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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Russia set to sign WTO accession protocol with Cambodia soon

MOSCOW, July 17 (RIA Novosti) - Russia intends to sign documents on its accession to the World Trade Organization with Cambodia in the near future, a government official said Tuesday.

Russia signed a protocol on the conclusion of bilateral talks for its entry into the global trade body with Guatemala on June 26, with Vietnam on July 6, and now has to complete negotiations with Cambodia, and reach agreements with Georgia and Saudi Arabia.

"We have agreed with Cambodia and we'll sign all the documents in coming weeks," said Andrei Kushnirenko, director of the department for trade negotiations at the Russian Ministry for Economic Development and Trade.

Russia, the largest economy outside the 150-member bloc, expects membership to boost market reforms and ensure better transparency, while providing a secure business environment for trade and investment. Membership will also help the country diversify its economy, participate in projects to develop future common trade rules, and safeguard its interests.

Kushnirenko also said a new round of Russia's WTO accession talks with Saudi Arabia would take place in Geneva on July 23.
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Cambodia issues directive limiting activities of Christian groups

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: Cambodia's government has issued a directive limiting proselytizing and other activities by Christians, officials said Tuesday.

Christians are not allowed to promote their religion in public places, or use money or other means to persuade people to convert, the directive says. It does not mention other religions.

"They can do any activity inside their institutions, but are not allowed to go door-to-door," said Sun Kim Hun, deputy minister of cult and religion.

He said the directive, dated June 26 but distributed Tuesday, follows similar proclamations in 1999 and 2003 and is a reminder to Christian groups not to conduct activities against the law.

There were fewer than 70,000 Christians and about 170 churches in Cambodia in 2006, according to government figures. More than 90 percent of Cambodia's nearly 14 million people are Buddhist.

Cambodian Buddhists are generally tolerant of other religions. But last year, about 300 Buddhist villagers, apparently angered by a rival faith within their community, razed a partially built Christian church.

The mob chanted "Destroy the church!" and "Long live Buddhism!" as it descended upon the unfinished Protestant church near Phnom Penh.

Also last year, a group of Christian worshippers was caught distributing candy and cakes to young poor people in the countryside and trying to convert them, Sun Kim Hun said. Such activities are illegal under the directive.

Nhean Song, a Cambodian pastor with the Union Church in Phnom Penh, said none of its 300 members has broken the directive, but he knows members of other churches have.

"We will follow the directive, we have no purpose to do anything against the Cambodian government," he said.
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Curtain call for an icon of Cambodia's artistic recuperation

Cambodian artists training at the burnt-out Basac theather in Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh's Bassac Theatre has been drummer Nop Sambona's home since the Khmer Rouge were pushed from power 28 years ago, leaving behind a ruined country, its singers, dancers and musicians among the 1.7 million people murdered by the regime.

PHNOM PENH (AFP) - Those who survived the apocalypse unleashed by the Khmer Rouge, which was particularly brutal in pursuing of Cambodia's artists, trickled back into the city and began trying to rebuild their lives.

The theatre became the soul of this battered community, a bright spot in an otherwise dead world that evoked a cultural richness which would never be fully revived.

Nearly three decades on that bright spot is dimming as the site on which Cambodia's national theatre sits has been leased to a private developer and the building doomed to be razed.

Its artists, who have soldiered on against darkness, wet and neglect since a fire gutted the auditorium and stage area in 1994, were offered 300 dollars each and told last month to leave.

"This place has produced hundreds of artists. The theatre produced the nation's great culture," says Nop Sambona, taking a break from what will be one of the last rehearsals to resonate through the Bassac's now derelict performance hall.
"It's a landmark. We're so sorry that we've lost it," he says, gesturing over his shoulder at the Bassac's flame-blackened foyer.

Constructed in 1966, the 1,200-seat Bassac was designed by Vann Molyvann, Cambodia's most famous modern architect, as a monument to Cambodia's thriving performing arts scene.

It is not hard to imagine the capital's elite, dressed in elegant evening wear, gliding through the Bassac's imposing triangular foyer and up the cantilevered staircases suspended over shallow pools of water, about to view a performance of the Royal Ballet.

