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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Suspects in Elephant’s Death Arrested

Two Cambodian men have been arrested for allegedly poisoning an elephant and sawing off its tusks to sell on the black market, officials said Wednesday.

The male elephant, which was chained to a tree by its owner in Rattanakiri province, about 200 miles northeast of the capital Phnom Penh, was found dead in March 2007.

Police at the time said the alleged killers had doused jack fruit, a tropical fruit eaten by elephants, with rat poison.

The tusks of the 62-year-old elephant, measuring almost 3 feet each, had been removed.

The two suspects, Men Rattana, 42, and Klem Sam Ouen, 27, were arrested this week, almost a year after the animal's killing, said Hor Ang, the provincial deputy police chief.

They were charged with intentional destruction of private property because the elephant belonged to a Cambodian family and was not living in the wild. If convicted, they face up to three years in prison.

Police raided the suspects' homes after being tipped off by villagers who had overheard the two men discussing prices for elephant tusks, Hor Ang said.

A saw that police believe was used to remove the tusks was found at one of the suspect's homes, he said. Each tusk could fetch up to $3,000 in the illegal ivory trade.

Elephants are the main means of transport for Cambodia's hilltribes, the ethnic minorities that live in the country's northeastern highlands.

Conservationists have said that the end of years of armed conflict in Cambodia has allowed the elephant population and other wildlife to repopulate Cambodian jungles.

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World Bank approves 6 mln USD grant for Cambodia to fight bird flu

PHNOM PENH, March 26 (Xinhua) -- The World Bank Group on Wednesday approved a six million U.S. dollars grant to support Cambodia's efforts to implement a national plan to minimize the threats from avian and human influenza, and to prepare its health systems to respond to any possible outbreak in the future.

The grant, provided by the International Development Association (IDA), will be used to finance the Avian and Human Influenza Control and Preparedness Emergency Project (AHICPEP), a press release said.

Designed in support of Cambodia's Comprehensive Avian and Human Influenza (AHI) National Plan, this project aims to help the government contain the spread of the H5N1 virus, reduce livelihood losses among commercial and backyard poultry growers, limit damage to the poultry industry, diminish the viral load in the environment and prevent or limit human morbidity as well as mortality, it added.

In addition to the IDA grant, the Government of Japan has provided a three million U.S. dollars grant from its Policy and Human Resources Development (PHRD) Fund. A grant of two million U.S. dollars was approved by the Avian and Human Influenza (AHI) Facility, a multidonor grant-making mechanism supported by the European Commission and eight other donors, it said.

Both grants will co-finance AHICPEP, the press release said, adding that the PHRD Fund and AHI Facility are both administered by the World Bank.

The combined 11 million U.S. dollars project will be implemented by units within the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Ministry of Health, and the National Committee for Disaster Management of Cambodia.
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Cambodia turns to hydropower, to villagers' alarm

CHAY ARENG RIVER, Cambodia: Along the Chay Areng Valley in the remote Cardamom Mountains of Cambodia, children still scamper barefoot through one of the last remaining tracts of virgin jungle in mainland Southeast Asia.

If they take the same paths in a few years, they will probably have to be swimming.

Faced with a rapidly growing but power-starved economy, Prime Minister Hun Sen has decided that the rivers flowing from one of the few elevated spots in a relentlessly flat country should become a source of energy.

In the past two years he has agreed to at least four Chinese-financed hydropower projects as part of a $3 billion plan to raise the country's electricity output from just 300 megawatts today to 1,000 in a decade, enough to power a small city.

The indigenous communities in the forests in the Cardamoms appear to be the ones that will pay the biggest price.

"We have been living here without a dam for many generations; we don't want to see our ancestral lands stolen," 78-year-old Sok Nuon said, lighting a fire inside her wooden hut nestled among trees near the Chay Areng River.

"I do not want to move, as it takes years for fruit trees to produce crops," she said. "By then, I'll be dead."

Few people argue that Cambodia's 14 million people do not need more power.

After decades of war and upheaval, including the Khmer Rouge "killing fields" of the 1970s, the economy has finally taken off, growing at a rate of nearly 10 percent a year.

