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Monday, October 01, 2007

Myanmar unrest has little effect on tour agency businesses

SINGAPORE: Tour agencies in Singapore say the unrest in Myanmar has not affected their businesses much.

But a few, like Asia-Euro Holidays, say there have been some cancellations.

"Recently, we actually have a group of volunteers - 27 of them - intending to go to Myanmar for some community services. Apparently, they have decided to cancel the trip. Instead, they are planning for Cambodia and it's some time in December," said Sam How, a general manager at Asia-Euro Holidays.

However, most agencies tell Channel NewsAsia that Myanmar is not a sought-after tourist destination, to begin with.

Lee Cheun Kiat, manager for marketing and PR at Commonwealth Travel Service Corporation, said: "The recent situation has not affected business as a whole.....(due to) the fact that Myanmar has had a long-standing issue of political unrest and the fact that Myanmar is not a popular destination...We offered tour packages to Myanmar recently and the take-up rate was about 10-20 passengers per month.....We actually encounter more business travellers than leisure travellers to Myanmar."

The tour packages to Myanmar offered by Commonwealth Travel from May to September this year attracted only about 100 people. But over the same five-month period, other destinations like Thailand and Cambodia attracted some 1,000 people.

Besides the current violence, the poor response to Myanmar is also due to other factors.

Asia-Euro Holidays' Sam How said: "First thing, of course, is its political situation and currently it's still military-controlled. On the other hand, there are a lot of can't use mobile phones there, credit cards are not recognised due to the international sanctions. All these are creating a lot of inconvenience for the tourists going there."

But many travel agencies are confident that Myanmar has the potential to become a popular tourist destination in the future, so long as political stability prevails. - CNA/ir

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DNA Solutions quest to preserve the Asian Elephant

(openPR) - DNA Solutions based in London, UK, is pleased to announce that it has agreed to work together with Fauna & Flora International, the world's oldest conservation organisation, in using DNA fingerprinting to monitor elephant populations in Cambodia's Cardamom Mountains with the help of our scientists.

Elephant dung is being collected by field biologists and trackers, and transported to DNA Solutions, an accreditated DNA testing laboratory, where the DNA will be extracted and analysed. Cambodia's Cardamom Mountains are blanketed by virtually undisturbed forest stretching over 10,000 square kilometres. Field biologists can spend weeks searching for elephants to record the vital data needed to properly monitor elephant populations. DNA analysis can yield this vital information much more quickly and efficiently. Estimating the size of elephant populations in Cambodia is extremely difficult, due to their habits and the size of their habitat. They are also extremely secretive animals.

Joe Heffernan, an elephant biologist with Fauna & Flora International, has been playing hide and seek with the largest of all land mammals for years. "This is the first time a closed population has been surveyed, so the results stand to be the most sophisticated ever recorded. "In addition to the difficulties of observing elephants in the wild, their tracks and feeding signs can only reveal so much. DNA from their dung, however, can reveal the age, sex and health of the individual that produced it. Because each fingerprint is unique, the size of the population can be accurately estimated."

Vern Muir, director of DNA Solutions, said: "DNA Solutions is essentially a big team of biologists, so I can speak for everyone when I say we are all feeling proud to be able to help the cause of elephant conservation.

"It is extremely rewarding to be able to use genetic techniques that for so many years have been used to solve other people's paternity issues, for something that instead gives all of us greater personal satisfaction." The information will be used to refine long-term elephant management strategies and identify future protected areas. The Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) also plans to use the data to monitor illegal elephant killing and forecast trends.

Cambodia is critical to Asian elephant conservation, but work is hampered by the scarcity of field data. Fauna & Flora International is leading surveys of remote forest areas and working with the Cambodian Wildlife Protection Office and Ministry of the Environment to ensure that these elephant strongholds are protected. Fauna & Flora International is also working with communities within the Cardamoms to understand their needs so that they do not harm elephants that stray close to their villages.

The first batch of samples will arrive with DNA Solutions next month, with initial data projected to be processed by November.

T: 0845 4500004
F: 0871 661 5505

DNA Solutions was established in January 1997. It is focused on providing reliable and confidential global DNA products, including ‘peace of mind’ testing for consumers and legal testing for courts and legal disputes. Services include paternity/maternity testing; sibling verification; DNA storage & preservation, ancestry, and profiling. As the first pioneering company to offer home testing kits it has established itself with over 30 offices worldwide, DNA Solutions is synonymous with advanced accuracy DNA analysis.

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Prosecutors let court decide on Ang’s gig as casino adviser

By Jocelyn Uy

MANILA, Philippines -- Government prosecutors have no objection to Charlie "Atong" Ang's petition to the Sandiganbayan seeking the reversal of the court’s earlier ruling that barred him from flying to Cambodia for a possible consulting job in a gaming company.

"The people submit the instant motion to the wise discretion of the court," said Special Prosecutor Dennis Villa-Ignacio in a one-page comment submitted to the anti-graft court’s Special Division.

Ang, a well-known former casino habitué and a gambling buddy of ousted president Joseph Estrada, received a job offer in August from 888 Corporation, which operates a lottery in Cambodia.

Citing his "expertise" as a former consultant to the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. in the Estrada administration, 888 executives wrote Ang asking him to advise their company.

