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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Calgary Journalist shot mid Thai prptester

Anti-government "red shirt" protesters assist Nelson Rand after the photojournalist from Calgary was shot three times -- in the leg, wrist and abdomen -- while covering clashes in Bangkok on Thursday. Rand is expected to re-
Photograph by: Adrees Latif, Reuters, Calgary Herald


Parents relieved after son's four-hour operation

By Jason Van Rassel, Calgary Herald May 15, 2010


T elling stories that have gone untold has taken Calgary native Nelson Rand to the jungles of Cambodia and into the middle of political violence now gripping Thailand, where he was seriously wounded by three bullets Friday while reporting on anti-government protests.

Rand, 34 , is in stable condition at a Bangkok hospital after a four-hour operation to treat bullet wounds to his leg, abdomen and wrist -- news that offered his shaken parents some measure of comfort on Friday.

"We are very optimistic," said his father, Serge Rand.

The day didn't start that way for Serge and Barbara Rand.

A telephone outage Friday morning meant rather than a phone call from an official, the first indication they had their son had been hurt was an e-mail from a friend asking about his "condition."

The query prompted them to search the Internet, where they quickly found news articles about the shooting.

"We were broken up," Serge said of their reaction.

They were still waiting to speak to Nelson on Friday, but had received enough information through his friends and officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs to ease their minds.

Rand has lived in Asia for about a decade and was based in Bangkok, where his most recent job was working for the TV network France 24.

Sixteen people have died and 141 have been hurt in clashes between the Thai army and so-called "red shirt" protesters who have occupied portions of central Bangkok for the past six weeks.

The political instability that gave rise to the current unrest goes back even further and is rooted in a divide between mainly monarchist urban elites who support Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

The "red shirts" are mainly poor urban and rural dwellers who support former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist billionaire ousted in a 2006 coup.

Rand, who has lived in Bangkok for several years, didn't shy away from danger, said George McLeod, a longtime friend and fellow journalist.

"He's one of the few people who gets on the front line and is willing to put himself in harm's way," McLeod said. "It worries me, but I would put his bravery as a journalist far ahead of mine."

McLeod, a freelance journalist who is currently based in Bangladesh, said he met Rand in 1998 and discovered they had a common objective: to seek out and report on the last remnants of Cambodia's murderous Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s.

After its ouster in 1979, the Khmer Rouge retreated to the jungle and continued to wage a guerrilla war against the government.

Since then, Rand has spent two months in the jungles of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, with the ethnic Karen people, and has journeyed to southern Thailand, where a long-simmering -- and largely unreported -- Muslim insurgency has been escalating since 2005. Last year, he wrote a book about his experiences with rebel armies and persecuted ethnic minorities in countries such as Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam.

"He's devoted his life to highlighting these issues that don't get reported in the western media -- and I think that's admirable," McLeod said.

The jungles of Southeast Asia are a long way from Alberta, where Rand spent his early childhood in Red Deer, and later years in Calgary.

His parents said his interest in Southeast Asia was fuelled by a trip he took to Vietnam during a year off following high school.

After obtaining bachelor and master's degrees in Asian studies from the University of British Columbia, Rand returned to Asia -- and for the most part, hasn't left.

Rand once worked as a contractor for the Canadian Embassy in Bangkok, but has carved out a reputation as a passionate journalist who goes to great lengths to tell stories that are often overlooked in the West.

"We have always kept in touch and we're very proud of what he's accomplished," Serge said.

Because of the instability in Thailand, Rand's parents have been advised not to go there.

They're now waiting to meet him in another country -- and are hopeful he might come back to Canada, if even temporarily.

"He has to decide whether he comes back. We'd like him to recuperate here, if possible," Serge said.

jvanrassel@theherald.canwest.com

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Heikki Kovalainen bids big at Monaco charity auction

(Reuters) - Lotus Formula One driver Heikki Kovalainen was the biggest bidder at a Monaco Grand Prix charity auction, shelling out 300,000 euros ($381,100) toward an AIDS project in Cambodia.

The auctioneer did not name the Finn but the former McLaren driver told Reuters after the event on Friday night that he had made the bid, although multi-millionaire team principal and Air Asia airline boss Tony Fernandes was also present.

"It is my money but Tony pays my salary," said Kovalainen. "I have been looking to do something for a long time. This is a good cause."

The sum will cover half the budget of a project to provide 320 permanent homes for 1,760 people living with AIDS/HIV in the country.

Organizers said the Elton John AIDS foundation would contribute a matching donation.

The seven lots at the Amber Lounge auction raised a total of 520,000 euros for the charity, including 50,000 splashed out by an anonymous bidder on a pair of black and white diamond cufflinks.

Formula One drivers, led by McLaren's 2008 world champion Lewis Hamilton, took part in a fashion show before the auction, attended by celebrities including former tennis great Boris Becker and actress Elizabeth Hurley.
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Is Cambodia Dredging its Rivers to Death?

By Christopher Shay


Paul Ferber was scuba diving in Cambodia's Sre Ambil River shortly after ships had finished dredging the area. As director of Marine Conservation Cambodia, Ferber was used to seeing the Cambodian estuaries teeming with marine life. He was shocked: Over 15 kilometers of river, he saw exactly one fish and two shrimp. "It was crazy to dive and see nothing," he says.

This isn't just happening to Cambodian rivers. Cambodian fishermen say fish stocks have plummeted off the coast of the province of Koh Kong, and that they now need to travel further and further to feed their families. Residents say the timing of these changes points to one main culprit: the sand industry, for which dredgers suck up more than 25,000 tons of Cambodian sand a day to export primarily to Singapore, according to a report released this week by Global Witness, a London-based environmental watchdog.

