanmar who viewed the exhibition last week said the colours were vivid enough to evoke more than just the visual experience of the nat pwe.

“When I see these paintings I hear the music of the nat pwe. I think [Soe Naing] expresses sounds through bright colours,” said Aye Sapay Pyu, on a month-long visit to Phnom Penh.

The nat pwe act as a gateway to the spirit world, and the figures are clearly from a place that is not our own, a realm populated by hermaphrodites, humanoid figures bearing sword-like weapons, and in one instance a horse and rider galloping across a black void.

The source of the otherworldly quality of these paintings is best explained by Soe Naing himself. Although he doesn’t claim to be channelling nats while he paints, he admits that the creative process is akin to being possessed by a spirit not beholden to the dictates of reason.

“Nats are in a state of trance;I am too, and so are my little humans. Nats are dynamic. I am in motion, too. so are my little humans,” he said.

Soe Naing added that although he has never been to the big festival at Taungbyone, his mother worshipped nats at home and he has seen a number of smaller nat pwe. “Those ceremonies encourage me,” he said.

He added that he has not yet tried to paint the most powerful spirits – the 37 Lords – because he was “not chosen yet”. With this enigmatic statement, it’s unclear whether he has not yet decided to paint them, or they have not yet decided to allow themselves to be painted.

But he insisted: “I will try to paint the 37 Lords, while I am in a trance, of course, and my human mind disappears.”

It seems that for Soe Naing, this “disappearance” of the human mind is necessary for the creative process to unfold, a means of overcoming what he refers to as the “rubbish” of the mind to “strip away pretence”.

“It is only when you are eager to paint, and are free of grief and greed, healthy, and with the mind at peace, that you are in the frame of mind to accept uncertainty,” he said.

The dangerous reputation of nats might also play a part in this freeing of the mind.

Although nats have many followers in Myanmar, there is a general unease about spirit worship: Nats are a notoriously fickle bunch who can lend help when they want to, but who are also capable of bringing great misfortune upon those who don’t show the proper respect.

It’s no wonder, then, that so many artists avoid including nat images in their work. But where others sense danger, Soe Naing sees liberation.

“Looking at Soe Naing’s paintings, the term ‘angst’ comes to my mind,” critic Zaw Zaw Aung said. “[These feelings] might be irresistible or even destructive to us. However, for artists, it is the time to create art, and a time to give something to the world.”

“Nats are supposed to be something bad,” Soe Naing acknowledged, but added: “When people are possessed by nats, they forget the worries of their lives. They can become the brothers of the Lord Nats.”

Soe Naing’s nats and vahanas paintings are on display at the French Cultural Centre’s Exhibition Hall (218 Street 184) until February 28.

Long Sophy into semifinals with TKO over Les Tuk

Photo by: Robert Starkweather
Pom Saray (right) stayed perfect in three light-middleweight tournament fights Sunday with a victory over Nuon Phireak.

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Tuesday, 23 February 2010 15:00 Robert Starkweather

LES Tuk had one word for Long Sophy on Sunday.

“Enough,” he said, as the seconds ticked away in the final round of the pair’s do-or-die light-middleweight tournament bout at the TV5 boxing arena in Takhmao.

Long Sophy stopped briefly, apparently caught off guard by the concession, then chased Les Tuk across the ring with a flurry of punches and knees, prompting referee Troueng Sossay to give Les Tuk a standing eight count. But Les Tuk, as he had indicated seconds earlier, wanted no more of Long Sophy. He declined to continue, handing Long Sophy the victory by fifth-round TKO.

The stoppage capped an impressive three-round charge.

Les Tuk had easily won the first two rounds, and he appeared to have Long Sophy figured out. Fighting from the back foot, Les Tuk waited for Long Sophy to attack and then countered, scoring with hard low kicks and three-punch combinations.

The strategy worked through the first six minutes, and Long Sophy appeared headed toward defeat.

“He’s going to lose,” said Long Sophy’s trainer, Long Salavorn, who was ringside taping the fight.
Photo by: Robert Starkweather
Long Sophy faces Kao Roomchang in the TV5 tournament semifinals March 7.

