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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Cambodia: Violations of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly

URGENT APPEAL - THE OBSERVATORY
KHM 003 / 0712 / OBS 073
Violations of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly/ Threats
Cambodia
July 30, 2012
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Cambodia.
Description of the situation:
The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources of the disruption by armed security forces of a training workshop organised jointly by the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) and the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) on the issue of land rights.
According to the information received, on July 27, 2012, three commune police officers from Patang, as well as one Rattanakiri provincial police officer, the Patang Village Chief, the Patang Commune Chief and the Deputy Commune Chief – one of them carrying an M-16 assault rifle – disrupted a training session on land rights organised jointly by ADHOC and CCHR in Patang village, Patang commune, Rattanakiri province. The officials argued that they were acting upon orders from the provincial authorities, because they had allegedly failed to satisfy notification requirements. It is to be noted however that under Article 3 of the Cambodian 2009 Law on Demonstrations, organisers are exempted from notification requirements for all educational/training activities related to social interests. Notwithstanding this exemption, the CCHR had sent a letter to Patang Village Chief in order to notify him of the upcoming training session..

In order to ensure the physical safety of the attendees, ADHOC and CCHR decided to stop the training session. As the security forces and provincial authorities departed, the Patang Commune Chief accused ADHOC of engaging in “incitement activities”, and the police officers told CCHR staff members that their security would not be guaranteed if they did not leave the area.

 The Observatory expresses its deepest concern about the disruption of this training session on the issue of land rights, as well as about the threats directed against ADHOC and CCHR representatives, since they seem to merely aim at hindering their human rights activities. Violations of land and housing rights are widespread and serious in Cambodia. Government harassment and intimidation of villagers, activists and organisations defending these rights are also increasing. The Observatory therefore calls upon the Cambodian authorities to put an end to all acts of harassment against these organisations and their members.
Actions requested:
Please write to the Cambodian authorities and ask them to:
i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of the members of ADHOC and CCHR, as well as all human rights defenders and their organisations in Cambodia;
ii. Put an end to all acts of harassment against ADHOC and CCHR members as well as against all human rights defenders and their organisations in Cambodia;
iii. Conform with the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 by the United Nations General Assembly, and in particular :
- Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually or in association with others, to promote the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”,
- and Article 12.2 which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”.
iv. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Cambodia.
Addresses:
· Mr. Hun Sen, Prime Minister, Office of the Prime Minister, Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia, Fax: +855 23 36 06 66 / 855 23 88 06 24 (c/o Council of Ministers), Email: leewood_phu@nida.gov.kh
· Mr. H.E. Ang Vong Vathna, Minister of Justice, No 240, Sothearos Blvd, Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia, Fax: 023 364119. Email: moj@cambodia.gov.kh
· Mr. Sar Kheng, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, Ministry of Interior, 275 Norodom Blvd, Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia, Fax: + 855 23 212708. Email: moi@interior.gov.kh
· Mr. Hor Nam Hong, Minister of Foreign Affairs, 161 Preah Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia, Fax: + 855 23 21 61 44 / + 855 23 21 69 39. Email: mfaicasean@bigpond.com.kh
· Ambassador Mr. Sun Suon, Permanent Mission of Cambodia to the United Nations in Geneva, Chemin de Taverney 3, Case postale 213, 1218 Grand-Saconnex, Switzerland, Fax: + 41 22 788 77 74. Email: camemb.gva@mfa.gov.kh; cambodge@bluewin.ch
Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Cambodia in your respective countries.
***
Paris-Geneva, July 30, 2012
Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.
The Observatory, a FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.
To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
· Tel and fax FIDH: +33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / 01 43 55 18 80
· Tel and fax OMCT: + 41 22 809 49 39 / 41 22 809 49 29
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Philippines hits out at Cambodia in China row

MANILA — The Philippines said Tuesday it had summoned Cambodia's ambassador to explain comments he made accusing it and Vietnam of playing "dirty politics" in trying to solve a maritime row with China.

The move appeared to further deepen divisions within the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), more than two weeks after a ministerial meeting hosted by Cambodia ended in disarray over the sea dispute.

Foreign Department spokesman Raul Hernandez said Cambodian ambassador Hos Sereythonh was asked Tuesday to personally explain his comments, but he failed to turn up claiming he was sick.
"We will continue to summon him until he is able to come," Hernandez said in a statement.

. And here is the rest of it.
"We want him to explain what he meant when he stated that the 'inflexible and non-negotiable position of two countries of ASEAN is dirty politics'."

The comments were in a letter Hos sent to the editor of the Philippine Star, one of the country's leading newspapers, on Monday.

In the letter, Hos accused the Philippines and Vietnam of working to "sabotage and hijack the joint communique" during the ASEAN meeting.

Hos argued that the Philippines and Vietnam should not blame Cambodia for ASEAN's failure to issue an end-of-meeting statement spelling concerns in the region, a first in its 45 year history.
Hos accused the two countries of playing "dirty politics".

Hernandez on Tuesday charged that Cambodia, a close ally of China, rejected at least five final drafts of the joint statement that would have addressed the maritime row.

China claims sovereignty over nearly all of the sea, which is believed to sit atop vast natural resources.

But ASEAN members the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as Taiwan, have overlapping claims in the area.

Tensions have escalated this year, with China becoming embroiled in diplomatic rows with the Philippines and Vietnam.

Diplomats had said the Philippines called on its fellow ASEAN members at the Cambodia meeting to support it against China.

Indonesia's foreign minister subsequently launched a mission to save the bloc's 'cohesiveness', resulting in a belated statement affirming commitments to a proposed 'code of conduct' over the South China Sea.

Hos could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Read more!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Gene analysis connects Cambodian EV-71 to Asian outbreaks

Jul 27, 2012 (CIDRAP News) – A preliminary genetic analysis of enterovirus serotype 71 (EV-71) isolates from Cambodia suggests that the virus is part of ongoing EV-71 outbreaks in Asia and is similar to those in other countries in the region, including Vietnam.

