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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Cambodian thieves poison elephant

The associated press
3, 26, 2007

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia- Thieves in Cambodia poisoned a 62-year-old domesticated elephant and sawed off its tusks to sell on the black market, officials said Tuesday.

The male elephant was found dead Saturday, where its owner had left the animal chained to a tree near his home in Rattanakiri province, said Lee Sam Ol, a district police chief.

Police found several empty packs of poison commonly used to kill rats near the dead elephant. They believe the thieves had doused jack fruit, a tropical fruit eaten by elephants, with the poison, Lee Sam Ol said.

The elephant's tusks, measuring nearly 3 feet long each, had been removed, he said.

Hor Ang, the province's deputy police chief, said the tusks could fetch up to $3,000 each in the illegal ivory trade.

Elephants are the main means of transport for hilltribes people in northeastern Cambodia.

Conservationists have said that the end of years of armed conflict in Cambodia has allowed the elephant population and other wildlife to make a comeback in Cambodian jungles. Read more!

Talks focus against Internet kiddie sex

(TNA) - Child protection advocates from nine Asian countries are meeting in Bangkok for training on combatting child sex abuse in cyberspace.

Fifty-four child protection advocates including police officers, lawyers, judges and NGO workers from Bangladesh, Cambodia, Laos, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam areattending an international workshop jointly organised by the British embassies in Cambodia and Thailand and software giant Microsoft Corporation.

The regional workshop is part of an ongoing commitment by the British Government to work with a wide range of partners to combat child sex abuse throughout the world, in connection with cyber paedophiles,according to the UK embassy in Bangkok.

The workshop is aimed to instruct participants about techniques used by paedophiles to target victims through the internet, and offer practical advice on how to combat this. In addition, the training also broadens international co-operation, and aid capacity building and information sharing within and between the countries of the region, said embassy officials.

Although children in some countries like Cambodia can't get access to the Internet, they are still vulnerable to be sexually abused. Paedophiles use the Internet to find locations to get easy access to children, according to Microsoft Asia Pacific executive Katherine Bostick.

They post photos of children abused by relatives and friends on the Internet and profit from selling them, she said.

Quoting a report from NBC's Dateline TV, Ms. Bostick said there are 50,000 child pornography predators online at present. "The internet connects children and paedophiles. There is no border, but it's a global problem," she said.

The training, held March 26-April 6 at the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) in Bangkok, was designed and delivered by experts from the UK's Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) in partnership with associate members from the Virtual Global Task Force (VGT).

VGT is an international alliance of law enforcement agencies from Australia, Canada, the UK and the US, working to protect children from sexual exploitation. Read more!

Cambodian Bar Association accuses foreign judges of hindering Khmer Rouge tribunal

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP)

The Cambodian Bar Association said Monday foreign judges for the Khmer Rouge genocide trials were behaving like children and finding excuses to delay the long-awaited tribunal.

"This is a childish game the international judges with international reputations should not be playing," said bar association president Ky Tech.

The tribunal's four international judges have threatened to boycott preparations for the tribunal over the bar association's decision to impose fees on foreign lawyers wishing to participate in the trials.

Many fear that internal disputes could delay efforts to bring the Khmer Rouge's few surviving leaders to trial for crimes against humanity for the deaths of about 1.7 million people during the group's 1975-79 rule. The U.N.-backed tribunal, led by Cambodian and international judges, was expected to begin this year.

The bar association wants foreign lawyers to pay a US$500 (€375) membership application fee. If chosen to work with a client, they must pay an additional US$2,000 (€1,500) and a US$200 (€150) monthly fee, Ky Tech said.

The international judges have said the fees severely limit the rights of the accused and of victims to select counsel of their choice. They said they will boycott a meeting next month on internal rules governing the proceedings if the fee issue is not resolved.

"This is evidence that they are the ones who are hindering the tribunal, not the bar association, not the Cambodian government," Ky Tech told reporters.

The Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission said in a statement Friday the bar association "must be condemned for their action in imposition (of) exorbitant fees, which has no doubt brought more delays and may even be the reason why the trial proceedings collapse altogether."

The move "is immoral and reprehensible" and "must be looked at as an inhuman act," the commission said. Read more!

Regional exercise to test Asia bird flu preparedness

Cambodia, Singapore and the World Health Organisation are to conduct a two-day exercise next week to test Asia's ability to stem a bird flu pandemic, the UN agency said here Tuesday.

The exercise, Panstop 2007, involves a mock scenario in which a strain of bird flu with the potential for a human pandemic is discovered in Cambodia.

Tamiflu and protective equipment such as goggles and masks have to be swiftly dispatched from a stockpile in Singapore to Cambodia.

The exercise will be run from the WHO Western Pacific office in Manila on April 2 and 3 and would be the first ever test of the region's capability to "respond rapidly to signs of a pandemic and to snuff it out," the WHO said in a statement.

Panstop 2007 will be a test of rapid containment, involving risk assessment, communications, and decision-making. No supplies will actually be moved, it added.

