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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Poor Cambodians face eviction under new law: report

PHNOM PENH — Hundreds of poor communities in the Cambodian capital face potential forced evictions after parliament this week passed a controversial law, rights groups warned Thursday.

Lawmakers on Tuesday voted through a law on expropriations which will give the authorities legal grounds to seize private property for public development projects in Cambodia.

The law still needs to be approved by the senate and promulgated by King Norodom Sihamoni, but it has raised concerns from rights groups about a surge in forced evictions.

"The existence of a law on expropriation which was just recently passed... will create more negative effects on the poor people in the city," the rights groups said in a joint statement.

The statement said there were 410 vulnerable communities of urban poor in Phnom Penh, with 74 of them threatened with eviction.

"These (74) communities have already received notifications from the government authorities that ordered them to voluntarily move away from their homes with little compensations, the groups said.

The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, the Housing Rights Task Force, and the NGO Forum on Cambodia also said they had "deep concern about potential forced evictions of urban poor people from their communities in the near future".

The Cambodian government has faced mounting criticism for a spate of forced evictions throughout the country over the past few years at the hands of the army and police as land prices have risen.

Cambodia in September ended a World Bank-financed land-titling programme amid increasing property disputes and allegations of land-grabbing.

Land ownership is a controversial problem in Cambodia, where legal documents were destroyed under the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s and civil war that ended in 1998.

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Cambodia court orders arrest of opposition leader

By Jared Ferrie


PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - An arrest warrant has been issued for the leader of Cambodia's main opposition party after he ignored a provincial court order to appear for questioning, a government spokesman said on Thursday.

Sam Rainsy failed to appear for questioning on Monday about an Oct. 25 incident in which demarcation posts were uprooted along Cambodia's border with Vietnam.

A Phnom Penh court issued an arrest warrant on Tuesday, although it was not announced publicly.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan confirmed on Thursday that the warrant had been issued for Rainsy, who leads the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP).

In an email from France, Rainsy told Reuters he would not appear in court because the case against him was politically motivated.

"The court in Cambodia is just a political tool for the ruling party to crack down on the opposition," he said. "I will let this politically subservient court prosecute me in absentia because its verdict is known in advance."

Phay insisted the judges made their decisions free of political interference and said the warrant was issued only because Rainsy missed his court date.

"No matter who you are you have to appear in court, that's the law," he said.

Rights groups have accused the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) of using the courts to crack down on opposition.

On Nov. 16, the CPP-dominated government voted to strip Rainsy of his immunity for the second time in 2009.

Rainsy faces charges of racial incitement and destruction of property for his alleged role in uprooting six border posts, which local farmers claimed were placed on their land.

Vietnam lodged an official complaint over the incident. The countries are in the process of demarcating their 1,270-metre long border, but farmers on the Cambodian side have claimed they are losing land as Vietnam encroaches on Cambodian territory.

A group of villagers from Svay Rieng province, on the frontier with Vietnam, brought their concerns to Rainsy, who is a fierce critic of Vietnam's influence in Cambodian affairs.

Vietnam is a growing investor in Cambodia, and the countries signed a memorandum of understanding at a forum in Ho Chi Minh City on Dec. 26, which will guide Vietnamese investments that officials said could top $6 billion.

(Editing by Alex Richardson)


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Cambodia’s ‘jungle woman’ speaking normally, dad says

AFP , PHNOM PENH


Cambodia’s “jungle woman,” whose story gripped the country after she apparently spent 18 years living in a forest, has begun speaking normally instead of making animal-type noises, her father said.

Rochom P’ngieng, now 28, went missing as a little girl in 1989 while herding water buffalo in Ratanakkiri Province, about 600km northeast of the capital Phnom Penh.

In early 2007, the woman was brought from the jungle, naked and dirty, after being caught trying to steal food from a farmer. She was hunched over like a monkey, scavenging on the ground for pieces of dried rice.

She could not utter a word of any intelligible language, instead making what Sal Lou, the man who says he is her father, calls “animal noises.”

JUNGLE WOMAN’

Cambodians described her as “jungle woman” and “half-animal girl” and since rejoining society Rochom P’ngieng has battled bouts of illness and was hospitalized in October after refusing food.

Sal Lou said late on Wednesday, however, that this month his daughter had started to understand Cambodia’s Khmer language and could even speak the language of his ethnic Phnong tribe.

“She is becoming a normal human being like others. She has been starting to speak out now — she speaks the language of Phnong,” Sal Lou said by telephone. “She can ask for food, water and so on when she feels hungry.”

The apparent breakthrough happened after Rochom P’ngieng’s hospitalization, when doctors gave her injections to treat a nervous illness for a few days, Sal Lou said.

VERY GENTLE

“She is very gentle and I am very happy with her progress,” he said, adding that her condition appears to be improving from day to day.

Sal Lou said his daughter had stopped trying to flee into the jungle as she had in the past.

“Even though we tried to take her into jungle, she wanted to stay at home,” he said.

The jungles of Ratanakkiri — some of the most isolated and wild in Cambodia — are known to have held hidden groups of hill tribes in the recent past.

In November 2004, 34 people from four hill tribe families emerged from the dense forest where they had fled in 1979 after the fall of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime, which they supported.
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CAMBODIA Coadjutor appointed for Phnom Penh vicariate

PHNOM PENH (UCAN) -- A coadjutor to the country’s only Catholic bishop has been appointed by Pope Benedict XVI.

On Dec. 24, the Vatican announced that Father Olivier Schmitthaeusler, 39, has been made coadjutor apostolic vicar of Phnom Penh apostolic vicariate.

The Paris Foreign Missions (MEP) priest was serving as Phnom Penh vicar general as well as head of the vicariate’s education committee when he was handed his new post.

Duong Savong, director of the Cambodia Catholic Culture Center, said he hopes Father Schmitthaeusler, in his new role, will help Catholics develop their faith and improve relations with other religions alongside Bishop Emile Destombes.

The coadjutor of a Church jurisdiction shares episcopal responsibility with the local Church head and may also succeed him. In August 2010, Bishop Destombes will turn 75 and will be required to request retirement according to Church law.

Father Werachai Sri Pramong of the Thai Missionary Society said the new appointment shows the Church in Cambodia is growing.

Kol Cheang, a member of the parish council of Our Lady of the Smile Parish here, said Father Schmitthaeusler is a good choice since he has good relations with local Catholics, people of other religions, as well as with local and national government officials.

“He has helped young people get an education and has built schools for poor people in the countryside.”

Father Schmitthaeusler was born on June 26, 1970, in Strasbourg, France. His father is a permanent deacon of Strasbourg archdiocese.

After ordination as an MEP priest in 1998, he went to Cambodia as a missioner. He then became a pastor in the Takeo and Kampot areas in the south of the country. Since 2002 he has served as director of the Catholic Education Committee of the Phnom Penh apostolic vicariate. From 2003-2005, he also taught Church history at the major seminary in Phnom Penh before being appointed vicar general in 2007.
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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Cambodia's dengue fever death toll sharply falls this year

PHNOM PENH, (Xinhua) -- The number of reported cases of dengue fever rose in 2009, but fatalities significantly fell from 2008 due to improved public awareness, local media reported on Thursday, citing health officials.

Ngan Chantha, director of dengue control at the Health Ministry, was quoted by the Cambodia Daily as saying that there were 11,625 cases of dengue fever and 36 deaths from the disease this year, compared to 9,245 cases and 65 deaths last year.

"We intervened by disseminating information through the media, spraying mosquito insecticide and training doctors and nurses to help dengue victims properly."

"People understand the disease and how dangerous it is, but they still don't change their behavior," he said, referring to the need to keep homes free of places where mosquitoes can breed.

Most of this year's dengue infections occurred in high-density areas in provinces including Kompong Cham, Kandal, Siem Reap and Kampot, as well as the capital Phnom Penh, Chantha added.

Doung Socheat, director of the National Center for Parasitology, Entomology and Malaria Control, agreed with Ngan Chantha that this year's decrease in fatalities was due to improved awareness and public health education on how to treat the disease.

Public health authorities will concentrate on decreasing further the number of both dengue infections and fatalities in the coming year, Socheat said.
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Kasit defends record in office

Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya has defended his performance over the past 12 months - particularly in dealing with the Thai-Cambodia dispute - insisting he will not resign from his post.

Mr Kasit yesterday responded to public criticism and polls that show he is "a weak link in the government" and that his ministry has performed badly over the past year.

Mr Kasit said he had good relations with all countries around the world - except one country which created problems because "some Thais became spies to undermine him". He was referring to Cambodia.

"I did not yield to the leader of that country because it would have meant losing what is in Thailand's national interest, especially the oil and gas reserves under the Gulf of Thailand," Mr Kasit said.

"It does not belong to any family or any group of people, not Thais or another country. It belongs to the 65 million Thai people. I will not allow one or a few families from any country to occupy this oil and gas reserve, and I will not quit my position.

"What I try to fight for is the right thing and I can explain everything I did. I think this government and I did everything right."

Mr Kasit admitted the weakness of the government and the Foreign Ministry was their poor public relations work.

"It is the responsibility of neighbouring countries, which believe in international rules and regulations and non-interference principles, to not sit idly by but to help orchestrate talks," he said.

The diplomatic row between Thailand and Cambodia flared up after Cambodia appointed ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra as its economic adviser and personal adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The Thai government recalled its ambassador from Phnom Penh and Cambodia responded by withdrawing its ambassador from Bangkok.

Cambodia refused to extradite Thaksin when he arrived in the country on Nov10 to take up his post as adviser.

Phnom Penh authorities then arrested a Thai engineer working for Cambodia Air Traffic Services on spying charges for passing on details of Thaksin's flight details to the Thai embassy.

He was later granted a pardon by the Cambodian king.

Mr Kasit said Thailand's image among the international community had improved over the past six months.

"The international media has less comment on the Thai government and understands more about the role of the monarchy," he said.

He said the election scheduled for Burma next year would be another challenge for Asean.

If Burma was successful in its election, it would help strengthen the grouping and improve human rights issues, making the Asean Charter stronger.

"I think progress in Burma is an important [issue] and peace along the Thai-Burmese border [will improve the] solidarity of Asean."

If the election fails, it will be to the detriment of Asean, he said.

The minister said the ministry's core policy next year would be to emphasise cooperation with Africa and Europe as Thailand was seeking closer links with the two continents.

