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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Cambodia reflected in Iran

BOSTON: When I saw pictures of the British sailors and marines, on the eve of their freedom from Iran, dressed in ill-fitting suits that Iranian tailors had run up for them, memory raced back nearly 40 years when a similar drama was being played out in another country of which the United States then disapproved.

It was Cambodia in the autumn of 1968, in that last twilight time before regime change, war, and the Khmer Rouge tore that country to pieces. Prince Norodom Sihanouk had managed to keep Cambodia out of the inferno that was raging in neighboring Laos and Vietnam, but the United States was cross at him for allowing the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese to use his territory - not that he really had any choice.

Some American soldiers, on a river boat, had wandered up the Mekong from Vietnam into Cambodian territory and been captured. Sihanouk played the incident with the same theatricality as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran did with his British prisoners.

"When we do something from Islamic compassion, we expect nothing in return," Ahmadinejad said, and so he freed his prisoners as a gift.

Sihanouk used the occasion of a national holiday to release his captives. He, too, had sent tailors around the jail to measure his prisoners for new suits - white linen suits in this case. Sihanouk threw in neckties as well - the tie of his political organization. Like the Iranians, he made a public spectacle of his country's generosity, and spoke, too, of religion.

"I love Buddha," he said in his high-pitched voice, "all Cambodians are small Buddhas" and they would be compassionate and let the prisoners go. But he refused to give back their boat. "It has no heart, it has no soul, it will do very well here with our little navy," he said.

I was amused when a Financial Times editorial used the word "mercurial" when referring to Ahamadinejad. That was the favorite adjective newspapers used for Sihanouk, although for my money Sihanouk had much more to recommend him than the Iranian president.

Scarcely 18 months later, Sihanouk was deposed. I have never believed that the Americans were directly involved in the coup, but they certainly encouraged it, and took advantage of it. An American invasion, and a no-quarter war followed for five years, until the long, genocidal night of the Khmer Rouge descended across the land.

It was the final spasm of a disastrous American foreign-policy mistake that had engulfed Indochina, and I thought, when it was finally over, that a painful lesson had been learned. I was wrong.

Some of the same characters in the American government who later brought us Iraq - Vice President Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld high among them - took the wrong lesson away from the Indochina debacle. They thought: Just give us another chance and we'll get it right.

They didn't get it right, of course, and now Iran is in America's crosshairs. It is probably fortunate for Ahmadinejad that his captives were not Americans for it is unlikely that the Bush administration would have played the incident with the same skill as the British. A hostage crisis might have been just what Cheney needed to press for an attack upon Iran.

It is unlikely that Iran's dramatic release of the British servicemen, and one woman, will gain any good will with the Bush administration, any more than Sihanouk's gesture did with Nixon. In the end Congress closed down the Indochina war, and the last fighter bomber flying the last mission flew away with the pilot playing "Turkey in the Straw" on his harmonica over the radio.

Terrible things happened to Indochina after American power was withdrawn, and reasonable people worry that the same things will happen in Iraq. But the real betrayal was going in, not out, and the great mistake was to believe that the American public support would keep a losing war going on forever.

Iraq has passed beyond the ability of the United States to control in anything but the most temporary and superficial way. General David Petraeus undoubtedly spoke the truth when he said: "The Washington clock is moving faster than the Baghdad clock."

The Iraq drama will play out to its inevitable end, but if Congress really wants to do some good it should start putting up every possible legal barrier to a war with Iran.

Correction: My apologies to the ghost of Horatio Herbert Kitchener for misnaming him in last week's column.

H. D. S. Greenway's column appears regularly in The Boston Globe.
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Village tours offer glimpse of the "real" Cambodia


By Thin Lei Win

SIEM REAP, Cambodia (Reuters Life!) - The village where rickshaw driver Buntheoun lives is only 15 minutes away from Cambodia's famed Angkor Wat temples, yet it might as well be hundreds of miles away.