Writing in a ProMED Mail post yesterday, Philippe Buchy, MD, PhD, who heads the virology unit at the Pasteur Institute in Cambodia, wrote that the lab analyzed three randomly selected isolates from patients in different parts of Cambodia over 4 weeks.

Genetic sequencing showed that the viruses aligned with sequences from strains isolated in Vietnam in 2011 and 2012, in Shanghai in 2011 and 2012, and from those in other Asian countries that have been submitted to GenBank. He added that phylogenetic analysis suggests that the EV-71 sequences from Cambodia cluster with EV-71 genotype C4 strains recently isolated in Vietnam and are closely related to those detected in China.

Buchy said further genetic studies continue, but it's useful to know that the strains in Cambodia are part of an ongoing outbreak of hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) across the region, an important consideration given that Cambodia doesn't have enough data to gauge the true case-fatality rate of its EV-71 outbreak.

ProMED Mail is the online reporting system of the International Society for Infectious Diseases.

In a comment accompanying the post, ProMed moderator Craig Pringle, PhD, a virologist and emeritus professor at the University of Warwick in England, proposed that, based on the institute's phylogenetic findings, some of the subgenotypes should be reclassified. This would include designating the C4 subgenotype as a new genotype D, he said.

He said scientists await the results of further isolate analysis, especially of genotype C4 and any possible relation to clinical severity.

In other developments, Beat Richner, MD, founder and head of Kantha Bopha Children's Hospitals in Cambodia—where many of the country's EV-71 patients with encephalitis and severe lung complications were treated—yesterday lashed out for the second time against the World Health Organization (WHO) for statements it made during the outbreak.

He said the WHO statements created panic and gave the impression that steroid treatment made some of the children's conditions worse.

In a letter posted on his Facebook page, he wrote that all 72 children treated at Kantha Bopha had encephalitis, which must be treated with steroids to ease brain swelling. He pointed out that HFMD lesions are a symptom that can be caused by an array of viruses and that the severely ill patients the hospital treated didn't have the lesions.

Richner said the patients' cause of lung destruction in the last 6 hours of their lives still isn't clear.
Read more!

US Navy hospital ship provides assistance to Cambodian communities

The United States Navy Military Sealift Command's hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) docked at Cambodia's Sihanoukville Autonomous Port on Sunday in order to provide free medical, dental, veterinary, and engineering assistance to communities.

The ship was greeted by Admiral Tea Vinh, Commander of Cambodian Navy, and Jeff Daigle, US Embassy Charg d'Affaires, as well as other Cambodian senior naval officials.

Speaking at the event, Tea Vinh said that the hospital ship's visit will help strengthen bilateral ties between Cambodia's Navy and the US Navy.

"Moreover, the ship's visit will benefit Cambodian people as its staff will provide free-of-charge medical treatment," he said.

According to a press release from the US Embassy here, the ship has more than 1,200 multi-national military service members and civilians onboard.

The visit is made under the Pacific Partnership Program 2012. Pacific Partnership is US Pacific Fleet's largest annual humanitarian and civic action mission in the Asia-Pacific region that involves coordination amongst host and partner nations, non- government organizations (NGOs), and other international agencies to ensure a synchronized ability to respond to natural disasters, said the press release.

It will stay at the port until August 11. During that period, the Mercy staff will provide free medical services including optometry, dental, pediatrics, and general medicine to locals, it said.

Cambodia first hosted Pacific Partnership in 2010 when over 14, 000 people received free medical services.


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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

French Architect Tied to Disgraced Chinese Politician Arrives in Beijing

BEIJING -- The French government said on Monday that its diplomats visited a French architect over the weekend after he arrived in Beijing from Cambodia in connection with the case of a disgraced Chinese politician and his wife, but French officials disputed earlier accounts that the Chinese had taken him into custody.

After news media reports on Saturday that the Chinese had taken the architect, Patrick Henri Devillers, 51, into custody, a spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry said that Mr. Devillers was being "housed" in "proper conditions" and that he was not in prison. "He is well; he's in great health," said the spokesman, Bernard Valero.

An official at the French Embassy in Beijing said French diplomats would visit Mr. Devillers again this week. But officials did not specify his whereabouts or say whether he was free to leave China.

  Devillers was one of a group of Westerners friendly with the now-disgraced Chongqing party chief, Bo Xilai, and his wife, Gu Kailai, as they gained greater political standing in China in the 1990s and early 2000s. Mr. Devillers helped lay out a new street grid for the city of Dalian when Mr. Bo was its dynamic mayor, and he later was a business partner with Mr. Bo's wife.

The Chinese couple's downfall began after another Westerner who had been part of their circle, Neil Heywood, was found dead last November in a hotel room in Chongqing. The cause of death was initially ruled to be alcohol poisoning. But in February, Mr. Bo's police chief, Wang Lijun, went to the United States Consulate in Chengdu and revealed that Ms. Gu may have helped arrange Mr. Heywood's murder, drawing international attention to the case and opening a rare window into power struggles within China's top leadership.

The scandal quickly broadened. Mr. Bo, whose populist agenda had already alienated some of the leadership, was stripped of his post amid suggestions that he had an extensive surveillance network that reached the party's top echelon. He has not been seen publicly in months and is believed to be held in Beijing. Ms. Gu is also in custody in connection with Mr. Heywood's case. Mr. Wang has not been seen since he was escorted from the Chengdu consulate.

Mr. Devillers's whereabouts had been a mystery for months, until a reporter for The New York Times found him in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in May. At the time, he said he had no interest in getting involved in the investigation by the Chinese into the Heywood murder.

But he then appeared to become the object of a tug of war between France on one side and Cambodia and China on the other. China is Cambodia's biggest foreign donor, and it enjoys Cambodia's loyalty in many disputes.

On June 13, Mr. Devillers was arrested in Phnom Penh at China's request. Cambodian officials, aware of protests from France, said at the time that they would not send the architect to China without proof of wrongdoing. He was released at the request of China last Tuesday, the Cambodian authorities said, and he boarded a plane for Shanghai the same day.