The WHO says there have been 281 cases of bird flu infection among humans and 169 deaths worldwide, mostly in Southeast Asia.

Scientists fear the H5N1 bird flu strain could mutate into a form easily spread among humans, leading to a global pandemic with the potential to kill millions.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Japan would also take part in the WHO-led exercise.

Tokyo has provided ASEAN -- which groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam -- with half a million courses of the drug Oseltamivir, also known as Tamiflu, plus a large quantity of personal protective equipment, all of it stockpiled in Singapore.

During the exercise, WHO regional director Shigeru Omi would place a call to ASEAN to recommend the release of some of the Tamiflu supplies and protective equipment to the outbreak zone.

The exercise is expected to yield practical information for all parties about the efficiency of procedures, to discover gaps in planning and identify opportunities for efficient rapid containment of a human influenza outbreak, the WHO said. Read more!

Ven. Maha Ghosananda: Walking for Peace in Cambodia

Written by Rene Wadlow
Monday, 26 March 2007

The Venerable Maha Ghosananda, a learned Cambodian monk, died in early March 2007 near the temple where he was living in Leverett, Massachusetts. Maha Ghosananda, who had a Ph.D. in Buddhist studies from India, was a key person in the revival of the Buddhist Sangha in Cambodia after the Pol Pot years (1975-1979). In 1992, Maha Ghosananda revived the tradition of the Dhammayietra — a country-wide pilgrimage as a symbol of peace and reconciliation among a still-divided population.

In 1989, I had been asked to organize in Geneva, Switzerland a week- long seminar of training in social development skills for Cambodian monks. One of the purposes of the seminar — not highlighted at the time— was to allow Maha Ghosananda and other monks in exile in the USA and France to meet with the Venerable Tep Vong, the leader of the Buddhist order in Cambodia, largely put into place by the Vietnamese. Switzerland, being a neutral country, was one of the few places where such a training seminar could be held. Many states did not recognize the Vietnamese-installed government of Cambodia and would not give visas to its citizens. Maha Ghosananda was the most learned of the group of monks and had a modest but real power of leadership.

In 1991, just after the Paris Peace Accords on Cambodia, I went to Cambodia to help set up child-welfare programs in schools, both state-run and Buddhist schools, and so I saw some of the rebuilding challenges facing the Buddhist order.

Pol Pot, largely influenced by the French Revolution from the years he had spent as a worker in France, with revolutionary goals also colored by the Russian and Chinese revolutions, wanted to create a new society and a "new person" by destroying the foundations of the old. There were three sources to the contemporary Cambodian culture that Pol Pot wanted to destroy. First, was the Western, largely French-influenced modern culture. Anyone speaking French or English was thought to be part of the modern elite which had to be destroyed. The second source of culture was the Buddhist monks who controlled the religious ceremonies but also a large segment of the education system. The third source was the folk culture, mostly passed on by the elderly — a folk culture filled with interaction with the spirit world as well as the history of each village. The people who were the carriers of the three cultural sources died, were killed, or went into exile.

When the Vietnamese forces drove the Khmer Rouge from power, the Vietnamese were faced with a totally disorganized society with few persons able to pass on the former culture. Since the Vietnamese had their own rebuilding to do, they had few people available other than soldiers to revive Cambodia. The Vietnamese contribution was to provide relative security, the Khmer Rouge troops having withdrawn to forest and hill areas. The Medical School with French aid started to revive modern culture. There was a small number of Buddhist monks who had survived the Pol Pot years within Cambodia by putting on civilian clothes. This handful of monks the Vietnamese put into positions of leadership. Monks in exile in Thailand, Europe or the USA were not trusted by the Vietnamese. The monks in exile only started to return in 1992-93 when the United Nations basically took over the administration of the country — United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia – UNTAC 1991 -1993.

When Maha Ghosananda returned to Cambodia from Thailand in 1992, he created the Dhammayietra. This is a walk based on the practice of the Buddha who divided a year into segments of retreats (usually during the rainy season during which he would teach his assembled followers) and other periods of the year when the monks would walk from village to village teaching and caring for the sick. The practice is made clear in words attributed to the Buddha "Go forth, and walk for the welfare of the many, for the happiness of many, out of compassion for the world, for the profit, for the welfare, for the happiness of gods and mankind. Expound the Dhamma (teachings). Live it in its spirit and its letter."

Maha Ghosananda had spent the years 1965 to 1978 in a forest monastery in southern Thailand. Such monasteries, totally isolated from village life where a monk could devote his time to meditation in silence, did not exist in Cambodia where monasteries are in the middle of the village and where there is a great deal of daily interaction with villagers. In Cambodia, villagers come to give food to the monks, sit around to talk, come and go – not an atmosphere for sustained meditation. In Thailand, after the Second World War, there arose around a few monks forest retreats. These were monasteries far from villages where a small number of monks would live together to study and meditate.

