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Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Environmental, Social Concerns in ‘Triangle’ Talks

Development experts want to see a thorough discussion of the environment and social issues when officials from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam meet this week to discuss the remote “triangle area” among their shared borders.

In Cambodia’s northeastern provinces, expanded plantations and mining and plans for massive hydropower dams have given rise to concerns for villagers.

In two days of meetings that begin Wednesday in Kratie province, lawmakers from three countries are to discuss infrastructure, electricity and development in Cambodia’s Ratanakkiri, Mondolkiri and Stung Treng provinces; Laos’ Attapeu, Saravan and Se Kong provinces; and Vietnam’s Dak Lak, Dak Nong, Gia Lai and Kon Tum provinces.

Chhith Sam Ath, executive director of NGO Forum, said it was important that lawmakers “conduct a thorough study on the environmental and social affects” of development in the region before moving forward.

Development groups want participation from stakeholders, transparency and a cease to negative impacts on “people who depend on the natural resources in that area,” he said.

Better development could increase the gains on investment and improve security in the tri-border area, he said.

Nov Seiha, an economist at the Economic Institute of Cambodia, said the border region between the three countries has the potential to reduce poverty, bolster trade and even see eco-tourism take root. But that all requires the right plan.

“If the development plan is really working, I’m optimistic that it will provide a positive result to our economy and trade,” he said.

Chheang Vun, head of the National Assembly’s committee on foreign affairs, said the three governments were planning for more infrastructure, including roads, communication and electricity.

Development policies for the area are hoped to “solve the poverty of people in the area,” he said.
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Border Marker Appeals Hearing Delayed

The Court of Appeals on Tuesday postponed a hearing for opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who is fighting criminal charges for allegedly uprooting markers along the Vietnam border.

Defense lawyers had requested that key witnesses currently in detention be brought to Phnom Penh from Svay Rieng province, where the charges were originally filed.

The two witnesses, Meas Srey and Prum Chea, were each convicted of destroying border markers in Chantrea district, where villagers say they are losing land to Vietnamese encroachment. Both were sentenced to one year in jail in Svay Rieng provincial prison.

After a 30-minute hearing Tuesday, Appeals Court judge Khun Leang Meng ordered the two be brought from Svay Rieng prison to Prey Sar prison in Phnom Penh for the next hearing, which has not been scheduled.

Sam Rainsy remains in exile and is facing a two-year sentence if his conviction is upheld. He has also been charge with a separate offense of disinformation for publishing a map on his party’s website alleging border encroachment.
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Malaria Drug Resistance in Cambodia Not a Surprise

Health officials in Cambodia have found a strain of malaria that’s showing resistance to the main anti-malaria drug, known as artemisinin.

Resistance means patients can take longer to recover. Health officials and medical aid groups in Africa – home to most of the world’s malaria cases – are keeping a close eye on the situation in Cambodia.

One of the groups battling the disease is Africa Fighting Malaria. Director Richard Tren says news of the drug resistance in Cambodia did not come as a surprise.

“It’s not new news. This is something people have been concerned about for some time. In that part of Southeast Asia, the artemisinin-class of drugs has been used for a long time. They’ve been used as a mono-therapy. In other words, they haven’t been combined with other drugs,” he says.

Long-term use of a single drug to treat malaria leads to drug resistance, according to Tren.

“This has been the history of malaria treatment. The good part is that the authorities are trying to do something about it. This is not being ignored.”

What can be done?

One of the steps being taken is improving drug treatment policies.

“They’re making sure that malaria treatment is done with combination therapies so that you’re mixing the artemisinin drug with a different drug that has a different mode of action. What happens then if there is resistance to the artemisinin, the other drug will take that parasite out,” says Tren.

But drugs alone won’t solve the malaria problem, no matter how effective. Transmission of the malaria parasite must be sharply reduced.

“If there are fewer cases of malaria, Tren says, “reduced transmission means that the resistant gene of the malaria parasite can’t be drive through a population. Reducing malaria burden and improving treatment is the only way that we have to control this.”

