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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Stampede death toll rises to 351

The number of people killed in a bridge stampede during the Cambodian capital's annual water festival now stands at 351, the social affairs minister said on Sunday. The figure, which included 222 females, is four higher than previously announced, while the number of injured stood at 395, said a
statement signed by Ith Samheng, who sits on a committee investigating the disaster.

It said each of the wounded would receive free treatment and assistance from the Cambodian Red Cross as well as 1,000,000 riels (USD 244) from the government.

Cambodia's most popular festival ended in tragedy on Monday after crowds panicked on an overcrowded bridge leading to an island that was one of the main event sites.

Authorities have said a full report on the incident would be released in the coming week.

Initial findings from the investigating committee suggest the stampede occurred after rumours rippled through the crowd that the suspension bridge to Phnom Penh's Diamond Island was about to collapse.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has described the disaster as Cambodia's worst tragedy since the Khmer Rouge's 1975-1979 reign of terror, which killed up to a quarter of the population.

The city will continue to host the yearly festival despite the deaths, according to Chea Kean, deputy secretary general of a government festival committee, who said yesterday it was an "age-old tradition" in the country.

The three-day event, which marks the reversal of the flow between the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers, usually draws millions of visitors to the capital to enjoy dragon boat races, fireworks and concerts.
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China finances restoration of historic Shiva temple in Cambodia

Nevada, US, November 28, 2010:

Hindus have applauded China for reportedly financing the restoration of deteriorating Ta Keo Hindu temple in Cambodia’s UNESCO World Heritage Site Angkor temple complex, which began on November 27.

Restoration will take about six million dollars and eight years to complete. People’s Republic of China also assisted in the restoration (2000-2008) of 12th century Hindu temple in Angkor named Chausay Tevada, costing about two million dollars, reports suggest.

Said to be built entirely of sandstones by kings Jayavarman V and Suryavarman I in late 10-early 11th century, Ta Keo (Preah Keo) is a pyramid of five levels. Fragments of pedestals and lingas are found in/around its towers. Its primary deity is said to be Shiva. At the foot of the eastern stairways, there is a statue of kneeling Nandi, which indicates that Ta Keo was a Shaivite temple.

Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada (USA) today, said that more needed to be done to safeguard the Angkor temple complex and its surroundings and deteriorating bas-reliefs; save it from vandalism and looting; put some controls on unchecked tourism; check the demand for water table which could undermine the stability of sandy soils under the temples.

Rajan Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, also urged UNESCO World Heritage Convention and Cambodia government to provide more funding for the upkeep of the temple complex and spend more than half the ticket revenue on the temples. He commended China for bankrolling the restoration of historic Hindu temples.

Angkor Archaeological Park contains magnificent remains of over 1000 temples going back to ninth century, spread over about 400 square kilometers, and receives about three million visitors annually.
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Boy who fled K.Rouge returns to Cambodia a US navy commander

By Michelle Fitzpatrick (AFP)

PHNOM PENH — When the destroyer USS Mustin docks in Cambodia next week it will be more than just a routine mission for the ship's commander.

Michael Misiewicz is Cambodian by birth and was just a child when he was wrenched from his family and homeland 37 years ago, to be sent away from the country to escape the civil war with the Khmer Rouge.

He has not set foot on Cambodian soil since.

"I have been fighting a lot of emotions about coming back to my native country," said Misiewicz, who was born Vannak Khem, of his impending return.

"To know that I've got relatives there that have wanted to see me for decades... I don't know if I will be able to hold back the tears," he told AFP by telephone aboard the US warship.

The 43-year-old was a small boy in the early 1970s when Cambodia was engulfed in a civil war between government troops and communist Khmer Rouge fighters.

In 1973, his father arranged for him to be adopted by an American woman who worked at the US embassy and was preparing to leave the increasingly dangerous country.

The move meant Misiewicz avoided one of the most brutal chapters of 20th century history -- the 1975-1979 Khmer Rouge regime that caused the deaths of up to two million people from starvation, overwork and execution.

"At that age I was a happy-go-lucky kid. I really didn't have any sense of the war or bad things going on in Cambodia," said Misiewicz, recalling that he had no qualms about leaving.

"I was excited about getting on a plane, going to a new world where I could eat popcorn and have all the watermelon I wanted," he said.

But his mother's tearful goodbye is engraved in his memory. "My mom was so, so upset. I promised her I'd buy her a big house one day."

The young Cambodian built a new life for himself in his adoptive country, enlisting in the navy after graduating from high school in Lanark, Illinois.

It was while he was attending the US naval academy that he began to learn about the atrocities that had taken place in his homeland.

Misiewicz had received no news from his family and assumed the worst.

"I felt a lot of guilt. Why was I the lucky one?," he said. "I really doubted that my family had survived the whole Khmer Rouge era. I tried not to think about it."

What he did not know was that his mother and three of his four siblings had survived and managed to flee the country in 1983, ending up in the United States themselves.

They were now living in Austin, Texas, desperately trying to find him.

It took six years of searching, but finally the family learnt that Misiewicz had lived in Alexandria, Virginia when he first arrived in the US.

Combing through old phonebooks, they eventually made contact with his ex-babysitter who happened to know his current whereabouts.

After 16 years of silence, one phone call reunited him with his family.

"One day, in 1989, I got a call out of the blue. It was my older brother," said Misiewicz.

The joy of reunion was tempered by the news that his father had been executed by the Khmer Rouge in 1977 and his infant sister had died, probably of malnutrition, during the "Killing Fields" era.

Misiewicz, who has more than 300 sailors under his charge, says he often thinks about how hard it must have been to make the choice to separate him from his family.

"I am so grateful my father had the wisdom to make that decision. It was a very tough decision, very heart-breaking," he said.

Now Misiewicz is looking forward to reconnecting with relatives and exposing his sailors to the country through community outreach projects and training exercises with the Cambodian navy.

The USS Mustin, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, will be stationed in Sihanoukville, on Cambodia's southwestern coastline, for four days from Friday.

"I've been so blessed to have had these opportunities and I feel honoured and privileged to come back," the ship's commander said.

Misiewicz added that he feels "very close" to his birth mother and siblings.

"I did buy my mom that house -- in Texas," he said -- making good on a promise made nearly four decades ago.
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