There are no tourists, no signboards depicting the 800-year-old ruins and the gaggle of kids playing among the modest wooden homes aren't pushing you to buy anything.

This is the side of Siem Reap that tourists rarely see, but hotels and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) helping the poverty-stricken villagers want that to change.

Hotels catering to all price ranges now offer travellers a chance to connect with the locals in one of Cambodia's poorest provinces at the same time as seeing the sights.

Earthwalkers, which runs a local guesthouse, organises tours of the area called "NGO trips", costing $12 and with most of the money going towards villagers, many of whom would otherwise be getting by on less than a dollar a day.

The full-day trip includes visits to local orphanages, a silk farm, a non-profit hospital and a landmine museum -- a grim reminder of Cambodia's recent past, from the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge "Killing Fields" to decades of civil war.

The tours can also include visits to the home of locals who have received aid from the NGO, such as 34-year-old Buntheoun.

Thomas Holdo Hansen, one of the Norwegian siblings who started Earthwalkers five years ago, says visitors to the temples should see the "real" Siem Reap.

"The average length of a tourist stay in Siem Reap is less than three days. Many people come in a group, see the temples and fly out. They don't leave much behind," he said.

"We believe our trips will enhance guests' experience. This is not 'instead of' but 'in addition' to the temples."

The 20-room, basic Earthwalkers hostel bustles with independent travellers and local staff who receive training through the non-profit Earthwalkers Fund.

But if you want to help the locals without sacrificing luxury, stay at the Hotel De La Paix, which offers packages starting from $639 that include a Khmer menu and visits to some of the neediest villages in the province.

SIGHT-SEEING AND SEWING MACHINES

"Our community focus is extended everywhere in the hotel, from the food to the Arts Lounge, which showcases traditional and contemporary Cambodian arts," said Noelene Henderson, the hotel's director of sales and marketing.

With the help of guest donations, the hotel is funding a small sewing centre for disadvantaged girls. Overseen by a monk, the centre will soon produce its first batch of graduates, and each with get her own sewing machine.

"We have 29 girls, mostly from outside Siem Reap, who used to work in brick factories or come from abusive families. They're usually illiterate so we teach them not only sewing skills but English and social skills," said director Hoeurn Somnieng.

Hotel De La Paix's sister property, Shinta Mani, also encourages guests to participate in community projects. The most popular initiative is building water wells, which costs $90, according to General Manager Chitra Vincent.

The hotel can also arrange a visit to the nearby village of Prie, where the parched land has been transformed into fertile fields for 250 families.

Here, kids ride bicycles donated by hotel guests to school, while their parents, including some widows, till the land.

Vincent said the hotel gave the villagers their first bag of rice. "If they can farm well, we give them two pigs," he said. "Then we buy the piglets to give to another family. This gives them $600-$700 -- money they've never had before."

With over 200 registered hotels and guesthouses, Siem Reap is fast becoming a tourist town and the community initiatives are helping make the hospitality here stand out.
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Will U.S. abandon Iraq the same way it did Cambodia in 1975?


In my column, "U.S. should 'remember 1975'; we don't know how Iraq will evolve" (March 28 Pacific Daily News), I wrote of British writer William Shawcross, a Vietnam war critic and author of the Pulitzer Prize nominated-book, "Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia," who was critical of how Washington expanded the war into Cambodia to "extricate" itself from Vietnam.

Extrication became a goal in and of itself, replacing the original rationale for the war to fight communist expansion.

Shawcross quoted President Nixon's national security advisor Henry Kissinger in "Sideshow": "Look, we're not interested in Cambodia ... only ... in it not being used as a base (by the Vietnamese Communists)."

Kissinger later confirmed in his own book, "White House Years" that "Cambodia was not a moral issue" for the United States in obtaining "our exit from Vietnam."

