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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Cambodia risks new AIDS epidemic despite fall in infection rate

Phnom Penh - Complacency amongst donors and the Cambodian public as HIV/AIDS infection rates dipped were putting the country at risk of a fresh epidemic, a senior UN official said Sunday. The English-language Cambodia Weekly quoted UNAIDS country coordinator Tony Lisle as saying both his organization and the Health Ministry feared a fresh outbreak because although infection rates were declining, risk behaviors were not.

"Cambodia now faces a very real danger of falling into the same trap some of its neighbours did a few years ago. It's crucial for everyone to realize that it costs as much to stabilize an epidemic as it does to reduce one," the paper quoted Lisle as saying.

Lisle's comments followed a ministry announcement last week that the official national estimate of HIV prevalence stood at 0.9 per cent among adults.

That estimate meant that almost one in 100 Cambodians aged 15 to 49 years is living with HIV infection, but represented a decline from the last official estimate of 1.2 percent from 2003, according to a the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology, and Sexually Transmitted Diseases website.

"Although HIV prevalence in Cambodia has declined considerably, approximately 65,000 Cambodian adults are living with HIV. New HIV infections, as well as deaths from AIDS among people with HIV infection, continue to occur," the government cautioned.

It said the recent decline was a long-term consequence of a dramatic fall in new HIV infections estimated to have started in the late 1990s.

"These programs need to be sustained to make a long lasting impact on the lives of thousand of Cambodians," the statement said. "Continued support from national and international partners is necessary to sustain and accelerate the national response to HIV/AIDS and to prevent a resurgent epidemic in the future."

Lisle warned against a false sense of security due to the new figures, pointing out that recent surveys showed that injecting-drug use was on the rise, and that although fewer men now visited brothels, a "sweetheart" culture of semi-long term but not monogamous sexual relationships had grown.

Around 60 percent of women in high-risk groups such as drug users who had a regular sweetheart did not insist on condom use, Lisle said.

"We could be on the verge of a new epidemic where injecting-drug users form the bridge of infection to the general population," he said. "With such risky behavior still going on, we need to strengthen our prevention programmes."
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Government Inaugurates New Parliament Building

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA: Cambodia officially unveiled on Saturday (July 7th) its new National Assembly building, which stands adjacent to a casino on prime real estate in the capital Phnom Penh.

King Norodom Sihamoni inaugurated the US$26 million (€19 million) new lower house of parliament at a ceremony which also marked the 60th anniversary of the country's legislative body.

The new complex, with 159 offices for the 123 lawmakers in the National Assembly, is 10 times the size of the one it replaced.

It is also next to a casino.

"It shows that the power of gambling is more influential than the power of the legislature," Son Chhay, a lawmaker from the main opposition Sam Rainsy Party, said.

"The lawmakers are now being looked down on by the casino building, which is a symbol of evil," he said, adding that he skipped the ceremony Saturday out of his disappointment with the new building being located next to a casino.

Some 5,000 people, including government dignitaries and diplomats, attended the ceremony. (AP)
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Cambodian PM comes to India on Sunday

India and Cambodia are set to intensify economic, energy and cultural ties when Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen comes in the Capital on Sunday on a three-day state visit.

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, Defence Minister Tea Banh and Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh will accompany Hun Sen in his first trip to India after seven years.

Building upon their historical and cultural ties, India and Cambodia, a member of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), are expected to sign a clutch of agreements in areas of energy, defence and culture.

An agreement on cooperation and technical assistance between the National Petroleum Authority of Cambodia and the Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC) of India is likely to be signed in the presence of Hun Sen and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday.

Agreements on prisoner exchange and defence cooperation are also expected to be signed.

India is involved in an array of developmental and human resource training projects in Cambodia like the Cambodia-India Entrepreneurship Development Centre and Museum of Traditional Asian Textiles.

India is a key provider of IT services to Cambodia and Indian companies are teaching Cambodians English at various centres.

Hun Sen also goes to Kolkata before heading back home on Wednesday morning.

In the cultural arena, India has been in the forefront of helping Cambodia in conserving the Angkor Wat temple complex - hailed as a marvel of centuries-old Khmer culture that reveals a distinct imprint of Hindu traditions in the Buddhist nation.

New Delhi has also agreed to work on the conservation and restoration of Ta Prom, another temple complex in the Angkor Park area, at a cost of $5 million.

Hun Sen's visit underscores India's growing ties with ASEAN countries as it continues its diplomatic efforts to expand engagement with this region.

Hun Sen comes to India a day after Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung ended a three-day visit. Thai Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont visited India last month. That was preceded by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee's trip to Singapore and the Philippines.
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