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Monday, April 11, 2011

Good News for Cambodian Gibbons!

This week, the Cambodian Prime Minister, Sandech Hun Sen, cancelled a significant titanium mining project because of it's potential negative impacts on some of the country's last remaining intact rainforests, located in the beautiful and remote Cardamom Mountains.

Pleased that the prime minister has taken the environmental impact into account, Suwanna Gauntlett, of the conservation NGO Wildlife Alliance, says: "We applaud the courageous decision of the prime minister to see the greater value of the forest as it currently stands."

The move has been welcomed by locals and environmentalists who were concerned for both the biodiversity of this forested area and also the continued well-being of nearby communities who depend on it. The proposed project had planned to locate the mine in the way of a migration trail used traditionally by Cambodia's largest population of Asian elephants.

The local communities have spent years avoiding deforestation and poaching to develop alternatives such as viable eco-tourism packages. These forests are famously rich in wildlife and, according to the IUCN Red List , there are several endangered species found in the Cardamom Mountains. These include: the Asian elephant (Elephas maximums), Indochinese tiger (Panthera tigris corbetti), Malayan sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) and Pileated gibbon (Hylobates pileatus). Also in this forest, the Siamese crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis), classified as "critically endangered", has one of its last refuges.

Wildlife Alliance and a Cambodian newspaper had questioned a claim by the mining company that its project would generate US$1.3 billion dollars a year.
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NGOs in Cambodia set to struggle for survival

Excessive regulation of NGOs is threatening to undermine the efforts of aid agencies in Cambodia, warns the new head of a leading German development foundation in Phnom Penh.

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other NGOs say Cambodia's draft law regulating associations and non-governmental organizations should be abandoned on the grounds that it will undermine rather than promote civil society in the country. Dozens of international organizations working in Cambodia have called on international donors to make strong public and private statements opposing the law. Deutsche Welle spoke to the new head of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Phnom Penh, Manfred Hornung, about the implications of the legislation.

Deutsche Welle: You've been living in Cambodia for several years now. Some rights groups say that there's been a pattern of repression in the country over the last decade. What do you feel is the current situation in the country as far as democracy, human rights and civil society are concerned?

Manfred Hornung: There has been a very obvious trend in several sectors to restrict political and societal freedom on a large scale. A number of laws have been passed, among them the laws on NGOs and the passage of the criminal procedure law which was supposed to regulate certain sectors but turned out to be very restrictive in many ways.

A new law that Cambodia is set to put in practice this month will make it even harder for NGOs and foreign organizations to get registered. What does it mean for civil society in Cambodia if unregistered NGOs are prohibited from operating?

Informal groups are taking over roles and services that are really vital for Cambodian society. These groups are now being forced to register under very stringent conditions. Many individuals forming these groups are illiterate and have no connection to government structures, which will put a huge burden on civil life in Cambodia. The main problem is that no civil society life will be possible without registration, which is unconstitutional and in practical terms will curtail a lot of freedom in Cambodian society.

Will it also impact on foreign NGOs such as the Böll foundation and the work they do?

It's not a major problem for us as such, what I'm worried about is the future of our counterparts and partners. We work very closely with informal groups, students, rural communities in the north east that are now being forced to register. It will be very interesting for us to see if these groups become illegal because they don't have the capacity or might be frightened to register.

What are the biggest challenges in the areas that the Böll foundation wants to tackle in Cambodia?

We focus on gender democracy; we want to encourage women to become more pro-active and active in the political process of the country, and we are also working on resource governance issues with a focus on the north east. We try to combine these two issues, to give women the opportunity to become active in the resource governance sector in political institutions of the country. This is a very controversial area, as there is a lot of land grabbing happening at the moment.

You mention land-grabbing, how difficult or dangerous is it to work under these kinds of conditions?

Again I'd like to focus on our partners, on the people in the countryside. The allocation of land, the granting of land concessions is very opaque and it goes to the core of the livelihoods of the people. And this is why it is so important that these people who work on these issues and topics for the benefit of their communities are allowed to remain active and stay in the process. This [NGO] law will kill a lot of the initiatives to protect the communities in these areas.

Half of the national budget of Cambodia comes from development assistance. Do you think donors could influence the government not to implement this law?

I think we are talking here about responsibilities. Clearly the international community has funded a lot of projects targeted towards building up civil society after the tragic period in Cambodia's history. A lot of effort and money has been poured in. And with that, I think the international donor community should take this responsibility to try its upmost to find a law that serves the people in the countryside and helps them to remain active in this societal area. Influencing the government is outside the control of the donor community.

So they shouldn't pull out of Cambodia and stop financing?

You shouldn't pull out, but staying also means taking responsibilities, it means you work in specific sectors, if you see a negative trend or one that is not in line with your vision and mission, you need to intervene, you need to work in the political sphere. I think political dialogue needs to continue, real dialogue, where you get to the core of these issues.

How hopeful are you that the conditions for democracy, human rights, and an active civil society in Cambodia are going to improve?

There are many variables in that question. It is about political development, future of the government in general. At the moment I have the feeling that many of these organisations try to anticipate things and then take action accordingly, and these actions are not in line with their visions or missions or mandates. And this should not happen. I see it as a process, you work and if you stay true to yourself and your partners, they will realise and cherish that.

Interview: Sarah Steffen/tkw
Editor: Guy Degen
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Thai-Cambodian conflict sets precedent for ASEAN, chairman says

Bangkok - The Thai-Cambodian border dispute has set a precedent for regional problem solving by the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Indonesian foreign minister said Monday.

