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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Alaskan ANG delivers medical supplies to Cambodian airfield



5/27/2008 - A C-130 from 144th Airlift Squadron, 176th Wing Kulis Air National Guard Base, Anchorage Alaska taxis down the runway after landing at Kampong Chhnang Province airfield Cambodia May 24. The ANG C-130 was the first ever U.S. military aircraft to land at this countryside airfield since it was built in 1975 under the Pol Pot’s regime. This mission delivered 3000 pounds of medical supplies for two separate operating locations in Cambodia in support of Operation Pacific Angel, a joint/combined humanitarian assistance operation conducted in the Pacific area of responsibility in support of CDRUSPACOM capacity-building efforts. Participating services include the Active, Reserve and National Guard components of the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF), and Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF). U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Tom Czerwinski.


A forklift offloads a 3000-pound pallet of medical supplies from an Alaskan Air National Guard C-130 at Kampong Chhnang Province airfield, Cambodia May 24. An awaiting multi-national team of medical professionals will breakdown and process the supplies for movement to clinics in Kampong Chhnang and Kampong Cham Provinces in support of Operation Pacific Angel, a joint/combined humanitarian assistance operation conducted in the Pacific area of responsibility in support of CDRUSPACOM capacity-building efforts. Participating services include the Active, Reserve and National Guard components of the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF), and Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF). U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Tom Czerwinski.


Master Sergeant Tracy Lewis (left), from Pacific Air Forces International Heath Alliance, hands off a box of medical supplies to Lieutenant Colonel Mark Sophai, a doctor with the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces here May 24. A team effort to quickly breakdown and distribute supplies to multi-national medical teams for transport to operating locations for Operation Pacific Angel was fostered between the RCAF and U.S. Air Force, active duty, reserve and National Guard members. Operation Pacific Angel is a joint/combined humanitarian assistance operation conducted in the Pacific area of responsibility in support of CDRUSPACOM capacity-building efforts. Participating services include the Active, Reserve and National Guard components of the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF), and Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF). U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Tom Czerwinski.


The airfield at Chhnang Province, Cambodia is teaming with a RCAF and U.S. Air Force, active duty, reserve and National Guard members in efforts to get operations underway for Pacific Angel 2008 here May 24. Operation Pacific Angel is a joint/combined humanitarian assistance operation conducted in the Pacific area of responsibility in support of CDRUSPACOM capacity-building efforts. Participating services include the Active, Reserve and National Guard components of the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF), and Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF). U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Tom Czerwinski..
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Report Says Cambodia Media Subject to Political Pressures, Bias

With just two months to go before a general election in Cambodia, a report on the news media says that local journalists regularly face interference from the business and political elite. It says journalists work in a climate of fear in Cambodia and that there is impunity for those who threaten or kill them, allegations the government rejects. Rory Byrne has more from Phnom Penh.

The report found that over half of Cambodian journalists live in fear of physical or legal attack. Most say they are pressured to cover stories with a political bias.

"They have political bias because the conditions that they work push them to do that, you know, because their newspaper were supported by one political party, but mostly the ruling party," said Kek Galabru, the president of Licadho, the Cambodian rights group that produced the report.

All of Cambodia's television stations, and the bulk of its radio stations, are owned by people close to the ruling Cambodian People's Party. Galabru says the owners use those outlets to gain political advantage.

"Concerning the electronic media - the government controls (it) very tightly," Galabru noted. "They know that it makes a big impact on the public opinion. There is no single one - concerning television - that belongs to (an) independent voice."

With the election in July, campaign observers complain about what they call excessive pro-government content on the airwaves. Koul Panha is heads the Committee for Free and Fair Elections.

"The election process in Cambodia [does] not reach to international standard [for a] free and fair election," Panha said. "The key measure of importance is the media - equal access to the media. But in the Cambodian context it's not like that - you can see the TV - 84 percent of political coverage is still in favor to the ruling party."

The minister of information, Khieu Kanharith, denies that the media favors the government.

"You know the people criticizing this, or assert these allegations, most of the time they are not really journalists," Kanharith said. "They don't understand the job or sometimes they didn't listen to the radio or watch the TV. And if everyone can read Khmer, or listen [to] Khmer, they know well that we have real freedom here."

The Licadho report also says there is little risk for those who threaten or kill journalists.

"We found at least nine that were killed for their work and none of the perpetrators was brought to justice so it sends a very strong message that there is impunity for the one that wants to attack the journalists," Galabru said.

The government disputes the number of journalists killed and denies that killers go unpunished.

"They say nine were killed - are you sure they got killed? Two or three - traffic accident," Kanharith said. "When you are a journalist killed it doesn't mean politically killed. When [Prime Minister] Hun Sen's brother was killed, until now also we couldn't find the murderer. Nobody says 'Why don't you go to find Hun Sen's brothers killer?'"