Before leaving, he made a video for the Cambodian authorities in which he said that he was leaving for China voluntarily and that he would go to Beijing. It showed Mr. Devillers sitting on a couch and answering questions in French from what appeared to be a Cambodian official holding a microphone.

"I reiterate that I'm leaving freely to this destination," he said.

Scott Sayare contributed reporting from Paris.

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Cambodia's construction sector will see a slowdown in 2012

BMI View: We remain convinced that Cambodia's construction sector will see a slowdown in 2012, despite robust growth in project approvals over January and February. Not only do issues such as flood concerns and poor global economic outlook remain pertinent, but we have also seen a marked increase in the number of large-scale projects being delayed by business environment risks. This suggests there is a problem moving project approvals along to the construction phase. As a result, we forecast Cambodia's construction sector to experience a slowdown in 2012 with real growth of 6.6%, down from an estimated 13.7% in 2011. The key developments in Cambodia's infrastructure sector are:

In March 2012, Australian logistics group Toll Group announced that it withdrew from its 30- year concession to operate Cambodia's railway network. Toll Royal Railway, a joint venture (JV) between Cambodia's Royal Group and Toll Group, suspended all railway operations for a year and laid off half of its 120 personnel on a recall basis at the end of March 2012. The JV had secured the concession in mid-2009 and was part of a plan to revive the country's decrepit railway network, following years of neglect.

In April 2012, Thailand power producer Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding has formed a joint venture (JV) with Cambodian tycoon Ly Yong Phat for the construction of a US$3bn coal-fired power plant in the province of Koh Kong. This JV agreement comes after Ratchaburi completed a feasibility study for the 1800-megawatt (MW) power plant in February 2012. Besides developing the coal-fired power plant, the JV, named KK Power, is also planning to invest up to US$30mn in transmission lines between the power plant and the Tatay hydropower plant in Koh Kong. KK Power is holding negotiations with Thai officials regarding the tariffs for the coal power plant. Upon completion, the Koh Kong project will be the largest power plant in Cambodia.

In April 2012, Heng Development announced that it is planning to spend around US$200mn on a water treatment project in Cambodia, in a joint venture (JV) with China CAMC Engineering and BIG International. Heng Development is to own a 30% in the JV, while China CAMC Engineering and BIG International would hold a 50% and 20% stake, respectively. CAMC and BIG have been carrying out research in coastal areas, Battambang, Kampong Cham and Kandal province.

The price of this market report covers 4 quarterly reports on this sector. This quarterly report will be downloadable instantly as a PDF document, with the 3 remaining reports delivered at regular intervals throughout the year.
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Frenchman shot and killed in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — A Frenchman living in the Cambodian capital has been shot and killed in what police suspect was a botched robbery or a crime of passion.

Police say 43-year-old Franck Mathieu was shot early Tuesday while riding his motorcycle in Phnom Penh. He later died in hospital.

District police chief Houth Chan Yaran says police are searching for three suspected attackers and investigating Mathieu's Cambodian girlfriend.

The website for Cambodia's Deum Ampil newspaper quoted Mathieu's 20-year-old girlfriend as saying they had lived together several months. She said she discovered his body in the street as she returned home from a market.

A witness told the website he saw three attackers attempt to rob Mathieu. One of them shot Mathieu who refused to hand over what appeared to be a mobile phone.

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Cambodia's Banking Sees 31 pct Lending Growth

Loan demands from Cambodia's banking industry had surged by 31 percent in the last twelve months thanks to the growing business activities in trade, real estate, agriculture and manufacturing, a central bank's senior official said Tuesday.

As of June 2012, the kingdom's 32 commercial banks had lent a total of 4.92 billion U.S. dollars, an increase of 31 percent from 3.75 billion U.S. dollars at the end of June last year, Nguon Sokha, director general of the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC), said, citing the NBC's data.

She said that 32 percent of the loan went to trade, 16 percent to real estate, construction and mortgage, 10 percent to agriculture, 9 percent to manufacturing, and the rest went to tourism and services sector.

In terms of deposit, she said, the customers' deposits at the banks had reached 5.64 billion U.S. dollars by the end of June this year, up 23 percent from 4.58 billion U.S. dollars in last June.

"Generally, loan demand has increased in all sectors that reflect better business environment in the country," she said, adding that the banking industry in the last twelve months was very healthy.
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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Cambodian govt critic faces trial

PHNOM PENH — Human rights campaigners on Tuesday called for the release of a Cambodian radio station owner and prominent government critic who faces up to 30 years in prison for an alleged secessionist plot.

Mam Sonando could face a maximum of 30 years in prison if he is convicted of all the charges (AFP/File, Hoang Dinh Nam

Mam Sonando, owner of the independent Beehive station, was arrested on Sunday on charges including insurrection, which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison, and inciting people to take up weapons against state, his lawyer Sok Sam Oeun told AFP.

He has been accused of masterminding a plot to establish an autonomous region in eastern Kratie province, the scene of violent land rights protests. A teenage girl was shot dead there in May when security forces clashed with demonstrators.
Sonando, the 71-year-old president of campaign group the Association of Democrats, has dismissed the accusations.

If convicted on all charges he could face a maximum of 30 years in prison, according to his lawyer.
He was arrested previously in 2003 and 2005 for his political activities and defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen's government.

The 60-year-old strongman has ruled Cambodia since 1985 and has vowed to remain in power until he is 90 years old.

Sonando's detention came just two days after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton concluded an official visit to Cambodia. He was placed in pretrial detention on Monday afternoon, according to his lawyer.

"Sonando's arrest on the heels of Clinton's visit is a brazen signal that Hun Sen thinks that the US wants his cooperation on other matters so much that he isn't afraid to lower the boom on his critics," said Brad Adams, Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch.

The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, a coalition of 22 local rights groups, also urged the authorities to immediately free Sonando so as "to save the country's reputation", saying his arrest lacked legal grounds.

