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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Princess Eugenie to continue travels despite robbery in Cambodia

Princess Eugenie is to continue her gap-year travels despite falling victim to a gang of muggers in Cambodia. Sources said yesterday that there was no suggestion that her plans would change after a friend of the 19-year-old Princess had her purse snatched.

Royal protection officers looking after the Princess, the younger daughter of the Duke of York, tackled the thief and pinned him to the ground.

When an accomplice pelted them with rocks, though, the two officers let the robber go to ensure the Princess’s safety. Eugenie and her two friends were escorted to safety.

A source was quoted in The Sun newspaper saying: “They feared the incident was escalating out of control and took the decision to focus on the safety of their principal.”

The incident happened two weeks ago in Phnom Penh, and since then the Princess’s gap-year trip has proceeded without interruption. “I have to stress it was Eugenie’s friend, not her, who was mugged,” a royal source said.

The Princess — who is sixth in line to the throne — has already visited Thailand and South Africa during her year out.

The attack highlights the controversy over the cost of protecting the Queen’s granddaughter during the trip, which is said to be in the region of £100,000. Critics point out that the Princess Royal’s children have no Scotland Yard protection. When the question of protection for younger members of the Royal Family was raised a few years ago, the Duke of York is said to have insisted on round-the-clock security for his daughters.

Buckingham Palace would not comment on the incident, nor on its security arrangements. Scotland Yard also refused to comment.

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Cambodian Villagers Block Last Leg of Trans-Asia Highway

By Luke Hunt Kien Svay, Cambodia


A group of Cambodian villagers are blocking construction of a 13-kilometer section of a new highway that will link Singapore to Hong Kong and beyond. The villagers demand better compensation for their land.

Five years ago, then United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan declared that the new Trans-Asia Highway would link 32 countries with 141,000 kilometers of all-weather roads.

The highway will end decades of overland isolation and significantly bolster cross-border trade in Asia. But here in Kien Svay, in southeastern Cambodian, villagers are refusing to give up their land and make way for a final missing link in the highway. They say they have been offered too little for their land.

Kim Lorn, a 72-year-old grandmother, says she was offered just $200 to walk away from her home and business of 26 years.

Many living in one home

Community meetings have turned into rowdy protests. Photo shop owner Kong Heng says the government refuses to take into account how many people are living under the same roof.

He says some people are upset when their houses are affected and they get little compensation because they have a lot of family members. He has three families living in his house so when if they get little compensation there is nothing they can do, and they are disappointed.

The villagers' defiance resonates across Cambodia, where land grabbing and forced evictions dominate headlines. Poor land records and a high level of official corruption have meant that over the past several years, tens of thousands of poor Cambodians have lost their land to developers building hotels, golf courses and other lucrative projects.

Project could take another year to finish

Cambodian officials say the protests mean that final link connecting the Malay Peninsula with Vietnam and China through Cambodia will not be completed on schedule by the end of this year.

They say nagging resettlement issues mean it will take at least another 12 months to finish.

Villagers here in Kein Svay hope this means vastly improved compensation packages in return for their homes.
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Massage Offers Blind Cambodians Way Out of Poverty

By Rory Byrne, Phnom Penh0


Blind people in Cambodia face an uphill struggle. Discrimination against the blind is widespread and educational and employment opportunities are few and far between. One way out of their predicament is through "Seeing Hands" massage shops that offer employment and educational opportunities to the blind.

Cambodia has one of the highest rates of blindness in the world. There are about 144,000 blind people in the country representing 1.25 percent of the population.

Cambodia's poor health care system means that common diseases like chicken pox and measles leave many people blind. Traffic accidents, crime, and accidents with unexploded mines and bombs left over from decades of war are other leading causes.

Not many opportunities for employment

For the blind in Cambodia, educational and employment opportunities are few and far between.

Boun Mao, the Director of the Association of the Blind in Cambodia (ABC), lost his sight in 1993 when robbers threw acid in his face. He says Cambodian's belief in karma leads to widespread discrimination against the blind.

"The Blind People in Cambodia are most facing with the discrimination because the public and the family believe in karma - that the blind have sinned in the past life," explained Boun Mao. "When you are born blind until you die you do nothing useful in society - even in the family."

