Friday, April 30, 2010

Friendship meeting for Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos

Source: Nhan Dan

A meeting on friendship and co-operation for the people of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos opened in Ho Chi Minh City on April 28.

A total of 154 delegates from the three countries, students and officials from Cambodia and Laos who are studying and working in Ho Chi Minh City and former Vietnamese soldiers who fought and worked in the other two countries are attending the four-day event.

Addressing the opening ceremony were Vu Mao, Head of the Vietnamese delegation and President of the Vietnam-Cambodia Friendship Association; Men Sam An, Head of the Cambodian delegation, Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and President of the Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Association; and Vilayvong Bouddakham, Head of the Lao delegation, Vice Secretary of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) and Vice President of the Laos-Vietnam Friendship Association. All were in accord that the meeting affirmed the international friendship and special solidarity among Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

The meeting took place on the occasion of Vietnam’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of the liberation of Southern Vietnam and its national reunification.

Head of the Vietnamese delegation Vu Mao reminded attendees of the deep gratitude felt by the Vietnamese Party, State and people towards the Cambodian and Lao people for their sacrifice and valuable assistance to Vietnam’s national liberation.

This is an opportunity for the Cambodian and Lao peoples to celebrate the resplendent, historic milestone of 1975 in the war against US aggressors.

Within the framework of the meeting, the three countries’ delegates will pay courtesy visits to Vietnamese Party and State leaders, attend a seminar, go on a tour featuring Ho Chi Minh City’s socio-economic achievements and attend a meeting to mark the 35th anniversary of the liberation of Southern Vietnam and national reunification. (VNA)

Thaksin on the move again

30/04/2010
Source: Straits Time

MONDAY: Former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who holds a Montenegro passport, standing next to the country's national flag in Montenegro.

FORMER Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra was in Moscow a day after he told reporters in Montenegro that he was in contact with the protesters in Thailand and defended their cause, a picture obtained from his Facebook page showed.

The fugitive former premier, who was ousted in a 2006 coup, has been living abroad, mostly in Dubai, to avoid a two-year jail term for corruption.

He holds a Montenegro passport and arrived in the Adriatic republic last weekend to hold talks on possible investments in the country. He also holds a Nicaraguan passport.

Thaksin has been travelling often since his ouster. The former telecoms tycoon has made trips to Cambodia after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen appointed him as an economic adviser last November.

He is also reported to have travelled to China, Russia, Hong Kong, Nicaragua, Swaziland, Britain, Germany, Fiji, Vanuatu, Tonga, Saudi Arabia and Switzerland, among others.

He keeps in touch with his followers on Twitter and sometimes addresses their rallies via video link. A court seized US$1.4 billion (S$1.9 billion) of his fortune on Feb 26, two weeks before the round-the-clock rallies began.

NEW YORK TIMES, BANGKOK POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, REUTERS

Internet promoting 'benign' slacker activism: experts

Websites like Facebook have created a passive sense of advocacy known as "slacktivism."

Thierry Roge/Reuters
Websites like Facebook have created a passive sense of advocacy known as "slacktivism."


Misty Harris, Canwest News Service
Published: Thursday, April 29, 2010


Though the Internet has long been praised as a boon to social advocacy, observers say we may have reached a tipping point.

That is, it's become so effortless to lend "support" to a cause -- whether forwarding an e-mail petition or using Facebook status-updates as a soapbox -- that meaningful protest is now getting lost in the din of slacktivism.

"We're seeing a proliferation of initiatives and sites that promise connection to a social issue but are ultimately benign," says Martin Laba, director of the School of Communication at B.C.'s Simon Fraser University.

"Without a doubt, it's making the efforts of activism ever more daunting."

The problem isn't that the Internet isn't useful for grassroots lobbying; Laba notes that his students have leveraged online media to mobilize large numbers of people around such issues as AIDS and human trafficking.

The problem is saturation, along with the prevailing attitude that joining a Facebook group called "I bet I can find 1,000,000 people who hate cancer!" is advocacy enough.

"It would be nearsighted of us to extrapolate that all activism that uses digital technology is somehow diminished," says Laba.

"But there's merit to the argument that we're witnessing a decrease in our commitment and capacity to act on social issues because new media requires no effort, and very little thinking."

Some 1.37 million people have used Twibbon.com to overlay their Twitter avatars with an e-ribbon flaunting support of a cause. But how many of those people have donated time or money to their banner issue?

The same question was posed in January, when thousands of women posted their bra colour to Facebook -- a salacious exercise intended to raise awareness for breast cancer but which ultimately shed more light on lingerie preferences.

Sanjeev Anand, a law professor at the University of Alberta, says the sum effect is reduced credibility for Internet protests across the board, whether social, political or judicial.

"It's so easy now to just click your mouse and ‘sign' a petition," says Anand, noting that many people know little or nothing about the issues to which they're lending their name.

To illustrate: In 2009, researchers from Denmark created an online group dedicated to saving a famous fountain from demolition. Though no plan existed to tear down the artifact, some 27,000 people joined the protest in just two weeks.

Legitimate efforts that reach critical mass, however, can still be fruitful.

"The people who work in the justice system are human, and high-profile cases are sometimes treated differently . . . when they know the public is watching," says Anand. "It's the whole physics principle that when you observe something, you actually change its nature."

Justin Arjoon, a student at the University of Toronto, admits that when he joined the online group Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament, he didn't expect anything to come of it. But when the group's numbers topped 200,000, he realized its capacity to keep the issue in the news was a pretty powerful thing.

The Facebook group has since become a touchstone for political discussions of every stripe, inspiring Arjoon to help create the grassroots organization Canadians Advocating Political Participation using the same acronym.

Being heard will be a continuing challenge for young activists, who share cyberspace with such efforts as the 43,000-strong campaign to make actor William Shatner the next governor general of Canada. But experts say there's encouragement to be found in advocacy whose credibility cuts through the clutter -- such as the "citizens' initiative" to fight harmonized sales tax in British Columbia, which has attracted support from 145,500 Canadians and counting.

"Six previous attempts to use this initiative process have failed," says Norman Ruff, associate professor of political science at the University of Victoria. "But there are indications that the current anti-HST signature campaign may come much, much closer to crossing the threshold."

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Linguist races to save a dying language spoken in Cambodia

With no more than 10 speakers remaining of S'aoch, a language spoken on Cambodia's sea shore, French linguist Jean-Michel Filippi is in a race against time to preserve a disappearing culture.

By Jared Ferrie, Correspondent / April 27, 2010
Samrong Loeu Village, Cambodia

In halting, creaky tones, the elderly chief of this tiny community spoke in his indigenous language, S'aoch, an ancient tongue linguists predict will be extinct within a generation.

Noi, who goes by a single name, is one of 10 still fluent in S'aoch, and this village of 110 people is the last vestige of a disappearing culture.

S'aoch is one of about 3,000 languages endangered worldwide, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization: One of them disappears about every two weeks. In Cambodia alone, 19 languages face extinction this century.

READ: The world's 18 most endangered languages

In this impoverished country where one-third of the population lives on less than $1 a day, saving a dying language is a low priority. One of the S'aoch's few allies is Jean-Michel Filippi, a French linguist who has learned their language and transcribed about 4,000 of its words over the past nine years.

"Once a language disappears, a vision of the world disappears," says Mr. Filippi, explaining his commitment to preserving S'aoch.

His task is made harder by the fact that the S'aoch do not share his fascination. They associate their language with poverty and exclusion from Cambodian society, which is ethnically and linguistically Khmer.

"We don't use our language, because we S'aoch are taowk," said Tuen, the chief's son, using the Khmer word meaning "without value."

Khmer Rouge dealt fatal blow

Perhaps the fatal blow to the S'aoch was the Khmer Rouge, whose policies caused the deaths of up to 2 million people between 1975 and 1979. The communist regime uprooted Cambodians from their homes and forced them into labor camps. The S'aoch were pushed from their land and prohibited from using their native tongue. "They said we couldn't speak our language or we would be killed," says Noi, drawing his finger across his neck, during an interview in his wooden house perched on stilts about five feet above the ground.

The S'aoch who survived settled here, near the coast, where some of them had been taken by the regime.

The loss of their land signaled the death of their culture because the S'aoch were no longer self-sufficient and instead survived by selling their labor, which plunged them into poverty. Since their animist beliefs were intrinsically linked to the land, Filippi says the S'aoch also lost the core of their cultural identity.

Two nongovernmental organizations, International Cooperation Cambodia and Care, are working to preserve minority culture by incorporating four minority languages into 25 schools in rural, indigenous communities. The Education Ministry cooperates with those programs, though they do not include S'aoch.

Filippi says there are at least five indigenous groups in Cambodia with 500 members or fewer. With only minimal support for preserving their languages, they are likely to follow the S'aoch into obscurity, their "unique view" of the world forever cast into the void of undocumented history.

"The fact is [the S'aoch] lost everything," Filippi says. "And the language is going to be lost in a few years as well. They might just remain a mystery forever."