Activists say land conflicts are Cambodia's most pressing human rights issue. Protests have intensified this year and campaigners say the authorities are increasingly cracking down on dissent.
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Cambodian broadcaster detained on insurrection charges

Radio journalist Mam Sonando, seen here with police in court in 2005, was charged with anti-state activities on Monday. (Reuters/Chor Sokunthea)

Radio journalist Mam Sonando, seen here with police in court in 2005, was charged with anti-state activities on Monday. (Reuters/Chor Sokunthea)

Bangkok, July 17, 2012--Cambodian authorities should immediately release Mam Sonando, one of the country's leading critical journalists, who has been held since Sunday on anti-state charges, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

More than 20 officers arrested Mam Sonando, owner, director, and political commentator of Beehive Radio, one of Cambodia's few independent news outlets, at his home in Phnom Penh, the capital, according to news reports. Police questioned him for more than two hours on Monday, and then lodged anti-state charges against him that included insurrection, news reports said. Mam Sonando could face up to 14 years in prison, the reports said.

Prime Minister Hun Sen and other government officials accused Mam Sonando of orchestrating recent protests in Kratie province in which villagers clashed with security forces over a land dispute with a private Russian company, according to news reports. Tensions surged in May when a 14-year-old girl was killed during a military operation to clear the land for foreign development, reports said. Beehive Radio frequently airs reports on human rights-related issues, including what it called a recent surge in the state-backed seizure of land across the country.

The journalist was denied bail and is being held in Phnom Penh's notoriously overcrowded Prey Sar Prison, according to news reports citing his lawyer.

"Prime Minister Hun Sen has a well-worn history of leveling unsubstantiated anti-state charges against journalists to stifle criticism of the administration," said Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative. "The insurrection charges fit a disturbing retaliatory pattern, and authorities must drop them immediately."

Police detained Mam Sonando just days after the conclusion of the high-profile Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Phnom Penh, according to news reports. By Sunday, most top foreign dignitaries and members of the international press had left the country, the reports said.

This marks the third time Mam Sonando has been imprisoned for his reporting, according to CPJ research. In 2005, he was jailed for three months after Hun Sen filed criminal defamation charges against him over a Beehive Radio broadcast on territorial concessions the government planned to make to Vietnam. In 2003, the journalist was jailed after being charged with inciting riots after broadcasting news of the anti-Thai rioting in Phnom Penh.
Read more!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

ASEAN Members Fail to Draft South China Sea Statement

PHNOM PENH — Southeast Asian ministers have failed to reach a common position on the maritime dispute involving the South China Sea. Senior officials emerged from a forum of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, unable to reach their goal of hammering out a joint statement representing the members’ views on the issue.


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, left, South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan, center, and Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba shake hands before their trilateral meeting during the ASEAN Regional forum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, June 12, 2012.


ASEAN foreign ministers have been attempting all week to craft a statement summarizing its members' position on territorial disputes in the South China Sea. But when senior ministers emerged from the Asean Regional Forum Thursday - the pinnacle of this week’s meetings - disappointment was evident.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said it was “irresponsible” that ASEAN nations have not come up with a common statement.

“Whenever there are incidents, that’s actually the moment that we should reinforce our efforts, not be grinding to a halt," said Natalegawa. "This time last year we had a similar problem between Cambodia and Thailand - it was a more direct intra-ASEAN conflict, but it was not impossible to find a solution within ASEAN. And in this instance it’s, I find it perplexing, and to be candid and honest, really, really disappointing.”
Four ASEAN members - Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam - claim overlapping parts of the South China Sea. China claims almost all of the sea and there have been frequent confrontations over the region. A decade ago, ASEAN and China agreed to work together to develop a code of conduct of operations in the sea. But China wants to settle territorial disputes with individual nations, not the bloc as a whole.

Earlier this week, ASEAN members said they had agreed in principle on “key elements” of a code, and would approach China about opening negotiations.

Late Thursday, ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan indicated there is a chance of some sort of agreement on a statement by the end of the week. He downplayed the setback.

“But I think all the dialogue partners, all the major powers are still supporting and expecting ASEAN to take the leading role," said Pitsuwan. "In that sense I think they will have to give the space for ASEAN to move in the direction of constructive and positive and contributing to the process. This time it’s a hiccup within the ASEAN group. We could not find one common position on just one issue. The rest is O.K.”

Coming into this week’s meetings, analysts predicted tensions about the South China Sea would form a major part of discussions here.

This week also saw a dispute emerge beyond ASEAN’s boundaries. Japan lodged a formal protest with China, after Chinese vessels approached a group of small islands that Japan controls, but China claims.

This week’s meetings conclude on Friday. A leaders’ summit is scheduled for November.
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ASEAN Talks Focus on S. China Sea Disputes

PHNOM PENH — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined senior South East Asian officials for high-level discussions in Cambodia Thursday. Ministers attending the Association of South East Asian Nations’ meetings have sought to downplay friction between member states and China all week. Yet, behind the scenes, simmering tensions from maritime disputes continue to contrast with the ministers’ public assurances of mutual cooperation.

 
 U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, left, listens to Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, right, during their meeting at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July 12, 2012.


Coming into this week’s meetings, analysts predicted tensions about the South China Sea would form a major part of discussions here. That dispute puts four ASEAN nations with competing territorial claims up against China, which claims most of the body of water.

But this week saw more controversies emerge, beyond ASEAN’s boundaries. Japan announced it had launched a formal protest with China, after Chinese vessels approached the Senkaku Islands, a set of remote islands claimed by both countries.

 Both Japan and China are dialogue partners-not full members of ASEAN. But the issue still came up during bilateral discussions this week.

"In light of the historical facts and on the basis of historical law, there is no doubt that the Senkaku islands are an ancient territory of Japan. Furthermore, Japan has maintained valid control over the islands,” said Naoko Saiki, spokeswoman for Japan’s foreign minister.

