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Friday, June 19, 2009

Cambodia: Families living with HIV/Aids evicted


Amnesty International has condemned the Phnom Penh authorities for evicting 20 families living with HIV/AIDS from their homes in Borei Keila this morning. They have been moved outside the city to a resettlement site, Tuol Sambo, where there is no clean water or electricity and limited access to medical services.

Brittis Edman, Amnesty International's Cambodia researcher, said:

'Tuol Sambo is grossly inadequate and the authorities are well aware of this. It is often referred to as 'the AIDS village' and the inhabitants live with no access to clean water, electricity or proper sanitation.

'The site's long distance from the city hampers access to health services and jobs, adding to the risks. The families have urgent humanitarian needs, including clean water, larger living space, access to medical services and food supplies. There is a real risk that the health of the evicted families will deteriorate there.'

Tuol Sambo is in a semi-rural area where the housing is built from green metal sheets. When Amnesty International visited the site in April 2009, it was perceived by villagers in the vicinity as a centre for people living with HIV/AIDS.

The affected families have expressed fears that they will face further discrimination and stigmatisation because of their HIV status if forced to live in this separate, distinct enclave. Prejudice against these families may be exacerbated by their poverty and lack of job opportunities.

When evicted, the families were compensated with inadequate re-housing in Tuol Sambo and 50 kilograms of rice, soy sauce, fish sauce, water jars and 250 USD from the Municipality of Phnom Penh and the Ministry of Tourism. Last Friday they were coerced into the move and told that anyone who disagreed would not receive compensation.

Brittis Edman said:

'It's unacceptable that the authorities didn't explore other alternatives before deciding to evict these 20 vulnerable families. Tuol Sambo shouldn't have been an option.'

Borei Keila is a large poor urban community which the government designated as a social land concession for residential development in 2003. The Borei Keila concession was intended to be a land-sharing arrangement between a private developer, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport and residents. The agreement gave the developer 2.6 hectares of land for commercial development, in exchange for constructing new housing for the original residents on two hectares of the land. The remainder, consisting of 10 hectares, was to be returned to the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport.

In March 2007 the Municipality of Phnom Penh resettled the families who lived in Borei
Keila against their will and reportedly with force, in temporary shelters built mostly out of corrugated metal sheets. The authorities told them that they would stay there for a few months only, to pave way for the construction of a number of residential multi-storey houses.
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PM and Abhisit in temple smackdown

Written by Vong Sokheng


PRIME Minister Hun Sen claims Thailand has "infringed" on Cambodia's sovereignty by announcing it will challenge the UNESCO World Heritage listing of Preah Vihear temple when the body meets later this month.

On Wednesday, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Thailand aims to request a review of the July 2008 inscription of Preah Vihear temple, saying the listing has fostered conflict.

"I think that as a prime minister of one country, his words infringed on the sovereignty of [Cambodia]," Hun Sen said, adding that during his visit last week to Phnom Penh, Abhisit failed to raise the issue in talks with the government.

"I hope that his aim will not be successful, and I hope that UNESCO will not be stupid enough to go along with his gambit."

Thai state media reported Abhisit as saying that he has ordered Thai World Heritage Committee representative Suwit Khunkkitti to lodge
objections to the listing of the disputed temple when the committee meets for its 33rd Session in Seville, Spain, next week.

Hun Sen added that the Thai ploy was unlikely to succeed because of the International Court of Justice's 1962 ruling that handed Preah Vihear temple and some of the surrounding area to Cambodia, and the fact that UNESCO had already listed the temple as a World Heritage site.

Minister of Information and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said that the Thai leader clearly has no knowledge of history.

The latest crisis over the temple and its surrounding land began last July, when the government says Thai troops entered Cambodian territory,
sparking a massive military standoff.
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PM denies undemining temple


The Nation (Siam)



Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva yesterday dismissed suggestions he was trying to sabotage Cambodia's desire to live up to its obligations as agreed with Unesco following the granting of World Heritage status to historic Preah Vihear Temple.

Abhisit on Wednesday told reporters he would ask Unesco, which administers the temple under Cambodian supervision, to launch a review into the administration of the ancient site, because he wanted peace to prevail in the area first.

The disputed area has seen a military stand-off and gunfights between the two sides over the past year.

"My intention is not to upset the people of Cambodia, but rather to see peace in the area," Abhisit said.

He said he had no objection to working with the Cambodians to develop the historic site under Unesco guidance but suggested military tensions must first be alleviated and that a comfort level between the two sides must first be achieved before Thailand could contribute to the effort.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday expressed "deep regret" over Abhisit's suggestions.

"I deeply regret that he has raised this issue now, because this was not part of our discussions last week," he told reporters at the Cambodian Foreign Ministry. "I doubt his plan will be successful."
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$196 billion; little proof UN health programs work

MARIA CHENG

AP Medical Writer= LONDON (AP) — In the last two decades, the world has spent more than $196 billion trying to save people from death and disease in poor countries.