Hun Sen backs BHP in speech

28 April 2010
by
May Kunmakara and James O’toole
Phnom Penh Post

I
N a speech lasting more than five hours, Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday rejected reports that a corruption probe at international mining giant BHP Billiton is related to the company’s dealings in Cambodia.

The marathon address was delivered at the 15th Government-Private Sector Forum in Phnom Penh. In addition to addressing topics ranging from silk yarn imports to the price of airfare to Bangkok, the premier weighed in on the controversy that has ensued since BHP announced last week that it had begun an internal investigation of possible corruption in response to an inquiry from the United States securities and exchange commission.

“They say that the company that explored for bauxite in Mondulkiri province gave money illegally to Cambodia,” Hun Sen said, referring to the
Australia-based BHP. “We should ask … how can they bribe? It cannot be possible.”

BHP has thus far declined to identify the project at the centre of its inquiry, other than to say it is not in China. Speculation has focused on the firm’s operations in Cambodia in part because of comments made in 2007 by Minister of Water Resources Lim Kean Hor, who told the National Assembly that BHP had secured rights to a mining concession in Mondulkiri by paying US$2.5 million in unofficial fees, known as “tea money”.

Hun Sen said Tuesday, however, that when he signed the formal concession agreement with BHP in 2006, it was established that the $2.5 million would support development projects in the Kingdom.

“I proposed taking the money to develop hydroelectricity in Pursat, and later on the company asked to use the money to develop schools and hospitals in Mondulkiri,” Hun Sen said. “This is in the contract – it is not money under the table.”

It is standard practice for foreign companies operating in Cambodia to offer support for social projects, the premier said. French oil company Total, for example, has paid $8 million into a social development fund as part of its agreement to explore for oil offshore, Hun Sen said, in addition to an $20 million fee paid to the government.

In a 2008 letter to the watchdog group Global Witness, BHP, too, said the $2.5 million that Lim Kean Hor called “tea money” had gone to a social development fund overseen by the government and BHP personnel for projects in Mondulkiri.

Wildlife Conservation Society country director Mark Gately said Sunday that his organisation had received $24,000 from BHP in 2008 for a project in Mondulkiri. Heng Ratana, deputy director-general of the Cambodian Mine Action Centre, said his group had received roughly US$1.1 million from BHP for projects in Mondulkiri since 2007.

In addition to the social fund, BHP told Global Witness that it paid the government $1 million as part of the formal concession agreement in 2006.

That $1 million, Global Witness subsequently found, was not accounted for in the government’s official revenue figures for that year.

Prior troubles

A BHP spokesman in London declined to comment on Hun Sen’s remarks. The firm has said little on the issue beyond last week’s statement that disclosed the discovery of “possible violations of applicable anti-corruption laws involving interactions with government officials”. This evidence, the statement said, arose after “requests for information from the US Securities and Exchange Commission as a part of an investigation relating primarily to certain terminated minerals exploration projects”.

Australian and British media have reported that the current BHP probe is focused on Cambodia. BHP pulled out of the Kingdom last year, saying that a feasibility study at the Mondulkiri site had determined that large-scale mining operations there would not be profitable. A Philippine nickel-mining project that the firm pulled out of last year has also been mentioned. That project was fraught with controversy through much of BHP’s involvement.

In 2008, the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD) alleged that officials from BHP’s partner in the project, the Philippines’ AMCOR, had paid bribes to members of the Mindanao island community where the project was located in exchange for their support.

CAFOD extractives policy analyst Sonya Maldar said Tuesday that when confronted by her organisation on this issue, BHP “refuted our allegations”.

“Their response was that they had carried out their own kind of internal audit processes around the [community] consent process and they uncovered no irregularities,” Maldar said. She added that BHP had refused to make the results of this audit public.

In 2007, AMCOR filed fraud charges against BHP in a Philippine court, according to a CAFOD report. An injunction that prevented BHP from accessing the mining site was granted on AMCOR’s behalf in 2008 before being overturned last year, the Philippine Star reported.

Maldar said that while BHP has never been proven to have broken corruption laws in the Philippines, the company’s experience there and its current troubles show the difficulties facing the extractive industry in emerging markets.

“It really demonstrates that companies need to be really thorough when choosing who they work with, who they go into partnership with, in countries that have records of governance and corruption issues,” she said.

Ongoing unrest to hurt Bangkok?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Catherine Deshayes

The Bangkok property market has proved quite resilient in recent years but the ongoing political unrest will hurt foreign sentiment, while local buyers are likely to take events in their stride, according to real estate experts...

‘A lot of buying in Bangkok is for end users, owner occupiers, and people still need a roof over their head and this situation doesn't have any impact on that,' said Robert Collins, managing director of Savills (Thailand).

While foreign property buyers may have been spooked in the short term, Collins expects them to return once the situation normalises.

‘So the long term outlook remains very positive, the fundamentals are very strong. It's obviously too early to tell the immediate impact other than the sentiment of foreign buyers will be hit, but I think it will be a very short term situation,' he explained.

He added that the clashes were very localised incidents and while very serious, they were not as bad as the foreign media portrayed them to be.

So far Savills has not experienced any negative concern from its foreign owners of property in Thailand, mainly because the lead up to the political crisis has been so long. ‘If it was fresh, yes, then we would expect property to be quite severely affected,' he said.

However Savills' management business, which handles a large number of buildings in central Bangkok, is feeling an immediate impact. ‘That is an area where we have had contact from our clients asking us to increase security and making the building as secure as possible in the eventuality that protesters spread into the areas where they haven't moved to yet,' explained Collins.

‘But again it comes back to the fact that apart from the very localised areas where the protests are being held the problem is very contained,' he added.

However, the violent turn of the drawn out political crisis is likely to have a far greater effect on resort markets. ‘For Pattaya, Koh Samui and Phuket the impact will be felt immediately, not only in terms of less new demand for buying resort properties, but also the hotel occupancy will be down and the businesses that service the tourism sector will continue to suffer. So that is the area where it's quite a different story,' he explained.

But it is harder for the real estate market to take strides forward. ‘We should expect the market to continue to remain lacklustre aside from the domestic homeowner housing sector which is performing exceedingly well,' he added.

Where rentals are concerned, Collins pointed out that there are certainly fewer expatriates with large rental budgets moving into Thailand at the moment, mainly because economic growth elsewhere in the region is better. Vietnam and Cambodia are seeing strong economic expansion, while there has been an extraordinary recovery in both Hong Kong and Singapore since late 2008.

‘A lot of senior expatriates in the region are gravitating toward markets where the business is a lot more robust and that has led to a decline in the number of active parties seeking accommodation in Bangkok,' he said.

Source: www.propertywire.com

CAMBODIA: Strict penalties planned for acid attacks



Photo: Brendan Brady/IRIN
Keo Srey Vy hopes a new law will make a difference
PHNOM PENH, 28 April 2010 (IRIN) - Keo Srey Vy’s brother-in-law had been planning to sell his child so he could buy a new motorbike. When she threatened to tell the police, he went to the restaurant where she worked as a cook and doused her face with acid.

She reported the attack to police, but gave up after they demanded a bribe to investigate.

“I didn’t consider revenge, but I wanted a law that would catch him and bring him to justice, and that law did not exist,” Keo Srey Vy, who is severely scarred, told IRIN. A year after the attack, she may have reason for hope.

While countries such as Bangladesh and India have enacted severe laws and banned the open sale of chemicals, Cambodia had not taken any serious steps to curb the crime.

Under a new draft law on the use and management of acid, perpetrators of acid attacks would receive life sentences, the government said. Attacks resulting in minor injuries would come with a minimum five-year sentence.

“The law that we have today is not enough,” Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said. “I think that stronger punishment will make them [perpetrators] more afraid of the law.”

Statistics on acid attacks are unreliable since many cases go unreported. For most years since 2000, the Phnom Penh-based Cambodian Acid Survivors’ Charity (CASC) recorded 12-24 attacks. But between December 2009 and January 2010, 11 cases were recorded, raising the national profile of the problem.

Comprehensive law


The new law, according to the drafting committee, includes improved medical care and social integration programmes for survivors. The opening of a state-run medical centre for acid survivors is also being considered, although funding resources remain unclear.

Drafting committee deputy chairman Ouk Kimlek, who is also deputy national police commissioner, told local media the committee was planning to create “an acid foundation to generate money from all sources and NGOs to help provide skills and capital for them”. He did not elaborate on the level of the government’s contribution.

Rights groups believe acid attacks abound in part because the caustic chemicals are readily and cheaply available. The draft law thus stipulates that importers and sellers of acid have to be at least 20 years old and licensed to carry out any transaction involving the chemical.

To assist police in criminal investigations, vendors would also have to record the details of anyone who buys acid. Retailers who fail to comply would be subject to fines and lose their licence to sell the product.

Enforcement


Local rights and survivors’ groups hailed the legislation as a necessary step in curbing attacks but sceptics questioned the government’s ability to ensure police enforcement of the new law.

“We have impunity in Cambodia for rape and murder; most victims are paid compensation, or the criminal is never caught,” Pung Chhiv Kek, president of the local rights group Licadho said. “If you have a good law but it’s not enforced, it’s useless.”