In a statement this week, the Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh confirmed that Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi met with Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba on the sidelines of the ASEAN meetings. The statement says Yang stressed that the Diaoyu Islands, as they are known in China, “have always been China’s territory since ancient times, over which China has indisputable sovereignty.”

Publicly, of course, both countries have said they will not let the dispute cloud their relations.

But for the Philippines, an ASEAN member that has tried to advance South China Sea discussions all week, it is another worrisome maritime controversy involving China. On Wednesday, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario drew a parallel between the Senkaku controversy and China’s role in the South China Sea dispute.

“It looks like they’re becoming more aggressive every day,” Del Rosario said.

This week’s ASEAN meetings are to conclude Friday.

Read more!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Mystery Cambodia Disease Solved, Reportedly Exacerbated by Inappropriate Steroid Use

The mysterious illness that killed more than 60 Cambodian children has been determined, according to medical doctors familiar with the investigation.

The World Health Organization and the Cambodian Ministry of Health concluded that a combination of disease-causing micro-organisms is to blame for the illness, according to CNN reports.

Officials from the WHO investigating the outbreak have concluded that the pathogens associated with the illness, which quickly destroys the lungs of its victims, is a combination of enterovirus 71 or "hand, foot and mouth disease", streptococcus suis, which can lead to bacterial meningitis in people who have close contact with pigs or with pork products, and dengue fever which is transmitted by mosquitos.

WHO also found that steroids, which are used to help patients by suppressing their immune system, actually worsened the illness in most of the patients, sources told CNN.

While not all the pathogenic microorganisms were found in all patients, doctors concluded that the illness was caused by their combination and exacerbated by inappropriate steroid use.
CNN reported that sources did not want to be identified because the results of the WHO investigation have not yet been released to the public. However the health organization is expected to announce shortly that area healthcare workers refrain from treating patients who exhibit symptoms of the illness with steroids. Symptoms of the illness include severe fever, brain swelling, and difficulty breathing.

Health experts are worried that disease rates will spike because Cambodia is currently in its rainy season which is usually accompanied by an increase in the mosquito population and inadequate sanitation.

In the past four months, Cambodian doctors have been stumped with the mysterious disease that kills children so fast that nearly all those infected die within a day or two of being admitted to hospital.

Dr. Beat Richner, head of the children's hospitals in Phnom Penh, which cared for 66 patients affected by the illness, 64 of whom died, said that no new cases of the illness had been confirmed since Saturday, according to CNN. 

Most children who have contracted the mystery disease have come from southern Cambodia, but health officials are still investigating the location of the cluster, a specific area in the country where a lot of cases are coming from.
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Clinton Meets With Asean States Ahead of Regional Forum

“I understand that Asean faces a variety of challenges and even growing pains as it adapts and takes on new responsibilities.”

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton opened a US-Asean ministerial meeting in Phnom Penh on Wednesday, as international foreign ministers gather for a major regional security forum to open Thursday.


US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shakes hands with US Ambassador to
 Cambodia William E. Todd upon arriving in Phnom Penh on Wednesday.
 Clinton touched down Wednesday between monsoon rainstorms. She delivered an address ahead of her meeting, saying she “strongly” supports Asean. The US has recently undertaken more engagement in Southeast Asia, where China’s influence continues to grow.

“I understand that Asean faces a variety of challenges and even growing pains as it adapts and takes on new responsibilities,” she said. “But I believe Asean plays an indispensable role in holding this region’s institutional architecture together and in advancing the common interest of all stakeholders in the Asia Pacific.

Many of those stakeholders have been meeting all week to try to reach an agreement on a code of conduct for the South China Sea, where overlapping claims by China, Vietnam and the Philippines are a major security issue for Asean. Read more!

Japan, China in fresh territorial row

Japan protested to China on Wednesday as a new diplomatic row flared over a remote chain of islands,
with Beijing asserting its "indisputable sovereignty" over the uninhabited territories.


A Japan coast guard vessel (bottom) monitors a Chinese fisheries boat (top) near the disputed Senkaku or Diaoyu islands
  1. A Japan coast guard vessel (bottom) monitors a Chinese fisheries boat (top) near the disputed Senkaku or Diaoyu islands in August 2011.Japan protested to China on Wednesday as a new diplomatic row flared over a remote chain of islands, with Beijing asserting its "indisputable sovereignty" over the uninhabited territories
 Three Chinese patrol boats approached the islands claimed by Japan in the East China Sea on Wednesday morning, leading Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba to formally complain to his Chinese counterpart during talks in Cambodia.

Gemba "strongly lodged a protest with the Chinese government with respect to the incident which took place this morning," a foreign ministry spokeswoman told AFP in Phnom Penh.

The crews of the vessels, which have since left the islands' immediate vicinity, initially rebuffed Japanese orders to leave.

A map showing islands claimed by both Japan and China
 map showing islands claimed by both Japan and China. Japan protested to China on Wednesday as a new diplomatic row flared over a remote chain of islands, with Beijing asserting its "indisputable sovereignty" over the uninhabited territories


"We are conducting official duty in Chinese waters. Do not interfere. Leave China's territorial waters," the crews said, according to the Japanese coastguard.

The Chinese ambassador in Tokyo was summoned over the alleged violation, but the Chinese foreign ministry said it did "not accept Japanese representations over this". Read more!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Cambodia: A village on stilts

Explore Cambodia's Tonle Sap Lake, home to a charming floating village with rustic and colourful double-storied houses

It was a warm, sultry day. The boatman signaled for us to move our chairs to the center of the motorboat. On cue, prickly twigs whipped the skiff savagely as we drifted through mangroves lining either side of the narrow Kampong Canal. Sometimes a quaint canoe or another tourist boat roared past us. This journey to Cambodia's Tonle Sap Lake, a bewitching pool that ebbed and waned with the seasons, was magical.