He warns though, that the situation in Cambodia is very serious because “there’s no next class of drug of the artemisinin-based class of drugs. They’re our last, best hope of malaria treatment and it will be many years before we get a new class of drug available.”

Worse in Africa, but…

Most of the one million malaria deaths each year occur in Africa.

“The burden of malaria in Africa is much higher. There is a much more deadly strain of malaria. The falciparum malaria that you get in Africa is much more likely to kill. And unfortunately, you see the problems that you do in Southeast Asia, where you have ongoing use of these mono-therapy drugs,” he says.

Africa Fighting Malaria research found a high rate of “sub-standard” and fake medicines being sold on the continent in private markets.

“We have to be clear that no drug resistance has been found in Africa yet. These artemisinin drugs are still highly effective, but it is something we have to be very vigilant about,” he says.

While mono-therapy is found in Africa, official policies call for a different approach.

“Officially, all governments are supposed to be using the combination therapies. But the reality is in many African settings people buy their medicines from shops and kiosks and the mono-therapies are still being used far too much. African leaders, African governments have committed themselves to getting these mono-therapies off the market,” he says.

The more mono-therapy is used in Africa, the greater the risk of artemisinin resistance.

A vaccine

A malaria vaccine would help but not solve the epidemic.

“We’re closer now than ever before,” Tren says, “with a good candidate vaccine that is being supported by the Gates Foundation and by the drug company GSK (GlaxoSmithKline) and other partners.”

But he warns that a malaria vaccine would not be as effective as a smallpox vaccine, for example. “This will reduce the probability of dying by about half, I think. You know, this is not going to be a magic bullet,’ he says.

Effective medicines and malaria control will still be needed, including insecticide treated bed nets and indoor spraying of homes with insecticides to control mosquitoes.
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Film review: Th disappearance of McKinley Nolan

Although the Vietnam War has for some time been away -- away from the headlines, away from the public dialogue, away from our private thoughts -- the Vietnam War is not gone. I don't think it will ever be gone.

The two wars that have rocked the American psyche are the Civil War and the Vietnam War. The 19th century war said we were not a nation, our "exceptionalism" was an illusion, and the almighty's hand was not on our national shoulder. The Vietnam War demonstrated we were not God's earthly power, we were like other nations, and everything else was baloney.

While the Civil War attacked the existence of America, the Vietnam War finished off the American Century. America still exists -- although sometimes I wonder if that is true -- yet no one talks about the American Century. That big idea went puff in little Vietnam.

Of these two defining wars, Vietnam was the most perplexing -- not the most brutal, but the most mystifying. America won the Civil War and the nation was patched together and the illusion of unity took hold as we roared into a frenzy of industrialization followed by the new culture of consumerism. In Vietnam, however, we lost. Defeat defeats illusions. Losers lose their way. Shaken and unsure and insecure, we invaded defenseless Grenada and powerless Panama -- victories that made reasonable Americans cringe with embarrassment. And we also hightailed it out third-rate powers Lebanon and Somalia, fresh disappointments that smelled like Vietnam redux. So it was no forward march -- as our close call in Iraq and now our stalemate in Afghanistan are again demonstrating -- no roaring into a bright new future.

So today the Vietnam War lies just below our public surface, breathing a slow fire, gnawing on our national soul, polluting a nasty undercurrent of despair that refuses to disappear. Like American McKinley Nolan, who disappeared a long time ago in Vietnam and refuses to disappear in America. The Disappearance of McKinley Nolan taps into this slow burner and raises our submerged anxieties to a bewildering, disturbing surface. A riveting documentary, not a straight line, not always simple to follow, and don't expect a Hollywood ending. After all this is Vietnam.