Illegal out-of-court settlements are common practice in Cambodia, and rights groups say they undermine efforts to discourage the crime.

“They pay US$200 or $300, which is hardly anything. When you have to eat, buy medicine, feed your family, [financial compensation] is never enough,” said Chhun Chenda Sophea, CASC’s programme manager. “They need to enforce the law strictly. If it’s being enforced, then people will be scared of committing the crime.”

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak agreed, saying the new legislation needed to coincide with an effort to “make the court system more responsible”.

The government has yet to set a deadline for completion of the final draft, which needs approval from two government offices, followed by a vote at the National Assembly.

Meanwhile, Keo Srey Vy sold her home to pay her medical fees, and now, at 36, she depends on the CASC. Three of her children live with her mother, and another boards with an NGO.

“I was very happy to hear about this new law because it can help reduce this crime,” she said. “I believe that if people know about the law, they wouldn’t dare attack people.”

bb/at/ds/mw

Monday, April 26, 2010

Guards in Laos kill man from Cambodia

26 April 2010
by
Tep Nimol
Phnom Penh Post

L
AOTIAN authorities have shot and killed one Cambodian man and arrested two others after the men crossed illegally from Stung Treng province into Laos’s Champasak province with four other people and attacked a group of Laotian border guards, Cambodian officials said Sunday.

Stung Treng provincial governor Loy Sophat said Sunday that the seven Cambodians, who are all from Kampong Chhnang province, had committed “an illegal act” by crossing into Laos. “Moreover,” he said, “they brought along some illegal drugs and machetes with them.”

He added that the April 22 altercation began when Cambodians began chasing the Laotian soldiers. When the soldiers tried to run, he said, one of them fell down and, out of fear, fired two shots in the direction of the Cambodians so as to scare them. One of the bullets struck and killed 27-year-old Praing Sokha, he said.

He emphasised that the case was unusual, saying, “Laotian soldiers never shoot or kill Cambodian people like this.”

Loy Sophat said provincial authorities had requested that Laos release the two detained men, who were identified by the rights group Adhoc as Hang Hau, 29, and Sim Soeun, 34.

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong and Kengchai Sixannon, first secretary at the Laotian embassy, said Sunday that they were unaware of the incident.

U.S. Embassy in Cambodia Says Remains Are Not US Photographer

26/04/2010
Robert Carmichael
VOA, Phnom Penh

Photo: VOA - R. Carmichael
The surviving journalists and photographers who covered the war in Cambodia between 1970-75 gathered in Phnom Penh last week. They are seen here at a memorial to mark the 37 local and foreign colleagues who died during that time.
Last month, amateur excavators unearthed human remains they claimed were those of U.S. war photographer Sean Flynn, who disappeared in Cambodia 40 years ago. But the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh says the remains are not Flynn's.

In 1970 war photographer Sean Flynn, the son of legendary Hollywood actor Errol Flynn, was in Cambodia covering the country's drift into civil war.

On April 6th that year he rode out of Phnom Penh with U.S. journalist Dana Stone. The two were not seen again, and were presumed captured and killed by the Khmer Rouge.

But last month two amateur excavators said they had found Flynn's remains in southeastern Cambodia.

On Monday, the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh said that military scientists tested the remains and found they are not Caucasian, and therefore could not be Flynn or Stone.

"And limited analysis suggests that they may be indigenous. Further testing is underway," embassy spokesman John Johnson said.

The excavation of the remains caused controversy. It came just weeks before a group of 27 journalists and photographers who covered Cambodia in the 1970s arrived here for a reunion, the first since Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge in April 1975.

Some of the journalists, many of whom knew Flynn and Stone, were angry at the way the excavators recovered the bones, especially their use of heavy earthmoving equipment.

The Embassy's Johnson says the use of a backhoe - a mechanical digger - caused problems.

"The remains are badly fragmented due to the manner in which they were recovered," Johnson said.

During their visit here last week, the group of returning journalists unveiled a memorial to the 37 Cambodian and foreign colleagues who died or disappeared during the war.

Among the names read out at the ceremony were those of Sean Flynn and Dana Stone, whose fates still remain unknown.

Cambodia to Host Regional Buddhistic Tourism Forum

2010-04-26 Xinhua Web Editor: Zhao Lixia
Cambodia will host regional Buddhistic tourism forum on Tuesday, the first such forum to be held in Cambodia aimed at raising the interconnection between Buddhism and tourism in the region.

Cambodia will host regional Buddhistic tourism forum on Tuesday, the first such forum to be held in Cambodia aimed at raising the interconnection between Buddhism and tourism in the region, a government official said Monday.

Chea Kean, deputy secretary general of the National Committee for Organizing National and International Festivities said the event with a total of 20,000 participants including more than 3, 000 Buddhist monks, of which 181 monks will be coming from other 13 participating countries in the region.

The event is called "The Trail of Civilization and Art Performance" and is scheduled for April 27 through April 29 at Bayon temple, one of the many temples built in Angkor Wat area in northern province of Siem Reap.

The three-day event will show religious processions and artistic performances about Biography of Buddha, the Supreme Teacher, while he was born, achieving Enlightenment and attaining Nirvana, by Cambodian and foreign artistic performance groups.

It is also to mark the eminent event to fulfill great merit during the Visakh Bochea Day.

According to Chea Kean, governments' representatives and Buddhists of the member states of Association of Southeast Asian Nations plus China, India, Japan, and South Korea--will take part.

The 27-member Chinese delegation headed by Wang Jian, general- secretary of the Buddihist Association of China will participate in the event. Meanwhile, Buddhist performance group from Hangzhou Lingyin Monastery of Zhejiang province will give their Buddhist performance.

He said it is the 4th time of such event, but the first time held in Cambodia--is held annually with a rotative format among the six signatory countries of Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

The six countries agreed in the Borobudur Plan of Actions (BPA) which was held in Borobudur, Indonesia in 2006.

The BPA has a five-year timeframe covering the period from 2007 to 2011.

Chea Kean said Sar Kheng, deputy prime minister and minister of interior will preside over the event as a high representative of Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen

Vietnam's guarded US embrace

By The Hanoist
Asia Times Online (Hong Kong)

"Too close to China and lose the country. Too close to America and lose the party."
Fifteen years after normalizing diplomatic relations, military cooperation between the United States and Vietnam is evolving bit by bit.

Both sides would like to counter China's military buildup and historic desire to dominate the region - including the strategic South China Sea where a quarter of the world's trade transits and where Vietnam, China and other countries contest two island chains believed to contain rich mineral deposits.

While US motives are relatively clear - to deepen contacts with the Vietnamese military and establish areas of cooperation - the Hanoi side is often tied up in knots on how and whether to partner strategically with Washington, its former war adversary.

On one hand Vietnam enjoys high-level attention from the US. In October 2008, the two countries initiated an annual security meeting held at the assistant secretary-vice minister level. Referred to officially as "political-military talks" by the US, Vietnamese diplomats advertise the event as a "strategic dialogue", referred to locally as doi thoai chien luoc.

According to a diplomat in attendance, Ambassador Le Cong Phung made the first public announcement of the dialogue while speaking at a Vietnamese embassy function in Washington a month prior, to the surprise of some American guests.

But there are also Vietnamese concerns over the appearance of too close a military relationship. Since 2003, American warships have docked in Vietnam to conduct a range of military-diplomatic exchanges. While welcoming these highly symbolic visits by the US Navy, Vietnam initially limited port calls to one a year and ensured that the Chinese navy enjoyed equal docking rights.

The desire to placate China is reflected in a gamut of policies, from how activities with the US are disclosed in the state-controlled media, to the habit of sending high-level delegations to China coincident with any high-level visit to the US.

In March, a US naval supply ship quietly spent 16 days at Vietnam's newly completed Van Phong port located in strategic Cam Ranh Bay. This famed deep-water harbor was originally built by the Americans during the Vietnam War and after the communist takeover became a key base for the Soviet Union's Pacific Fleet. The recent port call by the USNS Richard E Byrd was not publicly announced, but the purpose of the visit was supposedly for repairs and resupply under a new comprehensive agreement for logistical support.

In December 2009, General Phung Quang Thanh became just the second post-war Vietnamese Minister of Defense to visit Washington. True to form, senior Defense Ministry delegations went to China before and after General Thanh's US visit. This deference to Beijing is reflected in a recent Hanoi white paper on defense policy where territorial disputes with its northern neighbor China are downplayed.

Overall, warming US-Vietnam ties have generated actual and promised results. Vietnam has been invited to observe US military exercises with regional allies, including Thailand. There is also discussion of joint search and rescue operations off Vietnam's coast and of the US training Vietnamese peacekeepers for international United Nations-led missions.

Vietnamese staff officers have also been offered participation in International Military and Education Training (IMET), the American program for developing ties with future military leaders. While none of the exchanges is particularly significant in isolation, each activity represents further cooperation between Hanoi and Washington and facilitates an active US naval presence in the South China Sea.