Africa will become an emerging market for Thai consumer goods and food resources and Thailand will help to provide technical assistance in agriculture.

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Preah Vihear resolution overturned

The Administrative Court has ruled against a cabinet resolution approving a Thai-Cambodian memorandum of understanding on the listing of Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage site.

The court yesterday quashed the June 17, 2008, resolution on the grounds that the government of the day, led by Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, had failed to follow procedures required by Section 190 of the constitution.

The section requires all agreements involving issues of sovereignty to be approved by parliament.

The memorandum was not scrutinised by parliament before it was signed by then foreign affairs minister Noppadon Pattama on May 22, 2008.

Thailand pledged in the memo to support Cambodia in nominating the Preah Vihear temple to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) as a World Heritage site.

Attached to the document was a map of the overlapping border area surrounding the temple.

The case was filed by the People's Alliance for Democracy which campaigned against the listing of the Khmer ruins.

PAD lawyer Nitithon Lamlua yesterday said the group would submit the ruling to the National Anti-Corruption Commission which is investigating Mr Noppadon for alleged malfeasance in his handling of the matter.

He said Mr Noppadon had 30 days to appeal against the ruling.

PAD secretary-general Suriyasai Katasila hailed the verdict as a New Year's gift for all Thais.

The government should tell Unesco that Thailand no longer supports Cambodia's bid to list the temple, he said.

"The government must inform Unesco of the court's ruling as quickly as possible to put a halt to any activities which could affect Thai interests," he said.

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S. Korea: Low pathogenic H5N2 in ducks 29 Dec 2009

On a duck farm in South Korea low pathogenic bird flu type H5N2 has been diagnosed.
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The duck farm in Chung Chong-Namdo (Gobuk-myeon, Seo-san city) holds 26,800 duck of which 40 birds were found to be positive for H5N2. The source of the infection could not be established.

As part of the yearly surveillance programme, a member of the Livestock Health Control Association collected samples from a duck raising farm in Seo-san city and requested the test for avian influenza to the Chungchong-namdo Veterinary Research Institute (VRI) on 7 December 2009.

After it was positive by haemagglutination test, the sample was sent to the National Veterinary Research and Quarantine Service (NVRQS) on 22 December. In the course of the confirmatory test, the isolated virus was confirmed as H5 avian influenza virus on 24 December and finally confirmed as low pathogenic avian influenza virus (H5N2) by gene sequencing.

26,800 ducks raised in the affected farm were culled and 176,000 eggs kept in the farm were destroyed.

The whole procedure for burial and burning was completed on 26 December. Traceback investigation of epidemiologically related farms and enhanced surveillance on neighbouring farms are underway.

According to the OIE Animal Health Information Department H5 and H7 avian influenza in its low pathogenic form in poultry is a notifiable disease and the applied control measures have to take place (a.o. stamping out).

H5N1 in Cambodia
In a backyard flock in Cambodia the highly pathogenic influenza strain H5N1 was found.

In a flock of 1,216 birds in Ponhea Kraek 143 chicken were found dead and examined positive for bird flu. The remaining 875 birds were destroyed. Movements of birds in the area is restricted.
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Rachel's mission to help children in Cambodia

By Emma Streatfield



A SWINDON woman will spend three months helping children in one of the poorest countries in the world.

Rachel White, of Harrow Close, Stratton has been accepted as a volunteer for a community project with children in Cambodia for the registered charity Globalteer.

Many of these children are orphaned or living on the streets.

The 25-year-old said: “It’s a completely different world out there and I hope I can make a difference.”

Rachel will head out to Cambodia on January 30 and return on April 12.

She will be working with Cambodia Kids, which is involved in various projects – a day centre for street children, a children’s orphanage and a free education programme for children.

Rachel will be assigned to help out on one of these projects when she arrives.

In recent years, Cambodia has seen decades of upheaval and conflict.

The radical communist Khmer Rouge party, under their leader Pol Pot, seized power in 1975 after years of guerrilla warfare.

Under his regime over the next three years an estimated 1.7m Cambodians died some from exhaustion or starvation, but many from torture and execution.

Today, Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world and relies heavily on international aid.

Rachel said the consequences of this poverty were being felt by the country’s young people.

She said: “Because the parents can’t afford to keep them, their children are put into orphanages so they get a better chance.”

She said she went to Australia on a gap year, but had always wanted to do some humanitarian work abroad.

So when she found out she was starting her new job in April, she decided to take the opportunity to look on the Globalteer website.

Globalteer is a not for profit UK charity that serves to help those in need. It places volunteers overseas to work on projects that need help, but in order to volunteer on the project donation money has to be raised.

This money will be used to help in the building of schools and provide children with meals to allow them to attend school rather than working or begging.

To raise the necessary funding, Rachel will be running or walking 200 miles in 20 days on a treadmill.

She has also organised a quiz for 70 of her family and friends at The GW pub, on Station Road, opposite the railway station on Saturday.

To donate to Rachel’s campaign email rachelwhite84@hotmail.com.
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Thai court cancels cabinet resolution on Preah Vihear temple

BANGKOK, (Xinhua) -- Thailand's Central Administrative Court Wednesday ordered revocation of a resolution passed by the Samak Sundaravej-led government, which approved the Thai-Cambodian joint communique supporting Cambodia's bid to list Preah Vihear temple as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Thai News Agency reported.

The Thai-Cambodian joint communique was issued in May, 2008, and the cabinet under then Prime Minister Samak passed the resolution approving it on June 17.

Nitithorn Lamlua, a lawyer of the People's Alliance for Democracy filed a petition with the court against then Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama for signing the joint communique without a parliamentary approval, which is required by Article 190 of the 2007 constitution.

There were some eight other lawyers, who joined the PAD lawyer, Nitithorn, in filing the petition with the court.

Nitithorn said he will forward the court verdict to the National Anti-Corruption Commission asking it to take legal action against Noppadon for malfeasance.

The two neighbors have also been engaged in a conflict about their undemocratic border area claimed by both sides adjacent to the ancient Preah Vihear temple.

Both countries have historically laid claim to the temple. The International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that the temple belonged to Cambodia, but the temple can practicably only be accessed from Thailand.
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FM Kasit urges PM Hun Sen to consider Thai-Cambodian relations as priority

BANGKOK, (TNA) - Thailand's Minister of Foreign Affairs Kasit Piromya on Wednesday urged Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to show concern for better long term relations between the two kingdoms by not getting involved with convicted Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Mr Kasit said as long as PM Hun Sen has cordial relations with the fugitive ex-premier and sets this amicable relationship as his standpoint in bilateral relations, Thailand cannot accept the condition.

"Neither I nor Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva have any personal conflict with Mr Hun Sen and Mr Thaksin," said the Thai foreign minister, "I have known Mr Hun Sen for over 20 years and know his style of working very well, so I don't want Mr Hun Sen to get involved with the convicted ex-premier for the sake of good bilateral relations."

Mr Kasit reiterated that Mr Thaksin is a fugitive, wanted by the Thai authorities, and that he has undermined Thai society and continues even now.

Ousted by a bloodless coup d'etat on September 19, 2006, Mr Thaksin fled the country over one year ago before the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions sentenced him to a two-year jail term for malfeasance in regard to the controversial Bangkok Ratchadapisek land purchase case.

The diplomatic row between Thailand and Cambodia flared up after the Cambodian government appointed the fugitive ex-Thai premier as its economic adviser and personal adviser to Mr Hun Sen.

The Thai government recalled its ambassador to Phnom Penh in retaliation, while Cambodia then withdrew its ambassador to Bangkok.

The Cambodian government also refused to extradite Mr Thaksin as requested by Thailand and arrested a Thai engineer working at Thai-owned Cambodia Air Traffic Services (CATS) on charges of passing privileged information on the flight details of Mr Thaksin during his first visit as advisor to Cambodia to a Thai diplomat.

The Thai employee was sentenced to seven years jail and fined Bt100,000 (US$3,000) but later was released following a royal pardon granted by the Cambodian king.

The Cambodian premier was recently quoted in foreign media as saying he is unhappy as long as Thai premier Abhisit and Mr Kasit are still in their posts. (TNA)


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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

More rare animals seized

CAMBODIAN authorities made five major seizures of protected wildlife in the third quarter of this year, according to newly released data from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ Wildlife Enforcement Network.

ASEAN recorded just two major arrests by Cambodian law enforcement for the first six months of 2009, but three large-scale seizures came in August, followed by two more in September.

Following the August 18 seizure in Battambang province of two Asiatic black bears, which are recuperating under the care of the local branch of Wildlife Alliance, Cambodian authorities confiscated 163 kilograms of live Bengal monitors in a bust in Kampong Cham province on August 26.

Just two days later, a veritable menagerie of rare creatures was seized in Phnom Penh, including 15 monocled cobras, 67 elongated tortoises and 15 giant Asian pond turtles. September saw busts in Kandal and Svay Rieng provinces that included 15 live Sunda pangolins, three live water monitors and 25 dead purple swamphens.

Chheang Dany, deputy director of the wildlife protection office at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said it was difficult to quantify the value of the confiscated wildlife, as demand for particular species is hard to measure. Difficult economic circumstances and a lack of knowledge about endangered species push many Cambodians into the illegal wildlife trade, he added.

“It’s difficult now because Cambodia wants to stabilise the population of wildlife before we allow some limited or legal, restricted harvesting,” he said.
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Metfone provides 2,000 free connections to Cambodia

The Vietnamese Metfone Company signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Cambodian Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport in Phnom Penh on December 29 to provide 2,000 free connections to Cambodian schools.

Metfone will offer free Internet connections and related equipment worth US$5 million to all State-owned schools, educational centres, universities, colleges and the ministry’s offices. In addition, it will present scholarships to hundreds of outstanding Cambodian students and pupils.

The project will be divided into three phases: in the first phase, Metfone will provide Internet connections to 300 schools and the ministry’s offices in 24 provinces and cities, and 334 computers and 10 virtual private networks to the ministry’s offices in Phnom Penh.

In the second phase from 2010-2012, Metfone will present Internet connections and computers to 500 more schools and 193 more district’s educational departments. In the third phase from 2013 to 2015, Metfone will complete the project.

Speaking at the signing ceremony, Cambodian Minister of Education, Youth and Sport, Im Sethy reaffirmed that the project will accelerate the application of information technology to his country’s educational system and the development of human resources.