Over four decades ago, Private McKinley Nolan suddenly vanished. What is know is he disappeared from his US Army unit, did propaganda work for the Viet Cong, married a Vietnamese woman, and lived in a village near Vietnam's border with Cambodia. Then McKinley Nolan's story turns murky. Actually, his story turns into rumors and speculations and hearsay and nasty greed and possibly neurotic confusion and -- well, all that that remains of his story are questions. Here are a few of those questions:

Was McKinley Nolan captured on the battlefield by the Viet Cong? Or was he a willful military deserter? Was he a radical Black activist? Was he a black marketer? Did he kill two fellow soldiers? Was he an undercover agent for the Central Intelligence Agency? Was he a hero? Was he a traitor? Did America abandon McKinley Nolan? Did McKinley Nolan abandon America? Did both abandon each other?

Strangely, the US Government appears uninterested in clearing up this murkiness. It's been 43 years since Private McKinley Nolan disappeared -- he is one of the last US foot soldiers from the Vietnam War still unaccounted for -- and still his US military records have not been released. Until this film, the US Government had not contacted his family since 1968. That's a long while. Why? Does the government have something to hide? Or is this just bureaucratic inertia? Or maybe -- oh, there are so many questions.

The answers to these questions could of course be anything, since everything America touched in Vietnam was fueled by superpower hubris and riddled with irrationality and incomprehension which formed a toxicity that decimated the truth. That, by the way, is how powerful countries lose wars to little countries. They kill not only locals, but also truth, which leaves their giant military machine confused and lost, leaves it without an ounce of smarts.

In 2005, retired US Army Lt. Colonel Dan Smith -- who had a leg amputated in the war -- was touring Vietnam and spotted what he believed to be an American standing on the street. He talked to him briefly. Villagers seemed to confirm that he was McKinley Nolan. Back in the States the retired Lt. Colonel photo-identified McKinley Nolan. In Texas he told Nolan's family his story of seeing who he believed was McKinley Nolan.

The Disappearance of McKinley Nolan chronicles McKinley Nolan's brother, Michael Nolan, return to Vietnam and his search for his missing brother. It's not an easy trip, nor one that gives answers easily. He learns that when the Communist government of Vietnam released the American POWs in 1973, McKinley, fearing he would be forced to return to the United States, with wife and young baby slipped across the border into Cambodia. So his search moves to Cambodia.

There Michael Nolan is told his brother was picked up by the Khmer Rouge. Then more interviews with Cambodians -- who survived the horrific holocaust of the Killing Field -- some are painful, others are quite moving, others leave the brother suspicious. One former Khmer Rouge becomes Michael's central focus. Was he a friend of McKinley Nolan? Was he the killer of McKinley Nolan? Was he both? Human remains are exhumed. But even old bones in the ground of South East Asia guard their truth. There is no forensic evidence of McKinley Nolan. Not yet, anyway.

Back in Texas, Michael says, although his heart doesn't seem to completely cooperate with his mind, that McKinley died in Cambodia. Wife Mary stands firm with her "until death do us part." A rock of gentleness and commitment, the wife refuses to believe her husband gone for 43 years is gone forever. Son Roger, whose father disappeared when he was only two, his eyes turn heavy, watery.

Like the Vietnam War, truth is elusive yet the mission continues. Like that turbulent time -- the film has archival footage from the civil rights era and the antiwar movement and the battlefield in Vietnam -- life is difficult and the heart is battered. Yet hope continues. There is still hope for at least some.

The Disappearance of McKinley Nolan is a difficult journey through an old maze in search of new facts buried in the past. The story inches forward, and suddenly falls back. What brother Michael Nolan believed today is gone tomorrow, but is still possible tomorrow.

Director Henry Corra has done a stupendous job in saving us from another quagmire, this time one that could have sucked us under with conflicting details and endless dead ends. In the grand tradition of documentary storytelling, The Disappearance of McKinley Nolan has us moving to the edge of our seats as our minds retreat into a dark past. It's a gripping tale about a ghost that has lived for 43 years. It's Vietnam.

Wars start and wars end, yet wars never end for the casualties of war. Regardless of what happened -- why Private McKinney Nolan disappeared from his Army unit, what he did when living in that Vietnamese village, what happened to him in Cambodia -- a family in Texas needs answers. Forty-three years is too long for a ghost to live. Forty-three years is too long for a grieving family to live without answers. The US Government needs to give or get these answers.
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