In his request to be allowed to fly to Cambodia, Ang told the Sandiganbayan the job could be his ticket to settling his debts, incurred when he had to pay the P25-million penalty the court imposed on him after he pleaded guilty to a lesser offense in the plunder case against Estrada in which he was a co-accused.

Estrada was convicted of two counts of plunder and was sentenced to 40 years in prison. His conviction is under appeal. Having availed of the plea bargain, Ang was sentenced to six years in prison and was freed due to time served during his trial.

The Sandiganbayan Special Division junked Ang’s petition for a weeklong travel pass to Cambodia citing the possibility he would leave the jurisdiction of the court.

In placing Ang under two year’s probation four months ago, the court ordered him not to participate in any form of gambling and to get the court's permission every time he wanted to leave Quezon City.

In his motion for reconsideration, Ang through his lawyers said he could not "simply escape and trifle with the generosity of this court."

He also said he would abide by the terms and conditions for travel that the court may impose -- like putting up a travel bond -- to guarantee his return.

"I really need that job to settle my arrears. I have no job offers here in the country," Ang had told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in an earlier interview.
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Buddhist forces in the crucible

Myanmar's protesting monks and the junta follow very different forms of the same faith

BY CHARLES KEYES Charles Keyes is professor of anthropology and Asian studies at the University of Washington and author of many works on Southeast Asia, including "Buddhist Economics and Buddhist Fundamentalism in Bu.

The government's violent crackdown against thousands of monks marching in the streets of Myanmar to protest the long rule of a military dictatorship occurs, ironically, in a country where those who hold political power have always sought legitimacy through association with Buddhism. But the junta follows a very different form of Buddhism than do the protesting monks.

The fundamental relationship between politics and Buddhism is known as the "Two Wheels of the Dhamma." Legitimate order depends both on the dhamma (fundamental truths) embodied in the teaching of the Buddha and the dhamma that constitutes the authority of rulers.

The connection stems from a modernist form of Buddhism called Theravada that took hold in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Burma (now Myanmar), Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, emphasizing meditation not to withdraw from the world but to remain active in the world, while tempering desire for material things with compassionate actions to help reduce the suffering of others.

It was this modernist Buddhism that monks such as U Ottama (1879-1939), one of the major leaders of Burmese anti-colonialism, drew on to provide moral support for protests against British rule, which finally ended with independence in 1948. But it is not the Buddhism that the military rulers have embraced since the first coup in 1962.

Gen. Ne Win, the dictator from 1962 to 1988, was conspicuous in his support of an earlier, more magical tradition focused on stupas and shrines, centered on the worship of "reminders" of Buddha, through which it was believed that people could gain magical powers for acting in the world.

This didn't stop many members of the Sangha, as the order of monks is called, from promoting the modernist Buddhism, most emphatically in the act of "turning up of alms bowls," which they did in their last great protest, in 1990, after the government refused to abide by the results of a democratic election. In this gesture, the monks refused to accept offerings from members of the military, an act equivalent to excommunication in the Catholic Church.

In the Buddhist tradition, because monks adhere strictly to a discipline laid down by the Buddha, they are considered to be "fields of merit." Laypersons gain merit, or positive karma, primarily through alms offerings to the monks. Refusing offerings is effectively blocking a path to holiness.

As in the early 1960s, the military junta attempted to gain legitimacy for its violent assertion of power in 1988-90 through very public acts of support for the Buddhist religion. An example was the sponsorship in 1994 of a 45-day tour of a tooth relic of the Buddha that was sent from China. By focusing attention on the relic, the junta sought to accentuate its support for magical Buddhism, as opposed to the modernist Buddhism being taught by most leading monks.

The present protests clearly demonstrate the failure of the military to achieve legitimacy through its ostensible support of Burmese Buddhism. As the monks and their followers again face armed soldiers and police who are willing to use force to reassert the domination of the military regime, they are again turning up alms bowls. If things go according to history, we might expect another government push soon for magical Buddhism.

The monks who are being killed will be seen as Buddhist martyrs, much like Thich Quang Duc, a Vietnamese monk who immolated himself in 1963 to protest the Vietnam War. The death of monks in a political protest entails a deep and troubling meaning that will not be soon forgotten, even if the junta succeeds through force of arms in imposing control.

Whatever the results of this "saffron revolution," the renewed protests against a corrupt and repressive military regime have captured the attention of people around the world and of the international community - with responses including new U.S. sanctions and the dispatch of a United Nations special envoy.

The monks' bravery also has inspired a measure of hope among the people of Myanmar.

More articles.
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2 Cambodians die after eating puffer fish, prompting trade ban of the deadly meat

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: A Cambodian provincial authority has banned the trade of puffer fish meat suspected to have caused the deaths of two villagers recently, a police official said Sunday.

A 23-year-old man died Saturday, and a 13-year-old boy early last week, after both villagers ate salted puffer fish, Suon Phon, deputy police chief of Takeo province, said.

He said the fish was imported from neighboring Vietnam and sold in rural markets in the province, about 90 kilometers (56 miles), south of the capital Phnom Penh.

In the wake of the two deaths, Takeo province governor Srey Ben, banned the trade of the fish across the province to prevent further fatalities, Suon Phon said.

The ovaries, liver and intestines of the puffer fish contain tetrodotoxin, a poison so potent that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it can "produce rapid and violent death."

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