But Long Sophy turned up the intensity in the third round, and Les Tuk struggled under the pace. He stalked Les Tuk around with ring, firing four-punch combinations and following up with knees to the body, the sparse Sunday crowd roaring behind each blow.

By the fourth round, Long Sophy was chasing an evasive Les Tuk across the canvas. And as the knees began to add up, and Les Tuk started to tire, Long Sophy landed clean punches and flush knees with greater frequency.

The punishment continued in the fifth round until finally, as Les Tuk became unable to defend himself, Troeung Sossay stepped in. With just seconds left in the round, Les Tuk dropped his chin to his chest and returned to the red corner.

And Long Sophy began thinking about Kao Roomchang, whom he faces next.

In the second tournament fight on the card, Pom Saray bloodied Nuon Phireak’s nose in the fifth round with punches on his way to scoring his third decision victory of the tournament.

The bout held little significance. Pom Saray had already clinched a spot in the semifinals, and Nuon Phireak, winless in two fights heading into Sunday’s bout, had no chance of advancing.

The eight-man light-middleweight tournament began January 10. Sunday’s matches completed the group stages. Long Sophy will join Pom Saray, Kao Roomchang and Kao Bunheng in the semifinal stage.

The semifinal round is scheduled for Sunday March 7, when Long Sophy will face Kao Roomchang, and Pom Saray will go against Kao Bunheng.

China seeks Cambodian concession to grow rubber

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Published: 22 Feb 2010

PHNOM PENH, Feb 22 - China is in discussions with Cambodia to acquire a 60,000 hectare (148,300 acre) land concession to grow rubber and help meet rising domestic demand, a senior official said on Monday.

China's ambassador to Cambodia had expressed interest in Cambodian rubber plantations that could produce as much as 60,000 tonnes for export, said Ly Phalla, director general of Cambodia's General Department of Rubber.

"The demand for rubber is high in China, especially in the production of tyres," Ly Phalla told Reuters.

He said Cambodia exported 42,000 tonnes of rubber in 2008, up from 40,000 tonnes in 2007. Last year's figure is not yet available.

In comparison, neighbouring Thailand, the world's biggest exporter of the commodity, shipped 2.74 million tonnes in 2009.

The mooted deal comes as the impoverished country seeks to modernise and expand its agricultural sector, its biggest currency earner ahead of tourism and garments, with moves to boost production of sugar and rice, mainly for export.

Some 11 Vietnamese companies announced earlier this month they had obtained separate land concessions totalling 100,000 hectares to grow rubber in Cambodia.

Ly Phalla said some of the companies had been operating in the country since 2007 and had so far utilised 10,000 hectares of the total 100,000 hectares awarded. He said Cambodia now had a total of 127,000 hectares set aside for rubber plantations.

Vietnamese investments in Cambodia were worth $210 million in 2009, mostly in rubber and mining, up from only $21 million in 2008, said Le Bien Cuong, head of commerce at the Vietnamese embassy in Phnom Penh.

He said Vietnamese exports to Cambodia totalled $1.1 billion last year, with Cambodia exporting only $172 million worth of goods to its neighbour.

The two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on Dec. 26 over planned Vietnamese investments worth more than $6 billion.

China is currently Cambodia's biggest source of foreign direct investment, having so far pumped $4.3 billion into its nascent economy, which grew in double digits for four successive years prior to the global economic slowdown.

Environmental Pollution Has to Be Reduced in Four Industrial Target Areas – Monday, 22.2.2010

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Posted on 23 February 2010
The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 653

“Phnom Penh: The garment industry, brick kilns, rice milling, and the rubber processing industry are frequently considered by environmentalists as causing environmental pollution, which contributes to climate change in Cambodia as well as producing greenhouse gases, released into the atmosphere, a major source of global warming.

“The Ministry of Industry, Mines, and Energy, in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment, is developing strategies to deal with the four target areas to economize the use of raw materials, to reorient the industry to create less pollution, and to use energy resource which effectively cut down environmental pollution.

