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Friday, March 23, 2007

Pope's Representative To Cambodia Meets With Hun Sen

The Pope's representative to the region has met with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen ahead of the opening of a new children's hospital set up by US-based Catholic mission movement group Maryknoll, local media reported Thursday.

Apolistic Nuncio Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio visited Hun Sen at his home in a low-key visit and thanked him for the spirit of religious tolerance that Cambodia showed, reported Khmer-language daily, Kampuchea Thmey.

Hun Sen in turn promised continued cooperation with Maryknoll and other missionary organizations dedicated to improving standards of health and education in the country, the paper said.

An apostolic nuncio is a Vatican ambassador or representative of the pope in different countries. Countries with large Catholic populations are awarded their own nuncio but Cambodia, with only 5,000 Khmer Catholics, shares a nuncio with Thailand, Laos, Burma, Brunei, and Singapore.

The meeting was held last week ahead of the scheduled opening of the new hospital in south-western Takeo province next week, the paper said. Maryknoll oversees a number of health-orientated programmes in Cambodia, including providing palliative care for AIDS patients.

© 2007 DPA.
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Roundup: Japan asked to invest in agriculture, industry, tourism in Cambodia

Cambodian government officials have told a senior 28-member Japanese delegation to explore business opportunities in agriculture, industry and tourism in the kingdom, local media said on Thursday.

While meeting the delegation on Tuesday, Phnom Penh Chamber of Commerce President Kith Meng suggested that the investors prioritize projects in the sectors of agriculture, industry and tourism.

Investment in steel production will be particularly beneficial as Cambodia currently imports steel, which is in growing demand, Cambodian daily newspaper the Rasmei Kampuchea quoted him as telling the delegation headed by ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) -Japan Center Director Vong Sam Ang.

Meanwhile, Cambodia has vast areas of land free for growing industrial crops, the government has land with a 96-year concession for investors interested in crop cultivation, and the country can also construct factories to produce electronic appliances for export, Kith Meng told the delegation, which arrived here on Monday for a week-long mission to explore Cambodia 's business potential.

Japanese firms should also engage in commercial activities in the growing tourism sector in Cambodia, which benefits from the world famous Angkor temple complex, he said.

During another meeting on Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Sok An assured the Japanese delegates that the Cambodian government is paying particular attention to the fight against corruption and land disputes.

In addition, the country's current high electricity prices will go down, another Cambodian daily newspaper the Kampuchea Thmey quoted him as saying.

"In the future we hope that the price of electricity will decrease because at the present time we are also building power and hydroelectricity plants in many locations in Cambodia," said Sok An.

Also on Tuesday, Prime Minister Hun Sen, who plans to officially visit Japan in June, met with the Japanese delegates, emphasizing that his planned visit is designed partly to attract Japanese investors and tourists.

The prime minister also plans to propose that Japan provide Cambodia with more soft loans, accelerate the implementation of Japanese grant already approved for the construction of the Neak Leoung Bridge, according to Cambodian daily newspaper the Koh Santepheap.

In recent months, Japan and Cambodia have been holding meetings to discuss a bilateral investment agreement, which aims to enhance Japan to be a major investor in Cambodia.

Japan has been the kingdom's largest aid donors for years, but lags behind other countries in the sector of investment.

Source: Xinhua .

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WATER DAY-CAMBODIA: Asian Developement Bank Project Fails Fishermen

BANGKOK, Mar 22 (IPS) - A planned survey to check the economic pulse of fishing communities living on the banks of South-east Asia's largest freshwater lake -- the Tonle Sap in Cambodia -- threatens to expose serious shortcomings in an Asian Development Bank (AsDB) anti-poverty initiative.

The survey, to commence late April, stems out of the critical view a Cambodian non-governmental organisation (NGO), Fisheries Action Coalition Team (FACT), has of a ‘development' project that the Manila-based AsDB launched in October 2002. The five-year-long Tonle Sap Initiative (TSI), set out, among other things, to improve the lives of the communities that depend on the lake's fish for their livelihood.

