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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Australia gives US$1.2 million for bird flu education in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: The Australian government gave Cambodia US$1.2 million (€880,000) on Wednesday to help raise awareness about the risks of bird flu.

Knowledge about the deadly H5N1 virus has increased rapidly in Cambodia, but backyard poultry farming — a way of life for most rural families — still poses an enormous challenge for the country, Australian Ambassador Margaret Adamson said at a signing ceremony Wednesday.

The money will be used by the United Nations Children's Fund for its ongoing project producing bird flu awareness posters, billboards, and radio and television spots.

Last year, the Australian government also gave UNICEF US$765,000 (€562,290) for the same purpose.

Suomi Sakai, UNICEF's country representative, said the existence of backyard poultry farms near living quarters increases the potential for transmission of the H5N1 virus.

"We know that bio-security remains poor in Cambodia," Sakai said.

Even though awareness about the virus is now higher than before, "we need to remain extremely vigilant all year-round," she added.

Bird flu has killed at least 172 people worldwide since it began its spread through Asian poultry in 2003, according to WHO.

Seven people have died from the virus in Cambodia. The latest was the death of a 13-year-old girl last month.
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Cambodia boosts bird flu awareness effort

Phnom Penh - Cambodia will boost its bird flu awareness efforts, officials said on Wednesday amid fears that education campaigns are doing little to change people's behaviour around potentially sick birds.

"While awareness of avian influenza is growing, risky behaviour still remains high among adults and children," said United Nations resident co-ordinator Douglas Gardner in a speech distributed during a ceremony for the new communication initiatives.

"This will be the next big communication challenge. Knowing how the virus is spread must move to the actual behaviour of washing hands and actually keeping children away from sick birds," he added.

Australia's aid agency AusAID on Wednesday committed $1,2-million (about R8,5-million) to Unicef for the new campaign, which hopes to teach people how to keep the H5N1 virus in check.

"It is necessary to ... work more closely at the community level, to induce and reinforce behavioural change," said Unicef's representative Suomi Sakai.

Cambodia has been praised by the United Nations for its rapid action against bird flu, which has helped spare it from the human and poultry deaths suffered by its neighbours.

But health officials also warn that the virus could go undetected in the countless small family farms where most of Cambodia's poultry are raised.

Seven bird flu deaths have been confirmed in Cambodia since 2003, the most recent occurring last month.

"This (fatality) shows that we all must have a strong commitment and pay much more attention. ... The problem remains a threat for us," said Cambodian Health Minister Nuth Sokhom.
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Holocaust in Cambodia

Fatal war news from Phnom Penh came 32 years ago. The Khmer Rouge was taking power and control of Cambodia, and U.S. personnel were being evacuated in Operation Eagle Pull.

On a soccer field near the U.S. embassy, steely-eyed Marines stood guard while long lines of personnel loaded helicopters headed for safer ground. Only a matter of time separated departure from roaring trucks carrying brutal Khmer Rouge killers -- firing guns into the air -- rolling into city square. Theirs would be an epitaph of evil as a warm dust wind warned of a new liberation, Communist-style.

For five long years, the American government promised freedom and democracy to farmers, carpenters, ditch diggers and religious monks. It promised education, new homes and a better way of life.

For 300 days before the fall, I was a Navy lieutenant and SEAL, one of the first charged with high-level diplomatic politics inside a war zone. I watched the steady decline of Khmer government optimism, sagging spirits of Cambodian troops and the shutdown of vital war stocks, caused by politics inside cold Senate walls.

Congress whittled down the embassy presence to just 200. Besieged by rocket fire day and night, military attaches entered bullet-saturated combat zones to advise and encourage Cambodian forces. Without the American presence, indigenous forces would have imploded much sooner.

Congress found cruelty to U.S. personnel by cutting daily ration funds. Bug-filled bread was a daily consumable and tainted vegetables required soaking in Clorox. Fresh meats or poultry were nearly nonexistent. No other food was available.

Inside the local Hotel Phnom, however, reporters, writers from the national press corps, enjoyed delicacies under glass served by young boys in formal attire. Cigars and whiskies made their existence possible. They hunted and scoured the countryside for the opportunity to snap any American speaking in advisory tones.

Then-President Ford pleaded with an unforgiving Congress that more time was needed to stabilize Cambodia and that cutting off military funding would send the wrong signal to the Khmer Rouge and the North Vietnamese. According to records, CIA intelligence estimates meant first for the eyes of the president and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger instead found their way to Senate committees, distracting and undermining intentions of the White House.

Not unlike Iraq today, American involvement in Cambodia brought home the ugliness of war, associated ravages, revenge, innocents dying, crime, corruption and untold death. I observed the misguided B-52 strike on Neak Loung province, where Route One meets the Mekong River. Here, devastation left behind by mistaken secret bombing, intended to thwart North Vietnamese border movements, cemented disdain for American involvement and promises broken.

Absent from the Khmer landscape were the roads, schools and key infrastructure promised by the American-installed government.

The Cambodian people themselves were gentle if not undisciplined in many ways. They were religious and faithful to their families. The Khmer Rouge had no patience with these ways. Instead, it turned Asian values into forced labor and execution.

In February 1975, the CIA's National Intelligence Estimate painted a dismal picture of hope and survivability for the Cambodian people. Without further supplies of 600 tons a day on the Mekong, or a military breakthrough against the Khmer Rouge, the Cambodian government would collapse before June, it concluded. The Pentagon disagreed.
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