The mysterious lake

After three astounding days of exploring temples in Siem Reap, I drove a couple of miles outside the city and caught a boat from a tiny pier to Tonle Sap, a Khmer word, meaning large, fresh water river, or even, Great Lake. But this quirky water body doesn't retain its size throughout the year. Fed by the Mekong River starting in the Tibetan Plateau, in the dry season, the lake drains out back in the river and shrinks. But in the wet season, fed by the river and the rains it swells, nearly five times in size, to a whopping approximate 12,000 square kilometers informed Bros, our Khmer Guide. In the swell, the silt gets deposited on the floodlands. When the water levels recede, paddy fields and acres of green beans, corn and watermelon, scent the landscape, sprouting up like magic.

I peered in the water to spot some of the 200 freshwater fishes and handful of snakes present in the lake that Bros had mentioned. But the humidity seemed to have had a soporific effect on all, including my companions, whose gentle snores wove with the water's melody. As the canal gradually widened, a pagoda on stilts shrouded by wild grass came into view. Soon enough, rows of houses on stilts, and then, an entire water civilization emerged in the middle of nowhere: Kampong Phluk - a floating village, hidden to the outside world.

The floating village

Kampong Phluk was a melange of pastoral, water scenes: women wrapped in colorful scarves paddled lone boats; cheeky naked children swam like fish; a few villagers snoozed on hammocks tethered on stilts; boats with fishing nets rushed about; and even pigs rested peacefully in floating pens! Interestingly, the village didn't float literally; much of it stood on stilts, and the rest was tied-up and bobbed around.

Home to nearly 500 families, Kampong Phluk's rustic double storied homes soared to nearly six meters above the ground. Hewed from special wood, the colorfully painted hamlet, decorated with kitschy fake flowers sat in sharp contrast with the mud-coloured, silt heavy water flowing by.

The sloping roofs made from sheets of corrugated tins were a recent addition, replacing palm leaf roofs that were once de rigueur. And almost each home had a lovely view of the Great Lake. Itsy-bitsy balconies were trussed out in hammocks, deck chairs, and rocking chairs, all to watch life float by.

Our boat slowly ground to a halt at the makeshift pier. We stepped on to a sliver of magically dry land, dotted with homes on stilts that appeared to float when the area flooded. Stopping by a shop to gorge on steaming tapioca cakes, I climbed a rickety staircase and peeped in a garishly decorated guesthouse, popular with adventurous tourists, available for just a couple of dollars per night.

But the strangest home in the village was a Lilliputian machan. It had a bird house attached to it with a mug of local brew, incense sticks and a couple of bananas placed on it for good measure. The water spirit house, the locals prayed here before they left for fishing, explained Bros. By then it was already dusk, and, Tonle Sap and its wondrous floating village had already cast its spell.

Tips

Getting there: SilkAir, the regional wing of Singapore Airlines, flies from 7 cities in India to Singapore, with 10 convenient connections a week to Siem Reap, one of the 34 exotic destinations it flies to across Asia. (www.silkair.com)

Visit to Kampong Phluk: A day trip to the village and Tonle Sap Lake costs approximately 40 USD. Contact Exotissimo Travels which organizes exotic holidays in Cambodia at www.exotissimo.com.

Best time to visit: The best time to visit Kampong Phluk and Tonle Sap Lake is between July and January, when water levels in the canal are high.

Neeti Mehra @timesgroup.com
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Detained Frenchman Willing To Go to China, Cambodia Says

Cambodian officials say a Frenchman arrested last month in connection to a murder case in China is willing to be sent back there.

Patrick Devillers, who has been detained since his arrest in Phnom Penh on June 13, can return at his own request, said Khieu Sopheak, a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior.

A general view of the home of French architect Patrick Henri Devillers is pictured in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, June 21, 2012.
 
“He tends to express his wish to go to China, and wherever he goes is surely his own decision, and if he decides to go to China, we are OK, we would follow his personal decision,” Khieu Sopheak said.

Devillers should make a request in writing, however, Khieu Sopheak said. “We all have to be transparent.”
Devillers, 52, has personal and professional links to Gu Kailai, who is suspected of the murder of a British national in China and is the wife of ousted politician Bo Xilai. The high-profile case has fueled a political crisis in China.

A French Embassy spokesman declined to comment on the case Tuesday, but French officials have said in the past Devillers should not be extradited without clear legal basis. Read more!

Groups Want Stronger Asean Declaration of Human Rights

“Asean member states, as members of the United Nations, have to comply with those minimum standards.”


ASEAN countries' foreign ministers join their hands during a photo session at the 45th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Foreign Ministers' Plus three Meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Tuesday, July 10, 2012.


As Cambodia prepares to host a major regional security meeting in Phnom Penh this week, local and international rights group say the country should use its presidency of Asean this year to push for a declaration of human rights that is up to international standards.

Asean members have already drafted a human rights declaration that it expects to approve later this year, but built into it are limitations that rights advocates say need changed.

Asean officials have not allowed members of civil society to officially review their draft declaration, but according to a draft obtained by VOA Khmer, basic rights and freedoms are subject to a number of exceptions.

These include “the just requirements of national security, public order, public health, public safety, public morality, as well as the general welfare of the peoples in a democratic society,” according to the draft.
These limitations create the potential for justifying human rights abuses, rights advocates say.

“Having points like that, I don’t want to see them, because human rights have already been recognized internationally,” said Pung Chhiv Kek, president of the rights group Licadho.

Rights workers from Southeast Asian countries should be allowed their input, she said, “in order to have a good document for the Asean declaration, for the advantage of the people.”

The draft declaration does call for rights to “freedom of thought, conscience and religion”; “opinion and expression”; and peaceful assembly and association.”

However, Shiwei Ye, a Bangkok-based representative of the International Federation of Human Rights, said the draft remains substandard because of its limitations.

“If Asean adopts a declaration that is lower than international human rights standards, that will be unacceptable,” he said. “Asean member states, as members of the United Nations, have to comply with those minimum standards.”

Observers say Asean member nations with poor human rights records, such as Burma, Cambodia or Vietnam, make it hard to open a dialogue with rights groups. Asean’s charter also prevents one nation from interfering with the internal affairs of another.