Friend or friendemy?
Although relations with the US have advanced on many fronts, there is nevertheless a deep ambivalence in Hanoi on proceeding further. And it is just not about sensitivity to China's feelings. Many in Vietnam's leadership dread "peaceful evolution," code for closer ties to the US unleashing forces of political liberalization that the ruling communist party cannot control.

This paranoia is manifested in various ways. Earlier this month, the Vietnamese government refused to grant a visa to US congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, a senior member on the House Armed Services Committee and staunch human rights defender. According to a statement by Sanchez, Vietnam was worried she would highlight the government's well-chronicled and ongoing rights abuses.

The suspicions are sometimes personal. In the fall of 2008, Hanoi would not allow the current US military attache to serve at the US embassy because of his ancestry. Born in Vietnam, Colonel Patrick Reardon was adopted by an American family as a toddler. Vietnamese authorities are known to remain suspicious of overseas Vietnamese, particularly those with political influence.

The deep-seated paranoia also affects decision-making at the highest level. Defense Minister Phung Quang Thanh's trip to the US last December was reportedly postponed twice. According to a Vietnamese source, there were differences in the party politburo over the goals of the visit.

While the defense minister is seen as pro-Western, others within the communist leadership - such as first deputy Defense Minister General Nguyen Chi Vinh - rely on Beijing as a political hedge and are wary of closer ties with the US. The conflicting worldview is reflected in a popular saying now making the rounds in Vietnam: "Too close to China and lose the country. Too close to America and lose the party."

Such is the dilemma in which Vietnam's communist leaders now find themselves. Who knows what the captains and colonels of the People's Army of Vietnam might learn when they attend US staff colleges? While there is momentum for increased US-Vietnam military cooperation, expect ties to cycle hot and cold.

The Hanoist writes on Vietnam's politics and people.

China debates whether human activity or nature is to blame for drought

An unusually long dry season, along with deforestation, pollution and dam-building, leaves farmers struggling. In some areas, people cannot even wash their hair regularly.

By Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times
April 26, 2010

Reporting from Beijing

The images are heart-rending, farmers kneeling over the cracked earth that looks to be straight out of a post-apocalyptic movie, the dust swirling in the wind.

But what underlies China's worst drought in nearly a century is a matter of great debate. Is it Mother Nature or human failure?

Beyond the official explanation of "abnormal weather,'' Chinese environmentalists are pointing to deforestation, pollution, dams, overbuilding and other man-made factors. Scientists are searching for clues about why rain hasn't come in some parts of the country.

At its worst, the drought has left parched more than 16 million acres of farmland in more than four provinces, threatening the livelihood of more than 50 million farmers, according to government statistics. Up to 20 million people have been left without drinking water.

The Chinese army and paramilitary have been deployed in some hard-hit areas to deliver water, while residents of some mountainous villages inaccessible by motor vehicle have had to hike hours downhill and climb up again lugging plastic jugs of water in bamboo backpacks.

An unusually long dry season — which has stretched from September to the present — is at least part of the problem, but the underlying reasons are less clear. Some Chinese scientists believe that abnormally cold, wet weather in the north of the country is also linked to the drought in the southwest.

"The Earth is reacting to climate change,'' said Kuang Yaoqiu, a professor with the Guangzhou Institute of Geochemistry, who predicted the drought last year. "China's mainstream meteorologists haven't accepted these theories. It will take time.''

In Chinese government circles, many people still subscribe to Mao Tse-tung's famous dictum that ‘'man should conquer nature,'' but that's proving difficult to accomplish.

The drought-related losses are both economic and highly personal. For all the tea in China, this year's crop is expected to be a fraction of what it was in previous years because of drought conditions in Yunnan and Guangxi provinces, home to much of the tea production.

"There are huge cracks in the ground. The leaves on the trees are so dry they looked like they were set on fire,'' said Wu Liuzhi, manager of a tea processing plant in Guangxi's Lingyun county.

At home, it is just as miserable. "People can't brush their teeth every day. If there is a little water you want to wash your face.'' Wu wouldn't say when she last washed her hair — only that "we hold on until you can't stand it anymore.''

In Yunnan province, the traditional water splashing festival practiced by the Dai ethnic minority to celebrate the mid-April New Year's holiday was this year reduced to a "water sprinkling'' festival.

In response, the Chinese government has deployed the mighty arsenal of what is called the weather modification bureau, using rockets and planes to shoot more than 6,000 shells into the clouds in hopes of inducing rain.

Yu Bohan, 27, a tea farmer from Yunnan's Xishuangbanna region, said that her family's crop of 330 pounds is less than one-third of normal and that the government's rain-making efforts may be to blame.

"Some villagers suspect that the weather has become angry with us for shooting too many of those artificial rockets," Yu said.

Some scientists say the fault lies with the destruction of the natural forest and the replanting of cash crops that suck up too much water. Among the notorious water-guzzlers are rubber trees and eucalypts, which are used for paper and pulp production and are so vigorous that farmers sometimes claim to hear them growing at night.

"In the rainy season, the forest holds in the water and releases it slowly in the dry season. That is the natural ecological function of the forest,'' said Ma Jun, a well-known water expert whose writings about China's water crisis have been likened to Rachel Carson's book "Silent Spring." "The drought is obviously caused by lack of rainfall, but the deforestation hurts our ability to adapt to unfavorable climate.''

Yunnan, the hardest-hit province, is home to China's last swatch of rain forest and many of its glaciers, which gives it an unusually fragile ecosystem. The largest lake in the province, Dian Chi, which used to supply drinking water to the provincial capital, Kunming, is now so polluted that the water cannot even be used for agriculture.

There are also a large number of dams in the region that critics say have damaged the ecosystem of the province. The most controversial is the still-under-construction Xiaowan dam, which will be the second-largest hydroelectric power station in China after the Three Gorges Dam. Environmentalists say that the dam has reduced the water in the Mekong in Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam to its lowest level in 50 years, exacerbating drought conditions in those countries as well.

But Chinese government officials have denied responsibility for the water shortage.

"Statistics show that recent droughts in the Mekong River downstream [are] caused by severely dry weather," Vice Foreign Minister Song Tao said at a Mekong River Council meeting April 5 in Thailand. "The Mekong River's low water level is not related to hydropower plants."

barbara.demick@latimes.com

Tommy Yang of The Times' Beijing Bureau contributed to this report.


Celebrating the New Year in April

By Melissa Sim
26/04/2010

ALTHOUGH it is already four months into the new year, grassroots groups and some associations may still be holding various 'New Year' celebrations.

The reason: April is the month when communities from India, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Bangladesh hold their traditional New Year celebrations.

There have been at least three Thai Water Festival celebrations over the last few weeks and even a combined 'Rainbow New Year Celebration' in Woodlands to encompass all the festivities in the month.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Exploring Cambodia

25/04/2010
Source: Jaimaica

Laura Tanna, Contributor

A tear slid down his cheek as Ly Sarith described the constant battle of wits for survival. If they shout "Attention!", don't stiffen like a soldier. They'll kill you. If they ask you to read something, don't. They'll know you're educated and kill you. His father was executed. He survived.

Too often we think of Cambodia as the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge, and for us it was a rarely moving experience to speak with such a holocaust survivor, though our purpose for visiting Siem Reap was to view magnificent temples.

The Khmer empire once stretched in the west from the Burmese border with Siam, now Thailand, and north to Laos. Khmer kings traded with the Chinese and adopted the religion of Indian scholars. In their quest to attain benefits from the gods in this world and the next, Khmer royalty created both Hindu and later Buddhist monuments from the 9th through the 15th centuries, the ruins of which remain part of Cambodia's remarkable heritage. Frequently at war with their neighbours, the Siamese and the Viet, the Khmer kings often moved their capitals. Today the best known of these glorious Khmer temples are Angkor Wat, 'the town which is a temple', and Angkor Thom, 'the great town', located near Siem Reap, a name which translates as defeat of the Siamese.

Elegant residences

Both the Grand Raffles Hotel d'Angkor and the boutique Amansara Hotel serve as elegant residences, while more basic hotels and bed and breakfasts also accommodate an increasing number of international visitors who fly into this city to visit these historic sites.

Our Amansara Hotel provided an experienced guide, a two-seater motorcycle rickshaw and morning and afternoon expeditions which started with the wind blowing through our hair as we sped four miles to the various temples. What I wasn't expecting was the immersion into rural Cambodian life. Our first afternoon at 3:00 we headed east of Siem Reap, past a dry countryside resembling Guyana, the wooden houses built high above ground on stilts to protect from floods in the late May to November rainy season. Then the now-parched fields become rice paddies, plowed using white bullocks whose ribs are showing. Occasionally, a brown-water buffalo appears. Rural houses have walls of woven banana fronds, sometimes blue tarps or plastic rice bags hanging side by side to supplement these.

The Peoples' Party of Cambodia enclaves always seem to be better built of proper wood. One yard enclosed in grand wrought-iron fencing with gilt prongs was identified as belonging to someone who had escaped to 'foreign' and sent money back. Poverty speaks of the brutal killing fields where the educated were butchered, over one million and a half people dying during the reign of the Khmer Rouge, from 1975 to 1979, where their extreme Communism sought to eliminate all but an agricultural peasantry from which to build a new state.