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Cambodian parliament passes controversial land law

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia's parliament passed a controversial law on Tuesday allowing the government to expropriate land for development, raising concerns about a surge in forced evictions in the Southeast Asian country.

The National Assembly, which is dominated by the ruling Cambodian People's Party, voted to allow the authorities to seize land to develop infrastructure and pursue other projects deemed to be in the public interest.

Critics and opposition lawmakers said the legislation was vaguely worded and were concerned it would be abused to evict people from prime real estate.

"It will leave even more room and a legal framework to take away land," said opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua.

Land ownership is a controversial issue in Cambodia, where legal documents were destroyed and state institutions collapsed under the Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s and the civil war that followed.

A period of unprecedented growth since 2004 has boosted land prices, particularly in the capital, Phnom Penh, leading to a jump in the number of evictions and triggering fierce criticism of the government from aid donors.

In September, Cambodia said it was pulling out of a project sponsored by the World Bank aimed at settling land disputes, adding to international concern about the livelihoods of tens of thousands of impoverished city dwellers.

Eang Vuthi of land rights group Bridges Across Borders said civil society organisations had been hoping for a law that would help to prevent forced evictions by clearly stating when land expropriation was justified, but they failed to get changes made to the draft legislation.

"We wanted them to clarify the language," he said. "This law won't benefit the people. It will benefit only powerful people."

Government spokesman Phay Siphan described the law as a major step in the country's development.

"Nothing is perfect in this world," he said. "The law is a milestone for the country, a turning point. We have never had such a law before."
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Scottdale chiropractor volunteers in Cambodia

By Rachel R. Basinger, FOR THE DAILY COURIER


Michael (Pallygus) Pagliacci is no stranger to giving back.

For the second year, the Scottdale chiropractor joined the Flying Doctors of America to bring medical attention to those in need.

Last year, Pagliacci traveled to Peru. This year, he traveled with 20 other doctors, including Flying Doctors of America founder Allan Gathercoal, to Cambodia — a first for the organization.

"We're not there to change them in any way or have a hidden agenda," Pagliacci said. "We're just there to treat them and to provide our services."

The trip lasted 12 days. Doctors from several disciplines, including an ear, nose and throat specialist for the first time, traveled for 24 hours to get to their destination.

"When we drove past the villages, we would wave to them and you could just see their eyes light up because you were acknowledging them," Pagliacci said. "It was a precious human interaction and one of the reasons it's priceless to do these trips."

When they got to their destination, it was time to begin talking with the villagers through an interpreter to begin diagnosing problems.

"We had a general surgeon who did appendectomies, and he also removed goiters from some of the villagers that were the size of tennis balls," Pagliacci said. "There seems to be a lot of thyroid problems there. It's like an epidemic, and they say it could be linked to their diet and the lack of iodine."

He added that they saw a lot more abnormalities on this trip than last year's trip to Peru.

"There were various types of tumors, including one guy with a tumor on his shoulder that probably weighed around 15 pounds," Pagliacci said. "There was one guy who had a tumor on the outskirts of his brain that was coming out his ear and eye."

His former mission trips and experiences helped prepare him for this trip.

"About 43 percent of the population lives under the poverty line, but the amazing thing is they're smiling and they're happy despite their circumstances," Pagliacci said.

While all the doctors saw as many people as possible, they could not get to all of those waiting to be treated.

"But there was never any pushing or shoving or bad behavior," Pagliacci said. "They were willing to wait until next year for treatment because the average pay in Cambodia each year is just $600, and the cost of some of the surgeries they were waiting for is about $200."

Pagliacci hopes to go on another trip with the Flying Doctors of America next year if his finances allow it.

"Once you do a trip like this, it's emotional and it gets you," he said. "It's like you can't wait to do the next one."

For now, he is hoping to get people to visit the organization's Web site at www.fdoamerica.org.

When people ask Pagliacci why he gets involved, his answer is simple.

"It just seems like it's the right thing to do," he said..
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China Shows No Tolerance For Dissidence

BEIJING, CHINA



China may have deservedly earned all the international accolades for its dazzling economic achievements, but two recent developments show its Communist regime is nowhere near winning similar praise for tolerating political dissidence or challenge to its authority in any form.

In the first instance, China, going against pleas and urgings from around the world, handed an 11-year prison sentence to Liu Xiaobo, the country's widely respected ardent supporter of democracy and freedom of speech.

In an equally disturbing move, China convinced Cambodia to deport 20 Uighurs who had fled to that country for political asylum to escape the crackdown on their fellow Turkic-speaking minority members by Chinese authorities for the ethnic riots last July in the far northwest Xinjiang-Uighur region.

The 53-year-old Liu's trial in a Beijing people's court last week on subversion charges lasted only about three hours. His wife and foreign diplomats were not allowed to attend the proceedings, which preceded his Friday sentencing on charges of "inciting subversion of state power."

The charges against Liu, who has been politically active since the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy protest in Beijing, resulted from articles posted on the Internet and jointly authoring the "Charter 08" petition against one-party rule and urging human rights and free speech.

The Washington Post, quoting a relative, reported that at the trial, Liu's lawyers were allowed only 14 minutes of speaking time.

"Liu has been engaged in agitation activities, such as spreading of rumors and defaming of the government, aimed at subversion of the state and overthrowing the socialism system in recent years," according to a police statement reported by China's state-run Xinhua news agency.

Human Rights Watch in New York said Liu, a prolific writer, has been detained, arrested and sentenced repeatedly for peaceful political activities since the late 1980s.

HRW's Sophie Richardson, calling the trial a "travesty of justice," said its only purpose was "to dress up naked political repression in the trappings of legal proceedings" against non-existent crimes.

China's response was that the international calls for Liu's release were "gross interference" in its internal affairs. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said those expressing such concerns should respect the country's judicial sovereignty.

Commenting on the former university lecturer's prison sentence, Rebecca MacKinnon, a fellow at the Open Society Institute and co-founder of GlobalVoicesOnline.org, told the Post: "It certainly seems to reflect a high level of sensitivity and very low level of tolerance."

There had been expectations among other Chinese dissidents that some of the reforms in recent years would lead to political modernization in step with the country's economic modernization, the Post report said.

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley was quoted as saying: "As far as we can tell, this man's crime was simply signing a piece of paper that aspires to a more open and participatory form of government. That is not a crime."

In the incident relating to the Uighurs' deportation from Cambodia, China also said it was an internal matter as the 20 Uighurs were suspected of committing criminal offences, and urged the outside world not to make irresponsible remarks, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said the "Chinese citizens" had broken the laws of both China and Cambodia by illegally crossing the border and that Cambodia had acted according to its immigration law.

"China is a country under the rule of law. Judicial authorities will deal with these people's illegal criminal activities in accordance with the law and safeguard their legitimate rights," Jiang said.

It is not clear what fate awaits the deported Uighurs, but last Friday a Chinese court sentenced five more people to death, bringing to 22 the total condemned to die for the July ethnic riots. The five were part of a new group of 22 suspects tried by a court in Urumqi, capital of the region where the July riots killed about 200 people. The others were sentenced from 10 years to life in prison.

The July riots involved the minority Muslims Uighurs and the majority Han Chinese. Chinese officials have said most of the victims were Han Chinese. Tensions between the two groups have been simmering for a long time as the Uighurs resent being ruled by the Hans.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang, commenting on whether the deportation of Uighurs was linked to China's assistance to Cambodia, said both countries have maintained a comprehensive and cooperative partnership. "We provide assistance to Cambodia in line with our own capacity and without any strings attached," Xinhua quoted her as saying.

However, two days after the 20 Uighurs were deported, China signed 14 business deals with the Cambodian government worth about $1 billion, The New York Times reported.
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Aussie 'clubbed to death' in Cambodia

An Australian man has been murdered in a popular Cambodian seaside resort, police say.

Officers identified the victim as John Edward Thompson, 47, who was killed early on Monday morning in the southern town of Sihanoukville, according to the local deputy police chief Kao Ratana.

"It is a case of murder. We are investigating the killing and we have not yet concluded what the motive was," he said on Tuesday.

Kao Ratana declined to say how the man was killed, but local reports said he was clubbed to death with wooden sticks in a robbery.

A spokesman for the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh said they had been informed of the death by police.

AFP

Read more!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Cambodia holds Khmer traditional measurement exhibition

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia's Reyum Institute has documented more than 130 Khmer traditional measurements and will run a show-casing of the documentation for the public in Phnom Penh from Dec. 28, 2009 to Feb. 2010, official news agency AKP reported on Monday.

According to Research Manager of Reyum Institute Preap Chanmara, Cambodia has long been using a wide variety of measurements for length, height, weight, depth, size, substance and time. Some measurements have been standardized with human body, things, like coconut fruit and tree, and others have been adapted from French measurements; for instance, meter, kilometer, etc.

Chanmara said that sources of the documented measurements include interview with people, written documents, and observation of people's daily interaction.

Different locations may use and understand different measurements. Some locations may use the same measurements for different meanings. Read more!

Vietnam and Cambodia reach US$6 billion business deals

Vietnam and Cambodia signed investment agreements and contracts worth US$6 billion at a conference held in Ho Chi Minh City on December 26 to promote Vietnamese investment in Cambodia.

Under the documents, Vietnam will invest in power generation, food processing, fertiliser production, rubber plantation and bauxite mining in Cambodia.

Two-way trade between the two countries has increased significantly in recent years, reaching US$1.7 billion in 2008, up 40% against 2007.

Vietnamese businesses have invested in over 60 projects in Cambodia with a total capital of nearly US$900 million.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and his Cambodian counterpart, Hun Sen, co-chairmen of the conference, welcomed a joint initiative to host the conference as a practical move to promote bilateral co-operation in investment and trade.

PM Hun Sen said Cambodia is calling for foreign investment in such areas as agro-forestry, industry, infrastructure, product processing for export, mining and tourism.

Cambodia will create a favourable investment environment for the Vietnamese businesses to operate in the country, PM Hun Sen assured PM Dung and nearly 600 officials and business people attending the event.

PM Dung appreciated the effectiveness of Vietnamese-invested projects in Cambodia. He said, however, that the results have not yet matched the potential of both countries and not lived up to their people’s expectations.

He recalled high-level talks and meetings between the two countries’ top leaders who had agreed to take additional measures to broaden co-operative ties. They expressed their determination to raise two-way trade to US$2 billion in 2010 and increase Vietnamese investment in Cambodia to US$6 billion in the coming years.