Asean leaders are expected to approve the declaration in a major summit in November. The draft will be finalized in October.

“I think one important provision to include in the declaration is that no parts of that declaration should be interpreted or implemented in a manner that undermine international human rights standards,” Shiwei Ye said. “Then we could always refer to this safeguard provision to make sure that, when members of Asean actually refer to the declaration in the future, they can’t use it as the excuse to justify human rights violations.” Read more!

Friday, July 06, 2012

Clinton’s Visit an Upswing in a Sometimes Turbulent Relationship

“Every country in Southeast Asia without exception wants to avoid being caught in the crosshairs of a Sino-American war.”


“We have many issues to discuss that are of importance to our two nations and regional and global interest as well,” Clinton told journalists in Washington recently.
 

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s trip to the Asean Regional Forum in Phnom Penh next week will mark her second visit to Cambodia in eighteen months, marking a positive development in a diplomatic relationship with a history of ups and downs.

The United States and Cambodia first established bilateral relations in 1950, in a defensive effort by the United States, then in the throes of the Cold War. But more than six decades of conflicting diplomatic ideals, domestic conflicts and a fluctuating global political climate have meant an unsteady, on-again off-again association between the two nations.

The past 20 years have proven particularly turbulent, with the establishment of the first US mission in Phnom Penh in 1991 and the suspension of bilateral support six years later in response to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s coup against royalists led by Prince Norodom Rannaridh.
Recent history has proven more positive, however. The United States lifted its 10-year moratorium on aid to the Cambodian government in 2007; in the years since, political and economic relations between the two states have regained traction, coinciding with Cambodia’s nascent role as a key player in the Southeast Asian arena. This year, Cambodia serves as the chair of Asean, a body with which Clinton has rekindled strong ties after relations after they were neglected under the Bush administration.

“It seems to me that the relationship has leveled out,” Kenton Clymer, a professor of history at Northern Illinois University, told VOA Khmer. “While there continue to be problems from time to time, generally speaking, I think relations between the United States and Cambodia have become really quite normal.”

John Ciorciari, a professor of public policy at the University of Michigan, told VOA Khmer that the United States’ recent interest in Cambodia is more a means than an end and mirrors current American foreign policy in Southeast Asia on whole, structured with the influence of China in mind. In the subtly contentious relationship between the United States and China, the states and resources of Southeast Asia are inevitable points of consideration.

Cambodia, he said, “is located in a region where the United States has already largely increased its economic, strategic, military, and diplomatic interests, and in the context of a rising China that has close ties with Cambodia, I think the US government sees an incentive to engage a little more robustly. The Sino-US relationship has some elements of competition, and part of that competition is for economic, political, and military influence in Southeast Asia.”

To that end, US military officials have begun discussions of strengthening a military presence in the region, which American forces all but abandoned in the years following the Vietnam War.

Ciorciari argued, however, that in spite of increased attention from both China and the United States, Cambodia has no plans to pick sides.

“Every country in Southeast Asia without exception wants to avoid being caught in the crosshairs of a Sino-American war,” he said. “Part of what Asean countries are trying to do now, including Cambodia, is to set up economically and politically friendly relations with the US and China, without aligning themselves too decisively in one camp or the other, precisely because doing that would obligate them to take sides in the event of the conflict.”

These “friendly relations” have revealed themselves in recent months. Clinton pledged to “broaden and deepen the partnership” between the United States and Cambodia on her trip to Phnom Penh in November 2010, and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong urged American investment in Cambodian resources while meeting with Clinton in Washington last month.

Clinton will return to Phnom Penh next week for the Asean Regional Forum and bilateral negotiations with Cambodian officials. She has stressed the emerging role of Asean as a global player, politically and economically. As chair, Cambodia will bear the responsibility for spearheading conversations on topics of international interest, particularly the South China Sea dispute, which pits China against several Asean states.

“There’s no reason why Cambodia cannot be reasonably effective,” Ciorciari said. “Cambodia’s senior diplomats are capable of exercising effective leadership if they have the will to be a constructive player in Asean.”

It is unclear how the relationship between the United States and Cambodia will progress after Cambodia’s chairmanship expires. Though revamped foreign policy has thrust Cambodia into the current diplomatic arena, the country’s relationship with the United States beyond the State Department remains limited.

“I don’t want to overplay Cambodia’s strategic importance on a global level, but it is located in a neighborhood where most of the world’s commerce flows, and that makes it a place where the United States has some natural strategic interest,” Ciorciari said.
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Appeals Court Decision on Boeung Kak 13 a ‘Bad Sign,’ Analyst Says

That will cause worry among the populace, he said, that they can be immediately imprisoned after their arrest. “This is a bad sign for people in general.”
Last month’s release of 13 women jailed for protesting a housing development in Phnom Penh was good news for the women incarcerated, but by upholding the lower court’s judgement, the Appeal Court set a bad precedent, observers say.

The Appeals Court did not overturn a guilty verdict hastily handed the women by Phnom Penh Municipal Court, but released them with time served, after they were arrested for constructing a house on the Boeung Kak site of a forced eviction in May.

Analyst Lao Monghay told “Hello VOA” Thursday the Phnom Penh court’s decision had little basis in law. The Appeals Court decision to uphold the judgement—though reduce the sentence—was “a bad example of the Cambodian court, which did not try them based on legal procedures,” he said.

The court “did not find clear evidence, had no witnesses, and so on,” he said. “And the Appeals Court upheld the Phnom Penh court as making the right judgement. Then others will do the same, meaning that in the future they will not need to investigate a great deal but immediately try them when police arrest them and imprison them.”



Even though the women are now free, he said, they are still convicted of a crime. “Releasing them I don’t think was justice for them all, but it was compassion,” he said.

The women were arrested as they tried to reconstruct a house at the Boeung Kak development site following a forced eviction and destruction of their homes. They were charged with illegally occupying land and defying local authorities.