Many who survived the violence died from starvation, and though the Vietnamese overthrew the Khmer Rouge in 1978/79, civil war continued until the Viet withdrawal in 1989. After the Paris Peace Accord of 1991, Angkor Wat became a World Heritage site in 1992 and restoration of the magnificent temples slowly began. Today, small farmers have a few bananas, coconuts, maybe corn and mangoes but despite the horror of their suffering over the decades, when we walk the country lanes people wave. Lying in hammocks or gathered beneath the houses, pet dogs and children play in the dirt. Wells are cement gifts from foreign aid. Many foreign organisations provide assistance for orphanages and schools. Just as today the world is responding to Haiti's need after the devastating earthquake, the world is assisting Cambodia in small ways after ignoring the holocaust that destroyed a generation.

I first heard of Angkor Wat when Jacqueline Kennedy visited in the '60s. You may have seen Ta Prohm, the temple in the jungle where Angelina Jolie was filmed in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Here ancient forest consumes man's efforts to venerate his gods as huge trees with gigantic roots envelope the temples. Already I understand why the actress adopted a Cambodian son. The children are adorable - not demanding, not annoying - just delightfully asking one to buy their postcards or guidebooks, they wait by temple entrances to earn a dollar. Yes, Siem Reap uses US dollars as its main currency.

Temples are built from lava, sandstone and covered in stucco. The higher each platform level, the smaller are the repeated designs, so an illusion of great height is attained, creating temples of rare beauty. Sadly, some lay in complete ruin on the ground. Like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, 400,000 blocks of stone are assembled in one area, awaiting restoration by dedicated archaeologists from France, Germany, Switzerland, China, Japan, India, American NGOs and other countries, each restoring different sites. The most famous, the 500-acre rectangular Angkor Wat, built from 1113-50 AD, once a Buddhist then a Hindu temple, has vast walls of bas relief carvings portraying scenes from the Ramayana and other mythological and historic themes, including depictions of King Suryavarman II's army, reminiscent of ancient Egyptian bas relief on the tombs of Pharohs. In fact, experts dispute whether this complex was actually designed as a temple or a tomb.

Favourite site

My favourite site was Bayon, in the exact centre of the last capital, the royal city Angkor Thom, built a mile north and years after Angkor Wat. As the administrative and religious centre of the Khmer empire from the end of the 12th century, with 54 towers and more than 200 huge carved heads depicting the Buddhist concept of the cosmos, Angkor Thom was reputed to outrival any European city of the time. We walk through the forest at dawn, birdsong as beautiful as the music from Buddhist temples to arrive at one site. Another night we walk through the forest under a full moon to watch the sun slowly rise above the ancient temple towers. Nothing prepares you for the awesome understanding of man's mortality, your own fleeting existence, in the presence of glory and power, diminished to ruined grandeur.

If you're going to Siem Reap, a guidebook is an absolute must as each site depicts such a complex religious and political history that even a few hours of reading will enhance one's appreciation of the art and architecture enormously. Visas may be obtained via the Internet and avoid the rainy season when malaria-spreading mosquitoes are more prevalent. The ambiance, food and service of the Amansara were excellent!

Despite dramatic gains, no room for complacency in war on malaria, Ban says

25/04/2010
Source: UN.ORG

25 April 2010 – Although a massive increase in funding has allowed a “dramatic expansion” in the war against malaria, which kills nearly 1 million people a year and puts 3.3 billion others, half the world''s population, at risk, vigilance must be the order of the day against a tenacious, ever-changing foe, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today.

“Since 2003, international commitments for malaria control have increased more than five-fold to $1.7 billion in 2009,” he said in a message marking on World Malaria Day. “Though still far short of what is required, these funds have supported a dramatic expansion of malaria control interventions.”

Every year, there are about 250 million malaria cases worldwide, with people living in the poorest countries the most vulnerable.

Mr. Ban noted that those countries that could provide bed nets and treatment to significant proportions of their people had seen malaria cases and deaths fall by as much as 50 per cent, as well as an overall drop in child mortality rates.

“But our optimism must also be leavened with caution,” he warned. “Malaria is a tenacious foe. To sustain current gains we must be vigilant. Parasite resistance to anti-malarial medicines is a considerable threat, and the use of artemisinin-based monotherapies is the principal force behind its spread.

The UN World Health Organization (WHO), which last year reported the emergence of an artemisin-resistant form of malaria along the border between Cambodia and Thailand that could seriously undermine global successes in controlling the disease, has recommended the use of artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACT), and Mr. Ban called on the world community to remove all oral artemisinin-based monotherapies from the supply chain.

“The global campaign against malaria has shown what is possible when the international community joins forces on multiple fronts to tackle a disease that takes its heaviest toll on poor and underprivileged populations,” he said.

“Strong commitment has sparked innovation: creative initiatives have facilitated the delivery of massive numbers of mosquito nets ground-breaking partnerships are developing new malaria medicines and making existing medicines more accessible and affordable. The challenge now is to ensure that all who are exposed to malaria can receive quality-assured diagnosis and treatment. The advances of recent years show that the battle against malaria can be won.”

Long healing process

25/04/2010
Source: The Star

ACID is a corrosive agent and concentrated acid will burn the skin very quickly. If you get it on your skin, immediately flush the affected area with copious amounts of water. Take care to avoid the acid spreading to unaffected areas, particularly the eyes, as it may cause blindness.

Contaminated clothing should be removed.

Consultant plastic and reconstructive surgeon Dr Somasundaram Sathappan explains: “Acid burns the skin, forming a thick crust of dead tissue. It can quickly penetrate into the fat and muscle layer and burn through to the bone. It will keep burning until it is neutralised. That’s why it’s important to immediately wash it off with lots of water to dilute the acid and stop it from doing more damage.”

Keo Srey Vy, 36, receiving treatment at the Cambodia Acid Survivors Charity in Kandal province, west of Phnom Penh, in February. The Cambodian government is drafting a law to specifically target crimes involving acid attacks. – Reuters

Dr Soma (as he is known) stresses that the afflicted person should not delay with this emergency procedure. That means getting to a clean source of running water, if possible, and washing the wound, even before medical assistance arrives.

“Flushing the affected area with water is the first thing to do when acid comes into contact with skin. It will take time to seek medical care, during which the acid would have eroded the dermis (deeper layers of the skin) if it is not flushed with water”.

When seeking medical help, provide as many details as possible to the medical personnel. It is important to inform them that it is an acid burn, as that might not necessarily be obvious.

In an acid attack, flush the affected area immediately because acid eats into the deep layers of the skin.

“An acid burn could look similar to a scald injury, where hot water is thrown on the person. For a scald injury, they (the medics) would wash the wound and put it under cold packs, but they won’t use running water. If it’s an acid injury, they would know exactly what to do – use copious amounts of water and protect the eyes.”

Other relevant details include how the accident happened, the concentration (strength), quantity and type of acid, and how long it was in contact with your skin before it was removed. These are among the factors that determine the extent of tissue damage caused by the acid.

When a patient is admitted to the hospital, IV fluids will be administered to normalise blood volume and heart rate. Antibiotics might also be given to prevent infections. The extent of the acid injury will determine whether reconstructive surgery is necessary.

“A burn that takes more than three weeks to heal is generally a full thickness burn, which will most probably need skin grafting,” Dr Soma says.

“We don’t operate until both the injury and the patient’s general condition have stabilised. That usually means we wait at least two to three days. It can take even up to five days.”

A patient might need multiple surgeries depending on the severity of the injury. Dr Soma points out that a skin graft won’t be exactly like her original skin.

“A skin graft is basically just a mechanism to cover wounds to get them to heal. Without it, healing will be slow and there will be scarring.”

Reconstructive surgery – which aims to improve both appearance and normal function after the acid injury – and the rehabilitation that follows, is a long and tedious process that can stretch over many years.

“One of the concerns in reconstructive surgery is the prevention of contractures,” he says, referring to the inability to move a joint or muscle due to a permanent rigidity. A patient will then need to undergo physiotherapy to restore activity, strength and motion to the affected muscle or limb.

Pressure garmentscan be used to help reduce scarring and deformities.It is not known how exactly that works, but a reduction in blood supply is thought to be an important factor.

“Pressure garments exert pressure (on the affected area) to minimise scarring. The patient might also need silicone therapy – in the form of silicone sheets or silicone ointment applied to the skin - as it has a fantastic effect on scars,” says Dr Soma, adding that all these are done until the scars mature, which will take at least one to two years.

Explainer: What are the protests in Thailand about?

By Dan Rivers, CNN

Bangkok, Thailand (CNN) -- Thousands of anti-government protesters have once again brought Thailand's capital to a standstill, as they seek to unseat a leadership -- led by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva -- they say is illegitimate and undemocratic.

They support Thaksin Shinawatra, who was prime minister from 2001 to 2006, before he was ousted in a bloodless coup. After his removal, he continued to play a role in Thai politics -- even from outside of the southeast Asian nation.

What is happening now?