At the event, the Vietnamese Ministry of Planning and Investment and the Cambodian Development Council signed a memorandum of understanding on investment promotion.

The Vietnamese Minister of Industry and Trade and the Cambodian Minister of Industry, Mining and Energy signed the minutes of their meeting regarding bauxite exploration and exploitation in the Cambodian Mondulkiri province.

The Bank for Investment and Development of Vietnam (BIDV) signed deals to provide financial services to Vietnamese businesses investing in Cambodia.

Also during the event, a certificate of operation was granted to the association of Vietnamese investors in Cambodia, and investment licences were given to a number of Vietnamese businesses. (VNA
Read more!

New form of Malaria near cambodia

MARGIE MASON and MARTHA MENDOZA
PAILIN, Cambodia (AP) - O'treng village doesn't look like the epicenter of anything. Just off a muddy rutted-out road, it is nothing more than a handful of Khmer-style bamboo huts perched crookedly on stilts, tucked among a tangle of cornfields once littered with deadly land mines.

Yet this spot on the Thai-Cambodian border is home to a form of malaria that keeps rendering one powerful drug after another useless.

This time, scientists have confirmed the first signs of resistance to the only affordable treatment left in the global medicine cabinet for malaria: Artemisinin.

If this drug stops working, there's no good replacement to combat a disease that kills 1 million annually.

.
As a result, earlier this year international medical leaders declared resistant malaria here a health emergency.

"This is not business as usual. It's something really special and it needs a real concerted effort," said Dr. Nick White, a malaria expert at Mahidol University in Bangkok who has spent decades trying to eradicate the disease from Southeast Asia.

"We know that children have been dying in Africa, millions of children have died over the past three decades, and a lot of those deaths have been attributed to drug resistance. And we know that the drug resistance came from the same place."

Malaria is just one of the leading killer infectious diseases battling back in a new and more deadly form, the AP found in a six-month look at the soaring rates of drug resistance worldwide.

After decades of the overuse and misuse of antibiotics, diseases like malaria, tuberculosis and staph have started to mutate. The result: The drugs are slowly dying.

Already, The Associated Press found, resistance to malaria has spread faster and wider than previously documented. Dr. White said virtually every case of malaria he sees in western Cambodia is now resistant to drugs.

And in the Pailin area, patients given artemisinin take twice as long as those elsewhere to be clear of the parasite, 84 hours instead of the typical 48, and sometimes even 96.

Mosquitoes spread this resistant malaria quickly from shack to shack, village to village, and eventually, country to country.

And so O'treng, with its 45 poor families, naked kids, skinny dogs and boiling pots of rice, finds itself at the epicenter of an increasingly desperate worldwide effort to stop a dangerous new version of an old disease.

Bundled in a threadbare batik sarong, 51-year-old Chhien Rern, one of O'treng's sick residents, sweats and shivers as a 103-degree fever rages against the malaria parasites in her bloodstream.

Three days ago Chhien Rern started feeling ill while looking for work in a neighboring district.

So she did what most rural Cambodians do: She walked to a little shop and asked for malaria medicine.

With no prescription, she was handed a packet of pills, she's unsure what they were.

"After I took the drugs, I felt better for a while," she says. "Then I got sick again."

The headaches, chills and fever, classic symptoms of malaria, worsened. Chhien Rern's daughter persuaded her to take a motorbike taxi past washed out bridges and flooded culverts to the nearest hospital in Pailin, a dirty border town about 10 miles from O'treng.

Doctors say there's a good chance Chhien Rern was sold counterfeit drugs.
People generate drug resistant malaria when they take too little medicine, substandard medicine or, as is all too often the case around O'treng, counterfeit medicine with a pinch of the real stuff.

Once established, the drug-resistant malaria is spread by mosquitoes. So one person's counterfeit medicine can eventually spawn widespread resistant disease.

Yet in most parts of the world, people routinely buy antimalarials over the counter at local pharmacies and treat themselves.

A recent study out of neighboring Laos found 88 percent of stores selling artemisinin-based drugs, the same ones scientists are desperately trying to preserve, were actually peddling fakes.

Worse, nearly 15 percent of the counterfeits were laced with small hints of artemisinin, which could prompt resistance.

The researchers found indications that some were made in China, feeding smugglers' routes that snake through Myanmar and into Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

The counterfeits, along with outdated drugs, are jumping continents. In Africa, where malaria is endemic in 45 countries, the fake drug industry is thriving.

A 2003 World Health Organization survey found between 20 percent and 90 percent of antimalarials randomly purchased in seven African countries failed quality testing, depending on the type of drug.

WHO and Interpol formed a task force three years ago to try to stop counterfeiters, seizing millions of fake malaria, tuberculosis, HIV and other pills in Southeast Asia and Africa.

But officials say the work is only as good as the countries' legal systems.

"One of the problems is that there's not really any enforcement, so what happens when they find a drug that's counterfeit or substandard?"

Says

David Sintasath, a regional epidemiologist at the nonprofit Malaria Consortium in Bangkok.

"The policy is to take it away from them. That's good until the next month when they get their next shipment, right?"

Countless unlicensed shops in Cambodia sell artesunate, a single-drug therapy that has been banned in the country.

Artesunate, a modified version of artemisinin derived from a Chinese herb, has been hailed as miracle treatment worldwide because it works so well with so few side effects.

But Cambodian surveys have shown that many patients take artesunate alone instead of mixing it with another antimalarial drug, making it easier for resistance to build.

"The drug has been around for a long time and misused for a long time and this is all encouraging the parasite to develop resistance," says Dr. Delia Bethell, of the U.S. Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Science, whose research has been at the forefront of identifying emerging resistance on the border.

Back in western Cambodia a few miles from O'treng village, shopkeeper Nop Chen turns a flashlight on a glass case full of drugs he hawks from inside his cramped roadside house.

He digs through the many boxes and produces two different types of artemisinin-based antimalarials. Both lack the full amount of a second required medication, mefloquine, necessary to treat the strain of malaria in the area and ward off more resistance.

But Nop Chen, a former Khmer Rouge medic, points to a small Cambodian seal on the boxes and says he feels confident the drugs are the real deal.

Still, he acknowledges he is not licensed to sell the pills and he's unsure where they originated.

"I'm not concerned because it's got the sticker and the stamp," he says, squinting at the Khmer script on the labels. "Because of the logo, I trust it to not be fake, it was made in Cambodia."

Walk past O'treng's cluster of sagging huts, cross another cornfield and hike a twisted mile on a dirt track to a wooden shack where a string of smoke is curling through the wooden floor planks in a largely futile effort to keep mosquitoes away.

It's here that skinny 13-year-old Hoeun Hong Da wakes up on the floor nauseous and burning with fever.

Hong Da recovered from malaria two months ago, but now the dizziness and headaches are back.
He's been sickened by the disease six or seven times in his short life — too many to remember.

He knows that if he doesn't get to a hospital soon, he could die. With no new treatments in the pipeline, normally reserved scientists are quick to use words like "disaster" or "catastrophe" when asked what might happen if they don't contain the disease that's ravaging young Hong Da before it spreads to Africa.

There, malaria already kills an estimated 2,000 kids daily. For the past 50,000 years the malaria parasite has been evolving, and migrating, alongside humans.

It moves within the huts of O'treng, and into neighboring towns when men like Hong Da's father and older siblings float from job to job.

Some work is close enough for them to return home at night, but other jobs keep them away for stretches of time.

They sleep in tight rows, sweating and weary, in disintegrating bamboo huts with workers who are also traveling, and possibly infected with malaria.

The concept of containing drug resistance has never been tried before. Scientists wonder: How do you control the spread of a resistant parasite transmitted by mosquitoes that bite people who live and work in infested jungle areas, then scatter in all directions, all the time?

This area, the former stronghold of the murderous Khmer Rouge, has a notorious history.

Burmese migrant workers who once mined rubies and sapphires in these now deforested hills are believed to have helped transport strains resistant to the drug chloroquine back to Myanmar a half century ago.

From there it spread to India and later over to Africa until the drug was useless worldwide.

A decade later, history repeated itself when resistance to the drug sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine followed the same path.

Now, in western Cambodia, scientists are concerned because the artemisinin-based drugs are taking longer than usual to kill the parasites.

Earlier this year, an army of aid agencies and experts from the WHO began racing to this impoverished corner on the Thai-Cambodian border to divvy up a $22.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, aimed at stopping this virulent new strain.

But grants haven't stopped lines of Cambodians, sick or not, from queuing up every morning at Thailand's border, charging past the checkpoints in search of work or goods. Some may carry resistant strains in, others may bring them home.

And grants haven't stopped the parasite from spreading in the O'treng area, despite widespread bednet distribution, awareness campaigns and enhanced surveillance systems.

Some scientists say the only sure way to fix the problem is to eradicate malaria entirely from western Cambodia.

"It's really dangerous," says Dr. Rupam Tripura,

who's conducting a study in Pailin for the Wellcome Trust-Mahidol University-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Program. "What will happen to the mosquitoes?
Can you kill those living in the jungle? No, so you cannot kill the strain."

If O'treng is the epicenter of this emerging disease, Phoun Sokha is the point man aimed at controlling it.

At 47, Phoun Sokha is the village malaria worker who lives at the mouth of the hamlet and proudly displays an orange plastic kit that resembles a tackle box.

Phoun Sokha is serious about his packets of medicine and his rapid tests to prick blood from sick villagers' fingers to determine if they have malaria and if so, what type.

He makes sure patients are taking their free medicines and checks to see if they're improving. If not, Phoun Sokha can even arrange transportation to the hospital.

But treating O'treng's malaria patients can be frustrating.

"Some of the patients, when they went to the hospital, after one month, maybe they get malaria again," he says.

Today Hong Da, the village boy who has fought malaria so many times before, heads home from the hospital after a few days of treatment.

He clutches a new mosquito net he hopes will prevent yet another infection. Together, the recovering boy and his weathered mom shuffle past sick neighbor Chhien Rern's shack before disappearing among the tassels of the cornfield toward their home.

But all is not well. Under a tattered quilt, Hong Da's 9-year-old sister Hoeun Chhay Meth is curled on a thin mattress atop the wooden floor inside the family's open-air home.

She had malaria alongside her brother two months ago. They share a mosquito net that she burned a hole in when she stayed up one night reading by the light of a makeshift candle.