Indonesia, which now holds the rotating chairmanship of ASEAN, has been active over the past two months in promoting a ceasefire and facilitating talks between Thailand and Cambodia over their joint claims to a plot of land adjacent to an 11th-century Hindu temple on their border and hosted talks Thursday and Friday between them in Bogor.

'I think we have the potential for this episode to have a silver lining, a positive long-term impact in the sense that we are setting a precedent,' Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said in Bangkok.

ASEAN has in the past maintained a stance of non-interference in it 10 member states' internal or bilateral affairs, raising questions about the group's effectiveness as a regional problem solver.

'I think it has had a potentially positive impact, for it shows ASEAN for the first time addressing an issue of this type directly and not simply producing documents,' Natalegawa said.

Both Cambodian and Thailand are members of ASEAN, which also includes Brunei, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam.

Preah Vihear temple has been a bone of contention between Thailand and Cambodia for the past five decades, leading to a cessation of diplomatic ties in 1958.

The two countries agreed to have the sovereignty spat settled at the International Court, which in 1962 ruled that the temple belonged to Cambodia.

Fighting broke out between Thai and Cambodian troops near the temple February 4-7, killing three Thais and five Cambodians and leaving dozens wounded on both sides.

The conflict raised questioned about solidarity within ASEAN, which is striving to be an economic community similar to the European Union by 2015.

Although Indonesia has played a role in bringing both sides to the negotiating table, Thailand and Cambodia remained at loggerheads over joint claims to a 4.6-square-kilometre plot of land adjacent to Preah Vihear that was not including in The Hague's 1962 ruling.

Nalalegawa was in Bangkok to lead an ASEAN foreign ministers meeting on the upcoming East Asia Summit, one of Asia's pivotal security forums, which Indonesia is to host in October or November.
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CAMBODIA: Rural poor most at risk from rabies

KAMPOT, 1 April 2011 (IRIN) - Yinn Siet, 65, recalls in horror when a snarling dog bit her husband four years ago. Before he died, the farmer hallucinated and convulsed. “He barked like a dog,” she said. “We put a chain on him and locked him up.”

He had contracted rabies, a virus that kills nearly all victims who develop symptoms.

Yinn could not afford to bring her husband to the capital Phnom Penh, the only city in Cambodia that has a centre offering free treatment.

Even if she had, it would have been too late.

He left behind his family of seven, who are struggling to make ends meet through farming.

Cambodians in the countryside have little access to treatment for rabies, a preventable disease that disproportionately affects the rural young and poor.

If dog-bite victims do not seek immediate treatment, they are likely to die. The virus is untreatable after symptoms appear, which can be anything from 10 days to a year after being bitten.

“The loss of a family member to rabies has a profound psychological impact on the family,” said Deborah Briggs, head of the Global Alliance for Rabies Control, a US-based NGO. “The disease is frightening and it is devastating to watch a loved one die.” In 2007, the most recent year data are available, 810 human rabies deaths may have occurred in Cambodia, says a study in Neglected Tropical Diseases, a science journal.

The number is only an estimate. Hundreds of cases in the countryside go unreported, because patients are rarely hospitalized and tend to die at home.

The estimated rabies mortality for 2007 exceeded that of malaria (240 deaths) and dengue fever (400 deaths), the study said.

The report concluded that free post-exposure prophylaxis, an injection after a bite that prevents infection, is really only relevant for residents of Phnom Penh. Injections must be administered promptly, usually within 10 days of an infection.

The Pasteur Institute, a non-profit medical research and treatment centre in Phnom Penh, is the only institution in Cambodia offering free post-exposure treatments.

The rural poor often cannot afford lengthy and expensive visits to the capital and therefore miss out on the free treatment.

“We see maybe five patients per year who arrive with symptoms,” says Philippe Buchy, head of the virology unit at the Pasteur Institute, “and the only thing we can do is to send them to Calmette Hospital where they will die after few days.”

The fact that poor people are most susceptible to rabies means campaigns against the virus tend to be given lower priority, said François-Xavier Meslin, the Geneva-based team leader for neglected zoonotic diseases at the World Health Organization (WHO).

Epidemiology

Warm-blooded mammals, mostly dogs, spread the virus through bites, scratches, and licks on open wounds.
Typically between 10 days and a year after exposure, patients experience insomnia, headaches, a fever, and twitching around their wound.

Two to 10 days after those first signs appear, they hallucinate, have seizures, become fearful at the sight of water and experience paralysis. Most rabies patients die from respiratory failure.

Each year, about 55,000 people around the world die from rabies. More than 80 percent of cases are in Asia, according to WHO, which says half of all human rabies deaths occur in children under 15.

“Every one of those deaths could have been prevented as we have the vaccines… available to save their lives before clinical signs begin,” Briggs told IRIN.

In Bali, Indonesia, authorities culled 100,000 dogs to prevent the spread of rabies by shooting poison blow darts at them, but the authorities halted this policy last September in favour of a mass inoculation programme of 400,000 dogs (70 percent of the island’s dog population).

WHO’s Meslin does not advocate killing dogs because it is “inhumane,” he told IRIN.

In Cambodia, the Pasteur Institute recommends setting up a national rabies control programme to improve disease surveillance and access to treatment. It also recommends starting vaccination campaigns for dogs.
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