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva declared a state of emergency April 7, hours after anti-government demonstrators (known as "red shirts" for the clothes they wear) stormed the country's parliament. Three days later, the deadliest clash in more than a decade between protesters (in this case the "red shirts") and the military erupted, leading to the deaths of more than two dozen demonstrators and military forces.

Media and analysts in Thailand say civil war may be looming, with another group called the "multi-colored shirts" (supporters of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva). They are displeased with the disruption caused by the red shirt protests. They are generally middle-class city dwellers. They are not pro- or anti-government, they simply want the government to shut down the reds to end the violence and interruptions to daily life. The red and multi-colored shirts have clashed in Silom Road, Bangkok's business and financial district.

Meanwhile, Thailand's independent election commission has recommended the dissolution of Abhisit's Democrat Party after accusing the party of accepting an $8 million campaign donation from a private company and mishandling funds allocated to it by the commission. The ruling still must be reviewed by the country's attorney general's office and its Constitution Court. A democrat party spokesman maintains the party has fully complied with all laws concerning the uses of funds during the election campaign and the party says it will fight the recommendation.

Haven't these protests been going on for a long time?

Yes, Thailand has been embroiled in political chaos for years and many here are growing weary with the instability. Ever since Thaksin came to power, there have been protesters opposing his allegedly corrupt and autocratic rule. Those protesters donned yellow shirts (the color of the king) and occupied the two main airports in Bangkok, until finally the pro-Thaksin government was brought down by a court ruling. In revenge Thaksin's supporters copied the yellow shirt tactics and took to the streets in red shirts.

Why do the sides divide on colors?

It's an easy way for them to create an identity. It all started with the yellow shirts wearing a color associated with Monday, the day of the week that Thailand's revered king was born on. That was designed to show their allegiance to the king, and more broadly the traditional elite which has dominated Thai politics for years. Thaksin's supporters then picked a color to distinguish themselves from the yellow-shirts.

Why are they arguing?

Essentially this is a classic power struggle. It's easy to portray this as simply rich against poor, but it is much more complicated than that, as illustrated by the fact that the reds leader is in fact a multi-billionaire. Thaksin rode to power by enacting populist policies which gained huge support from the rural poor. His radical approach ruffled a lot of feathers among the elite, who felt he was in danger of becoming too big for his boots, and could erode their position.

The "civil society" also become concerned over allegations of corruption and his brutal war on drugs, which saw summary executions. He was also criticized for his heavy handed response to violence in the Muslim dominated south.

Finally the army decided to oust him in a coup, which had the backing of the aristocratic elite and much of the middle class, who were becoming uneasy with the cult of personality growing around Thaksin. That set the stage for an embittered power struggle, between Thaksin loyalists and those loyal to the army, aristocracy and their traditional Democrat Party.

What are the wider implications of the protests?

If the divisions in Thailand can't be healed it could lead to a deteriorating security situation which would have wider implications for the region. Thailand's relations with Cambodia are especially frosty since Thaksin was appointed economic adviser to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. The worst case scenario would see Cambodia drawn into the dispute, with Thaksin using the country as a political base, adding to the already considerable tensions on the border.

So who is Thaksin?

Visionary leader or venal despot: Opinions vary, like the color of the shirts his supporters and detractors wear. If you sport red, you think Thaksin was the only prime minister to offer the rural poor a voice and real benefits; if you wear yellow, you view him as akin to Ferdinand Marcos: greedy, self-serving and dangerous.

What is not in dispute is that he won two elections, was the only Thai prime minister to serve a full-term in office and is still hugely popular. But critics say he bought his support and was only in politics to help himself.

What is he accused of?

In 2008 he was found guilty and sentenced in absentia to two years in prison for a land deal that enabled his wife to buy a valuable city plot for a fraction of its true value.

The case currently being considered by the Supreme Court relates to the transfer of shares in his communications company Shin Corporation. The prosecution alleges he illegally transferred the shares to his family, who then sold them to the Singapore government's Temasek without paying tax.

The court will also rule on whether Thaksin's government implemented policies that benefited his businesses, including a low interest loan from the Thai government to the Myanmar government to buy equipment from Shin Corp, a change in tax laws that benefited Shin Corp and changes to satellite laws that helped Shin Corp.

What does Thaksin's defense team say?

The defense team argues that neither Thaksin nor his wife owned the Shin Corp shares while he was prime minister, selling them to their son before he took office. It was their son who decided to sell Shin Corp to the Singaporeans. The defense also claims that the Assets Scrutiny Committee -- which has led the investigation in this case -- was politically motivated, having been appointed after the coup that ousted Thaksin, and therefore was biased against him.

How much money is at stake?

76.6 billion baht (about US$2.3 billion dollars). That is the total value of his and his family's assets that are currently frozen in Thailand. But there is speculation that he has a great deal more money elsewhere.

Why bother going after Thaksin when so many other Thai leaders have been perceived to be corrupt?

Well, Thailand certainly has had a checkered history. But current Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva is widely believed to be honest and free from any taint of corruption. He wants to give the country a fresh start by showing no one is above the rule of law and that means ensuring Thaksin isn't allowed to get away with his alleged corruption, even though he is in exile. However, many analysts say this case is not just about corruption, but more about Thaksin's challenge to the Thai political elite that has ruled for decades.

The theory goes that Thaksin was dangerously popular and refused to submit to powerful factions in the army, privy council and aristocracy -- hence the 2006 coup and the lengthy efforts to shut him down.


Historic anti-Vietnam war strike at UNH to be commemorated May 4

Saturday, April 24, 2010
Source: Foster

DURHAM — The Peace and Justice League at the University of New Hampshire will commemorate the 40th anniversary of the student-led strike at UNH against the Vietnam War on May 4 at 6 p.m.

The event will be held in Horton Hall, the Social Sciences Building on Academic Way. A short 30-minute documentary film, "MayFlowers," will be presented followed by a panel discussion with Mark Wefers, student body president of 1970, and other activists from the time period.

In the spring of 1970 at UNH, Wefers arranged for Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and Dave Dellinger to speak at UNH. The three were members of the Chicago 8, a group of eight leaders and activists indicted on federal charges for their roles in the protests and riots outside of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. They became known as the Chicago 3 at UNH. The University Administration was opposed to the event and eventually the decision was sent to the District Court in Concord.

The event was originally scheduled for May 5, 1970, at 7 p.m. The court decided the event would be allowed to happen but had to take place between 2:30 and 5:30 p.m. On May 4, the day before the Chicago 3 event at UNH, four students at Kent State were killed by National Guardsmen during a protest against President Nixon's invasion of Cambodia, in what later became known as the Kent State Massacre. A wave of student protests swept across the nation in response to the massacre and there were many calls for students to go on strike against the war.

The speaking event on May 5 at UNH became known as "The Strike Rally "and the Chicago 3 refused to speak at 2:30, the time they were allotted by the court. At 7 p.m., 4,000 students showed up to the Hamel Center Gym, and another 3,000 listened outside as the Chicago 3 took the stage. The next day, UNH became one of the first universities to officially go on strike. In the end, about 350 Universities went on strike that spring.

Mark Wefers was indicted on federal charges for disobeying the courts order to hold the event at 2:30. UNH was on strike for three weeks until the semester was over.

Cambodia hopes to contain drug-resistant malaria strain - Feature

Sat, 24 Apr 2010
By : Robert Carmichael
Source: DPA

Phnom Penh - Next week, teams of health workers will head to 10 of Cambodia's most malaria-infected villages near the western town of Pailin, in a region notorious for its mystifying ability to produce resistant strains of the disease.

The purpose of their visit is unique in the country's programme to combat malaria.Health workers will take blood samples from every villager, lab test for the falciparum malaria parasite, and then provide treatment within days to anyone with the parasite whether or not they are showing malaria symptoms.

This pre-emptive action is one of many the government and donors have taken in a year-old programme to combat a potential catastrophe: The spread of a falciparum strain that has shown resistance to the world's most important malaria treatment - ACT, which combines artemisinin with other drugs to attack the parasite.

Dr Steven Bjorge, a malaria specialist at the World Health Organization's office in Phnom Penh, said scientific tests have proven that a deadly strain resistant to chloroquine, for example, developed in western Cambodia before migrating to Africa.

"And so the fear is that again the drug-resistant parasite, for example from western Cambodia, will move to Africa, and Africa is a malaria problem many magnitudes worse than anything in South-East Asia," Bjorge said.

The objective of next week's effort, which follows World Malaria Day on April 25, is to reduce the number of malaria carriers. Should that prove successful, it will be rolled out across the country as part of a wider containment programme, he said.

"And that's going to then reduce the number of parasites that are generally in the population, and then probably reduce transmission," Bjorge said.

Dr Duong Socheat heads the government's National Centre for Malaria Control. When news broke two years ago of the increasing resistance to ACT, health professionals and the government met to map out an urgent course of action.

"The experts were very concerned - how to contain, how to stop the spread of artemisinin-resistance to other areas?" he said.

"So before it spread, we had to take some action."The resultant containment plan divides Cambodia into three zones.Zone 1, comprising around 5 per cent of Cambodia, is centred in the west around Pailin and is the main initial focus. Zone 2, a buffer zone, expands beyond the first zone and accounts for about half of the country. Zone 3 comprises the rest of Cambodia.