Her brother thinks that's how the mosquitoes infected them.

"Very afraid of dying," says Chhay Meth, who has started taking medicine provided by the village malaria worker. "I feel worse than before. I cannot walk myself or stand up by myself and cannot eat well."

Hong Da understands. He gently lifts his little sister's limp body, scooping her up, his strength returning.

Chhay Meth reaches weakly for her mother. Like her big brother, this child doesn't know about counterfeit drugs or antimalarials.

She only knows she's sick. And the medicines don't seem to work as well any more in this little village she calls home.

David Sintasath, a regional epidemiologist at the nonprofit Malaria Consortium in Bangkok.

"The policy is to take it away from them. That's good until the next month when they get their next shipment, right?"

Countless unlicensed shops in Cambodia sell artesunate, a single-drug therapy that has been banned in the country.

Artesunate, a modified version of artemisinin derived from a Chinese herb, has been hailed as miracle treatment worldwide because it works so well with so few side effects.

But Cambodian surveys have shown that many patients take artesunate alone instead of mixing it with another antimalarial drug, making it easier for resistance to build.

"The drug has been around for a long time and misused for a long time and this is all encouraging the parasite to develop resistance," says Dr. Delia Bethell, of the U.S. Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Science, whose research has been at the forefront of identifying emerging resistance on the border.

Back in western Cambodia a few miles from O'treng village, shopkeeper Nop Chen turns a flashlight on a glass case full of drugs he hawks from inside his cramped roadside house.

He digs through the many boxes and produces two different types of artemisinin-based antimalarials. Both lack the full amount of a second required medication, mefloquine, necessary to treat the strain of malaria in the area and ward off more resistance.

But Nop Chen, a former Khmer Rouge medic, points to a small Cambodian seal on the boxes and says he feels confident the drugs are the real deal.

Still, he acknowledges he is not licensed to sell the pills and he's unsure where they originated.

"I'm not concerned because it's got the sticker and the stamp," he says, squinting at the Khmer script on the labels. "Because of the logo, I trust it to not be fake, it was made in Cambodia."

Walk past O'treng's cluster of sagging huts, cross another cornfield and hike a twisted mile on a dirt track to a wooden shack where a string of smoke is curling through the wooden floor planks in a largely futile effort to keep mosquitoes away.

It's here that skinny 13-year-old Hoeun Hong Da wakes up on the floor nauseous and burning with fever.

Hong Da recovered from malaria two months ago, but now the dizziness and headaches are back.
He's been sickened by the disease six or seven times in his short life — too many to remember.

He knows that if he doesn't get to a hospital soon, he could die. With no new treatments in the pipeline, normally reserved scientists are quick to use words like "disaster" or "catastrophe" when asked what might happen if they don't contain the disease that's ravaging young Hong Da before it spreads to Africa.

There, malaria already kills an estimated 2,000 kids daily. For the past 50,000 years the malaria parasite has been evolving, and migrating, alongside humans.

It moves within the huts of O'treng, and into neighboring towns when men like Hong Da's father and older siblings float from job to job.

Some work is close enough for them to return home at night, but other jobs keep them away for stretches of time.

They sleep in tight rows, sweating and weary, in disintegrating bamboo huts with workers who are also traveling, and possibly infected with malaria.

The concept of containing drug resistance has never been tried before. Scientists wonder: How do you control the spread of a resistant parasite transmitted by mosquitoes that bite people who live and work in infested jungle areas, then scatter in all directions, all the time?

This area, the former stronghold of the murderous Khmer Rouge, has a notorious history.

Burmese migrant workers who once mined rubies and sapphires in these now deforested hills are believed to have helped transport strains resistant to the drug chloroquine back to Myanmar a half century ago.

From there it spread to India and later over to Africa until the drug was useless worldwide.

A decade later, history repeated itself when resistance to the drug sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine followed the same path.

Now, in western Cambodia, scientists are concerned because the artemisinin-based drugs are taking longer than usual to kill the parasites.

Earlier this year, an army of aid agencies and experts from the WHO began racing to this impoverished corner on the Thai-Cambodian border to divvy up a $22.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, aimed at stopping this virulent new strain.

But grants haven't stopped lines of Cambodians, sick or not, from queuing up every morning at Thailand's border, charging past the checkpoints in search of work or goods. Some may carry resistant strains in, others may bring them home.

And grants haven't stopped the parasite from spreading in the O'treng area, despite widespread bednet distribution, awareness campaigns and enhanced surveillance systems.

Some scientists say the only sure way to fix the problem is to eradicate malaria entirely from western Cambodia.

"It's really dangerous," says Dr. Rupam Tripura,

who's conducting a study in Pailin for the Wellcome Trust-Mahidol University-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Program. "What will happen to the mosquitoes?
Can you kill those living in the jungle? No, so you cannot kill the strain."

If O'treng is the epicenter of this emerging disease, Phoun Sokha is the point man aimed at controlling it.

At 47, Phoun Sokha is the village malaria worker who lives at the mouth of the hamlet and proudly displays an orange plastic kit that resembles a tackle box.

Phoun Sokha is serious about his packets of medicine and his rapid tests to prick blood from sick villagers' fingers to determine if they have malaria and if so, what type.

He makes sure patients are taking their free medicines and checks to see if they're improving. If not, Phoun Sokha can even arrange transportation to the hospital.

But treating O'treng's malaria patients can be frustrating.

"Some of the patients, when they went to the hospital, after one month, maybe they get malaria again," he says.

Today Hong Da, the village boy who has fought malaria so many times before, heads home from the hospital after a few days of treatment.

He clutches a new mosquito net he hopes will prevent yet another infection. Together, the recovering boy and his weathered mom shuffle past sick neighbor Chhien Rern's shack before disappearing among the tassels of the cornfield toward their home.

But all is not well. Under a tattered quilt, Hong Da's 9-year-old sister Hoeun Chhay Meth is curled on a thin mattress atop the wooden floor inside the family's open-air home.

She had malaria alongside her brother two months ago. They share a mosquito net that she burned a hole in when she stayed up one night reading by the light of a makeshift candle.

Her brother thinks that's how the mosquitoes infected them.

"Very afraid of dying," says Chhay Meth, who has started taking medicine provided by the village malaria worker. "I feel worse than before. I cannot walk myself or stand up by myself and cannot eat well."

Hong Da understands. He gently lifts his little sister's limp body, scooping her up, his strength returning.

Chhay Meth reaches weakly for her mother. Like her big brother, this child doesn't know about counterfeit drugs or antimalarials.

She only knows she's sick. And the medicines don't seem to work as well any more in this little village she calls home.

David Sintasath, a regional epidemiologist at the nonprofit Malaria Consortium in Bangkok.

"The policy is to take it away from them. That's good until the next month when they get their next shipment, right?"

Countless unlicensed shops in Cambodia sell artesunate, a single-drug therapy that has been banned in the country.

Artesunate, a modified version of artemisinin derived from a Chinese herb, has been hailed as miracle treatment worldwide because it works so well with so few side effects.

But Cambodian surveys have shown that many patients take artesunate alone instead of mixing it with another antimalarial drug, making it easier for resistance to build.

"The drug has been around for a long time and misused for a long time and this is all encouraging the parasite to develop resistance," says Dr. Delia Bethell, of the U.S. Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Science, whose research has been at the forefront of identifying emerging resistance on the border.

Back in western Cambodia a few miles from O'treng village, shopkeeper Nop Chen turns a flashlight on a glass case full of drugs he hawks from inside his cramped roadside house.

He digs through the many boxes and produces two different types of artemisinin-based antimalarials. Both lack the full amount of a second required medication, mefloquine, necessary to treat the strain of malaria in the area and ward off more resistance.

But Nop Chen, a former Khmer Rouge medic, points to a small Cambodian seal on the boxes and says he feels confident the drugs are the real deal.

Still, he acknowledges he is not licensed to sell the pills and he's unsure where they originated.

"I'm not concerned because it's got the sticker and the stamp," he says, squinting at the Khmer script on the labels. "Because of the logo, I trust it to not be fake, it was made in Cambodia."

Walk past O'treng's cluster of sagging huts, cross another cornfield and hike a twisted mile on a dirt track to a wooden shack where a string of smoke is curling through the wooden floor planks in a largely futile effort to keep mosquitoes away.

It's here that skinny 13-year-old Hoeun Hong Da wakes up on the floor nauseous and burning with fever.

Hong Da recovered from malaria two months ago, but now the dizziness and headaches are back.
He's been sickened by the disease six or seven times in his short life — too many to remember.

He knows that if he doesn't get to a hospital soon, he could die. With no new treatments in the pipeline, normally reserved scientists are quick to use words like "disaster" or "catastrophe" when asked what might happen if they don't contain the disease that's ravaging young Hong Da before it spreads to Africa.

There, malaria already kills an estimated 2,000 kids daily. For the past 50,000 years the malaria parasite has been evolving, and migrating, alongside humans.

It moves within the huts of O'treng, and into neighboring towns when men like Hong Da's father and older siblings float from job to job.

Some work is close enough for them to return home at night, but other jobs keep them away for stretches of time.

They sleep in tight rows, sweating and weary, in disintegrating bamboo huts with workers who are also traveling, and possibly infected with malaria.

The concept of containing drug resistance has never been tried before. Scientists wonder: How do you control the spread of a resistant parasite transmitted by mosquitoes that bite people who live and work in infested jungle areas, then scatter in all directions, all the time?

This area, the former stronghold of the murderous Khmer Rouge, has a notorious history.

Burmese migrant workers who once mined rubies and sapphires in these now deforested hills are believed to have helped transport strains resistant to the drug chloroquine back to Myanmar a half century ago.

From there it spread to India and later over to Africa until the drug was useless worldwide.

A decade later, history repeated itself when resistance to the drug sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine followed the same path.

Now, in western Cambodia, scientists are concerned because the artemisinin-based drugs are taking longer than usual to kill the parasites.

Earlier this year, an army of aid agencies and experts from the WHO began racing to this impoverished corner on the Thai-Cambodian border to divvy up a $22.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, aimed at stopping this virulent new strain.

But grants haven't stopped lines of Cambodians, sick or not, from queuing up every morning at Thailand's border, charging past the checkpoints in search of work or goods. Some may carry resistant strains in, others may bring them home.