The minister says journalists can, and do, write and say what they want, including attacking Prime Minister Hun Sen.

"If you [are] scared you cannot accuse Hun Sen of being a Vietnamese puppet, as a thief, as the most corrupt family or anything. Read the newspaper, listen to the radio - you can see it. If they [are] really scared, how you can put it?" Kanharith asked.

Rights activists, however, say that critical voices find it hard to get heard in Cambodia. Koul Panha of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections says the authorities should do more to ensure fair access to the media.

"The Cambodian government, and the National Electoral Commission must make more effort to encourage the state media and the private media [to] open [themselves] to all political parties," said Panha. "If they can do that they will contribute a lot to the improved election environment and electoral process in Cambodia."

The Licadho report calls on the government to pass a law guaranteeing the electronic media's independence. It also calls for abolishing prison sentences for defamation, misinformation and incitement, and for media owners to increase salaries for journalists to make them less susceptible to bribery.

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Tigers, Elephants Returning to War-Torn Cambodia Forest


For years wildlife poacher Lean Kha had prowled the war-ravaged forests of Mondulkiri Province in eastern Cambodia looking for meat.

A former teenage soldier for the Khmer Rouge political party, he estimates that he killed a thousand animals, including ten tigers, after the fall of the brutal Pol Pot regime in 1979.

Once dubbed the "Serengeti of Asia," almost all of Mondulkiri's wildlife was wiped out by poachers during decades of conflict, which began with the war in neighboring Vietnam. (See a Cambodia map.)

Now, with Cambodia finally at peace, small but growing populations of animals—including Indochinese tigers, Asian elephants, and critically endangered species such as the giant ibis—are returning to one of Southeast Asia's last remaining dry forests.

And Kha, now 45 years old, is helping to protect them as a head ranger supported by the international conservation group WWF.

"At the time I was ignorant and did not think there was a problem when I shot those tigers," he said, sitting at the forest headquarters in Mereuch as the Srepok River rushed behind him.

"Now I know we need to protect these animals for our children and grandchildren."

Coming Back Home

Humans cannot live inside the protected Mondulkiri Protected Forest reserve. A visitor can walk for miles without seeing any sign of humans, an unusual experience in otherwise densely populated Cambodia.

And with the region's searing summer temperatures and open, shadeless terrain, it's also usually hard to spot wildlife during the day.

But camera traps that take pictures at night show a different story.

A few years ago park rangers caught their first Indochinese tiger on camera. In 2007 a camera trap produced a picture of a female leopard and her cub.

Other wildlife returning to the area include banteng, a type of ox; Eld's deer; several species of wild cats; and one of the region's last remaining wild water buffalo populations.

"There is a lot of wildlife out there, considering the beating that this area has taken," said Nick Cox, who coordinates WWF's regional dry forests program and is based in Vientiane, Laos.

While leopards are now relatively common, there may be only five to ten Indochinese tigers in the forest today.

But conservationists say that as the density of prey species increases, the number of tigers could rise to at least 30 in as little as five years.

That is, if the 70 rangers working the forest can keep poachers at bay.

Like Kha, many of them are former hunters who have spent their whole lives under the forest canopy. Now they spend at least 16 days on patrol every month, keeping strict records of wildlife numbers.

(Related: "Armed Squads Aim for Poachers, Loggers in Cambodia" [August 15, 2003].)

"All protected areas need to know the number of important prey species and carnivores, because if we don't know the credit in our bank account, we can't monitor our wealth," said Prach Pich Phirun, a research coordinator for WWF's Srepok Wilderness Project.

Cambodia Boomtown

Even without the threat of poachers, the battle for this vast forest of almost a million acres (close to 400,000 hectares) is far from over.

Cambodia's popularity as a tourist destination is skyrocketing, with foreign tourist arrivals topping two million last year, according to the country's tourism minister. And the remote Mondulkiri Province is becoming the country's new hot spot.

Draped over several rolling hills, Sen Monorom, the tiny provincial capital, has the feel of a Wild West boomtown.

A plethora of hotels and backpacker lodges have opened up, and wealthy Cambodians are streaming to the area to snap up any available land. The main road being graded and paved by Chinese contractors will ease access to the region.

"This increased activity could put a lot of pressure on the environment," said Craig Bruce, WWF's technical advisor on protected areas in Cambodia, who is based in Sen Monorom.

A housing building boom, he warned, could also lead to a surge in illegal timber cutting.

And there are signs that poaching and illegal wildlife trade are on the rise in Cambodia, where animals are being smuggled through Vietnam with the involvement of Chinese traders.

Ecotourism Plans

Conservationists are now investing in ecotourism projects in the hopes of keeping the Mondulkiri forest protected.

