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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Agent Orange still looms large/Doctors in Cambodia report many babies born with deformities

Makoto Ota/Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

The proportion of babies born with disabilities in eastern Cambodia is more than 50 times higher than in other parts of the country, according to local doctors.

While the reason for the higher rate has not officially been confirmed, it is generally believed to result from the use of Agent Orange, a dioxin-containing defoliant, by U.S. forces during the Vietnam War.

The scale of the damage wrought by use of the chemical in Cambodia is still unclear as there has been little research into the victims. Local doctors have called for an official survey on the effects.

In Preah Pdaw, Kampong Cham Province, a village with a population of about 1,000, Srey Neang delivered her first baby in November 2005.

However, the baby had male and female genitals and three legs, one of which had two toes. "My doctor told me my baby was born like this because of my karma. I was so sad," Srey, 23, said.

Meanwhile, in the Ponhea Krek district of the province, a 25-year-old couple had their fourth baby in October 2006. But the couple said it was born with no eyes and that the skin all over its body was chapped.

The mother said she had given birth three times before and that all three babies had the same condition and had since died.

Near the border with Vietnam there are numerous reports of babies being born with disabilities similar to those of Agent Orange victims, such as those with their fingers joined or missing, or with a cleft lip.

A doctor at the province's central medical center said, "About 5 or 6 percent of the 200 babies born here each month have deformities." This compares with less than 0.1 percent in Phnom Penh.

"In 1966 and 1967, military aircraft flew over almost every morning, dispersing light yellow powder that killed all the trees," said Meng Bang, 67, the village chief of Trameng in the province, about five kilometers from the Vietnam border.

During the war, the Cambodian government repeatedly complained to the U.S. government about the use of the chemical, prompting the United States to compensate owners of dead trees in 1969, official U.S. documents show. He said they received compensation in 1967, which showed the U.S. government privately recognized the damage caused by the chemical.

A doctor living in Phnom Penh has been conducting his own research into the effects and victims of Agent Orange in the country.

"I'm sure that dioxins have been causing deformities in babies," he said. "So it's important to conduct comprehensive epidermal research in areas near the border to prove there's a relationship between the dioxin and the deformities."

But he added, "It's difficult to secure funds and staff for that, so I'm going to have to rely on support from other countries."

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Convicted Khmer Rouge Commander Dies

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Sam Bith, a former Khmer Rouge guerrilla commander serving a life sentence for masterminding the abduction and murder of three Western tourists in 1994, died Friday, a government spokesman said. He was 74 years old.

Sam Bith was sentenced to life in prison in December 2002 after being found guilty of conspiring to kill Australian David Wilson, Briton Mark Slater and Frenchman Jean-Michel Braquet, all tourists, in 1994.

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith announced that Sam Bith died at 9:30 p.m., without disclosing a cause of death. Sam Bith's wife, Khem Ri, said he had been "very sick" with diabetes and high blood pressure and had been hospitalized 10 days earlier.

Sam Bith had served as a Khmer Rouge commander in southwestern Cambodia, where a train carrying the three foreign backpackers was ambushed on July 26, 1994.

About a dozen Cambodians were also killed and many others injured in the armed attack by Khmer Rouge rebels at Phnom Voar, or Vine Mountain, 62 miles southwest of Phnom Penh.

The rebels held Wilson, Slater and Braquet under miserable conditions and killed them three months after the attack when protracted government negotiations for their release failed.

Two other former Khmer Rouge field commanders — Nuon Paet and Chhouk Rin — are serving life sentences for their involvement in the murders.

The Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia from 1975-79, implementing radical communist policies that led to the death of some 1.7 million people through starvation, disease, overwork and execution.

After being ousted from power, Khmer Rouge leaders fled into the jungle to fight a guerrilla war until the late 1990s, when they defected to the government en masse.

By the late 1990s the guerrilla group had become undisciplined, and many commanders acted like local warlords or bandit leaders.

Sam Bith defected from the Khmer Rouge to join the government in 1997 and received a general's rank in the Cambodian army, but he was arrested in May 2002 after being implicated by another former Khmer Rouge official in the killings.

In convicting him in 2002, a judge said Sam Bith had given an order to his subordinates on Sept. 28, 1994, to kill the foreigners.

Sam Bith had pleaded innocent and claimed in court he had already been relieved of his position as a regional commander by Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot weeks before the train ambush. Pol Pot died in 1998, just before the communist group collapsed in 1999.
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Cambodia to host 6th Mekong Flood Forum

PHNOM PENH, Feb. 16 (Xinhua) -- The Mekong River Commission (MRC) will hold the 6th Annual Mekong Flood Forum on May 27-28 in Phnom Penh, a MRC press release said on Saturday.

The forum aims to raise awareness of the current state of data collection, transmission and exchange, especially in the fields of water level and rainfall, at the national and regional levels in the Mekong River Basin, it said.

Another objective is to exchange information about the database systems and the tools used for dissemination of flood forecast and early warning, it said.

It will also provide an opportunity for participants to discuss the emerging needs related to flood forecast and to share the progress each country has made towards a holistic and balanced flood management plan, it said.

Stakeholders from MRC member countries, namely, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, donor agencies and scientists from the Mekong Basin and the international community, dialogue partners such as China and Myanmar, as well as international and national civil society organizations, are expected to join the forum, it added.

MRC is a regional organization responsible for the general safe management of the Mekong River.
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