Along the Kampot River in February, angry residents destroyed nearby dredging equipment after a collapsing riverbank threatened their village. Mu Sochua, an opposition party parliamentarian, said the villagers had already tried pressuring their provincial leaders and sending letters to the Prime Minister and that the villagers "had no other choice." Phay Siphan, a spokesman from the Cambodian Council of Ministers, dismissed Mu's complaints, saying, "From my experience, the opposition party never does the job. They sit down and wait to hear from outside reporters and then take the opportunity to insult the government."

Cambodia does regulate its sand exports — at least on paper. After a host of protests and a raft of bad press, the Cambodian government banned the export of river sand a year ago. But the Global Witness report claims that dredging operations have actually expanded since then and that the dredging of river sand continues unabated. A search of alibaba.com, a Chinese business-to-business e-commerce site, still reveals a number of companies purporting to sell Cambodian river sand.

This booming Cambodian trade, according to the report, is fueled by Singapore's voracious appetite for sand. Since splitting off from Malaysia in 1965, Singapore has become one of the world's wealthiest countries, and as its importance has grown, so, too, has the country. According to Global Witness, since the 1960s, the island of Singapore has increased its size by 22%, or 130 square kilometers (50 miles), and the country has plans to expand at least another 50 square kilometers (20 miles). This has made Singapore one of the world's biggest importers of sand. After Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam limited or banned sand exports because of the environmental impact of dredging, Singapore has increasingly relied on Cambodia, the report says.

The result has been "ecologically and socially devastating," says the Global Witness report. The NGO accuses Singapore of "hypocrisy on a grand scale" for presenting itself as a leader on green issues — even hosting the World Cities Summit with the theme of "Liveable and Sustainable Cities of the Future" — while burying its head in the sand, so to speak, and ignoring the environmental consequences in Cambodia. In a statement released on Tuesday, the Singaporean Ministry of National Development countered, "The report suggests that the Singapore government seeks to import sand without due regard to the laws or environmental impact of the source country, in this case, Cambodia. This is not true. We are committed to the protection of the global environment, and we do not condone the illegal export or smuggling of sand." The statement added that sand is supplied by private entities that are contractually obliged not to cause adverse impact to the environment of the source country and must comply with its laws.

Dredging picked up in Cambodia after Indonesia abruptly banned sand exports in 2007. Prior to the ban, more than 275,000 tons of sand were being exported every month from Indonesia's Riau Islands, according to the Global Witness report, and two islands — Nipah and Sebaik — nearly vanished because of extensive dredging. The Indonesian government had to go back and fill in Nipah in order to save the island, which helps determine Indonesia's maritime border with Singapore. Even with the bans and export restrictions, sand remains big business in the region. Sand smuggling has become a problem in Indonesia with more than an estimated 300 million cubic meters of sand being exported illegally every year, according to the Telegraph. In Malaysia, 34 government officials were arrested in a sex-for-sand scandal in January, where officials allegedly received bribes and sexual favors to help smuggle the sand out of the country.

In Cambodia's Koh Kong province every month, dredgers extract more than 850,000 tons of sand, according to Global Witness, which valued a year's worth of Koh Kong sand at nearly $250 million on the market in Singapore. A Cambodian government-sponsored website claims that dredgers remove only between 40,000 and 60,000 tons of sand per month in Koh Kong, and that the sand mining operations "remain small-scale." Global Witness acknowledges their numbers are only estimates but stands by their claim that the numbers are far greater than the government is reporting.

Exact numbers are hard to come by since the wheeling and dealings of Cambodia's sand trade go on behind closed doors, Global Witness says. The report claims two Cambodian senators with close ties to both Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Cambodian military are at the center of this trade. In response to Global Witness, the Royal Embassy of Cambodia in London released a May 11 statement slamming the study, calling it a "cheap and rubbish report" containing "malicious and misleading claims by an international> troublemaker."

It isn't the first time Global Witness has picked a fight with Cambodia's ruling elite. After the release of a 2007 report alleging links between high-ranking members of the government and illegal logging, the Cambodian government denied all charges, the head of the Forestry Department called the report "laughable," and a provincial governor — who also happens to be the Prime Minister's brother — promised that if members of Global Witness ever set foot in Cambodia, "I will hit them until their heads are broken."

Dredging sucks up sand a few feet below the marine floor, disturbing the water. Even temporary increases in turbidity can interfere with spawning and suffocate coral reefs, according. Ferber from Marine Conservation Cambodia dove along a dredging pipe and told TIME the sea was thick with sediment. Overdredging in waterways can lower stream bottoms and disrupt the natural sedimentary processes, leading to the erosion of riverbanks. In Cambodia, the marine life is particularly rich; the seagrass beds of Kampot are the largest in the region and shelters endangered dugongs and dolphins. Chourn Bunnara, a program coordinator at the Fisheries Action Coalition Team (FACT), says he's seen dredging in only 10 meters of water that has "completely destroyed" an area, killing nearby mangroves and emptying the waters of fish.

Not everyone has given up on putting a stop to dredging in Cambodia. Chourn knows it will be difficult to end unsustainable sand dredging in Cambodia because of the "rich people and the power men behind it." But his organization, FACT, is nonetheless putting together a workshop in hopes of educating the country's politicians about the dangers of dredging. "We've learned about other countries and the negative impacts that happened there," he says. For her part, Mu says she won't stop fighting but admits, "Civil society has already done everything possible," and says Singapore needs to take more responsibility. Singapore "leads the world in good business that protects the environment." But, she adds, "any country that is part of this is part of the destruction of the environment."
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