“The chief technical advisor of the Cambodian Cleaner Production Program, Dr. P.K Gupta [Director of the National Productivity Council/National Cleaner Production Center of India], said during a consultation workshop about Industrial Energy Efficiency at the Sunway Hotel in the morning of 19 February 2010 that the reduction of greenhouse gases in Cambodian industry is a project of the Global Environment Facility approved in 2009. In Cambodia, it is found that the garment industry, brick kilns, rice milling, and the rubber processing industry are the most polluting fields compared to others. They play a most important role to develop the industry based economy of the country, consume the most fuel, and therefore emit most of the polluting smoke. Officials of the Ministries of Industry and of the Environment are looking for ways to reduce fuel consumption by shifting to other sources of energy for the production in these fields, sources that do not need high capital input and save electricity.

“A Secretary of State of the Ministry of Industry, Mines, and Energy, Dr. Sat Samy, said, ‘Anyway, industrial development must be combined with environmental protection – otherwise we will spend much time and money to find remedies for the destruction caused by environmental pollution resulting from development.’ He added that in recent years, global climate change made journalists, politicians, and many other people around the world to pay more attention to, and to worry about the threats to the environment which can lead to climate change, floods, droughts, and global warming, that go against the desired social sustainable situation that human beings necessarily need for their everyday lives.

“The Technical Director General of the Ministry of Environment, Mr. Lonh Heal, said, ‘The four target areas are the ones on which efforts to reduce environmental pollution needs to be concentrated, because they contribute to climate change. Much scientific evidence shows that the release of greenhouse gases into the environment by human activities is the major source of global warming. Cambodia is a country that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1995. As a signatory country we have to prepare to fulfill the contracted duties about greenhouse gases in our national plans. Therefore, this workshop is an effort to coordinate between the Ministries of Industry and of the Environment under an Industrial Energy Efficiency Program of the Global Environment Facility. The workshop was held for one day to consult about how to make changes that benefit both industrial operators and reduce environmental pollution.”

Rasmei Kampuchea, Vol.18, #5132, 21-22.2.2010
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Monday, 22 February 2010

In Tribunal Delays, Worries Over Reconciliation

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By Kong Sothanarith, VOA Khmer
Original report from Kampot province
22 February 2010

Some victims of the Khmer Rouge say they are worried the reconciliation process will be hurt by limited civil party participation and an already long trial process at the UN-backed tribunal.

Of 4,000 victim applications to participate as civil parties, only around 500 are likely to be accepted, according to tribunal officials.

The tribunal process includes civil parties, who participate in trials alongside the defense and prosecution, as a third body in the proceedings.

At a forum of 200 people in Kampot province on Saturday, Thun Saray, head of the rights group Adhoc, said such a low number among the civil parties would stir disappointment among Khmer Rouge victims.

“The participation is to cure a mental problem, a mental problem caused by the Khmer Rouge regime,” Thun Saray told participants, who came from Takeo, Kampong Speu and Kampot provinces. “More victim participation is better, because they will bring the information back to their families, to their communities, among friends in the village. And this means is one way to find justice and reconciliation.”

Several participants agreed on Saturday, adding that they were worried tribunal defendants Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary, Ieng Thirith and Kaing Kek Iev were aging and could die before they are brought to court. Some questioned why the next trial could start as late as 2011.

“I filed a complaint related to my forced marriage,” one participant, Yos Phal, a farmer from Takeo, said.

The complaint was rejected, he said. “I want to ask if I can file a new complaint. Is it possible that I can file a new complaint?”

“I lost seven or eight members of my family,” another participant who did not give his name said. “But my complaint was rejected. And then I feel regret.”

Thai Jail Time for Six Cambodians Riles Cambodia

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By Chun Sakada, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
22 February 2010

Foreign Ministry officials say they will protest the sentencing of six Cambodians to two years in jail by a Thai court on Monday.

The defendants, four men and two women, were caught collecting rattan on the wrong side of the border earlier this year.

