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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Cambodian official says Dalai Lama still not welcome

By DPA Jan 30, 2007, 9:55 GMT

Phnom Penh - Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama is still not welcome in Cambodia because of China's strong views on the subject, a senior Cambodian religious official said Tuesday.

Speaking at the opening of a Japanese-donated pagoda on the outskirts of the capital, Religion Ministry secretary Chhorn Iem said the ban that excluded the Dalai Lama from the World

Buddhism Conference in 2002 still stood because China's stance had not altered.

'We could not welcome him here even if he asked because Cambodia must implement the government's policy,' Iem said. 'Cambodia follows the One China Policy.'

He said the Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in India, had not filed an application to come to Cambodia since the policy was made clear.

However he said he could not predict the future, and Cambodia remained hopeful that someday political obstacles would no longer stand in the way of a visit by one of the world's most venerable Buddhists.

'I am not sure of what lies in the future. I cannot predict government policy in the future,' he said. However that policy is likely to be dependent on Beijing.

Cambodia's population is 95 percent Buddhist and Buddhism is the state religion.
China is one of Cambodia's top five donors and a powerful trade partner and investor, and although it has imposed few public strings on the vast sums of money it pumps into the country, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has repeatedly made it clear that Cambodia firmly supports the One China Policy.
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Cambodia Aids Focus, Cambodian men in Dark side of sexuality

PHNOM PENH, 30 January (IRIN) - "I don't know how my husband contracted HIV - he just did," said Phary, 27, staring blankly out the window of the two-room apartment she shares with her parents and two children in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh. Answering that question has never been easy.

Like many Cambodian women in similar circumstances, she is devoted to the memory of her husband. Few people know about her HIV-positive status, but her challenge is the here and now: how she will care for her children if her health deteriorates.

According to UNAIDS, Cambodia has the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS in South East Asia, with 1.6 percent of adults aged 15 to 49 infected. Although the country has made significant inroads in reversing the spread of the virus - adult prevalence was one-third lower in 2005 than in the late 1990s - the outlook for women remains grim.

Cambodian women constitute a growing share of people living with the virus - 47 percent in 2003, up from an estimated 37 percent in 1998 - suggesting that significant numbers of women are being infected by their husbands and boyfriends, who probably contracted the virus in commercial sex encounters.

Compounding the problem, a UNAIDS report warned there were signs that men were ignoring the awareness campaigns centred on the sex industry, and evidence of increasing drug usage, including among commercial sex workers, in Phnom Penh.

The traditionally subordinate role of women in Khmer society manifests in high levels of sexual violence and unsafe sexual behaviour by men, exacerbated by a culture of impunity, which limits women's ability to negotiate sex and condom use.

"Women need empowerment if they are to negotiate safer sex practices," said Pry Phally Phuong, senior programme officer of the Women's Agenda for Change, a local NGO.

That is easier said than done. According to a study cited in a government report reviewing its HIV/AIDS strategy, women do not have equal access to education, paid employment, land ownership and property rights: "They are generally in a disadvantaged position in both family and society."

Prior to marriage, women are expected to be virgins; once they are married they are often blamed for not having enough sexual expertise to keep their husbands faithful.

Sophal Kheng, executive director of the Positive Women of Hope Organisation, a local NGO dedicated in providing training and support for women living with HIV/AIDS. The report also found that many women believe male sexuality necessitates several partners - men who are away from home seek sexual services, and their wives accept this as normal; marriage needs to be maintained at all costs, regardless of suffering and humiliation; and it is not possible for women to talk with their husbands about the use of condoms.

The researchers said educating men to use condoms when they have extramarital sex seemed to be the best solution.

A visit to a centre for HIV-positive women, funded by ActionAid and run by the local NGO, Positive Women of Hope Organisation, underlined just how vulnerable women are in Cambodia.
"I would never dare insist that my husband use a condom," said an HIV-positive housewife - one of the few who would speak openly. "He would, of course, question why, and even think that perhaps I was sleeping around instead."

Most women at the centre were concentrating on rebuilding their lives. "When I learned that I was HIV positive, I thought my world had collapsed. I wanted to die," said a woman who has lived with the virus for at least a decade. Her husband passed away in 1999, followed by her two-year-old daughter shortly afterwards. Since then she has relied on the close circle of friends at the centre, where she is learning handicraft skills.

The NGO was set up in 2004 to provide training and support for women living with the virus, and to help with school enrolment for their children. "It's very difficult for HIV-positive women to maintain themselves and their children," said Sophal Kheng, executive director of Positive Women of Hope Organisation. "Most of the women will never reveal their HIV status to their community, forever conscious that they will be stigmatised."