But four years later, the AsDB's flagship ‘pro-poor development initiative' in one of the region's poorest countries is still stuck in the mud of basic details. ‘'Most of the people living around the Tonle Sap still don't know what this project is really about. Some only have heard of it by name,'' says Raingsey Pen, project leader of ‘Tonle Sap Watch' at the Phnom Penh-based FACT.

This ignorance is due to a lack of participation by the people from the beginning of this project, he said in telephone interview from the Cambodian capital. ‘'NGOs who have been monitoring this initiative have complained to the AsDB that most of the documents have not been translated into the local language and are only available in English.''

The information gulf between the bank and the Tonle Sap's poor has been noted by Oxfam, the international development agency. ‘'There is a general lack of awareness about the TSI,'' says Jessica Rosien, who authored a study last year for Oxfam's Australia office on this body of water. ‘‘Can the AsDB save the Tonle Sap from poverty? There has been too little involvement of the people who were supposed to benefit,'' she told IPS.

The AsDB concedes that some of the criticisms by NGOs are relevant. ‘'We have heard some of the concerns by NGOs and they are valid,'' Mahfuz Ahmed, senior agriculture economist at the bank, said in an interview from Manila. ‘'Running this project from Phnom Penh is not easy. People's participation is a core feature of this project. We have got to be more aggressive.''

Even at a formal meeting this month in Phnom Penh between the regional bank and Cambodian government officials, the AsDB let slip the difficulty it was facing in being more inclusive just as the TSI enters its final year. ‘'There is a risk that some of the poor and marginalised could be increasingly left behind,'' Urooj Malik, director of the agriculture, environment and natural resources division at the Bank, said during the mid-March forum. ‘'It is vital to involve them more in the process of formulating policies designed to improve their conditions.''

The Tonle Sap, which receives water from the Mekong river, plays a central part in feeding Cambodia with its rich supply of fresh-water fish. Fishing on this lake, which expands from 2,500 sq km to 13,000 sq km during the May - October flood season, provides food and incomes to about one million Cambodians. .

The poor living along the banks of the Tonle Sap are part of the nearly 40 percent of Cambodia's 13.8 million population living below the poverty line.

These were the communities that the bank hoped to aid as part of the TSI. This initiative aimed to be ‘'a partnership of organisations and people working to meet the poverty and environment challenges of the Tonle Sap,'' states the AsDB on its website.

In July 2003, the bank added the ‘Tonle Sap Basin Strategy' to the TSI as part of its broader Cambodia country programme to meet a 2007 deadline. This was deemed ‘'consistent with AsDB's water policy and worldwide trend towards managing land, water and biotic resources within a framework of basin units,'' adds the bank.

In fact, the second pillar of the TSI was singled out as the ‘Tonle Sap Sustainable Livelihoods Project,' which was estimated to cost 19.7 million US dollars, with 15 million dollars coming from the Asian Development Fund and 4.7 million dollars from the Finnish government. The project aimed to improve the economy of the fishing communities by assuring the locals a role in choosing, planning and managing small programmes for their benefit.

Yet, as the Oxfam report revealed, public participation is ‘'low in proportion to the number of projects of the AsDB's Tonle Sap Basin portfolio.'' Further, it is also ‘'difficult to trace whether and how the recommendations from community members were or were not incorporated into the final project design.''

And for AsDB watchdogs like FACT, nothing conveys the bank's distance from its intended beneficiaries more than the departure from its original promise of creating new fishing communities in addition to strengthening existing ones. ‘'The project sought to improve the fishing communities by establishing 500 more around the Tonle Sap,'' says Pen. ‘'But until now we have not seen a new fishing community that was promised.'' (END/2007) .
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Cambodia Winning the Fight Against AIDS

By Rory Byrne
Phnom Penh, March 22, 2007

On the face of it, Cambodia should be devastated by AIDS. Brothels are commonplace in the impoverished country, illegal drugs are widely available, and government spending on health care is only about two dollars a person each year. But the rate of new AIDS infections has dropped during the past decade. Rory Byrne reports for VOA from Phnom Penh on how Cambodia is turning the tide against AIDS.