But its antiquated power plants, fueled mostly by diesel fuel, can meet only 75 percent of demand, meaning frequent blackouts and prices around twice those in neighboring Thailand and Vietnam. Those factors inhibit faster economic expansion.

With the closer ties Hun Sen has cultivated with Beijing over the past five years, Chinese cash and dam-building expertise has become a solution to the pains of breakneck growth.

"Chinese investment in hydropower is so important for Cambodia's development," Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said in January after meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi.

But critics maintain that much of the planning is taking place with scant regard for the long-term impact on the environment in a country where most people still rely on agriculture for their livelihoods.

"Poorly conceived and developed hydropower projects could needlessly and irreparably damage Cambodia's river system with serious consequences," said Carl Middleton of the U.S.-based group International Rivers Network.

But the Chay Areng project hardly appears to be a model of transparency. The deal was signed in late 2006 with China Southern Power Grid, one of the two electricity network operators in China, to build a 260-megawatt plant at an estimated cost of $200 million, with a completion date of 2015.

The first that villagers knew of the project was when Chinese engineers turned up this year to start working on feasibility studies. Officials at Southern Grid and in the Cambodian government have been reluctant to discuss the details of the studies.

The Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh denied any shortcuts were being taken in the dam construction.

"They comply with environmental standards and are approved by the Cambodian government," said a Chinese diplomat who was granted anonymity because of the political sensitivity surrounding the project. "We just want to help Cambodia as much as we can."

Environmentalists who have conducted their own studies say the reservoir created by the dam will cover 110 square kilometers, or 42 square miles, and displace thousands of indigenous people in nine villages.

More than 200 animal species, including elephants, sun bears, leopards and the endangered Siamese crocodile, would be affected upstream, said Sam Chanthy of the NGO Forum on Cambodia, a foreign-financed group in Phnom Penh.

Downstream from the site, the delicate ecosystem of the flooded forest, home to some of the world's rarest turtle species as well as hundreds of types of migratory fish, would also be at risk from disruptions to water flow, Chanthy said.

Eng Polo, who works for the wildlife group Conservation International, agreed. "It won't take long for these invaluable assets to disappear when the dam is built," he said.
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Cambodia halts rice exports to curb rising domestic prices

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: Cambodia's prime minister ordered a ban Wednesday on rice exports to neighboring Thailand and Vietnam in a bid to curb rising domestic prices for the country's staple food.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said Cambodia is halting rice exports for two months to help "ensure the stability of the Cambodian market."

The measure is only temporary "to guarantee food security for Cambodia," he said in a speech at a ceremony marking the repair of a road.

Cambodia is a minor rice exporter, shipping about 450,000 tons of milled rice last year, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture estimate. Neighboring Thailand, one of the world's top exporters, exported 8.5 million tons, it said in its "Rice Situation and Outlook Yearbook."

Hun Sen said all border agencies must begin implementing the order Thursday at all crossing points along the borders with Thailand and Vietnam. Because of the small-scale of production, most if not all exports would go overland to the two countries.

Since the end of the harvest early this year, farmers living in provinces bordering the two countries have been selling rice in large quantities across the borders, attracted by high prices, said Men Sarun, owner of Men Sarun-Import-Export Co.

He said a ton of rice now sells for about US$500 (€318), twice as much as last year.

The trend, while making some farmers happy about earning greater profits, could also result in food shortages in Cambodia later in the year, he said.

Hun Sen said the rising price of rice is a global problem.

In another speech Tuesday, he blamed "economic saboteurs" for causing the surge in domestic prices. It was not clear whom he was referring to.

Without imposing the ban, Cambodian rice will "keep flowing out, and they (the alleged saboteurs) will keep shaking up the price at home," he said Wednesday.

"So keep the rice here. No more export of it for two months after which the government will see how stable the market is," Hun Sen said.

The government will inject rice from its reserve into the market to help prevent further increase of the price, he said.

Cambodia produced an estimated 3.6 million tons of milled rice last year, according to Cambodian agriculture officials. About 2 million tons was estimated to be needed for domestic consumption this year, leaving a surplus of 1.5 million tons.
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