While the extent of the devastation Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge would spread across Cambodia could not have been predicted, the ruthlessness of the Khmer Rouge was not unknown prior to the Americans' exit. They left anyway. In Shawcross's words, "two million of the seven million (Cambodian) people died, either murdered by the Khmer Rouge or from starvation and disease."

Plenty has been written on Cambodia's killing fields: Not a family has been spared injury or loss.

Shawcross pleaded that America should not abandon Iraq the way she did Cambodia in 1975.

Of e-mails I received after the Shawcross article, a reader commented, "History is not a favorite subject of Americans -- unfortunately."

If history is not a guide and its lessons are discarded for the present, on what basis do we move toward the future?

Reasonable arguments abound, from reasonable people, for and against America's involvement in the Iraq war. In my March 21 column, "When it comes to Iraq war, both supporters and critics show bias," I referenced a social psychologist who said, we "are really bad about putting ourselves in other people's shoes," and are so unaccepting of others who act "in good faith" but see things differently from us.

I studied arguments from both sides of the political spectrum. The March 16 Los Angeles Times editorial, "From the terrorist's mouth," reminds us however we disagree, "there is a movement that has declared war on the U.S. and the West . . . its existence is undeniable."

The March 18 Washington Post editorial, "Lessons of War," argues, "What matters most is finding the best policy now -- doing whatever can be done to help Iraq and safeguard U.S. interests in a vital region."

The Post posits we don't know how events in Iraq will evolve, and "We will never know what might have happened had Saddam Hussein and his sons been left in power." It notes the "easy way out" by blaming Bush, Cheney, or Donald Rumsfeld, but argues, "Wars unleash unpredictable and ugly forces" and "the (Iraq) war might have spun out of control even under wiser leadership."

"It would almost be comfortable if Mr. Bush had 'lied the nation into war,' as is frequently charged," says the Post. But, "The best postwar journalism instead suggests" that Bush, his team, and the Central Intelligence Agency, "exaggerated, cherry-picked and simplified but fundamentally believed ... the catastrophically wrong case" the U.S. presented to the United Nations.

The March 31-April 6 London Economist's front page, titled cover, "Besieged," shows an armed President Bush, Secretary of State Rice, and Vice President Cheney in camouflaged uniforms behind sandbags on White House lawn. The accompanying article, editorializes, "Many people" may rejoice seeing Bush and Cheney "ducking for cover."

"But regardless of what you think about this most inept of presidencies," the editorial continues, "the current civil war in Washington has the marking of a tragedy -- both for America and for millions of people around the globe."

The Economist encourages Congress to "Carry on overseeing" and advises, "But hands off Iraq."
"Sooner or later, America will leave Iraq," says the Economist, "But it is essential that it leaves in the right way."

Last September, America's 16 spy agencies presented in a National Intelligence Estimate two bad choices for America: "perceived jihadist success (in Iraq) would inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere"; and "should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, (America's spy agencies) judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight."

Perhaps it should be recalled that when Americans left former French Indochina in 1975, the North Vietnamese victors were happy to see Americans scramble to take off in helicopters from Saigon's building rooftops. The war was "over" for them.

Will the movement -- "Whatever you call it," says the Times, "militant Islam, Islamic fascism or a clash of civilizations" -- "that has declared war on the U.S. and the West" cease its warring activities as American and "coalition" troops withdraw from Iraq?

The soul of Islam is being wrested from the majority of traditional Muslims by a small but growing influential minority of radical Muslims who quoted the Koran to justify about "slaying the infidels" -- another topic that Americans must be concerned about while Bush and the Democratic Congress are entrenched in Washington's own "civil war."

How will the war in Iraq "end?"

A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., is retired from the University of Guam, where he taught political science for 13 years. Write him at peangmeth@yahoo.com.
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Mekong River Commission launches First 24-hour Navigational Aid System In Cambodia

Phnom Penh, Cambodia
5th April 2007

The Mekong River Commission today laid the inaugural navigational buoy in Chaktomouk area in the access channel to Phnom Penh Port as the start of what will be the first 24-hour navigational aid system on the Mekong in Cambodia.