And grants haven't stopped the parasite from spreading in the O'treng area, despite widespread bednet distribution, awareness campaigns and enhanced surveillance systems.

Some scientists say the only sure way to fix the problem is to eradicate malaria entirely from western Cambodia.

"It's really dangerous," says Dr. Rupam Tripura,

who's conducting a study in Pailin for the Wellcome Trust-Mahidol University-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Program. "What will happen to the mosquitoes?
Can you kill those living in the jungle? No, so you cannot kill the strain."

If O'treng is the epicenter of this emerging disease, Phoun Sokha is the point man aimed at controlling it.

At 47, Phoun Sokha is the village malaria worker who lives at the mouth of the hamlet and proudly displays an orange plastic kit that resembles a tackle box.

Phoun Sokha is serious about his packets of medicine and his rapid tests to prick blood from sick villagers' fingers to determine if they have malaria and if so, what type.

He makes sure patients are taking their free medicines and checks to see if they're improving. If not, Phoun Sokha can even arrange transportation to the hospital.

But treating O'treng's malaria patients can be frustrating.

"Some of the patients, when they went to the hospital, after one month, maybe they get malaria again," he says.

Today Hong Da, the village boy who has fought malaria so many times before, heads home from the hospital after a few days of treatment.

He clutches a new mosquito net he hopes will prevent yet another infection. Together, the recovering boy and his weathered mom shuffle past sick neighbor Chhien Rern's shack before disappearing among the tassels of the cornfield toward their home.

But all is not well. Under a tattered quilt, Hong Da's 9-year-old sister Hoeun Chhay Meth is curled on a thin mattress atop the wooden floor inside the family's open-air home.

She had malaria alongside her brother two months ago. They share a mosquito net that she burned a hole in when she stayed up one night reading by the light of a makeshift candle.

Her brother thinks that's how the mosquitoes infected them.

"Very afraid of dying," says Chhay Meth, who has started taking medicine provided by the village malaria worker. "I feel worse than before. I cannot walk myself or stand up by myself and cannot eat well."

Hong Da understands. He gently lifts his little sister's limp body, scooping her up, his strength returning.

Chhay Meth reaches weakly for her mother. Like her big brother, this child doesn't know about counterfeit drugs or antimalarials.

She only knows she's sick. And the medicines don't seem to work as well any more in this little village she calls home.

David Sintasath, a regional epidemiologist at the nonprofit Malaria Consortium in Bangkok.

"The policy is to take it away from them. That's good until the next month when they get their next shipment, right?"

Countless unlicensed shops in Cambodia sell artesunate, a single-drug therapy that has been banned in the country.

Artesunate, a modified version of artemisinin derived from a Chinese herb, has been hailed as miracle treatment worldwide because it works so well with so few side effects.

But Cambodian surveys have shown that many patients take artesunate alone instead of mixing it with another antimalarial drug, making it easier for resistance to build.

"The drug has been around for a long time and misused for a long time and this is all encouraging the parasite to develop resistance," says Dr. Delia Bethell, of the U.S. Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Science, whose research has been at the forefront of identifying emerging resistance on the border.

Back in western Cambodia a few miles from O'treng village, shopkeeper Nop Chen turns a flashlight on a glass case full of drugs he hawks from inside his cramped roadside house.

He digs through the many boxes and produces two different types of artemisinin-based antimalarials. Both lack the full amount of a second required medication, mefloquine, necessary to treat the strain of malaria in the area and ward off more resistance.

But Nop Chen, a former Khmer Rouge medic, points to a small Cambodian seal on the boxes and says he feels confident the drugs are the real deal.

Still, he acknowledges he is not licensed to sell the pills and he's unsure where they originated.

"I'm not concerned because it's got the sticker and the stamp," he says, squinting at the Khmer script on the labels. "Because of the logo, I trust it to not be fake, it was made in Cambodia."

Walk past O'treng's cluster of sagging huts, cross another cornfield and hike a twisted mile on a dirt track to a wooden shack where a string of smoke is curling through the wooden floor planks in a largely futile effort to keep mosquitoes away.

It's here that skinny 13-year-old Hoeun Hong Da wakes up on the floor nauseous and burning with fever.

Hong Da recovered from malaria two months ago, but now the dizziness and headaches are back.
He's been sickened by the disease six or seven times in his short life — too many to remember.

He knows that if he doesn't get to a hospital soon, he could die. With no new treatments in the pipeline, normally reserved scientists are quick to use words like "disaster" or "catastrophe" when asked what might happen if they don't contain the disease that's ravaging young Hong Da before it spreads to Africa.

There, malaria already kills an estimated 2,000 kids daily. For the past 50,000 years the malaria parasite has been evolving, and migrating, alongside humans.

It moves within the huts of O'treng, and into neighboring towns when men like Hong Da's father and older siblings float from job to job.

Some work is close enough for them to return home at night, but other jobs keep them away for stretches of time.

They sleep in tight rows, sweating and weary, in disintegrating bamboo huts with workers who are also traveling, and possibly infected with malaria.

The concept of containing drug resistance has never been tried before. Scientists wonder: How do you control the spread of a resistant parasite transmitted by mosquitoes that bite people who live and work in infested jungle areas, then scatter in all directions, all the time?

This area, the former stronghold of the murderous Khmer Rouge, has a notorious history.

Burmese migrant workers who once mined rubies and sapphires in these now deforested hills are believed to have helped transport strains resistant to the drug chloroquine back to Myanmar a half century ago.

From there it spread to India and later over to Africa until the drug was useless worldwide.

A decade later, history repeated itself when resistance to the drug sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine followed the same path.

Now, in western Cambodia, scientists are concerned because the artemisinin-based drugs are taking longer than usual to kill the parasites.

Earlier this year, an army of aid agencies and experts from the WHO began racing to this impoverished corner on the Thai-Cambodian border to divvy up a $22.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, aimed at stopping this virulent new strain.

But grants haven't stopped lines of Cambodians, sick or not, from queuing up every morning at Thailand's border, charging past the checkpoints in search of work or goods. Some may carry resistant strains in, others may bring them home.

And grants haven't stopped the parasite from spreading in the O'treng area, despite widespread bednet distribution, awareness campaigns and enhanced surveillance systems.

Some scientists say the only sure way to fix the problem is to eradicate malaria entirely from western Cambodia.

"It's really dangerous," says Dr. Rupam Tripura,

who's conducting a study in Pailin for the Wellcome Trust-Mahidol University-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Program. "What will happen to the mosquitoes?
Can you kill those living in the jungle? No, so you cannot kill the strain."

If O'treng is the epicenter of this emerging disease, Phoun Sokha is the point man aimed at controlling it.

At 47, Phoun Sokha is the village malaria worker who lives at the mouth of the hamlet and proudly displays an orange plastic kit that resembles a tackle box.

Phoun Sokha is serious about his packets of medicine and his rapid tests to prick blood from sick villagers' fingers to determine if they have malaria and if so, what type.

He makes sure patients are taking their free medicines and checks to see if they're improving. If not, Phoun Sokha can even arrange transportation to the hospital.

But treating O'treng's malaria patients can be frustrating.

"Some of the patients, when they went to the hospital, after one month, maybe they get malaria again," he says.

Today Hong Da, the village boy who has fought malaria so many times before, heads home from the hospital after a few days of treatment.

He clutches a new mosquito net he hopes will prevent yet another infection. Together, the recovering boy and his weathered mom shuffle past sick neighbor Chhien Rern's shack before disappearing among the tassels of the cornfield toward their home.

But all is not well. Under a tattered quilt, Hong Da's 9-year-old sister Hoeun Chhay Meth is curled on a thin mattress atop the wooden floor inside the family's open-air home.

She had malaria alongside her brother two months ago. They share a mosquito net that she burned a hole in when she stayed up one night reading by the light of a makeshift candle.

Her brother thinks that's how the mosquitoes infected them.

"Very afraid of dying," says Chhay Meth, who has started taking medicine provided by the village malaria worker. "I feel worse than before. I cannot walk myself or stand up by myself and cannot eat well."

Hong Da understands. He gently lifts his little sister's limp body, scooping her up, his strength returning.

Chhay Meth reaches weakly for her mother. Like her big brother, this child doesn't know about counterfeit drugs or antimalarials.

She only knows she's sick. And the medicines don't seem to work as well any more in this little village she calls home.
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Asian Monetary Fund to Debut in March

By Yoon Ja-young
Staff Reporter



Korea will join in the creation of an Asian version of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) next March by teaming up with with ASEAN member countries and China and Japan, the Ministry of Strategy and Finance said Monday.

The fund based on the Chiang Mai Initiative is expected to enhance member countries' ability to cope with short-term foreign currency volatility triggered by external shocks..

Finance ministers and central bank governors of the ASEAN member states and Korea, China and Japan announced the signing of the Chiang Mai Initiative Multilateralization (CMIM) Agreement, Monday.

The multilateral financial support program, which will make an official debut on March 24, includes the 10 member countries of ASEAN - Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam - and three Northeast Asian countries of Korea, China and Japan.

It is based on the Chiang Mai Initiative (CMI), in which the countries in Asia agreed to support each other with dollar liquidity in times of crisis. The need for the safety net especially increased following the Asian financial crisis, which also hit Korea in 1997.

While the CMI was a Bilateral Swap Arrangement between Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Brunei, and Myanmar, and Korea, China and Japan, the agreement this time is a multilateral one between the 13 countries.

"At this time, we reiterate the importance of the CMIM in strengthening the region's capacity to safeguard against increased risks and challenges in the global economy," the ministers and central governors of the member countries said in a joint statement.

"The CMIM, with the total size of $120 billion, will provide financial support through currency swap transactions to CMIM parties facing balance of payments and short-term liquidity difficulties," they added in the announcement.

If a member country seeks support, central banks of other member countries will provide dollars, while the recipient country will give its domestic currency in exchange.

For the $120 billion fund, Korea contributed 16 percent or $19.2 billion, while China and Japan provided 32 percent, each. Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore gave 3.97 percent, while the Philippines gave 3.07 percent. Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam accounted for less than 1 percent of the fund.

When Korea suffers a dollar shortage, it can seek up to $19.2 billion in support from the fund.

"Korea took a bigger share in the fund compared to its economic size, setting up ground to expand its influence within the region," the ministry said.

Among ASEAN plus three, Korea accounts for 8 percent of total GDP, and 6.4 percent of the region's total foreign exchange reserves.

