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Friday, December 26, 2008

Indian investor plans to open pharmaceutical plant in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, (Xinhua): An Indian investment group has tabled a plan at the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce to recruit private partners to build a new pharmaceutics manufacturing plant in the kingdom, national media said on Friday.

The investors prepared to devote some 1 million U.S. dollars to the new facility in a push to help curb counterfeit drugs in Cambodia, said English-language newspaper the Phnom Penh Post.

"They are interested in this sector because they don't want to see Cambodia rely on imported drugs," said Nguon Ming Tech, the group's local representative.

Yim Yann, president of the Pharmacists Association of Cambodia (PAC), said that "a new pharmaceutical factory will bring new technology to Cambodia and will be able to take advantage of local resources."

"Thousands of pharmacies in the country offer imported medicine, much of which is counterfeit," he added.

Cambodia has about 1,000 registered pharmacies, with an additional 1,000 pharmacies operating illegally, according to PAC.

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Palm Springs man helping to clear Cambodia of explosives

The humidity is intense. More than 80 percent, on top of the 90-degree weather. He uses a kroma — a thin scarf — to wipe the sweat out of his blue eyes and over his closely cropped gray hair. He carries rice, water, Spam, Cup of Noodles, coffee and tea on his back. Maybe tonight there will be something else to eat with it other than rat.

Ahead of him in the Cambodian jungle, one of the metal detectors goes off with a “wow, wow” sound. A land mine has been found. Palm Springs resident Bill Morse never thought he would be running a charity to help clear the unexploded bombs and land mines in Cambodia.

Read Bill Morse's mydesert.com blog about his work in Cambodia.

He owned a marketing and sales consulting business, which he closed last year to focus his efforts in Cambodia. Now he spends up to eight months a year working in Cambodia, in the Landmine Relief Fund office or in the jungle, clearing land mines, eating whatever he can catch, and sleeping in huts or on the ground.

“There is a perception that Cambodia is handling it,” Morse said recently, sitting in his living room, surrounded by artifacts from his trips around the world. “Our objective is to clear land mines in low-priority villages.”

The land mines and bombs are from when the United States infiltrated the country and when the Khmer Rouge was in power in the 1970s, Morse said.

More than 500 people were injured from exploding land mines in Cambodia last year, Morse said. An estimated one in every 250 Cambodians has been injured since the 1980s, he said.

Finding Aki Ra
Five years ago, Morse traveled to Cambodia. He had heard of a man named Aki Ra from a friend who had raised money to buy him a metal detector so he didn't have to search for land mines by hand.

Aki Ra has cleared 50,000 land mines — and still has all his limbs. By age 5, he was orphaned. By age 10, he was fighting with the Khmer army, laying the land mines he would later seek to eliminate. When he was a soldier, he could lay 1,000 land mines a day. “Nobody kept a record,” Morse said.

He survived the genocide that killed 1.7 million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979 — more than 20 percent of the country's population, according to Yale University's Cambodia Genocide Program.

It wasn't easy finding Aki Ra. He ran a land mine museum on a dirt road, but the hotel concierge either didn't know of it, or wouldn't tell Morse where it was. When he did find him, Morse said he was overwhelmed by this man, and knew he had to help.

Morse not only set up the Landmine Relief Fund and became its director, but he returned to Cambodia to help Aki Ra with international certification. He joined Aki Ra in the jungle, hunted for meals as they looked for land mines, and stood by his side as he located them in the ground.

“You dig the hole at an angle, so if you hit the land mine, you hit it on the side,” Morse said.

Land mines were never designed to kill, said Morse, who spent a year in the U.S. Army. Injuring people was more effective in the war — as the injured had to be carried by at least two people. This is not to say the mines haven't killed.

Recently, Aki Ra was clearing land mines in a village when the government ordered him to stop. Shortly after, five people were killed when their truck went over one.

Morse spends several months a year in Cambodia, working in the Landmine Relief Fund office and in the jungle with Aki Ra and a five-member crew. When land mines are found, the area is roped off and the devices are blown up. Morse said he used to stand next to Aki Ra as he did his work.

Now, with recent government accreditation, Morse said he goes into the area last and documents what the team does. It takes a team of five to clear the mines — four people are needed to carry a stretcher — he said.

There are several land mine clearing organizations in Cambodia. The issue gained prominence when Princess Diana campaigned for the clearing of devices. There are also several groups affiliated with the cause. Project Enlighten provides educational opportunities for children in Cambodia, including those living at the Landmine Museum run by Aki Ra.

Project Enlighten Founder Asad Rahman knows Morse well and said he is one of the “most honest and driven men” with whom he has worked.

“His vision and passion to help eradicate the land mine issue is unparalleled. He is a saint,” Rahman wrote in an e-mail from Laos to The Desert Sun.