The navigational aids project is part of the MRC’s Navigation Programme which is funded by the Government of Belgium.

The buoy was released in an onboard ceremony by H.E. Mr. Sun Chanthol, Minister of Public Works and Transport, H.E. Mr. Sin Niny, Vice Chairman of the Cambodia National Mekong Committee and Chairman of the MRC Joint Committee for 2006-2007, H.E. Mr Jan Matthysen, Ambassador of Belgium to Thailand and Dr Olivier Cogels, Chief Executive Officer of the Mekong River Commission Secretariat.

Over the next six months, the Aids to Navigation on the Mekong River Project, will install 56 buoys of three types and 12 leading markers over a 100km stretch of the Mekong River. These buoys will mark a safe channel from Phnom Penh Port to the Cambodia-Viet Nam border, the busiest stretch of the Mekong in Cambodia.

The installation of this internationally recognised system of aids to navigation such as buoys, beacons and shore marks, aims to improve safety and efficiency of navigation so that sea-going vessels and inland barges can safely navigate for 24 hours a day in safety.

Shipping is being hindered by numerous shoals, sand banks, ship wrecks and other obstacles. A lack of aids to navigation is the main cause for various accidents from collisions, ships running aground, and risks for pollution, threatening the ecosystem of the river. This also results in a loss of opportunities as investors see navigation as an adventure rather than a transport mode which can provide a reliable schedule for cargo forwarders.

Pollution from spills is particularly important in this region as millions of the people in the Mekong Basin, particularly in Cambodia depend largely on the resources of the Mekong for their daily living and pollution accident could be a serious threat to their livelihoods. Proper channel marking will reduce these risks significantly.

This system will be of enormous assistance to Cambodia in increasing its export potential, as the river will become a reliable and more economic form of transport. The quality of waterborne transport will be improved, waiting times will be shortened, night navigation will be possible, and river transportation will be more cost-effective and efficient. A cost benefit study has shown that up to US$45 million can be saved per year in transport costs is the Mekong River can be used to transport containers between Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City, but also directly to ports such as Singapore and Hong Kong.”

This stretch of the river is part of the international shipping route that connects Phnom Penh Port with the sea whilst passing through the delta in Viet Nam. Although international shipping from countries outside the Basin to and from Cambodia and Viet Nam on the Mekong River System exists, there is great potential for increased maritime shipping.

This initiative should assist in supporting the overall development of navigation on the Mekong.

The CEO of the Mekong River commission Secretariat Dr Olivier Cogels said this initial installation project was part of the MRC’s bigger plans to open up the Mekong and reduce physical and non-physical barriers to free navigation. As part of its mandate, the Navigation Programme is in the process of facilitating a Navigation Agreement between Cambodia and Viet Nam and establishing a legal framework between those two countries Nam which will facilitate passage of vessels and cargo, and boost confidence among investors.

This new navigational aids system will also form a basis for new commitments and closer cooperation between Cambodia and Viet Nam as well as opening up more trade opportunities between the two countries.

The Mekong River Commission, through the Navigation Programme is the Executing Agency of the Installation of Aids to Navigation Project. The 12-month project started in November 2006 and is being implemented by Australian Maritime Systems Ltd in cooperation with Phnom Penh Autonomous Port and the Waterways Department of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport. The equipment is manufactured by Mobilis Co Ltd (France) and distributed by Tempest Co Ltd. (Belgium).

The project will use Jet 2500, BC 1242 and Trackless buoys.
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German arrested in Cambodia for child sex abuse

PHNOM PENH - A German man has been arrested for alleged sexual abuse of a 13-year-old Cambodian street girl, an anti-trafficking official said on Monday.

Walter Munz, a 62-year-old tourist from Stuttgart, was detained on Sunday after police raided his guesthouse room in the capital Phnom Penh, said Keo Thea, deputy chief of the municipal anti-trafficking police.

