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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Observer Trip Showcases Health Programs in Vietnam and Cambodia

by Shilpika Das , Special to RedCross.org

Wednesday, April 18, 2007 — American Red Cross Board of Governors members, National Celebrity Cabinet member Elisabeth Rohm, and Senior Vice President of International Services David Meltzer will visit Red Cross programs in Vietnam and Cambodia April 23-28. They will witness first-hand the programs supported by the American Red Cross and its local Red Cross partners, which are improving the health of mothers, children and their families.

Since March 2004, the American Red Cross has partnered with the Vietnam Red Cross Society (VNRC) to improve the development of school children and support projects focusing on school feeding, school-based nutrition, and hygiene education. Through the Vietnam Education and Child Nutrition Initiative, the American Red Cross and VNRC has helped improve the overall academic performance of primary school children at 126 poor, rural schools in Vietnam by reducing hunger. Malnutrition rates have dropped from 45 percent to 20 percent over the school year. Sufficient nutrition and health education is key to keeping children healthy and alert so they can learn in school and contribute to the development of their country later in life.

The partnership has already benefited more than 50,000 school children and 40,000 families. Building on its success in four provinces of Central Vietnam, the project was expanded in 2006 to six provinces – including two remote mountainous provinces in the north.

In Cambodia, the American Red Cross and the Cambodian Red Cross have been working together since the 1990s to address the needs of the most vulnerable people in Cambodia. In 2004, the American Red Cross and its local partner implemented the Integrated Child Health Project in Siem Reap – an area with one of the highest child morbidity and mortality rates in Southeast Asia. The project aims to reduce childhood morbidity and mortality with a focus on health education for families in rural Cambodia. The program directly benefits more than 33,500 children under five years of age and more than 52,700 women of reproductive age.

The American Red Cross continues to help increase community access to health information, services, and products through an expanded network of more than 2,200 Cambodian Red Cross volunteers.

Led by American Red Cross field experts, the observers will visit these project sites, and also witness the Vietnamese Red Cross Society's work on typhoon relief, blood collections and services for people living with HIV and AIDS. In Cambodia, they will visit a program that teaches expectant mothers to identify the five danger signs of problems during pregnancy. This program is responsible for saving lives of mothers and their newborns by teaching them health interventions and when to seek immediate medical attention.

The trip will give the observers an opportunity to witness American Red Cross programs in action – and the positive change that generous contributions from donors, partnerships and media coverage can create.

For more information, visit www.redcross.org. For media inquiries, contact Carol Miller at millerca@usa.redcross.org or 202-345-6163 .

As part of the world's largest humanitarian network, the American Red Cross alleviates the suffering of victims of war, disaster and other international crises, and works with other Red Cross and Red Crescent societies to improve chronic, life-threatening conditions in developing nations. We reconnect families separated by emergencies and educate the American public about international humanitarian law. This assistance is made possible through the generosity of the American public.
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Travelling down the Mekong in Vietnam and Cambodia

The mighty Mekong river runs nearly 5,000 km through Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam and while it may not be the longest river in Asia, it is certainly the most beautiful.

The river flows into the South China Sea just south of Saigon, known today as Ho Chi Minh City, and its delta is the starting point for many cruises.

It is not possible to navigate the entire length of the Mekong since the Sambor rapids prevent further passage. Luckily, the confluence with the Toble Sap, the river's main tributary, is just above Phnom Penh and ships can use it to reach the celebrated temple complex of Angkor Wat.

Gliding along the lower reaches of the Mekong offers the visitor broad tableaux of local everyday life. Only two cruise vessels ply this section, the Tonle Pandaw and the Mekong Pandaw, which can carry 66 or 64 passengers. Those who have booked a trip upriver, board their ship in My Tho in Vietnam, some 60 km south of Saigon.

The journey unfolds past mangrove forests and green rice paddies, offering glimpses of many villages and cottage industries along the way. Now and then, the ships pass a bathing spot where children enjoy a dip while their mothers wash clothes and crockery in the water. There are hardly any roads here, the river is the main transport artery and that explains why it is so busy. Motorboats dart past canoes being paddled from bank to bank while the traditional sampan wooden cargo boat is a common sight.

When it runs close to larger towns and cities the Mekong becomes even livelier. Take the bustling town of Cai Be, where the big river cruisers tie up at the dockside. A maze of canals, it boasts many gardens, some temples and a church but no streets to speak of.

The floating market is the main attraction here and it lures farmers from the outlying districts who trade their wares straight from the deck of a sampan.

Chau Doc is another hive of activity. A huge dockside market selling local produce and commodities dominates the town on the border with Cambodia. The fresh food booths offer anything from dried fish to peeled grapefruit or even frog's legs for the gourmet.

Beyond the border there are fewer settlements and houses alongside the river compared with the stretch inside Vietnam. The Cambodian riverside is less busy until shortly before Phnom Penh. This energetic city is the largest settlement along the river. The waterside is dominated by relics of the past; pagodas and palaces attract the eye alongside handsome villas built in the French colonial style.

The best place to muse over artefacts of the Khmer culture is the National Museum, whose riches were fortunately not plundered during the murderous reign of the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979. It is best to set aside a whole day to admire the many statues and bas-reliefs. The huge central market erected in the art deco style is also well worth a visit along with the Royal Palace.

The horrors of Cambodia's recent past can be seen at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. After a tour of the former Pol Pot torture chambers, the proverbial gentleness and friendliness of the Cambodians seems all the more astonishing.

Beyond Phnom Penh, the cruise ship leaves the Mekong to chug up the Tonle Sap. This river is unique since for half of the year, starting from the rainy season in June, it reverses its flow. From November onwards, the normal flow to the river mouth is resumed.