Opportunities are essential

Boun Mao says the key to ending discrimination against the blind is by giving them access to employment and educational opportunities.

"We want to see the blind people in Cambodia get access to employment, health care, education and accessibility. We need to show more [role] models of blind people who are really successful in their lives and their jobs," Boun Mao said.

One such role model is 22-year-old Vi Rak. He lost his sight from chicken pox when he was a baby. Five years ago he set up a blind massage shop in Phnom Penh.

He says that he has a lot of blind friends and that he had the idea that they could all get together and work in a group. So, he says, he learned massage and then he taught his friends how to do it so that they could all earn a living. He says that today things are much better and he and his employees are like one big family.

What are blind massage shops?

About a dozen blind shops have opened in Phnom Penh and other cities in recent years.

Blind massage shops are run on a cooperative basis. About half of the profits go to salaries with the rest reinvested in the employee's development such as teaching them how to use computers and how to read braille.

Blind land mine survivor So Pary, 24, says that becoming a masseur changed his life.

He says after he became blind his family picked on him a lot because he could not do any work. He says that something had to change and then he discovered this organization that taught him massage. He says that now he is happy because he can work again and help his family.

A better massage?

Many customers say blind masseurs and masseuses are better because they have a better sense of touch.

Tourist Tony Rice from London, England enjoyed the experience.

"Well I would recommend a blind massage to anyone really," said Rice. "It is intense, accurate - they found a weak spot I have got and it is a really good thing for people to come and do when they are in Cambodia."

A massage at a "Seeing Hands" massage shop typically cost about $5 for one hour, but with fewer tourists around these days, better deals are often available.

So as well as being great value for money, having a blind massage allows you to feel great while at the same time helping some of Cambodia's most vulnerable people.
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Cambodia steps up conservation measures near Preah Vihear temple

By Xia Lin

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia recently stepped up its culture and nature conservation efforts near the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple, while its dispute with Thailand over border issues still remain unsolved.

Construction of the Samdech Techo Preah Vihear Museum will begin in one week in Chom Ksan district of Preah Vihear province, which is expected to bring more tourists to the disputed area bordering Thailand, said Chinese-language daily newspaper the Commercial News on Tuesday.

"The museum is for national and foreign researchers to study and learn about the history of the Preah Vihear temple and the Cambodian history," said Suos Yara, undersecretary of state at the Cambodian Council of Ministers.

The museum will house artifacts from the temple complex, as well as from other nearby temples, he added.

Japanese and Cambodian donors have provided some 145,000 U.S. dollars to build the museum, but more cash will be needed to finish the project, he said.

"The money is not enough, but we will do it step by step. When we get more money, we will keep on working on it," he added.

Meanwhile, the Cambodian government is preparing to relocate the Kor Muy village near the temple for the sake of conservation, village chief Bun Leng told Xinhua by phone on Monday.

"Up to now, we have not seen the formal notification of the government yet, but the whole village will be moved 20 kilometers away from the temple, because this area is under conservation control of the Preah Vihear Temple Authority," he said.

The land circling the temple will become a belt of development, management and conservation, as it is a World Heritage Site recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), he said.

"There are about 600 families in my village. Some of them are unhappy when they heard the news because their usual business will be affected," he said.

On Sunday, Phay Siphan, secretary of state and spokesman of the Cambodian Council of Ministers, confirmed to local media that Kor Muy village will be moved in order to make way for the government's conservation work.

The Preah Vihear temple became a World Heritage Site of UNESCO in July 2008, which immediately drew criticism and protest from Thai nationalists who claimed the ownership of the temple by their own motherland.

Although the International Court in The Hague decided in 1962 that the temple and its surrounding area should belong to Cambodia, Thailand has never stopped coveting its archeological and sovereignty value.

To make things worse, temple obsession is ever increasingly combined into the bilateral border dispute.

Cambodia and Thailand have never fully demarcated their 800-km-strong land border. Demarcating work cannot be carried out, as both sides have different interpretations of historical maps and worry about the landmines left there from years of civil war in Cambodia.