Morse only wishes he could do more. Donations have dribbled recently and he said he would like to have a celebrity step in as a spokesperson to help gain publicity for the cause.

He wants to raise $45,000 to put another team of five into the Cambodian jungles. “I couldn't think of a better way to spend my money and my time. We are going after the stuff we left there. I'm (just) a janitor.”

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Cambodia faces problems enforced new sex trafficking law

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Chantha said there was nothing else she could do in Cambodia but become a prostitute.

"If you don't even have a dollar in your pocket to buy rice, how can you bear looking at your starving relatives?" she said.

"You do whatever to survive, until you start to realize the consequence of your deeds."

Chanta, in her early twenties, was working in a small red-light district west of the capital Phnom Penh several months ago when she was arrested under Cambodia's new sex-trafficking law.

Police nabbed her in a raid and charged her with publicly soliciting sex, fining her nearly two dollars. Then, Chanta claims, the arresting officers gang raped and beat her for six days in detention.

Bruises covered her body, but none of her assailants were brought to court, she said.

The Cambodian government began prosecuting a new "Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation" in February after years of pressure from the United States to clamp down on sex trafficking.

Since then, authorities have conducted brothel raids and street sweeps, but rights groups complain the new law has in many ways worsened the exploitation of women.

"The law allows police of all levels to arrest and punish sex workers," said Naly Pilorge, director of local human rights group Licadho.

"The sex workers are arrested to police stations and rehabilitation centres and then they are abused."

More than 500 women were arrested for soliciting sex in the first nine months of 2008, according to anti-trafficking organisation Afesip, with many of them forced into rehabilitation centres.

Rights groups say the new law makes women easier prey for traffickers, and could increase rates of sexually-transmitted infections as prostitutes stop carrying condoms out of fear they will be used as evidence against them.

They also allege that detainees are regularly abused at the two rehabilitation centres controlled by Cambodia's ministry of social affairs, Prey Speu and Koh Kor.

Koh Kor has the added grim reputation of being on an island which was the site of a prison and execution camp under Cambodia's murderous 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime.

Despite Chanta and others testifying to instances of rape, beatings and extortion at the hands of police in the rehabilitation centres, authorities have repeatedly denied the abuses.

Major General Bith Kimhong, director of the interior ministry's anti-trafficking department, said he does not believe anyone has been abused under the new law because he has received no complaints from victims.

More than 100 people were arrested this year, as human trafficking prosecutions increased by 50 percent, Bith Kimhong said.

The raids on brothels and streetwalkers proved a commitment by the government to end sex trafficking, he said, vowing they would continue.

"We'll continue to cooperate with local authorities to enforce the law," Bith Kimhong said.

The new law is one of several moves by the Cambodian government over the past year to show that it is cracking down on sexual exploitation.

In March it imposed ban on foreign marriages amid concerns of an explosion in the number of brokered unions involving South Korean men and poor Cambodian women, many of whom were allegedly being set up for sex slavery.

There have also been a string of arrests of alleged foreign paedophiles, as Cambodia seeks to demonstrate sex tourists are not welcome.

Pich Socheata, deputy governor of one Phnom Penh district, leads "clean-ups" of prostitution on the streets but said she empathizes with sex workers.

"They are female and I am too, so I do understand no girls want to do that job. But we are only practising law," she said.

But Keo Tha, a staff member at sex workers' rights group the Women's Network for Unity, says many more Cambodian women are still being forced into prostitution as jobs dry up amid the global financial crisis.

A more sensible law, she said, would legalise prostitution.

"We are sandwiched right now -- we are oppressed by the police, the law and rising living costs," she said.
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Ex-Cambodian king fighting cancer

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia's former King Norodom Sihanouk is fighting his third bout with cancer but is optimistic he will recover and return to his homeland from China, according to a message on his Web site.

The 86-year-old Sihanouk, in a statement dated Wednesday, said he was being treated by Chinese doctors in Beijing for lymphoma B cancer and would not return to Cambodia as planned in February.

Sihanouk, a dominant figure in Cambodian politics for six decades, abdicated in 2004, citing poor health. He was succeeded by one of his sons, Norodom Sihamoni, and has since spent much of his time in China.

In recent years, he has suffered from a number of ailments, including colon cancer, diabetes, hypertension and two strokes.

Sihanouk is also one of the world's great survivors having lived through wars, the Khmer Rouge terror and fierce political struggles beginning with his quest for independence from France in the early 1950s.

On the Web site, Sihanouk said he would return to Cambodia several months after his scheduled arrival when he was well again. He successfully battled two earlier bouts with the disease.

"In this regard, they (doctors) are optimistic," he wrote.
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