"The launch of the CMIM is an important accomplishment upgrading intraregional financial cooperation, including the capability to cope with a short-term liquidity crisis," the ministry added.

chizpizza@koreatimes.co.kr
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In Southeast Asia, Unease Over Free Trade Zone

By LIZ GOOCH



KUALA LUMPUR — When the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, China and 10 Southeast Asian nations will usher in the world’s third-largest free trade area. While many industries are eager for tariffs to fall on everything from textiles and rubber to vegetable oils and steel, a few are nervously waiting to see whether the agreement will mean boom or bust for their businesses.

Trade between China and the 10 states that make up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has soared in recent years, to $192.5 billion in 2008, from $59.6 billion in 2003. The new free trade zone, which will remove tariffs on 90 percent of traded goods, is expected to increase that commerce still more.

The zone will rank behind only the European Economic Area and the North American Free Trade Area in trade volume. It will encompass 1.9 billion people. The free trade area is expected to help Asean countries increase exports, particularly those with commodities that resource-hungry China desperately wants.

The China-Asean free trade area has faced less vocal opposition than the European and North American zones, perhaps because existing tariffs were already low and because it is unlikely to alter commerce patterns radically, analysts say.

However, some manufacturers in Southeast Asia are concerned that cheap Chinese goods may flood their markets, once import taxes are removed, making it more difficult for them to retain or increase their local market shares. Indonesia is so worried that it plans to ask for a delay in removing tariffs from some items like steel products, textiles, petrochemicals and electronics.

“Not everyone in Asean sees this F.T.A. as a plus,” said Sothirak Pou, a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

Asean and China have gradually reduced many tariffs in recent years. However, under the free trade agreement — which was signed in 2002 — China, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei will have to remove almost all tariffs in 2010.

Asean’s newest members — Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar — will gradually reduce tariffs in coming years and must eliminate them entirely by 2015.

Most of the goods that will become tariff-free in January — including manufactured items — are currently subject to import taxes of about 5 percent. Some agricultural products and parts for motor vehicles and heavy machinery will still face tariffs in 2010, but those will gradually be phased out.

In recent years, China has overtaken the United States to become Asean’s third-largest trading partner after Japan and the European Union. The overall trade balance has shifted slightly in China’s favor, although there are significant differences among Southeast Asian countries’ trade balances, said Thomas Kaegi, head of macroeconomic research for the Asia-Pacific region at UBS Wealth Management Research.

Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand have only small trade deficits with China, while Vietnam’s has grown substantially in recent years. In 2008, Vietnam exported items worth $4.5 billion to China but imported about $15.7 billion worth of Chinese goods.

In Indonesia, the textile and steel industries are particularly nervous about the lifting of tariffs, prompting the government to say that it would ask for a delay on some provisions. No time frame for submitting the request was given, but the Asean secretariat said it had not yet received an official request.

While competing with more Chinese imports may pose new challenges for Asean manufacturers, analysts say increasing their access to the 1.3 billion people of China could produce significant benefits.

Rodolfo Severino, who was secretary general of Asean from 1998 to 2002, identified Malaysia — which already exports palm oil, rubber and natural gas to China — as one of the countries that might benefit most from the removal of tariffs.

But nations like Vietnam that focus on the production of cheap consumer goods are more likely to be hurt, said Mr. Severino, head of the Asean Studies Center at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

Those countries may need to look for new export products and identify new niche markets, he said: “This is the nature of competition.”

Song Hong, an economist, expects that China will import more agricultural goods, like tropical fruit, from countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam when the trade area takes effect. That could hurt Chinese farmers in southern provinces like Guangxi and Yunnan, said Mr. Song, director of the trade research division at the Institute of World Economics and Politics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing.

Mr. Sothirak, who was Cambodia’s minister of industry, mines and energy from 1993 to 1998, said the removal of tariffs might help increase Cambodia’s agricultural exports to China. Cambodia needs to diversify its export markets because its exports to the United States and Europe have declined, he said.

While he does not hold much hope that Cambodian textile exports would be able to compete with China’s highly developed garment industry, he said he believed the free trade area might entice more Chinese garment factories to set up operations in Cambodia, where production costs and labor are cheaper.

Pushpanathan Sundram, deputy secretary general of Asean for Asean Economic Community, acknowledged that there would be “some costs involved” for some countries when the free trade area took effect, but he said he believed China and Asean would “mutually benefit.”

Despite the expectations for increasing trade, Mr. Severino predicted that the introduction of the trade zone would not be a “breakthrough event” setting off a dramatic surge in commerce come January.

“There are many factors that traders and investors consider, and the trend has been going this way anyway,” he said. “What this does is to send out good signals and show the determination of governments to make things easier.”


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Sunday, December 27, 2009

US condemns violence in Iran

HONOLULU -- The Obama administration on Sunday strongly condemned the Iranian government's crackdown on protesters, offering its support to civilians "seeking to exercise their universal rights."

National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer on Sunday denounced Tehran's "unjust suppression of civilians" in a crackdown that has killed at least five people, including a nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi.

"Governing through fear and violence is never just," Hammer said.

Hammer quoted President Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, saying "it is telling when governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation."

Witnesses and opposition Web sites said Iranian security forces fired on stone-throwing protesters in the center of Iran's capital Sunday.

The protests began with thousands of opposition supporters chanting "Death to the dictator," a reference to hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as they marched in defiance of official warnings of a harsh crackdown on any demonstrations coinciding with Shiite Islam's most important observance, Ashoura. The observance commemorates the seventh-century death in battle of one of Shiite Islam's most beloved saints.

Security forces tried but failed to disperse protesters on a central Tehran street with tear gas, baton charges and warning shots. They then opened fire on protesters, said witnesses and the Rah-e-Sabz Web site.

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Thailand moves to send Hmong back to Laos

By JERRY HARMER - Associated Press Writer


PHETCHABUN, Thailand -- Thailand sent army troops with shields and batons to evict some 4,000 ethnic Hmong from a refugee camp Monday and send them back to Laos despite concerns they will be persecuted by the Laotian government.

The Thai government claims most of the Hmong are economic migrants who entered the country illegally and have no claims to refugee status, and says it has assurances from Laos that the Hmong will be well-treated.

Hmong tribe members fought during the Vietnam War era on the side of a pro-American government in Laos before it fell to the communists in 1975, and the Hmong claim they have been persecuted by the government ever since.

The Thai army's coordinator for the operation, Col. Thana Charuwat, said 5,000 soldiers, officials and civilian volunteers were involved in the eviction. He said the troops carried no firearms and that their shields and batons met international standards for dealing with situations in which people are being moved against their will.

Two dozen trucks with about 20 soldiers each could be seen heading toward the refugee camp early Monday. A large contingent of troops already were inside the sealed-off camp. Journalists were barred from the camp and were allowed no closer than a press center about 7 miles (12 kilometers) away.

The army would ask the Hmong to go voluntarily and hoped the operation would be completed within 24 hours, Thana said. The Hmong were to be put on buses going to the Thai border town of Nong Khai, and then across to Laos, heading to the Paksane district in the central province of Bolikhamsai, Thana said.

There was no resistance about an hour into the operation, Thana said.

Human rights groups expressed fear that the Hmong would resist, as they have during smaller-scale repatriations, and that the eviction could turn violent.

Sunai Phasuk, a Thai representative for the New York-based group Human Rights Watch, said mobile phone signals inside the camp had been jammed. Soldiers, police and other security personnel are on standby near the camp with body armor, the group said.

"It never happens smoothly," Sunai said. "If the Hmong resist it and there is an eruption of violence, the army may react in full force."

The United States and human rights groups have said some of the Hmong could qualify for refugee status and should not be sent back. State Department acting spokesman Mark Toner said Thursday that to repatriate such people would "imperil the well-being of many individuals" and violate international principles.

Laos has in the past denied the Hmong are Lao citizens, describing them as Thailand's problem, though Bangkok says Laos has agreed to take this group back.

"We have assurances from the top level of Laos that these people will be safe and sound," Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said.

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Where Gods and Soldiers Tend the Border in Cambodia

Visitors, including Buddhist monks, make their way along a stone-paved pathway at Preah Vihear Temple on a mountaintop in northern Cambodia.

By DANIEL ROBINSON

IN the wet season, the roads through the northwestern region of Cambodia turn into an undulating sea of muck, with potholes the size of cars and ruts as deep as truck axles. To figure out which routes were least likely to leave me wet, muddy and stranded, I buttonholed a dozen long-distance taxi drivers before settling on the toll road from Dam Dek, which had the added attraction of passing by two out-of-the-way Angkorian temples, Beng Mealea and Koh Ker.

My destination was an even more remote Angkor-era complex: Preah Vihear Temple, awesomely perched 1,700 feet above Cambodia’s northern plains, near the country’s border with Thailand. Designated as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2008 — not without some international controversy — it makes an adventurous alternative to far-better-known Angkor Wat. While several thousand foreign tourists visit the temples of Angkor on a typical day, Preah Vihear Temple gets, on average, just five.

I was traveling with my friend and driver, Hang Vuthy, in a 1991 Toyota Camry with a surprising New York past: according to a window sticker, it had once belonged to a member of the Yonkers Police Captains, Lieutenants and Sergeants Association. Imagining the car in a mid-Atlantic blizzard, it occurred to me that wet-season driving in outback Cambodia is not entirely unlike navigating unplowed snowy side streets. Indeed, for much of our journey we avoided the most treacherous stretches of mire and snaked around potholes of indeterminate depth by religiously following a single serpentine track rendered navigable by earlier cars and trucks.

Preah Vihear Temple — the name means Mountain of the Sacred Temple — is the most spectacularly situated of all Angkorian monuments. Built from the ninth to the 12th centuries atop a peak of the Dangkrek Mountains, it occupies a triangular plateau rising from the Thailand border to a prow-shaped promontory.

An ever-changing architectural, mythological and geological panorama unfolds as visitors progress along the temple’s 2,600-foot-long processional axis, up a series of gently sloping causeways and steep staircases through five gopura, or pavilions, each more sacred than the last.
I began my visit at the bottom of the Monumental Staircase, which, according to the Angkor scholar Vittorio Roveda, “symbolizes the laborious path of faith needed to approach the sacred world of the gods.” The 163 gray sandstone steps, partly carved into the living rock, are flanked by statues of lions and, near the top, two magnificent nagas (seven-headed serpents) facing north toward Thailand. Also intently watching Thai territory were several AK-47-toting Cambodian soldiers in camouflage.