Both troops have been built up within the border area since July 2008, and brief military encounters in October 2008 and April 2009 have sparked concerns of possible war between these two countries.

Gunfire exchange during the armed clashes led to bullet pits and other slight wound of the temple, which has prompted UNESCO to study the loss and non-governmental organizations (NGO) to ask for payment.

In the meantime, some 147 Cambodian families living near the temple also urged Thailand to pay for the damages of their houses as a result of the April armed clashes.

Rocket bombs hit their houses and then led to total damage, said the Khmer Civilization Fund, a NGO representing the compensation seekers.

The fund had submitted the request letter to the Cambodian government, who later presented it to the Thai Embassy.

So far, the Thai side has not responded to the demand yet.
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Cambodian dance troupe's US tour comes to an emotional close

By Greg Mellen, Staff Writer

INGLEWOOD - As Ray Chum looked at the face of the son she hadn't seen since 2003 displayed on the wall via a computer screen projection, her voice broke and the tears flowed.

The son, Tuy "KK" Sobil, whose image was being broadcast from an Internet cafe in Cambodia, was also speechless in tears.

The exchange brought an emotional climax to what has been an amazing tour of the United States by a dance troupe KK founded and comprised of street kids from Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Dabson Tuy, KK's brother, took the microphone from his mother and talked to his brother.

"Mom just wants you to be a better person," Dabson said. "To see what you're doing today, we're just so proud of you. Just keep it positive. I'm sorry you had to see all that pain."

However, the heart rending pain underscored a success story that has been nothing short of miraculous. It is a story that would never happened but for KK's fall.

About 150 people had gathered at Chuco's Justice Center in Inglewood to see the final U.S. performance of Tiny Toones, a hip-hop dance crew, and Cambodian rapper Chan Samnang, also known as K-Dep.

The story of KK and Tiny Toones has received national and international recognition in recent years.

KK was born in a Thai refugee camp and later became a gang member in Long Beach after emigrating to the U.S. with his family. In 2003, after serving a conviction for armed robbery, he was deported to Cambodia, a country he had never visited.


After KK's arrival, kids began asking him to show them dance moves. Eventually, he relented, put his personal despair aside and formed Tiny Toones.

The lure of hip-hop has since been used not only to teach kids break dancing, but provide English language education, HIV/AIDs awareness, gang prevention and other arts and life skills. Through the help of donors and other charities, Tiny Toones now has a drop-in center for impoverished teens and children in Phnom Penh.

The U.S. trip was just the latest remarkable event in the rise of Tiny Toones. Supporters here in the United States were able to secure an invitation and funding to bring six dancers and K-Dep to the U.S. for an international hip-hop dance competition in Madison, Wis., followed by trips to perform in New York, Philadelphia, Seattle and the Southland.

Although the fund-raiser in Inglewood was the group's last performance, plans are already afoot to bring them back next year.

For the dancers, the trip has been magical. Dyrithy Sovann, who goes by the stage name Fresh, said he never dreamed he'd ever see the United States.

Sovann, 17, is particularly adept at one-hand stands and head spins. On Sunday, he was learning the excitement of skateboarding, which the group was first introduced to several days ago.

Sovann met KK four years ago after going with some friends to watch him dance.

At Saturday's performance, Sovann played a lead role in the Monkey Dance, which has become the group's signature piece.

In the dance, the troupe begins with Keo Srey Leak, aka Diamond, the lone girl in the troupe dancing in classical Cambodian style. Gradually, traditional music gives way to hip-hop and the entire troupe launches into a full-fledged tumbling, spinning, hip-hop routine.

In addition to the performances, Tiny Toones dancers have engaged in impromptu cultural exchanges.

In Seattle, they met with a group of first-generation Cambodians from a group called Khmer In Action.

Grace Kong of KIA said the two groups learned much from each other.

Kong said the dancers feared they would be looked down upon and shunned when they came to the U.S.

Instead they have been overcome by the welcome they have received.

"We wanted them to see that no matter what, they have our support, they have Khmer Americans who love them," Kong said.

Information on Tiny Toones can be found online at www.tinytoonescambodia.com.

greg.mellen@presstelegram.com, 562-499-1291
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