But just what the world's gotten for its money isn't clear, according to two studies published Friday in the medical journal Lancet.

Millions of people are now protected against diseases like yellow fever, sleeping under anti-malaria bed nets and taking AIDS drugs. Much beyond that, it's tough to gauge the effectiveness of pricey programs led by the United Nations and its partners, and in some cases, big spending may even be counterproductive, the studies say.

Trying to show health campaigns actually saved lives is "a very difficult scientific dilemma," said Tim Evans, a senior World Health Organization official who worked on one of the papers.

In one paper, WHO researchers examined the impact of various global health initiatives during the last 20 years.

They found some benefits, like increased diagnosis of tuberculosis cases and higher vaccination rates. But they also concluded some U.N. programs hurt health care in Africa by disrupting basic services and leading some countries to slash their health spending.

In another paper, Chris Murray of the University of Washington and colleagues tracked how much has been spent in public health in the last two decades — the figure jumped from $5.6 billion in 1990 to $21.8 billion in 2007 — and where it's gone. Much of that money is from taxpayers in the West. The U.S. was the biggest donor, contributing more than $10 billion in 2007.

They found some countries don't get more donations even if they're in worse shape. Ethiopia and Uganda both receive more money than Nigeria, Pakistan or Bangladesh, all of whom have bigger health crises.

Some experts were surprised how long it took simply to consider if the world's health investment paid off.

Richard Horton, the Lancet's editor, labeled it "scandalous" and "reckless" health officials haven't carefully measured how they used the world's money.

Experts said that in some cases, the U.N. was propping up dysfunctional health systems. "If you've got rotten governments, no amount of development aid is going to fix that," said Elizabeth Pisani, an AIDS expert who once worked for the U.N., citing Zimbabwe as a prime example.

Murray and colleagues also found AIDS gets at least 23 cents of every health dollar going to poor countries. Globally, AIDS causes fewer than 4 percent of deaths.

"Funds in global health tend to go to whichever lobby group shouts the loudest, with AIDS being a case in point," said Philip Stevens of International Policy Network, a London think tank.

In WHO's study, researchers admitted whether health campaigns address countries' most pressing needs "is not known."

When Cambodia asked for help from 2003-2005, it said less than 10 percent of aid was needed for AIDS. But of the donations Cambodia got, more than 40 percent went to diseases including AIDS.

WHO acknowledged change was necessary, but insisted it needed even more money, warning fewer donations would jeopardize children's' lives.

U.N. agencies, universities and others working on public health routinely take from 2 to 50 percent of a donation for "administrative purposes" before it goes to needy countries.

Others said there is little incentive for health officials to commission an independent evaluation to find out what their programs have achieved.

"The public health community has convinced the public the only way to improve poor health in developing countries is by throwing a ton of money at it," Stevens said. "It is perhaps not coincidental that thousands of highly paid jobs and careers are also dependent on it."
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Peacefulness Is Still Intact In Cambodia's Remote Ruins

By John Burgess


It's early on a Sunday morning in Cambodia, and I'm standing at a 12th-century moat. Traces of mist hover above the lotus leaves that dapple the water. Across a causeway, through a tumbled-down gate, lies Banteay Chhmar, one of the largest temples ever built by the ancient Khmer Empire. My friends and I are going to have the place all to ourselves.

We walk in. It turns out that we do end up sharing it, with a local man who brings his cows onto the grounds to graze. And with an affable mason who leads us across acres of fallen stone to see a message from the past, an inscription chiseled into the doorjamb of a holy tower. This kind of company we welcome.

Cambodia's great temples of Angkor, 65 miles away, have long since been rediscovered after a quarter-century of closure by war. They now draw more than a million foreign visitors a year, not a few of whom regret that so many other people had the same idea. At peak hours, human traffic jams can form at temple steps once reserved for kings and priests.

But go beyond Angkor and you can find places that serve up the old solitude and sense of discovery. You can explore at your own pace, to the sounds of birds and the breeze that stirs the leaves overhead. In postcards and e-mails home, you will search for words worthy of your sentiments of wonder.

Banteay Chhmar is among the most spectacular of these places. Getting to it entails hours on very bumpy and dusty dirt roads. Staying the night means making do with primitive accommodations: candlelit rooms in local homes, bath water drawn from that same moat.

I stayed the night, and it turned out to really make the visit. The next morning I rose early, as everyone here does, and took a walk in clean country air. I passed mother hens foraging with their chicks, boys tending to a mud oven in which charcoal was being made. I was seeing not only a temple but a way of life.