When officers burst into the room, they found the German man in his underwear with the girl, Keo Thea said.

Munz was arrested on charges of debauchery -- a statute covering a broad range of sex offences that carry possible jail time of between 10 and 20 years.

“He met with the girl some days ago along the riverside and convinced the girl and her parents that he would help the girl study English,” Keo Thea said.

He said Munz had paid the girl’s family 20 US dollars a week for two weeks, notionally to pay for daily expenses, and had taken the 13-year-old to and from school each day.

The girl told police that Munz forced her to have sex with him many times.She said that she reported the abuse to her mother, who did not believe her.

Keo Thea said Munz, who entered Cambodia in 2006, had also committed sexual abuse against children in his home country.

He will be sent to court to face formal charges on Monday or Tuesday.

Last month, Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced two German men to 28 and 12 years in prison on charges of human trafficking and abusing several Vietnamese girls as young as 10.

Around two dozen foreigners have been jailed or deported to face trial in their home countries for child sex crimes since 2003.

But officials, including foreign diplomats, have begun urging authorities to target Cambodian sex offenders as well as Westerners.
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Record high production fuels Cambodia's dream of rice exporters' coalition

As its rice production in 2006 hit record high in a decade, Cambodia's dream to build a rice exporters' coalition aimed at sharing more profits and procuring economic power has been fueled.

Cambodia, a traditional agricultural country with rice as its major crop and staple food, harvested more than 6,264,000 tons of rice in 2006, which is about 4 percent up compared with the previous year, a senior government official said on Monday.

"The rice production in 2006 broke the record of Cambodia in a decade," Chan Sarun, minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, told reporters in an annual meeting of ministry.

The rice production increased because of good weather and irrigation system, he said, adding that Cambodian farmers understood better about farming and chose correct seeds for planting.

Meanwhile, market also responded positively in 2006 as rice price jumped to a range between 120 U.S. dollars and 135 U.S. dollars per ton, while seeds of top-quality fragrant rice were sold at 180 U.S. dollars per ton, according to statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries of Cambodia.

However, Pu Kea, chairman of the Rice Hulling Mills' Association in Battambang province, said that huge profits went to the exporters from Malaysia, Singapore and African countries, while the farmers and the mill owners could only make limited incomes from simple processing procedures.

Pu Kea found echo with Prime Minister Hun Sen, in his perception of the kingdom's awkward situation of giving profits to foreigners instead of its own planters and processors.

Back to Dec. 20, 2006, as part of his efforts to turn the table, Hun Sen called on Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam to join hands with Cambodia to form an association of rice exporting countries to stabilize rice price and share more profits from rice sales.

An association of the rice exporting countries along the Mekong River could be important for the world market, he said, adding that the association was somewhat like the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

The association could have say in rice price adjustment and play a role in balancing OPEC's influence, he said.

"If they want cheaper rice, then they should decrease oil prices," he added.

Annual rice exports in the region of the Mekong River stand at over 10 million tons, almost half of the world's annual rice exports.

Source: Xinhua.
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Cambodia trains 4,700 vets for preventing bird flu

The Cambodian Agriculture Ministry and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have been cooperating to train about 4,700 vets and villagers for reeducating people to prevent bird flu, FAO officials said on Monday.

They were chosen to give the messages about preventing bird flu to villagers in rural areas, said Yon Fernandez, coordinator of bird flu project from FAO to Cambodia.

Meanwhile, the FAO, in cooperation with the relevant Cambodian ministries, will hold marches to raise public awareness of bird flu in districts throughout eight provinces from April 9 to 12.

"We chose all these provinces to raise the awareness of people for the danger of bird flu," Yon told Xinhua by phone.

Bird flu initially broke out in Cambodia in January 2004 and affected its eight provinces, including Kompong Cham, Prey Veng, Kandal and Phnom Penh.

The disease has killed seven Cambodians, and the latest toll occurred on Thursday.

Source: Xinhua.
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