On Friday, a court in Thailand’s Surin province found them guilty of illegal entry and illegal logging.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said Monday that neither a lawyer nor the Cambodian consul for Surin province was present at the sentencing, in what he called an “irregular” procedure.

“We must take opposition against the verdict,” he said.

The verdict comes after a Cambodian court sentenced a Thai man to 20 years in prison earlier this month, for attempting to lay landmines along the border.

Cambodia and Thailand are engaged in a protracted border standoff and an ongoing diplomatic row.

In 2009, the Thai provincial courts of Sisaket and Ubon sentenced at least 27 Cambodians from 15 months to 9 years in jail for illegal entry and logging in Thai territory.

In the same year, Cambodia’s Banteay Meanchey provincial court sentenced one Thai to three months for illegal entry into Cambodia, although border guards arrested and released another 42 Thais for alleged illegal entry.

Stroke Can Be Prevented Through Various Means

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By Nuch Sarita, VOA Khmer
22 February 2010

The possibility of a stroke can be markedly decreased by controlling risk factors like high blood pressure and others, a Florida doctor said Thursday.

When a person’s blood pressure is too high, the risk of stroke increases, said Dr. Taing Tek Hong, as a guest on “Hello VOA.”

Controlling blood pressure decreases the chances, he said. This can be done through proper diet, which also decreases high cholesterol and other causes of heart disease.

If a person fails at maintaining a proper diet and is unable to exercise, medications are available, the doctor said. But if you take medication for high blood pressure, you will need to take it for the rest of your life.

Excess weight is another risk for men and women, he said, because it leads to unfavorable changes in blood pressure, blood sugar and blood fats, all of which increase the risk of stroke.

Cigarette smoking creates yet another risk, as this can restrict blood flow, including to the brain.

Diabetes also increases the risk, because it causes small blood vessels to close prematurely. If they are close to the brain, they can create small strokes, he said. Good control of blood sugar is important in decreasing the risk of stroke in diabetics.

Medical treatments include the use of aspirin or Clopidogrel, beta-adrenergic antagonists like Propranolol, Atenolol, Labetalol, Carvedilol; calcium channel blockers like Nifedipine, Diltazem, Verapamil; and nitrates such as sublingual nitroglycerin, oral isosorbide dinitrate, and nitroglycerin ointment.

Other treatment can include cholesterol-lowering medications, strict control of blood sugar for diabetics, quitting smoking, moderate consumption of alcohol, and a diet low in fat and salt but high in fruits and vegetables.

Exercise such as walking, bicycling or swimming for 30 minutes every day can also help—60 minutes per day for those who are overweight.

Being there: Cambodia -- Third-grade host provided unexpected highlight of Cambodia trip

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By Sarah Jossart, Special to the Orlando Sentinel
February 21, 2010

Cambodia's temple complex of Angkor Wat is magnificent, especially at sunset.

But the highlight of my trip to Cambodia was a visit to a local school, where I was met by a third-grader.

She took my hand and said in a robotic way, "Hi. My name is Shirley. What is your name?"

Hand in hand, we walked to her classroom. As I sat at her desk, taps on my shoulder made me turn. "Gifts" of pencil drawings were handed to me — treasured souvenirs.

Shirley and her classmates performed songs and dances. I took pictures of the children and showed them the digital images. Seeing themselves created excitement, because personal images are rarely seen.

Shirley and I walked to the library where she "read" alphabet books. Using my teaching techniques, I found she really did know the letters and pictures.

She read a Cambodian-text story to me. I was thrilled to observe her using reading strategies. She checked the picture, reread, sounded out words and pointed when the text became more difficult.

Then she laughed, and I knew she was enjoying the story.

Hand in hand, singing "Old McDonald." "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" and the ABC song we walked 15 minutes back to her village.

Shirley picked a flower and put it in my hair. After tea and sweets, we walked hand in hand back to her school.

As I hugged Shirley goodbye, I saw tears in her eyes and then I realized my eyes were full of tears as well.

Sarah Jossart lives in Groveland.