The ongoing plan combines prevention, education and treatment.Duong Socheat said one aspect has been to provide training to private health practitioners, drug manufacturers and importers to ensure they understand the importance of not using one drug to treat the disease - so-called monotherapy.

Another is a government crackdown on counterfeit drugs being sold in markets and pharmacies."This is a real achievement that people are following our guidelines," he said.

"Before you could see plenty of counterfeit drugs in the market, but now there are very few."Other steps include providing bed nets to prevent people being bitten by mosquitoes. WHO figures show Zone 1 now has an average of 1.79 people per bed net.

Another vital step was training at least one volunteer in every Zone 1 village how to use a free kit to provide testing for any villager with fever.

In a country where people are often charged for theoretically free health services, a free testing service is key.Duong Socheat said indications show the situation has stabilized in Zone 1, which last year reported zero deaths from malaria.

The number of infections was stable too. All 270 deaths from the disease in Cambodia last year took place in Zones 2 and 3.WHO's Bjorge said he is "very, very cautiously optimistic" the containment programme is working."

We feel that in Zone 1 we are having some success. It's still early in the game and so we are trying to gather the data and evaluate it, but we think that we are having some impact," he said.

Assuming the data shows success, the next step is to expand the containment programme over the next five years to cover Zones 2 and 3, using money provided under the Global Fund, which targets HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and malaria.

Duong Socheat said the government wants zero malaria deaths in Cambodia by 2020. The containment programme is bound to help.

He said the most difficult task will be to ensure migrant workers who crisscross Cambodia looking for work do not bring back the resistant form to their home provinces.

The more the government can help to improve the economy, the easier that task will be."It's very important.

When the economy improves, gross domestic product increases and it's easier for poor people to protect themselves," he said.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Who is Responsible for Cambodia’s Killing Fields?

By Nick Gier, New West Unfiltered 4-23-10

With the 35th anniversary of the fall of Saigon coming up on April 30, most of us forget that the Cambodian capital fell to the Communists the same year on April 17. Led by Pol Pot and his henchmen, the Khmer Rouge launched an insane campaign of retribution that led to the death of about 2 million people.

In 1968 the Khmer Rouge numbered only a few hundred comrades, so what made it possible for the most extreme element of the Cambodia left to come to power?

Norodom Sihanouk, now the beloved “King-Father of Cambodia,” right-wing leader Lon Nol, the North Vietnamese, Communist China, and Richard Nixon must all share in the blame.

In March 1945 Sihanouk declared Cambodia’s independence, but the French, with U.S. support, reclaimed its colonial possessions in Indochina. While Ho Chi Minh went to war with the French, Sihanouk remained staunchly anti-Communist and the French allowed him retain his throne.

Cambodia’s independence was granted in late 1953, and the French were forced to leave Indochina after their defeat at Dien Bien Phu in May of 1954.

While remaining officially anti-Communist and neutral during the Second Indochina War (our conflict), Sihanouk allowed the Vietnamese Communists to move supplies along on his side of the border and to use the port of Sihanoukville.

In March of 1970 Lon Nol, a right-wing army general deposed Sihanouk and condemned him to death in abstentia, but the Cambodian people rallied to their prince’s side. Lon Nol insisted the North Vietnamese leave their Cambodian bases, but their response was to support Pol Pot and send 40,000 troops to the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

Sihanouk allied himself with Pol Pot and, mainly as a result Sihanouk’s prestige, Khmer Rouge forces grew from 6,000 to 50,000. Just like the corrupt South Vietnamese generals on whom we lavished support, Lon Nol did not have a chance against disciplined Communist soldiers.

In 1969 President Richard Nixon ordered secret bombing attacks in Cambodia and Laos, and then launched an invasion of Cambodia on May 1, 1970. The first killing fields were Cambodian villages where, from 1969-1973, hundreds of thousands of people died by B-52 bombing raids.

Yale historian Ben Kiernan has done the most extensive surveys of the actions of the Pol Pot regime. Over 60 percent of those interviewed said that they turned to the Khmer Rouge because B-52s destroyed their villages.

After Pol Pot ordered several major cross border attacks, the Vietnamese finally lost their patience with the Khmer Rouge. Early in 1979 they launched an invasion of Cambodia and the Pol Pot regime crumbled within months. The Khmer Rouge were able to hold out for years in the jungles, primarily because of Chinese and North Korean aid.

Because President Ronald Reagan did not want to give any credit to the Vietnamese Communists, he opposed giving the Khmer Rouge’s UN seat to the new government. At the same time the U.S. gave aid to rebel forces who were opposed to the Vietnamese imposed government.

The indirect effect U.S. aid was to support the Khmer Rouge, who were in a coalition with the other rebels, and whose troops levels went back up to 35,000. The Vietnamese had to expend considerable effort to defeat Pol Pot’s forces, and he was finally forced over the border where the pro-American Thai government protected him.

In 1989 the Vietnamese withdrew all of its forces, and under UN auspices elections were held in 1993. Thirty years too late, the first Khmer Rouge official, simply known as “Duch,” is now being tried for crimes against humanity.

For the first time since the French Protectorate of 1863, the Cambodian people can pursue their own affairs without adverse external interference. They no longer have to fear a madmen such as Pol Pot or dread quarter-ton bombs dropping from 30,000 feet.

Nick Gier was co-president of the Student-Faculty Committee to End the War in Vietnam in 1965-66 at Oregon State University. He taught philosophy at the University of Idaho for 31 years. Read or listen to all of his columns at www.NickGier.com

Cambodian war correspondents mourn ex-colleagues

KANDOUL, Cambodia — The bodies were dumped in a shallow grave amid the untilled earth of rice paddies: five journalists who had been ambushed by Khmer Rouge and Viet Cong guerrillas on May 31, 1970.

Om Pao, then 12, remembers the stench of decay for days after. He helped his father heap more earth on top of the remains to keep the smell down, the pigs out and the bodies from floating away.

In all, nine journalists — American, Indian, Japanese, French and Cambodian — were attacked that day near this dusty village south of the capital, Phnom Penh. All are believed to have been killed. It was one of the deadliest incidents for reporters in the wars in Vietnam and Cambodia, in a year that remains one of the deadliest anywhere for journalists.

This week, 40 years later, two dozen aging colleagues trekked to Kandoul to mourn and remember. They honored the dozens of reporters, photographers and cameramen who died covering the five-year war, which ended in 1975 with the takeover by the brutal Khmer Rouge.

"It's not only sadness for our colleagues, but also for our Cambodian friends," said Elizabeth Becker, who covered the war for The Washington Post, "but the biggest sadness is that it's taken so long for this country to recover."

Impoverished Cambodia, already roiled by the fighting in neighboring Vietnam, plunged into open war in March 1970 when Gen. Lon Nol overthrew Prince Norodom Sihanouk and seized power in a CIA-backed coup.

Two months later, as Lon Nol's forces battled Khmer Rouge insurgents and their Vietnamese allies, a six-man crew from CBS News was ambushed on the morning of May 31 as the team drove south of Phnom Penh. Three men from NBC News, rushing after their competitors, were also captured.

According to former CBS cameraman Kurt Volkert, who compiled a detailed reconstruction based on witness accounts, four of the CBS employees were killed instantly. The five others are believed to have been taken to Kandoul in the days after and executed. They had their hands bound and possibly were clubbed to death.

In 1992, Volkert helped a U.S. military forensics team locate the grave just outside Kandoul. Four bodies were recovered and identified as the three NBC employees and one from CBS. The fifth body was never found.

In all, more than three dozen foreign and Cambodian journalists were killed or listed as missing during the 1970-75 war. As many as 26 were killed in the war's first year, according to tallies compiled by former Associated Press correspondents.

Earlier this year, amateur searchers digging northeast of Phnom Penh unearthed what they believe to be the remains of war photographer Sean Flynn — son of Hollywood star Errol Flynn. Sean Flynn went missing nearly two months before the U.S. television crews were ambushed.

After the Khmer Rouge took over in April 1975, dozens of other Cambodian journalists — mainly freelancers for foreign media — were executed or simply disappeared.

On Thursday, reporters, photographers and cameramen who covered Cambodia's upheaval joined throngs of curious villagers, huddling from the scorching heat under an orange and yellow tent in the middle of a rice paddy.

The smell of burning incense and the chants of Buddhist monks mixed with the sound of passing ox carts. Several visitors wept as the names of the dead reporters were read aloud. Children, naked and barefoot, begged for handouts, sipped coconut juice being sold by a vendor and splashed in the nearby puddle where the four bodies had been exhumed in 1992.

"We remember those who have died seeking both truth and reality in Cambodia," said Chhang Song, the minister of information in the Lon Nol government who worked closely with many of the reporters and helped organize the reunion.

Om Pao, whose father's paddy was just yards away from the grave in 1970, said: "To hold a Buddhist ceremony like today is good for dead people, to show the gratitude to the dead and to offer their souls a chance to rest in peace."

