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Monday, September 10, 2007

WHO warns over complacency on bird flu

JEJU ISLAND, South Korea (AFP) — The World Health Organisation warned Monday against complacency in the fight against bird flu, saying another human influenza pandemic is inevitable sooner or later.

"I am often asked if the effort invested in pandemic preparedness is a waste of resources," director general Margaret Chan told a regional meeting of the world organisation.

"Has public health cried wolf too often and too loudly?" she said in a speech.

"Not at all. Pandemics are recurring events. We do not know whether the H5N1 (avian influenza) virus will cause the next pandemic. But we do know this: the world will experience another influenza pandemic sooner or later."

WHO regional director Shigeru Omi noted that bird flu deaths in the Western Pacific -- which excludes Indonesia -- had fallen from 19 two years ago to five in the past year.

But he said the virus was still "entrenched" in several countries.

"Because the virus continues to evolve and mutate, we must maintain constant vigilance," he said.

Speed would be the key in handling any human pandemic triggered by bird flu, he said.

"If a human pandemic associated with avian influenza were to break out in the region, rapid containment would be our highest priority. Such an effort would require the massive deployment of antiviral drugs, personal protection equipment and other supplies."

A stockpile was established in Singapore in April with the support of Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, he noted, urging members to consider using military transport planes to move equipment to affected areas.

Takeshi Kasai, WHO regional adviser for communicable disease surveillance and response, reiterated that the main fear is of H5N1 mutating into a forum easily transmissable between humans.

He told AFP in an interview that past experience and data indicated it might be high time for a new human global influenza outbreak, following pandemics in 1968, 1953 and 1918.

"Sadly, the H5 virus is mutating and changing very rapidly. Usually the bird flu virus changes slowly but this one changes very, very fast," he said.

Kasai said it was unclear if this was an indication that it could mutate into a form easily transmissible between humans. "But these are the facts that make the WHO concerned."

"I'm sure if people are ready, its impact would be low, but if they are not, there would be big disasters."

Omi in his speech noted progress in fighting other regional diseases. He said the Western Pacific had become the only WHO region to meet intermediate 2005 targets for tuberculosis control.

It was also making progress against HIV/AIDS, with prevalance among adults falling in some countries. In Cambodia the percentage had fallen from above two percent in 1998 to around 0.9 percent now.

Deaths from malaria continued to fall but drug-resistant strains hampered control efforts, Omi said. And dengue fever and dengue haemmorhagic fever remained "major public health problems" in many regional countries.

He noted a massive outbreak in Cambodia this year, with more than 30,000 infections and 327 deaths. Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam also reported increased cases this year.

Omi said the Western Pacific "continues to bear a disporoportionate share of the world's suicide burden." The WHO had begun a project to counter the trend in partnership with the Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention.
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Cambodia arrest USA man for drugs

Phnom Penh (dpa) - Cambodian police said Monday that they had arrested a US national accused of possessing methamphetamines and not having a valid passport.

Phnom Penh Foreigner Police Chief Mom Sitha gave the man's name as Daniel Jakob Thoreaux Division, 39.

"He was arrested ... because he was sleepy on the street and behaving strangely," Sitha said. "Police found a small amount of methamphetamines on him as well as equipment for smoking drugs and a set of scales."

Sitha said it was unclear why the man was carrying scales because the amount of drugs was only enough for personal use but investigations were continuing. He said the American was detained over the weekend.

After we arrested him, we also found he had no passport, which is another serious charge," he added.

Sitha said Division was expected to face court Tuesday on the drugs charges and he was still awaiting orders regarding the immigration charges.

The 39-year-old could face a prison term as Cambodia continues to crack down on a growing methamphetamine problem, although deportation was also a possibility because of the small amount in his possession.

If the court finds he has a case to answer, Division might be detained up to six months under Cambodian law as he awaits trial.

Authorities did not reveal the exact amount of drugs recovered.
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RIGHTS-CAMBODIA: Will Sihanouk Appear at Khmer Rouge Trials?

By Marwaan Macan-Markar

BANGKOK, Sep 10 (IPS) - Cambodia’s colourful former king Norodom Sihanouk has emerged as the central figure in the latest controversy to plague the special tribunal established to prosecute the surviving members of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime.

And the 85-year-old royal, who has carved a name for himself as a man who relishes the spotlight, has waded into the dispute in his own inimitable way. He chose to reveal his thoughts on the question that has gripped Phnom Penh: whether Sihanouk should or should not be called to appear before the United Nations-backed war crimes trial.

On Aug. 30 he took his first thrust by issuing an unusual invitation to the U.N. officials associated with the tribunal, including the international spokesman for the tribunal, Peter Foster, to visit the palace for a conversation on ‘’the affairs of the Khmer Rouge and Sihanouk.’’ The means of communicating the invitation was typical Sihanouk: it was posted on the personal web site that he maintains. The rendezvous in the royal court was set for Sep. 8 and expected to last for three hours, from 9 a.m. till 12 noon.

Sihanouk -- who stepped down as the monarch in October 2004 in favour of his son, Norodom Sihamoni -- took the liberty on that web posting to reveal how he views the Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia (ECCC), as the tribunal is officially called. ‘’After this (meeting) it will no longer be necessary for me to present myself before the U.N.’s ECCC,’’ Sihanouk stated in his invitation. And if the U.N. officials failed to show up, he noted that he ‘’will not accept to see, speak or correspond with the U.N.’s ECCC.’’