WWF is planning an upscale eco-resort with eight cottages along stilts on the banks of the Srepok River.

Yet money earned from such eco-projects must benefit local communities living around the forest, said James MacGregor, an environmental economist at the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development, which backs the WWF project.

"There are a lot of poor people in this area who have traditionally generated their livelihood through hunting and collecting wood," MacGregor said.

"We're asking people to forgo doing something that has helped them for years."

(Related: "Unique Mosses Spur Conservation, Ecotourism in Chile" [November 14, 2006].)

Planners envision that Mondulkiri could also become a destination for adventurous travelers, such as mountain bikers.

Mark Ellison of Cambodia-based Asia Adventures said tour operators are looking to offer tourists additional activities in Cambodia besides visiting the popular Angkor Wat temples.

"Here's an opportunity to go mountain biking in an area that is for all intents and purposes undiscovered," he said.

While a recent bicycle trip of conservationists and journalists showcased the unchartered nature of the terrain, it also turned into a harrowing ordeal at one point, with bikers getting lost without any means of communication.

Luckily a passing elephant driver had noticed tire tracks from the bikes going the wrong way and tracked down the team just as its water supply was running out.

Cox, the WWF dry forest program coordinator and one of the most experienced bikers on the trip, admitted that some work needed to be done before Mondulkiri would be ready to welcome visitors.

"There are a few kinks that need ironing out, that's for sure," he said.
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Rice Slumps by Limit as Cambodia Ends Ban on Overseas Shipments

By Jae Hur and Luzi Ann Javier

May 27 (Bloomberg) -- Rice futures tumbled by their daily limit for the second session as producers eased export bans, alleviating concerns that global supplies will fail to meet demand.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen announced yesterday that an export ban has been lifted, Chan Tong Yves, deputy head of the farm ministry, said today by phone from Phnom Penh. Vietnam and India said earlier this month they may ease export curbs.

The staple for half the world, which reached a record $25.07 on the Chicago Board of Trade on April 24, slumped 50 cents. The record prices for food, including palm oil and wheat, have stoked concern about shortages and caused riots from Haiti to Egypt.

``The Cambodian news has damped market sentiment,'' Takaki Shigemoto, an analyst with Tokyo-based commodity broker Okachi & Co., said by phone today. ``With major producers in Southeast Asia braced for harvesting bumper crops in the next couple of months, the global market sees more supplies.''

Rough rice for July delivery fell 2.5 percent to $19.85 per 100 pounds as of 11 a.m. in London. The price is still 88 percent higher than a year ago. The Chicago market, which fell 50 cents on May 23, was closed yesterday for a public holiday.

Cambodia would produce 6.8 million metric tons of unmilled rice this year after sufficient rains, compared with 6.7 million tons last year, the farm ministry's Chan Tong said.

The country has more than 1 million tons of rice available for sale overseas, the Financial Times said today, citing the Cambodian premier. The ban on exports was put in place in March, the report said.

Global Forecast

Global output of milled rice in 2008 will be 445.3 million tons, up 2.3 percent from last year's record 435.2 million tons, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said on May 22. Consumption will rise 2.4 percent, the agency said.

The Philippines, the world's largest rice importer, has failed this year, to fill state tenders for the grain, driving prices higher last month. The country imports about 2 million tons a year to plug a supply deficit.

A Philippine food company was the sole buyer today at a rice tender for private companies in Manila, the National Food Authority said. Uni-Agro Native Products Inc. was seeking 500 tons out of the total 141,440 tons of tariff-free imports on offer, Assistant Administrator Conrad Ibanez told reporters.

The Philippines may hold another government rice tender in December to make sure stockpiles in state-owned warehouses will not drop below the equivalent of 15 days' of consumption, Ibanez said. The Philippines consumes about 33,000 tons of rice a day.

`Soften Prices'

Cambodia's lifting of the nation's export ban ``will soften prices,'' Ibanez said. ``We'll import if September harvests are lower than last year.''

Vietnam, the world's second-largest rice exporter, said on May 21 that a ban on new overseas shipments may be lifted from July and the harvest in the north of the country is ``much better'' than previously expected.

India, the world's second-biggest rice producer after China, may partly ease a ban on rice exports as the country is set to harvest a bumper crop, Commerce Secretary G.K. Pillai told reporters on May 9. Output in the year ending June may reach a record 95.68 million tons, the farm ministry said April 22. That compares with 93.35 million tons produced a year earlier.

Pakistan, the fifth-biggest exporter, will permit shipments of 1 million tons because local needs have been met, Mohammad Azhar Akhtar, chairman of the Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan, said on May 16.

Japan is in talks with the Philippines, the world's largest rice importer, about shipments from Japan's stockpiles of overseas rice, according to a government official, who declined to be identified in remarks reported May 12.

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