Former AP correspondent Carl Robinson said covering Cambodia's turmoil was much more dangerous than Vietnam. Journalists were more often on their own, without the protection of the U.S. military. And, he added, he was troubled by the U.S. role in Cambodia.

"It was nightmarish to cover it all," he said. "It's too hard to look back upon. The whole thing had been a disaster. I left feeling guilty and bitter, as a reporter, as an American, it was just shameful and the Cambodians suffered."

For Jeff Williams, a former correspondent for AP and CBS, the trip was a chance to remember the collegiality of the foreign press corps at the time.

"I don't believe in closure. Maybe it's just me, but nothing ever closes," he said. "You just move ahead."

Trivani International Provides Nearly 400 Desks for Kenyan Students

Springville, UT (OPENPRESS) April 24, 2010 -- Trivani International (http://www.trivani.net/), the world’s first purpose-driven network marketing company, has donated more than 375 desks to students in Kenya. The project, funded by revenue from Trivani’s toxin-free, eco-friendly product line, is just one of dozens of food, microfinancing, medical relief and educational projects that Trivani has undertaken in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the U.S.

“Having grown up in North America, it’s easy to take even basic school items for granted, like school desks,” says Dee Mower, President of Trivani International and the Trivani Foundation (http://www.trivanifoundation.org/index.php). “In Kenya, school desks are almost considered a luxury. Many students are forced to study with no desks at all, or with makeshift lap desks made from whatever they can find. These donations give Kenyan students a comfortable place to sit so they can focus on what they love: learning.”

The desk donation project is just one of a multitude of charitable ventures Trivani is supporting in Kenya, Uganda, Nepal, Cambodia, Mexico, the Philippines and the United States. Some of their humanitarian projects include funding low-cost surgeries for children, providing mosquito nets for villagers, building schools, sponsoring children, and providing funding for small businesses in poor countries. Trivani markets a line of nutritional and personal care products that are 100 % free from harmful ingredients and chemical toxins. Trivani uses a significant portion of the revenue generated from the sales to support the projects of its sister non-profit organization, the Trivani Foundation. The Foundation currently partners with nearly a dozen charities (http://www.trivanifoundation.org/partners.php) around the world—including Deseret International, Globus Relief and Sustainable Cambodia—so that they can leverage funds to accomplish relief projects that are worth many times the original amount of money invested.

Antonio Coleman, a Trivani seller from Maryland, says “I loved school and I know that education is the key to a better future, so knowing that my sales helped to provide these desks for children was extra special for me. It feels good to pay it forward.”

About Trivani International:
Trivani is the world’s first Purpose Marketing® company, using the power and profit of network marketing to provide ongoing humanitarian aid around the world. Trivani’s unique business model consists of two distinct but closely intertwined entities: Trivani International and the Trivani Foundation. This business model helps Trivani fulfill its humanitarian goals through three main missions: Purpose, Health, and Prosperity.

Persons interested in learning more about the company can go to www.trivani.com. Persons interested in the Trivani Foundation, a non-profit organization, and its humanitarian projects can go to www.trivanifoundation.org.

Leslie Deeanne Mower is available for media interviews and special speaking engagements.

For more information contact: J.Michael Palka, 619-977-5022

Press Contact:
J.Michael Palka
Trivani International
Springville, UT
619-977-5022
jm@mediainked.com http://www.trivani.com .

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Professional Free Press Release News Wire

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Cambodia reports 8th bird flu death, 1st this year

AP - Thursday, April 22

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – A 27-year-old man in eastern Cambodia has died of bird flu, the country's first fatality this year and its eighth since the virus started to sweep through Asia almost seven years ago.

Cambodia's Health Ministry said in a statement issued jointly Wednesday with the World Health Organization that the man in Prey Veng province died Saturday. It was the country's 10th human case of the disease.

The statement says there have been 494 laboratory-confirmed cases of the disease in 15 countries since 2003, with 293 fatalities. The Cambodian man's death was the 11th worldwide this year.

The Health Ministry said it was investigating the case, and stepping up a campaign for preventative health measures.

KKrom plead for extension of UN aid

21 April 2010
by
Kim Yuthana and David Boyle
Phnom Penh Post

A
GROUP of 22 Khmer Krom asylum seekers, many of whom crossed into Cambodia from Thailand in December, have pleaded with the local UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) for an extension of a financial assistance package that was set to expire on Tuesday.

The group’s unofficial leader, Thach Soong, said Tuesday that he would also travel to the local office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to “push the government” to give the asylum-seekers identity cards, though that agency has repeatedly said that it cannot involve itself in the case.

The group has consistently been denied identity cards – which members say are essential for landing jobs and securing housing, among other things – for reasons such as the fact that they lack a permanent address.

James Heenan, deputy representative of the human rights commission, said in an email that the organisation was committed to “push for an acceptable and durable solution”, but did not say whether the financial assistance would be extended.

Heng Pov pens book lauding PM

100421_2
Photo by: Pha Lina
Former municipal police chief Heng Pov’s new book is displayed for sale Tuesday along Street 51 near Sihanouk Boulevard.
21 April 2010
by
Cheang Sokha and James O'toole
Phnom Penh Post

FORMER Phnom Penh municipal police chief Heng Pov has written a book from prison that offers effusive praise for Prime Minister Hun Sen, in what observers say is a marked turn from previous public comments and may be an attempt to secure a pardon.

The book was first distributed to stores in central Phnom Penh on Tuesday, with Heng Pov’s preface dated January 2010. In the 227-page volume, titled Strategy to Extinguish War in Cambodia, Heng Pov offers an analysis of recent Cambodian history and politics that describes Hun Sen as the Kingdom’s most skillful leader and refers to him by his full honorific.

“The special condition of the diplomatic strategy of Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen is not to consider any philosophy, country or religion as an enemy of Cambodia with whom we cannot compromise or reconcile,” Heng Pov writes, offering similar praise for the premier’s role in domestic politics.

“Samdech Techo never considered other Cambodian politicians as life-or-death enemies with whom he cannot compromise or reconcile,” he says.

Kao Soupha, Heng Pov’s lawyer, said he had proofread the book prior to publication. He said Heng Pov’s aim in writing it had been to demonstrate his patriotism and to describe Hun Sen’s political career.

“This book is not written simply to praise Hun Sen, but to show the facts of his leadership of the country,” Kao Soupha said.

Heng Pov, a widely feared leader during his time as police chief, was arrested in 2006 and sentenced last year to over 90 years in prison on a raft of charges including extortion, kidnapping and murder. He is scheduled to appear at the Appeal Court on April 30 to contest three of the cases against him, though Kao Soupha said that at this point, Heng Pov’s only hope is for the prime minister to come to his aid.

“For Heng Pov’s case, the court will never find justice for him, and only Hun Sen can save him,” Kao Soupha said.

Heng Pov’s praise for Hun Sen stands in stark contrast to previous public statements, including a 2006 interview with the French weekly L’Express in which he accused Hun Sen and former national police chief Hok Lundy of being behind the 1997 grenade attack on a Sam Rainsy Party rally and numerous other assassinations of opposition or political figures.

He also alleged that actress Piseth Pilika, who was shot and killed in 1999, was gunned down on orders from first lady Bun Rany, who he said had learned of an affair between the starlet and her husband, and accused local tycoon Mong Reththy of involvement in drug trafficking. These allegations have been denied.

Heng Pov has claimed innocence of the charges against him, alleging that they were engineered by Hok Lundy, his former rival.

Hok Lundy was killed in a helicopter crash in 2008, a fact that Cambodian Defenders Project director Sok Sam Oeun said may have played into Heng Pov’s decision to write the book.

“The enemy of Heng Pov, Hok Lundy, is dead, so maybe Heng Pov thinks he has a chance to be pardoned by the prime minister,” Sok Sam Oeun said. He added that for a case involving a high-profile political figure – Heng Pov is also a former adviser to Hun Sen – a pardon could indeed be possible.

Hang Chhaya, executive director of the Khmer Institute for Democracy, said the book might have been conceived as an attempt to “appease” Hun Sen. Though he said a pardon could be possible, he argued that given the severity of Heng Pov’s past statements, the premier may be unlikely to offer leniency.

“The fallout was so deep,” he said. “I know that sometimes the prime minister does have a change of heart over political-related court cases, but this one is a difficult one.”

Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said that Heng Pov may indeed be angling for clemency, but declined to offer a response without first reviewing the book.

“He has the free time to write – that might be the intention – but because I didn’t see the book, it would be difficult for me to make any comment,” Khieu Kanharith said, adding that government staffers could “make excerpts” for Hun Sen if they were deemed of interest.

Nearly US$1 million in Heng Pov’s personal bank accounts has frozen following his arrest, and he wrote to Hun Sen last year in a bid to secure funding for family and legal expenses, asking the prime minister to “intervene to allow me to withdraw some money from the bank, with forgiveness”. This request, however, went unheeded.

Prey Sar prison director Mong Kim Heng said Tuesday that despite his former stature, Heng Pov has received no special treatment in jail.

“He has nothing to do each day besides exercise,” Mong Kim Heng said, “and I have observed that he likes reading and writing in his free time.”