As was expected, the U.N. officials did not participate in this royal conversation on the tribunal. ‘’I was not authorised to participate in this meeting, nor were other U.N. officials,’’ Foster said during an interview from Phnom Penh. ‘’We responded by saying that only the judges involved in the trial will be able to determine who will be a witness. The judges will do so based on procedural rules.’’

But like a character from a Shakespearian drama, Sihanouk continued to protest too much. In standing up for his cause, the former monarch ‘’complained that the ECCC wanted him to ‘take an oath to tell the truth, nothing but the truth on the subject of arch criminals’,’’ reported the ‘Phnom Penh Post’ English-language newspaper last Friday. ‘’I do not have to swear an oath after (the one I swore) with Buddha, to debase myself to take an oath in front of the ECCC.’’

Those familiar with Sihanouk’s penchant for grand gestures and a life peppered with drama are hardly surprised by this latest offering. Following his being crowned the monarch of his South-east Asian nation in 1941, at the tender age of 18 years, he has abdicated twice, served as king twice, held the post of prime minister twice and served as president once. His record in the world of the arts and entertainment has been as varied, dabbling as a film-maker, song writer, painter, saxophonist and a crooner of ballads.

What is equally well-known is the link Sihanouk maintained with the Khmer Rouge, responsible for an orgy of death during 1975 to 1979 when it took control of Cambodia after a prolonged battle with a pro-American puppet regime in Phnom Penh. The extreme Maoist group killed close to 1.7 million Cambodians, nearly a quarter of the country’s population at the time. The victims were executed, died from forced labour or starvation as the Khmer Rouge tried to turn the country into an agrarian utopia.

Sihanouk himself lost family members to the Khmer Rouge and was kept under house arrest by the genocidal regime between 1976 till 1979. Yet against those details are the roles he played in the four years up to the Khmer Rouge triumph in 1975 -- urging the Cambodian people to join the Khmer Rouge, in addition to serving as the head of state for the Khmer Rouge in the first year it held power. And when the Khmer Rouge was driven out of power by the invading Vietnamese troops, Sihanouk fled to the forests with the extreme Maoists and took on a new role as the global defender of the Khmer Rouge regime in exile.

It is this phase of Sihanouk’s life that has been brought into focus and raised the possibility of him going before the ECCC. The latter officially began work in July this year after long delays and hurdles placed in its way, including regular challenges posed by the Cambodian government of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The push to get Sihanouk appear before the ECCC was triggered by a relatively unknown non-governmental organisation (NGO) based in the United States, the Cambodian Action Committee for Justice and Equity (CACJE). In late August, it made a request to authorities in Phnom Penh to strip Sihanouk of his immunity as a former monarch in order to be called before the tribunal.

The Hun Sen administration rose to Sihanouk’s defence by delivering a harsh rebuke. The premier called the request to strip Sihanouk ‘’very barbaric’’ and one that ‘’could have the result of jeopardising the peace and unity’’ of the country.

But human rights groups questioned the motives of the government, arguing that war-ravaged Cambodia’s quest to create a society governed by the rules of law and justice will be undermined if the former monarch is placed above the law and insulated from the ECCC. ‘’This could set a bad precedence, since the ECCC is expected to set new and high standards of justice for Cambodia,’’ says Lao Mong Hay, senior researcher on Cambodia at the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), a regional rights lobby.

‘’The request does not mean he has to face trial as a defendant or as an accused, but it is to remove an unconstitutional clause in the constitution and make the former king available if the judges need him to appear,’’ Lao explained during an interview from Hong Kong, where AHRC is based. ‘’This is very important for the trial, since many Cambodians who lost family want to know about the past; how and why the Khmer Rouge pursued their murderous policies.’’

‘’It is a chance for the former king to clear his name if he did nothing wrong,’’ adds Lao. ‘’And he has been on the record in the past saying that he would be willing to face the trial like the former Khmer Rouge leaders.’’

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Military police deputy killed in Cambodia

A senior military policeman has been killed in an intense gunfight in the capital, Phnom Penh.

At least five gunmen, including an Interior Ministry police officer, attacked Phnom Penh's deputy Military Police chief, Reth Nika, firing into his car after a high-speed chase.

Phnom Penh police chief, Touch Naruth, told AFP news agency that the 27-year-old fled his vehicle for a nearby temple after his car got stuck in traffic.

His assailants hunted him down and shot him dead within the temple grounds.

One of the attackers also died - from wounds suffered during the attack.

Touch Naruth says it is unclear why the killing took place.

Two people are under arrest and a hunt is continuing for more members of the group of assassins.
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Cambodia approves agreements on cross-border transportation of cargo, people

The Cambodian National Assembly on Monday approved the agreements on facilitating cross- border transportation of cargo and people with other countries in the region.

Cambodia has already signed such agreements with China, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand, said Chhoum Eak, secretary of state in the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation.

These agreements will help to combat drug trafficking and stop expired products from flowing into Cambodia, Ky Lim Orng, chairwoman of the Committee of Transportation and Telecommunication, said.

They will also help to combat human trafficking and terrorism, she added.

In addition, they will help collect tax for national revenue and stop importing unqualified chicken and pork from neighboring countries, said Chheab Yeam, chairman of the Committee of Banking and Finance.

Source: Xinhua
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