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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Rain, snow threaten Lunar New Year

BEIJING — Heavy rain and snow storms were set to hit parts of China on Saturday, meteorologists said, threatening travel chaos as millions headed home on the eve of the Lunar New Year.

The Spring Festival, or Lunar New Year, is China's most important holiday, reuniting families around the vast nation of 1.3 billion and triggering an exodus believed to be the world's largest annual human migration.

China's Meteorological Administration said on Saturday the country's south was set for rain and snow, while temperatures in the north would begin to fall.

Heavy snow would also fall over parts of the east.

"Everyone must make preparations for rain, snow and falling temperatures when returning home or going out to visit relatives and friends," it said in an earlier warning.

Authorities are hoping to avoid a repeat of the chaos after a massive cold wave and freezing rain hit southern and central China in 2008, crippling transport systems and stranding millions just as the travel rush got under way.

The government has said that 210 million passengers are expected to take the train during the current New Year period, which officially began late January. Nearly 30 million more will travel by air and millions of others by bus.

With many Chinese living and working in cities a long way from their family, the crush on transport and resulting price hikes was a problem, Xinhua said, adding the price of a return train ticket could be as much as one month's salary for some.

Guo Kai, a 30-year-old Beijing IT worker, told the agency tickets were hard to come by.

"A few of my friends queued up overnight outside ticket offices, and others bought tickets from scalpers," Guo said.

Other costs also make the trip expensive, he said, citing the tradition of handing out red envelopes containing money.

"I bought gifts for my parents, but no cash. I will do more house chores as compensation," he said.

South Koreans also gather in home towns or ancestral villages during the Lunar New Year to pay their respects to ancestors.

Transport officials there said the majority of the 25 million people on the move -- around half the country's population -- would be taking to the roads, some of which had been hit by heavy winter weather.

The Lunar New Year is also a major public holiday across several other parts of Asia.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a Lunar New Year message that he hoped the coming year would see a reversal of the city-state's plunging birth rate.

Lee said he was particularly worried about ethnic Chinese couples who chose to hold back having babies during Tiger years because of a superstition that children born during the year will have the animal's attributes.

"It is one thing to encourage ourselves with the traditional attributes of the zodiac animals," he said.

"But it is another to cling on to superstitions against children born in the Year of the Tiger, who are really no different from children born under other animal signs."

Singapore's first casino will start operating on Sunday, in time for the Lunar New Year, the operator said Thursday.

Hong Kong's Peninsula Hotel is hoping to cash in on Valentine's Day and the Chinese New Year starting the same day this year, the first time in decades in what has been dubbed locally as "double happiness".

The swanky hotel is offering a helicopter service that lets boyfriends propose to their sweetheart or married couples exchange vows mid-flight as they watch New Year fireworks in the city's famed Victoria Harbour.

Hotel spokeswoman Winvy Lung said it was rare for the two celebrations to coincide.

"It is traditional for people to spend time with relatives during the day but we can foresee that many couples would still like to celebrate Valentine's Day in the evening," she said.

In Cambodia, around 300,000 Cambodian Chinese prepared to join in the festivities.

Suon Sopheak, 27-year-old Phnom Penh resident, said it is becoming important in Cambodia's society, with even Cambodians of none Chinese descent joining the fun.

"My parents say their ancestors were Chinese. Even though I don't look like one, we have to celebrate it annually to send the offerings to ours like we celebrate the Khmer one," Sopheak said.

"When I was in school, friends always boasted about celebrating the New Year, and made the ones who didn't jealous."

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Ta Kwai not occupied by Cambodia

The army insisted that Cambodian troops did not occupy Ta Kwai Hindu temple in Surin last week.

Spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd yesterday said Cambodian troops entered the Ta Kwai temple in Surin province on Thursday but it was because of a misunderstanding between Thai and Cambodian forces.

Thailand claims Ta Kwai temple, 15km east of Ta Muan Thom temple, but Cambodia contests the claim. As a result, the two countries agreed neither side would occupy the temple.

Col Sansern said that on Thursday military patrols from both sides came face to face at Ta Kwai. The Thai forces decided to withdraw, but the Cambodian troops did not.

The army held talks with their Cambodian counterparts, who later withdrew.

Col Sansern said Cambodia agreed there had been a misunderstanding during troop rotation at the border.

In another development, a Cambodian military tribunal yesterday convicted a Thai man of planting landmines along a disputed section of the border and sentenced him to 20 years in prison.

Suphap Vongpakna confessed last week to planting at least five mines in territory disputed between Thailand and Cambodia, saying Thai soldiers had paid him to do it.

"The court has considered the accused man's confession, so it sentences him to a jail term of 20 years, which is open to appeal," military judge Pohk Pan said.

Suphap, arrested last February, faced a maximum of 30 years in prison for attempted murder, endangering national security and entering Cambodia illegally.

Defence lawyer Sam Sokong said he would consult his client on whether to appeal the decision.

Troops from both sides have been killed or injured by landmines along the border.

Thailand accused Cambodia of freshly deploying landmines after a pair of Thai soldiers were wounded in October 2008.