The first structure I came to, called Gopura V by generations of archaeologists, was an airy cruciform construction once topped by wood beams and a terra-cotta tile roof. Many of the stones have tumbled over, but the delicately balanced eastern pediment has survived to become Preah Vihear’s most recognizable icon, appearing on publicity posters, patriotic T-shirts and the new 2,000-riel banknote.

In centuries past, this pavilion was where pilgrims from the plains of Cambodia, having just climbed the steep, mile-long Eastern Staircase (mined and inaccessible for decades but soon to reopen), met their counterparts from what is now Thailand, who had completed a rather less-taxing ascent from the Khorat Plateau.

Alongside a group of saffron-robed monks, I continued north on a majestic, sandstone avenue, 800 feet long, to Gopura IV. There, I came upon a particularly vivid bas-relief depicting the Churning of the Ocean of Milk, a Hindu creation myth in which gods and demons churn the primeval waters to extract the ambrosia of immortality.

Although most of the splendid decorative carvings at Preah Vihear, including this one, depict Vishnu, the temple was originally dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. In later centuries, it was converted to use as a Buddhist sanctuary, and today many of the visitors are Buddhist pilgrims.

As I continued my ascent, I walked under exquisite lintels and tympanums depicting more scenes from Hindu epics like the Mahabharata, and beneath richly carved double pediments adorned with finials and upturned gable ends — calling cards of Cambodian and Thai architecture to this day. Ancient inscriptions in Khmer and Sanskrit, bearing cryptic details about the history of the temple and the Angkorian kings who built it, were hidden here and there under a patina of lichen.

The temple’s culminating point, geographically and symbolically, is Gopura I, whose mandapa (antechamber) and Central Sanctuary, now a jumbled pile of carved sandstone blocks, are surrounded by galleries that call to mind a French Gothic cloister, except that here the windows are rectilinear and the galleries covered by corbelled vaults. (The Khmers, for all their architectural genius, never mastered the keystone arch.)

The entire structure is inward-looking, its outer walls almost devoid of openings despite the sweeping views just outside. Scholars speculate that while the site was considered holy in part because of its spectacular situation, the ancient architects may have believed that picture windows would distract both priests and pilgrims from their sacred tasks.

As I approached the rocky tip of the promontory, just beyond Gopura I, a breathtaking panorama came into view. Cambodia’s verdant northern plains extended majestically toward the horizon, and in the distance I could just make out Phnom Kulen, about 65 miles to the southwest, where the Khmer Empire was founded in A.D. 802. (Angkor itself lay hidden in the haze, 88 miles away.)

To the east, toward Laos, and the west, the Dangkrek Mountains stretched into the distance in a series of serrated bluffs. Looking north, almost everything I could see was in Thailand, rendered remote and mysterious by its inaccessibility.

Thailand ruled much of northwestern Cambodia, including Preah Vihear Temple, from the late 18th century until 1907, when the French colonial administration forced the Thais to withdraw to the current international frontier; Cambodian sovereignty over Preah Vihear was confirmed by the International Court of Justice in 1962.

Thailand, despite unresolved land claims, initially supported Cambodia’s Unesco bid for World Heritage status, but the temple soon became a pawn in Thai and Cambodian domestic politics, unleashing nationalist passions in both countries.

In July 2008, according to Cambodian authorities, Thai soldiers intruded into Cambodian territory near the temple. The Thai government denied that any border violations had taken place. Since then, a total of at least seven soldiers from both sides have been killed in intermittent exchanges of fire, according to local news reports. At the time of my visit, though, the frontier had been quiet for several months.

Curious about what the standoff actually looked like, I asked my guide, conveniently a moonlighting army officer, if I could get a glimpse of the Thais. He took me to the bottom of the Monumental Staircase, where I could hear the distant sounds of war — air-raid sirens and shooting — but the combat was taking place on a tiny television, which off-duty soldiers were watching with rapt attention.

We walked along a forest trail past a volleyball court and trenches, passing soldiers in hammocks with their wives stealing a moment of intimacy in an encampment with little privacy, to a forest clearing with a bamboo table at the center.

About 20 yards in front of us stood a line of neatly built bunkers; uniformed men could be seen among the dark green sandbags. “So those are Cambodian soldiers?” I asked, trying to get my bearings. “No,” my guide answered, “those are Thais. Over there” — he turned 180 degrees and pointed to a line of bunkers 20 yards in the other direction — “are Cambodians.” The table, I realized, marked the midpoint of no-man’s land.

The Cambodians’ front-line bunkers, made of disintegrating sandbags sprouting grass, were shaded by blue and green tarpaulins and surrounded by orderly gardens. Their raised observation post, topped by a thatched roof, looked as if it might have been on loan from “Gilligan’s Island.” I was in the middle of a very un-Korean Panmunjom, a laid-back, tropical version of Christmas 1914 on the Western Front.

I soon learned that the Cambodian soldiers stationed there call the site Sambok Kmom, or beehive, because, they say, the area’s many wild bees leave Cambodians unmolested but set upon any Thai who encroaches on Cambodian land. Moved by national feeling, domestic tourists wearing krama (traditional checked scarves that serve as something of a Cambodian national symbol) wandered by, distributing cigarettes and other morale-boosting gifts to the soldiers who were deployed to help the bees protect Cambodian sovereignty.

Around the clearing, soldiers from both sides, unarmed and without body armor or helmets, were relaxing in front of their own front-line bunkers. Cambodian officers seemed to find the bamboo table, shaded by trees tall enough to let breezes through, especially congenial. A few paces away, the Thais had strung a hammock between trees, and one soldier, lounging in a white T-shirt, black combat pants and black military boots, was engrossed in a cellphone call.

Despite the apparent tranquillity, I knew that if the order were given, the men on both sides of the invisible line would not hesitate to shoot. In fact, many of the Cambodian troops stationed around Preah Vihear are battle-hardened former Khmer Rouge fighters. For now, though, relations are casual and, I was told, some wary friendships have developed.

The best staging point for a visit to Preah Vihear Temple is Sra Em (also spelled Sa Em), 19 miles by road from the temple. Two years ago, it was a sleepy crossroads hamlet with a single grimy restaurant and one rundown guesthouse. These days, in the wake of the area’s military buildup, it feels like a Gold Rush boomtown, with haphazardly parked four-wheel-drives instead of tethered horses; karaoke bars sporting pink fluorescent lamps and colored lights, instead of saloons; and the gleanings of Cambodia’s recently doubled defense budget, instead of gold nuggets glinting in the stream. Armed men in camouflage uniforms abound.

Sra Em’s accommodation options are rudimentary, to put it politely. My room’s star amenity was a cold-water spigot for filling the plastic bucket used both to bathe and to flush, and below the cheap plastic mirror and its public access comb, dust bunnies had formed around the hair of guests past. Each time I returned to my room, I found a dead cricket, a new one every day, hinting, perhaps, at the presence of some sinister insecticide.

Preah Vihear Temple is, obviously, not quite ready for mainstream tourism. During the two days I spent at the temple in October, I saw only four other Westerners, including an unhappy German couple whose day trip from Angkor Wat had been rather more trying than expected, and perhaps 50 or so Cambodian tourists. But intrepid travelers who brave the diabolical (though improving) roads, substandard accommodations and alarming government travel advisories are richly rewarded.

For 40 generations, Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims have trekked to this temple, seeking to ascend toward the holy and the transcendent. Today, the awe-inspiring nature of this Angkorian masterpiece, accentuated by the challenges of getting there, confer on every trip the aura of a pilgrimage.

NAIL-BITING TAXI TRIPS AND A VOLCANO AT YOUR TABLE

GETTING THERE


With the visa-free crossing from Thailand closed for the foreseeable future, getting to Preah Vihear Temple requires battling Cambodia’s famously potholed roads, which are at their worst during the wet season (about June to October).

Share-taxis, which have no set schedule and depart when full, link Sra Em with Siem Reap via the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Anlong Veng ($7.50 a person; 130 miles; three hours) and with the provincial capital of Tbeng Meanchey ($6.50; 65 miles; two hours). The U.S. dollar is widely accepted.

The taxis, usually “jacked-up” Toyota Camrys, carry six or seven passengers in addition to the driver, so if you want the front seat to yourself you’ll have to pay two fares. Ante up six times the single fare and you’ve got yourself a private taxi.

From Sra Em, a ride to Kor Muy on the back of a motorbike will run about $3.75. Then the three-mile ride up the mountain to Preah Vihear Temple, on a concrete road whose gradients will impress even San Franciscans, is $5 by motorbike or $20 to $25 by four-wheel-drive pickup.

WHERE TO STAY

Glassless windows, sinkless bathrooms, towels with the absorptive capacity of a plastic bag, fans that run only when a generator is sputtering outside your window (usually from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.) and laissez-faire housekeeping are, alas, the norm in Sra Em’s guesthouses. I should have stayed at the 25-room Tuol Monysophon (855-99-620-757), which opened this year. A brown, barn-like structure topped with a red tile roof, it has basic rooms downstairs with private baths, mosquito nets and wood-plank floors, for $10; smaller upstairs rooms with shared facilities are $7.50. To get there from the triangular crossroads, head west (toward Anlong Veng) for 500 yards.

WHERE TO EAT

The Preah Vihear area’s best restaurant, hands down, is Sra Em’s Pkay Prek Restaurant (855-12-636-617), an unpretentious complex of open-air, fluorescent-lit pavilions with plenty of geckos. The specialty is phnom pleoung (hill of fire; $3.75), a meat and veggie feast you grill yourself at your table on an aluminum “volcano” suspended above glowing coals.

SAFETY

Before setting out to Preah Vihear Temple, check the Phnom Penh Post (phnompenhpost.com), the Cambodia Daily or other reliable sources to make sure that Thai-Cambodian tensions are not rising.

According to the Cambodian Mine Action Center (www.cmac.org.kh), the immediate vicinity of the temple is now safe, having been cleared in recent years of more than 8,800 anti-personnel mines. However, nearby areas are still heavily mined, so do not, under any circumstances, wander off the footpaths.

WHAT TO READ

The most useful guidebook in English (and Thai) to the temple’s architecture, symbolism and history is “Preah Vihear” by Vittorio Roveda (Bangkok: River Books, 2000), but it may be difficult to find.
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