In 1978, Maha Ghosananda was told about the large number of Cambodian refugees who were fleeing Cambodia for Thailand as the Vietnamese troops were ending the Pol Pot government. He left his forest monastery to go to help the Cambodian refugees in the camps on the Thai-Cambodian frontier. From 1978 to 1992, he worked with refugees on the frontier, helping meet their physical, moral and spiritual needs.

In 1992 he returned to Cambodia with a small number of monks who had been living in refugee camps in Thailand. In Cambodia, he confronted three major problems : 1) a country still very divided along political lines with the Khmer Rouge active in hill and forest settings; 2) a country disorganized economically and socially where those who could wanted to make money to "make up for lost time;" 3) a Buddhist order where many young men were becoming monks, in part because they were sure to be fed each day and to receive education, but where there were few educated elder monks to teach them.

He organized the walks of monks and lay people – usually a yearly 45-day walk of some 650 kilometers – to areas still violently divided and in areas where landmines were still common. During these walks, there was teaching, ritual expression of compassion and reconciliation. There was also active listening to the experiences and fears of the people. As he would say "Each step is a prayer, each step is a meditation, each step will build a bridge." The walks would be efforts to build links between people divided by the years of conflict. As Maha Ghosananda said "We must find the courage to leave out temples and enter the temples of human experience, temples that are filled with suffering. If we listen to the Buddha, Christ or Gandhi, we can do nothing else. The refugee camps, the prisons, the ghettos and the battlefields will then become our temples."

There are still important challenges facing Cambodia — poverty, corruption, a narrow political base concerned with making money rather than providing service. Yet thanks to people of compassion such as Maha Ghosananda, as he would say, "Listen carefully, peace is growing in Cambodia, slowly, step by step."

Rene Wadlow is the editor of and an NGO representative to the United Nations, Geneva.

A book of meditations and observations by Maha Ghosananda 'Step by Step' is available from Parallax Press, PO Box 7355, Berkeley CA 94707.
Read more!

Cambodian girl adjusts to Hawaii

Leam's leg injury poses dilemma for her doctor

By Craig Gima

In a world that is still completely new to her, Sithan Leam prefers what is familiar. But there is one exception: a growing habit of watching Korean soap operas.

Leam, 14, arrived in Honolulu last month from Anglong Thor, a small rural village in Cambodia, for surgery that could help her walk for the first time.

Yesterday, a potluck lunch was held in Leam's honor at the University Avenue Baptist Church with members of the local Cambodian community and some of the people who helped raise more than $10,000 to bring her to Honolulu.

The food included sushi, muffins and tossed salad, but Leam made a simple plate of rice and roasted chicken.

Anthony Deth, whose family is hosting Leam, said they bought her new clothes at Kmart. But Leam prefers to wear the same clothes she brought from Cambodia. Most things "are just too strange for her," Deth said.

Even calling home was a new experience, and Leam and her family did not really know how to use a phone, Deth said.

In the last couple of weeks, Leam has been adjusting and smiling more, he said. She especially likes playing with Deth's two children. Leam took care of her younger brothers and sisters in Cambodia..

Her village consists of five families with no running water, electricity or paved roads.

Her family uses an oxcart for transportation, so even cars are new to Leam.

There are no doctors in the village, and when she was an infant, Leam suffered a severe burn on her left leg. When the wound healed, the scar tissue fused her ankle to her thigh.

Dr. Gunther Hintz, founder and president of the charity Medicorps, brought Leam to the attention of Shriners Hospital, which agreed to treat her.

Next month, Leam and Hintz, who is now her legal guardian, will meet with Dr. Ellen Raney at Shriners to decide Leam's treatment.

Hintz said there are two main options. Doctors could amputate -- most likely above the knee -- and fit her with a prosthesis. Or she can undergo a series of surgeries, skin grafts and physical therapy to try and save the leg.

There are potential complications, Hintz said. Leam's joints and muscles are functional but not fully developed and have not supported any weight.

Still, Hintz said he favors trying to save the leg.

"If she goes back to Cambodia on her own legs, it's going to be a tremendous inspiration," Hintz said.

Leam will also be able to learn some English while she is here, a valuable skill back in Cambodia, Hintz said.

Deth said they are starting to teach Leam her ABCs. During yesterday's potluck a retired teacher volunteered to help tutor her after the surgery.

In an interview through a translator, Leam said she is still homesick. She prefers Cambodian food and has not yet been to a McDonald's or the beach.

Leam is shy around strangers and gave mostly one-word answers, but smiled and laughed occasionally as translator Patrick Keo spoke with her in the Khmer language.

Deth said she has not really wanted to venture out much from the apartment near Shriners where she is staying.

But Leam can watch Korean dramas for hours, even if she does not understand Korean and cannot read the English subtitles, Deth said.

Asked what she likes about them, Leam said she doesn't know. Sometimes it's funny, she said.

She is learning more Korean than English, Deth joked. "It may not be a bad idea because there are a lot of Korean tourists now in Cambodia."
Read more!