In 1997, 3.2 of Cambodians were infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The United Nations office dealing with AIDS, UNAIDS, says that among sex workers the figure was almost 40 percent.

Today, UNAIDS says only about 1.6 percent of the general population is infected, with about 20 percent of sex workers believed to be infected.

Dr. Mean Chhi Vun is the director of Cambodia's National Center for HIV, AIDS, Dermatology and Sexually Transmitted Infections. He says the key to Cambodia's success has been a multi-faceted plan in which government and aid groups work together at all levels to fight the disease.
"As you may know, Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world," he said. "So we work together with all partners - including bilateral, multilateral, the international finance agencies like World Bank, ADB, the academic institutions, and the civil society including NGOs and community-based organizations."

Cambodia is still recovering from decades of conflict. Thousands of women see no choice but to become sex workers, and the country has a young, migrant population. All of these factors can contribute to rising HIV infection rates.

The U.N. AIDS co-coordinator in Cambodia, Tony Lisle, says the government deserves great credit for having the political will to tackle the disease.

"The Cambodian government basically has opened the space for all the key players to play their role," he said. "The government has essentially, for example, in terms of the sex work and client environment, the government approved and the prime minister basically established a policy for the 100 percent condom use program in brothels, so it opened the door for a scaled response."

Encouraging the use of condoms has been an important part of the strategy. The government sponsors safe-sex ads on billboards, television and radio. Activist groups distribute condoms and make sure that people how to use them.

"We try to normalize the condom use in Cambodia by educating them through the CUP (100 percent Condom Use Program) campaign," said Dan Borapich, a spokesman for Population Services International, the largest distributor of subsidized condoms in Cambodia. "You know, use a condom, and also increase the visibility of condoms through our distribution channel, like we try to make sure that condoms available at even supermarket, mini-market, stall, you know, pharmacy, everywhere."

Another important part of the strategy is treating those infected with cheap or free anti-retroviral drugs.

Tony Lisle of UNAIDS says that about 25,000 patients are receiving treatment in Cambodia - nearly 80 percent of all those who need treatment. The bulk of the life-saving drugs are
provided by the Global Fund for Tuberculosis, AIDS and Malaria.

"I think Cambodia, of all countries in the region, is a major success story in terms of getting all of those who need to be on treatment, on treatment," said Lisle.

Despite the progress, experts warn there remains a chance the infection rate could still rise, particularly among those groups engaging in high- risk behavior. Studies show, for example, that new infections among men who have sex with men and those who use illegal injected drugs are still increasing in Cambodia.

The infection rate also is increasing among so-called indirect sex workers - women working in beer gardens, karaoke clubs and hostess bars.

AIDS experts say these women often have a steady partner and do not use a condom with that man, although neither the woman nor the man may be faithful.

HIV infection rates also are high among men who have moved to Phnom Penh from the countryside to work. These men often become infected at brothels and then take the virus home to their wives.

For many of those infected with HIV, life is difficult. Cambodia's health-care system is basic at best. Conditions are unhygienic. Modern medical equipment is almost non-existent.

And discrimination against AIDS sufferers is commonplace, despite efforts being made to stamp it out.

Mony is HIV positive and works for the Cambodian Community of Women living with HIV/AIDS.

"In the community, stigma and discrimination is still happening. Nobody wants to talk to the PLHA - people living with HIV and AIDS - nobody wants to buy their products," said Mony.

"So, it is still very hard ... even the stigma and discrimination in the health center and also at the national level ... it is still happening, yeah."

Despite these problems, Cambodia has become an example of how to fight the disease. AIDS experts say the lesson from Cambodia is that if the political will is there from the top, the disease can be contained, even in the poorest nations.
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