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Foreign Ministry seeking to help Thai national jailed in Cambodia for planting landmines

BANGKOK, Feb 13 (TNA) - Following the Cambodian court ruling, sentencing a Thai man to 20 years in jail for planting landmines along the Thai-Cambodian border, the Thai Minister of Foreign Affairs Kasit Piromya said on Saturday that the ministry is seeking to help the convicted Thai national and has dispatched Thai officials to visit him.

French news agency Agence-France-Presse (AFP) reported Friday that 39-year-old Suphap Pakna was sentenced to 20 years in Cambodian jail after he confessed in proceedings that he had planted at least five landmines in Cambodia's town of Anlong Veng near the disputed areas claimed by both countries.

The news service said that he was arrested one year ago and that the Cambodian authorities charged him with attempted murder, endangering national security and entering Cambodia illegally.

Associated Press (AP) quoted the Cambodian court record as saying Mr Suphap was arrested by Cambodian border guards just a few metres inside Cambodian territory while carrying a land mine on February 27, 2009.

The Thai foreign minister said that he has been informed that the Cambodian court read the verdict several days ago.

He said the foreign ministry wants to help Mr Suphap and has already instructed the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh to carry out consular visits to him.

The Cambodian court ruling came only few days after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen visited the ancient Preah Vihear temple and boost morale for his troops stationed in the area last weekend.

The Cambodian premier also planned to visit the Ta Muen Thom ruins which belong to Thailand, but he was not allowed to enter the area as Thai security agencies said the situation was unfavourable for fear of possible confrontation with protesters from Thailand's People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) gathering near the temple.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that Preah Vihear belongs to Cambodia, but Thailand has argued that the 1.8 square miles (4.6 sq km) area near the temple belongs to it. Demarcation of the area remains unresolved, leading to sporadic clashes between soldiers of the two countries since then. (TNA)
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A golden leaf looking for a forest

Kilong Ung survived the Khmer Rouge; now he helps people learn from the past

By Myles Murphy
Ashland Daily Tidings



Kilong Ung was a young boy in Cambodia when the Khmer Rouge took power in the early 1970s. Between 1974 and 1979, Ung survived while his parents and sister died in a genocide that claimed the lives of as many as 3 million people.

He has documented his story in the book "Golden Leaf, A Khmer Rouge Genocide Survivor" and will talk about his experience at the Ashland Library from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday.

"I want people to get a better appreciation of life and to understand what happened," Ung said Thursday in a telephone interview from his office in Portland, where he now lives. "My theme is leveraging the past to make the world a better place."

Ung's talk is part of a collaboration co-sponsored by Gallerie Karon and the Friends of Ashland Library.

Gallerie Karon is hosting a show through February, "East Meets East IV" which features textiles, adornments, leatherwork and other artwork from, among other East Asian countries, Cambodia.

Actress Helena De Crespo, who performed in the recent one-woman-show "Shirley Valentine" at Oregon Stage Works, was instrumental in bringing Ung to Ashland while the Gallerie Karon exhibit was on display.

"I was introduced to Helena several months ago, but I couldn't get the time to do an art show at the time," gallery owner Karen Wasser said. "Helena suggested Kilong. He's very in demand these days so we're very lucky."

Ung, now a software engineer in Portland and an adjunct computer programming instructor at Portland Community College, made it to the United States in 1979.

With little English at his command, he learned quickly and graduated from high school in Portland in 1983, going on to earn degrees from Reed College and Bowling Green State University.

Now he spends time traveling around giving motivational speeches in different communities. He is a past president of the Cambodian-American Community of Oregon and participates in numerous community and business groups.

Ung's language becomes poetic as he describes his journey and his purpose following the publishing of "Golden Leaf."

"I was lucky," Ung said. "I was a golden leaf, blown by the wind. I went further and put down roots and became a tree."

He hopes through his talks to inspire others.

"As a tree I can only do so much," he said. "I want the audience to become my fellow trees. We all have a past. We all are ordinary people, but we can do uplifting things."

After one recent talk, Ung was approached by a man who bought his book. A short time later, after reading the book, the man returned with a $5,000 check to help Ung in his work building schools in Cambodia.

"The forest is growing," Ung said. "To be a tree is a privilege and with that privilege comes responsibility."

Still a very poor country, wracked by political instability, Cambodia is fertile ground for aid, Ung said. But helping often requires a political dance, and Ung strives to build schools there without becoming entangled in bureaucracy and political controversy.

"I'm not involved with government or politics," he said. "It's purely as humanitarian as possible. We have to walk very gingerly, navigate through political systems."

On a smaller scale, de Crespo is working on a similar project. She is organizing work to create a theater and housing for one specific theater group she came in contact with while traveling in Cambodia. She has collected shadow puppets and set pieces made of leather made by members of the Cambodia theater group, which will be on display at Gallery Karon through this month.

For more details on Ung's life, see the Web site www.kilongung.blogspot.com.

De Crespo also will give a talk and slide show about her experience in Cambodia at Gallerie Karon, 500 A St. No. 1, from 7 to 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Myles Murphy is an editor and reporter with the Daily Tidings. Reach him at mmurphy@dailytidings.com.


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