On the northern shore of Tonle Sap lake is the booming provincial town of Siem Reap. The most compelling reason to come here is to visit Angkor Wat, one of the world's most spectacular ancient temples. The complex has been on UNESCO's list of world cultural monuments since 1992.

Around 1,000 relics lie strewn across this vast site stretching across some 200 square km. Visitors can book individual tours or explore on their own. Those with only a few days to spare should concentrate on Angkor Wat, the world's largest religious structure, and plan trips to the overgrown city of Angkor Thom and the Ta Phrom temple district.

Both world culture and subculture are catered for in Siem Reap, which offers a wide range of bars and clubs in the centre, one street is even called Bar Street. One of the establishments is the Red Piano Bar where actress Angelina Jolie was a guest when she filmed the movie 'Tomb Raider' in Angkor in 2001. It comes, as no surprise that the most popular drink here is Tomb Raider Cocktail.
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Controversial Cambodian to Visit U.S.


Hok Lundy, the Notorious Criminal Mafia of Cambodia meet the luck from FBI, words: Criminals are always lucky. Hok Lundy is a Vietnamese High Ranking Officer who remained in Cambodia to hold power for Communist Vietnam. He and others high ranking Vietnamese are continueing to steer Cambodia in all level of government.

By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 18, 2007; Page A21

A U.S. visa application by Cambodia's police chief provoked a rancorous argument inside the Bush administration because of the official's alleged links to an act of terrorism and to trafficking in women. But the State Department decided to permit Hok Lundy to travel here this week for counterterrorism meetings with senior officials at the FBI, U.S. officials and others disclosed yesterday.

The decision was a policy reversal for the department, which last year told Lundy, a longtime aide to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, he would not get a visa to attend a U.S. police conference. John Miller, then head of the State Department's anti-trafficking office, said at the time that the threatened denial was based on "reports and allegations concerning his role in trafficking in persons."

But Lundy's visa approval is just the latest step in the restoration of his reputation in Washington, which U.S. officials ascribe to his support for the counterterrorism effort. Earlier this month, Lundy boasted of helping to arrest members of the militant Islamic group Jemaah Islamiyah, designated by the Bush administration as a terrorist organization. Two weeks ago, the FBI announced the opening of its first permanent office in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh.

"This is kind of a hold-your-nose deal," said a senior U.S. official who was not authorized to speak for attribution. The U.S. Embassy in Cambodia, the State Department's East Asia bureau, the Justice Department and the FBI pushed for the visa approval, while the State Department's human rights and anti-trafficking offices strongly urged the application's rejection, two U.S. officials said. R. Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, cast the deciding vote.

Lundy is not the first foreign official implicated in human rights abuses to be welcomed by U.S. counterterrorism officials. Sudan's intelligence chief, Salah Abdala Gosh, visited Washington in 2005 as a guest of the CIA, despite his alleged links to war crimes in Darfur being investigated by the International Criminal Court. Although the administration has called him an ally in the counterterrorism fight, the United Nations last year put Gosh's name on a list of Sudanese officials who it said should be sanctioned for crimes by subordinates.

The decision to admit Lundy nonetheless provoked dismay and anger among human rights groups and others. "This is a guy who should be the target of U.S. law enforcement operations and not a partner," said Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "It sends a miserable message."

Pressed to explain the decision, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said yesterday: "I know that there are a lot of allegations, and I'm not trying to discount those allegations. The key here is that there's no -- in the review of the visa application, there was no legal bar to his being granted a visa." Essentially, he added, "it comes down to a policy judgment, and the policy judgment in this case was he was scheduled to attend a conference or a meeting with the FBI concerning counterterrorism issues."

"I wouldn't be surprised if there was a healthy discussion about this matter," McCormack said. An FBI spokesman declined to comment, saying he was under instructions to refer calls to the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia. McCormack said, in turn, that only the FBI could say why it is necessary to bring Lundy here. The Cambodian Embassy in Washington did not return phone calls. A woman who answered the phone at its United Nations mission said no one there was authorized to speak about Lundy or his visit.

Lundy's reputation initially suffered because of evidence -- detailed in a classified FBI report described by four U.S. officials -- linking his police forces to a March 1997 grenade attack on a Phnom Penh rally organized by a political opponent of Hun Sen. It killed more than 20 and wounded 150, including an American employed by the International Republican Institute. Lundy's response, on Hun Sen's order, was to arrest those who organized the otherwise peaceful rally.

His reputation took another hit in 2004, when a police unit conducted a major raid against a notorious Cambodian brothel and it was -- Miller said -- "reversed within hours," with the managers freed, dozens of women forcibly returned to the brothel and the head of an anti-trafficking group "roughed up." Some U.S. officials concluded from the event that Lundy was profiting from trafficking; he denies that.

"Do you think this just happens by accident?" asked Miller, U.S. ambassador-at-large on modern-day slavery from 2002 until last December. "All of this could only have happened with the approval of the chief of police. He's not the sort of person I would want to issue a visa to, based on what I know." A U.S. official said the brothel has since been closed, and that at least one local anti-trafficking group has endorsed Lundy's trip.

Stephen Morris, a Cambodian scholar and research fellow at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said: "If this was done because somehow or other Cambodia was in the throes of a radical Islamic insurgency and you needed every hand on deck to fight it, you could make a case. But this is not the case. There is no jihadist threat emanating from Cambodia. All that's threatening the United States from Cambodia are drugs, which pass on their way to Western destinations under the supervision of high regime officials."

Staff researchers Madonna Lebling and Julie Tate contributed to this report.
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