Today several thousand people -- rice farmers, cattle herders, market vendors -- make their homes on all four sides of the temple. They grow vegetables on the banks of a series of moats; they pile straw within the walls of lesser ancient buildings that dot their settlement. The ancient and present day coexist.

Spending time here also means doing a good turn, spreading a bit of wealth in a part of a war-recovering country that has largely missed out on the tourist dollars that Angkor is bringing in. People do have cellphones (charged by generator), and some have small tractors, but there are few other signs of affluence here.

Banteay Chhmar was created in the Khmer Empire's last great burst of construction, under the 12th-century Buddhist king Jayavarman VII. His engineers were thinking big even by Khmer standards: To contain a great settlement, they built earthworks and moats that formed a square measuring roughly one mile on each side. At its center, within another square moat system half a mile on each side, they built the temple.

More than a century ago, French archaeologist Etienne Aymonier found the temple to be in a state of "indescribable ruin." It still is, despite the efforts of that friendly mason, who is part of a small reconstruction team. But that's part of what makes the site so enticing. Exploring it means climbing over huge piles of large fallen stones, something to be tackled by only the sure-footed. We passed ruined towers, courtyards and ceremonial walkways. Sometimes the stones were so high that we were walking at roof level.

The temple is no longer a formal religious site, but Cambodians believe that it, like all those that their forebears left behind, remains a holy site. In one surviving chamber we found a small contemporary shrine, with a Buddha image wearing a cloth robe, where people made incense offerings. When rain is needed, local people are reported to walk in a procession around the temple, imploring heaven to help.

One of the best parts of this temple is the many hundreds of feet of bas-reliefs on its outer walls. We had to scramble up more stones to get a good view. Before us was a full sample of life 900 years ago: processions of elephants, prominent ladies tended by maids, children roughhousing, villagers in a sampan, servants tending a stove.

There were also many scenes of war with Champa, the long-vanished rival state to the east: The temple is in large part a memorial to four generals who lost their lives in that long conflict. On land, the men of arms go at one another fiercely with spears (you can identify the Chams by the curious blossom-shaped headdress they wear). On water, rows of men pull at oars from galleys as others strike at the enemy with spears. There are also images of the divine, notably the god Vishnu, with 32 arms arrayed like rays of light emanating from the sun.

The carving style is similar to that of the Bayon temple reliefs in Angkor. The difference is there's no need to fight for a view. We did cross paths for a few minutes our first day with a party of about 20 French-speaking tourists. We saw no other visitors that day or the next.

Late in the afternoon, we went for a look at what the ancient Khmers could do with water. Just east of the temple, they created a reservoir that measures roughly a mile by a half-mile. Academics disagree over whether this body, and others like it, did only symbolic duty as earthly stand-ins for the mythic Sea of Creation, or were part of a vast irrigation system, or both. Whatever the truth, I was awed by the scale. The tree line way, way off in the distance was the northern bank.

The reservoir was now largely dry, but because its floor is low and collects water before the surrounding land does, it has been divided into rice paddies. We went for a stroll, walking along paddy dikes to keep our feet dry. We said hello to members of a farming family who were tinkering with a small tractor. A woman had caught a bucketful of paddy crabs and insects, which she would sell as food. In the final daylight, we passed a group of young men bringing cattle home.

I passed the night at the house of a Cambodian family, friends of a friend. They couldn't have been more gracious. They gave me a room of my own, bottled water, mosquito coils and a big luxury: a car battery hooked to a fluorescent light. I could have light all night if I wanted it.

Other members of our party slept at a formal homestay, the term given to guesthouses as well as family homes that accept paying guests, a few steps from the temple's gate. It had two rooms with large beds covered by mosquito nets. Downstairs there was a basic bathroom with a squat toilet and scoop bath.

Staying the night brought another cultural experience. A festival was going on nearby, and its amplified music carried into my room as I sat reading. Then around 10 p.m., silence. Private generators don't run all night, even for a celebration.

I got up at dawn, scoop-bathed in slightly murky water and walked to the moat from which it had been drawn. I took in the early morning sights: the mist, dogs prowling around in first light. I played amateur archaeologist for a bit, noting that an ancient feeder or outflow channel, now dry, was connected to the moat at this corner.

Later we went exploring on foot. Mixed in among wooden homes were the stone walls of lesser 12th-century relics that had been monasteries or small temples. The ruins of one temple's gate lay foliage-shrouded just a few steps from a house. Little boys ran about, and a teenage girl ironed clothing.

We had breakfast at a stall in the town's market; there are no proper restaurants. It was noodle soup with chicken, and very good.

I first visited Angkor in 1969. Back then, you could be alone in the big temples even there. I once walked through the largest of them, Angkor Wat, encountering hardly a soul. It's good to know that such an experience can still be had. You just have to work a bit harder for it.

John Burgess is a former foreign correspondent for The Post. He last wrote for Travel about a country walk in Kent, England.
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