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Friday, May 23, 2008

ASIA/CAMBODIA - A statue of Our Lady of Lourdes found by fishermen in Mekong waters

ASIA/CAMBODIA - A statue of Our Lady of Lourdes found by fishermen in Mekong waters, where it had left during the war 33 years ago

Phnom Penh (Agenzia Fides) - A group of fisherman found a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes in the deep, muddy waters near the shores of the Mekong River, next to Phnom Penh, in the network of rivers that unite opposite the Royal Palace. On the afternoon of April 11, eight men of Cham origin, Muslims, found a cast-iron statue entangled in their fishing nets, weighing 160 kilos and measuring a meter and a half in height. It had been in the river for at least 33 years, since the beginning of the regime of Khmer Rouge.

Not knowing what to do with it, they sold it for $7 US dollars to some local inhabitants that intended to recycle it and use it for raw material. Some Christian people who happened to pass through the area immediately recognized it as a statue of the Virgin Mary. Thus, it was passed to new owners, from the parish of Areaksat, being sold at $1,000 US dollars, which immediately translated into 10 sacks of rice. It seems that its new owners did not want to make a business deal with a sacred image. The statue is now at the parish of Our Lady of Peace. The Christian community has immediately expressed its gratitude to the poor family, for having donated the statue.

For some time now, the account of the statue’s appearance in the river has been circulating around Phnom Penh. In this month of May, consecrated to the Virgin, the faithful take her daily offerings and flowers. Especially on Sunday, numerous Christians come together to pray before the image of Our Lady of Lourdes, that has been named, “Our Lady of Mekong.”

For now, the origin of the statue is completely unknown. With the conquest of religious houses during the war, the statue was surely thrown into the waters, where it remained 33 years. The parish of Areaksat, near to the site of the statue’s appearance, in times of war was not located there, but 2 kilometers away from the site. Some of the area’s elderly folk were questioned regarding the statue, but they have been unable to recognize it or offer information as to its location before it was thrown into the Mekong River. (PB) (Agenzia Fides 21/05/2008 righe 27, parole 372)

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Thousands of poll agents to guarantee fair election in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH,(Xinhua) -- Two hundred and forty trainers from Cambodia's four major political parties are preparing to train tens of thousands of poll agents who will watch the National Assembly Election Day process to ensure that votes are counted fairly and that their opponents play by the rules, a press release said Thursday.

Members of the Cambodian People's Party (CPP), the Funcinpec Party, the Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP) and the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) will attend a party poll agent training conducted by the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) in Phnom Penh from May 26 to 31, an NDI press release said.

The party trainers will in turn train tens of thousands of their own party's polling agents, it added.

NDI's training will equip the political party trainers with the knowledge and skills to conduct systematic observation of the polls and report based on a standard polling agent manual and observation checklist based on the National Assembly election laws, regulations, procedures and code of conduct, the release said.

The NDI will invite all political parties that have officially registered for the National Assembly election to receive the party poll agent training, it said, adding that other political parties will be trained in a second batch.

The NDI provided a similar training prior to last year's Commune Council elections, in which more than 100,000 party poll agents watched the polling process.
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Royal cows signal 'quite good' rice harvest in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Cambodia's royal cows performed an ancient ceremony on Friday, predicting the country will have a "quite good" rice harvest this year, despite global concerns over supplies of the grain.

King Norodom Sihamoni presided over the country's Royal Ploughing ceremony in a park outside the royal palace. Thousands of people watched on as royal astrologers observed what the cows ate to signal the coming year's harvests.

After a symbolic ploughing of a portion of the park's field, a pair of royal cows were led to seven dishes -- rice, corn, beans, sesame, grass, water and alcohol -- laid out on trays.

"Based on what the royal cows ate, the rice harvest will be quite good," chief astrologer Kang Ken declared before the crowd of onlookers.

He also said the corn harvest would be good, but the bean crop would be average.

The traditional ceremony marks the start of the planting season in the kingdom.

Farmers who joined the ceremony hailed the prediction.

"This means that we will not face rice shortages in the coming year," said 58-year-old Kao Tob, a rice farmer in Kampong Chhnang, some 90 kilometres (55 miles) northwest of Phnom Penh.

Even if the harvest is strong, Cambodians face soaring food prices. Inflation reached double digits late last year and now hovers around 11 percent.

Good-grade rice -- Cambodia's staple food -- has nearly doubled in price this year.

It now costs nearly 0.90 dollars per kilogramme (41 cents per pound), deepening the poverty of the one-third of the population who live on less than 50 cents a day.

World rice prices have soared this year, a trend blamed on higher energy and fertiliser costs, greater global demand, droughts, the loss of rice farmland to biofuel plantations, and price speculation.
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Informal marriage brokers active in Cambodia despite official ban

PHNOM PENH, May 23 (Xinhua) -- There are more than 100 informal marriage brokerage agencies still at operation in Cambodia despite the official ban and closure of three South Korean ones, state media said Friday.

"The government doesn't allow operation of marriage brokerage services at all" because they are exploitative, English-Khmer language newspaper the Cambodian Daily quoted You Ay, secretary of state at the Ministry of Women's Affairs, as saying.

She said foreign men who frequent or live in Cambodia desire to marry local women out of "true love," but insisted that foreign marriage ban will remain valid until relevant legislation is drafted.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation is expected to meet with the Interior Ministry over finalizing such a sub-decree in the coming month, she added.

Foreign marriage brokerage agencies came into spotlight in Cambodia after the International Organization for Migration issued a report stressing the vulnerability of Cambodian brides flocking to South Korea in increasing numbers.

The government in response banned all marriages between Cambodians and foreigners on March 29, pending new legislation to regulate the process.
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