There are currently 20 women at the centre, most of whom were unknowingly infected by their husbands. The colourful handbags they make are now sold in the local markets and exported as far away as Australia, providing a flicker of optimism. "I want to stay here forever," one housewife said. "Here people understand each other." Read more!

Campaign launched in Cambodia to free innocent men wrongly convicted of murder

Published on : 2007-01-29

Monks blessed billboards in a small ceremony to launch a campaign to support prisoner Sok Sam Oeun and Born Samnang

January 28, 2007 marked three years – or 1,096 days - that Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun have spent in prison since their arrests for the assassination of prominent trade unionist Chea Vichea. One day in prison for an innocent man is too long; both men have spent the last three years in prison for a crime that there is considerable evidence they did not commit.

To mark the anniversary of their arrests, Cambodian NGOs and trade unions launched a public campaign that will continue until their release from prison.The campaign, launched at LICADHO's offices by family members of the two men, monks, human rights workers and others, involves erecting signboards outside NGO and union offices in Phnom Penh displaying photos of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun under the slogan "They Need Justice".

The signboards feature counters that will be updated daily to show the total number of days that the two men have been imprisoned. The campaign also includes regular newspaper advertisements similar to the signboards. "The injustice suffered by these two men has gone on far too long. The courts must set them free, so that they can return to their families and their normal lives," said Thun Saray, President of ADHOC. "We are publicly counting the days that Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun are in prison, just like they must be counting every single day of their unjust imprisonment," said Kek Galabru, President of LICADHO. "Our campaign will continue until the day justice is delivered to them and they are released.

"Many individuals – including former King Norodom Sihanouk, Chea Vichea's family, and the main eyewitness to the murder – have declared that Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun are innocent. An investigating judge in the case who initially dropped the murder charges against the two men was quickly disciplined for unspecified judicial mistakes and transferred from his position, while the charges were reinstated.

In an October 2005 trial widely criticized for being unfair, Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun were convicted of the murder and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. The two men have been waiting for 18 months since then for the Court of Appeal to review their case. The last opportunity for justice that Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun saw was on October 6, 2006 when the Court of Appeal was set to hear their appeals against the convictions.

However the hearing was abruptly cancelled at the last minute because one of three judges reportedly had diarrhea. "We urge the Court of Appeal to urgently set a new hearing date as soon as possible, and to carefully consider all the available evidence in this case,"said Kong Pisey, Acting Director of CDP representing both men. "We believe that an impartial examination of all the facts will lead to the release of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun."

"The longer that Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun spend in prison, the more damage that is done to the reputation of the Cambodian justice system," said Thun Saray of ADHOC. "The Court of Appeal has an opportunity to put an end to this, and to finally deliver justice to these two men and their families."
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Vietnam mulls plan to bar military, party from doing business

HANOI (AFP) - Vietnam's ruling Communist Party, armed forces and police would have to shed their business interests under reforms now being considered, according to officials and reports.

An upcoming party meeting will also look at streamlining Vietnam's party and state apparatus by merging several of the 26 government ministries and 11 party committees, the central committee of the party has said.

The reform proposals, backed by a veteran party figure and state newspaper editorials, come at a time of rapid change in Vietnam, East Asia's second fastest growing economy which this month joined the World Trade Organisation.

The party's central committee last week proposed consolidating many party and state bodies to "get rid of bureaucracy, overlapping roles and responsibilities to make their structure more streamlined and effective."

The 160-member committee also agreed on "a policy to shift purely existing economic establishments under the party, armed forces, Fatherland Front and social-political organisations to the management of the state from 2007."

The reform proposals would be considered at the central committee's fifth plenum, expected to convene before Vietnam's May 20 national assembly elections, the central committee said in its report.

"The idea is encouraging," Le Dang Doanh, a senior economist with the Ministry of Planning and Investment said Tuesday.

"It's a sign of progress," he said, adding however that so far no details were available on the proposed changes.

Vietnam's military now owns many leading companies, including telecom firm Viettel, the Military Joint Stock Commercial Bank, the Thang Long and Truong Son construction corporations, and the Ba Son ship-building company.

The Communist Party, the party-controlled Fatherland Front and police forces at provincial and district levels are also involved in business activities, including hotels, manufacturing and import-export firms.

A Western diplomat said getting these institutions to shed their business interests would be "a welcome and overdue step on Vietnam's path toward becoming a normal integrated economy with a sound market economy.

"It would not be a complete surprise. Similar steps were taken several years ago by Vietnam's big northern neighbour China," said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

However, the diplomat cautioned that, even if the regime goes ahead with the plan, "it would remain to be seen how this divesture is carried out in practice" and who would end up controlling the business interests. Read more!