The Bassac was one of dozens of gems built by Vann Molyvann, whose wide boulevards and stunning public buildings transformed Phnom Penh from a tiny backwater into a graceful capital during Cambodia's short period of prosperity in the 1950s and 1960s.

The era, known as the Sangkum Reastr Niyum, or Cambodia's "golden age," also spurred on a strong revival in performing arts, with the Bassac at its heart.
Cambodian artists were training at a burnt out Basac theater.

"During the Sangkum Reastr Niyum, the government considered the theatre a part of our national heritage," an angry Vann Molyvann says. "Heritage cannot be sold, changed or denied -- now they are destroying it. Now they've sold our national heritage to a famed businessman."

Khim Sarith, secretary of state at the Ministry of Culture, says the site had been leased to Cambodian tycoon Kith Meng, who plans to develop a "cultural building".

In an earlier deal struck in 2005, Cambodia's culture ministry ceded land around the Bassac on the condition that the theatre be renovated, retaining its original name and architecture.

Kith Meng was to get an undisclosed amount of property around the theatre in exchange for building a conference centre and office blocks.

But Khim Sarith explains that the government is unable to afford the "millions of dollars" it would cost to restore the Bassac.

"The theatre will be knocked down because it is burned and is old," he says.

"There is nothing there," he says, adding the new theatre that Kith Meng has agreed to build elsewhere in exchange for the property "will be better than the old one".

Buth Choeun, chief of administration at the culture ministry's performing art department, says the theatre's state of decay has made it increasingly dangerous to work in.

"If we stay here it will be difficult for us -- we fear the old walls will fall on us," he says.
The Basac Theater in Phnom penh ot Cambodia thought to be sold to rich businessman.

Vann Molyvann is not satisfied by the deal.

"They do not care about heritage," he says. "I am very worried. I have no hope that Cambodian artists can spread our culture anymore -- Cambodian culture will die.

"The land prices at that site have reached more than 1,000 dollars per square metre (yard). So it's no longer about national heritage."

Ieng Sithul, director of the Khmer Actress Association, says the proposed site for the new theatre is "not suitable," suggesting instead that the Bassac be restored.

"If the old site has a beautiful theatre, it will help add value to our culture," he says.

But like all of those facing eviction, he is heartbroken about the end of the Bassac.

"We have nothing but regret. We have only sympathy for the theatre and can only say goodbye to our poor home."

In the background Nop Sambona has begun rehearsing again, his drumming heard from behind a glass window on which someone in a desperate effort to stave off the inevitable has scrawled" "Please help to preserve, don't destroy."
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Trial set in overseas child sex case

By MARYCLAIRE DALE, Associated Press Writer

PHILADELPHIA - Seven years ago, Russian courts convicted a wealthy American motel owner of molesting children, sent him to prison, then expelled him from the country.

Bianchi, 44, of North Wildwood, N.J., faces trial beginning Monday under a controversial federal law aimed at thwarting "sex tourism." He is accused in this country of committing crimes — assaulting nearly a dozen minors — on foreign soil.

So far, however, only one federal appeals court — the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — has reviewed the law, upholding it in a 2-1 ruling. The U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear an appeal of that decision.

"It is a very unusual theory to say that you can prosecute an American citizen in this country for actions taken completely in another country," said Rory Little, a former federal prosecutor and Justice Department official who is now a University of California law professor. "This is not a crime against America, although it‘s a crime against universal morality."

The 9th Circuit case involved Michael L. Clark, a 70-year-old Seattle man who in 2004 became the first person prosecuted under the law. He pleaded guilty to molesting boys in Cambodia, while reserving the right to challenge the law itself, and is serving a 97-month sentence.

"To do this in a foreign country, you have to send an investigator over there, and that person has to make contacts in the community. That may not be possible, given the language differences and cultural differences," said Michael Filipovic, an assistant federal public defender in Seattle.

"Americans go to these countries and create a pretty bad image," Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Levy said. "A hundred dollars can buy a lot of food for a pretty long time for a lot of these families. ... This is the kind of case that shows why there‘s a need for this (law)."
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