Am Sam Ath, head investigator for the rights group Adhoc, said the charges against them did not fit the act. “What we regret is that although the Appeals Court decided to let the 13 people out of prison, it still upheld the verdict of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court,” he said. “It’s not justice for 13 people who did not commit anything like the charges.”

Instead, he said, the Appeals Court decision underscored the need for reform in the Cambodian judiciary.
“If the court system is not independent, impunity and the influence of politicians on the court will continue,” he said. “So NGOs have urged the government to speed up reform, especially judicial reform, and make the court independent.”

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Prospero Foundation Supports Cambodia's Poor

The Prospero Foundation is pleased to announce that it has formed a relationship with Cambodia’s leading Microfinance Institution in order to support some of the country’s poorest citizens.

Bach, Switzerland (PRWEB) July 06, 2012
The Prospero Foundation is pleased to announce that it has formed a relationship with Cambodia’s leading Microfinance Institution in order to support some of the country’s poorest citizens.


The Institution, Angkor Mikroheranhyatho Kampuchea Co. Ltd. (AMK) aims to improve lives by providing Cambodia’s poorest citizens with a range of tailored microfinance services. By leveraging AMK’s local presence and expertise, the Prospero Foundation is helping local Cambodians by providing capital for microfinance loans.

The Prospero Foundation aligns itself with local institutions such as AMK as a part of its strategy to provide effective financial support with little or no overhead.

As of December 2011, AMK reached 280,195 clients in 9,152 villages across Cambodia with a loan portfolio value of almost US$48 million. AMK takes strong measures to include the country’s poorest and most marginalized citizens.

AMK’s services are in alignment with the Prospero Foundation’s mission to help people overcome the barriers imposed by poverty, and its values of empowerment and self-sufficiency.

About The Prospero Foundation

The Prospero Foundation is a private, international charitable foundation founded by Ulrik DeBo. Mr. DeBo, a lifelong entrepreneur, whose upbringing and eventual success in the finance industry, through his company DeBondo Capital Ltd, gave him the relevant experience and insight required.

 The foundation is run by a global network of entrepreneurs, who raise funds privately amongst their business contacts, and choose to invest them using a 'pay-it-forward' philosophy to focus on charitable projects that promise to perpetuate a chain reaction of positive growth opportunities for individuals and local communities for generations to come.

 It is a foundation that empowers citizens to help themselves and those around them.

 For additional information, please visit http://www.prosperofoundation.org/


Contact Address:

Seestrasse 69

8806 B├Ąch

Switzerland

info(at)prosperofoundation(dot)org

The Prospero Foundation
The Prospero Foundation
+41 435 002 138
Email Information

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Thursday, July 05, 2012

Clinton to visit Laos, Egypt and Israel

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Cambodians call for ‘blood sugar’ boycott

Campaigners on Wednesday called for a boycott of Cambodian “blood sugar” over claims that increasing production had resulted in human rights abuses.

Representatives from the Cambodia Clean Sugar Campaign said crops had been razed, homes burned and animals shot after thousands of hectares of land concessions were set aside for industrial sugar cane production.

Cambodian sugar exports to Europe benefit from the Everything But Arms trade initiative, which allows low-income countries to export certain goods to the economic bloc with zero tariffs.

“Because of this policy, sugar plantations have been growing quickly,” said Eang Vuthy of rights group Equitable Cambodia. “We see people are losing their land instead of benefiting.”

Community representatives said villagers had lost farm- and pasture land.
“If you are buying this sugar, you are buying our blood,” said Phol Vannak from a community in Kampong Speu province in south-western Cambodia where about 2 000 families have been affected by the land concessions.

Civil society groups in Cambodia have called for the European Union to investigate alleged human rights violations while campaigners have demanded adequate compensation for affected communities.

They also called for a consumer boycott of companies selling sugar grown on disputed land, including Tate & Lyle Sugars.

A spokeswoman for Tate & Lyle PLC said the company sold its sugar division to T&L Sugars Ltd, part of American Sugar Holdings, in 2010.

The representative said the operation was now running under the name Tate & Lyle Sugars and referred all further questions to them. Tate & Lyle Sugars did not reply to an emailed request for comment.

The Phnom Penh Post newspaper on Wednesday quoted Chheang Kimsun of producer Phnom Penh Sugar Co as saying a campaign against the industry would hurt development. He added that a high-profile dispute in Kampong Speu province's Omlaing area had been solved two years ago.

Politicians have previously raised concerns about the Cambodian industry. Last year, EU parliamentarian Cecilia Wikstrom said she would push for the EU to suspend trade preferences for Cambodian sugar.

EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said in April that Europe was “worried” about economic land concessions in Cambodia and he had discussed the issue with Cambodia's commerce minister, Cham Prasidh.

A government spokesman said Tuesday that communities should file complaints about concessions in the courts.

Land disputes are a pressing issue in Cambodia. The country's land tenure system is weak since the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime abolished property rights.Author: Ellie Dyer – Sapa-dpa
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EU scheme boosts Cambodian land grabs

An EU scheme to boost trade with developing nations is fuelling land grabs in Cambodia, activists say, with thousands evicted from their property to make way for a booming sugar industry.

Campaigners are taking their fight to European supermarkets, encouraging a boycott of Cambodian sugar, which they claim is often grown on land snatched illegally from rural farmers.

Yi Chhav said she had no choice but to return to her family plantation to work for the sugarcane grower that took her land, toiling for about $US1.50 ($A1.46) a day in the sea of swaying emerald green plants that swallowed her rice paddies.

"If we say there's no way we'll go to work in the sugarcane plantation then what will we have to eat? There's no work," the 68-year-old widow told AFP at her modest home in southwestern Koh Kong province.

"How can we survive?" she said, adding that the irregular work makes her feel like a "slave" and her low income has forced her to pull her teenage daughter out of school.

Europe's "Everything But Arms" initiative is meant to help the world's least developed nations by lifting import quotas and duties.

But activists say it has sparked avoracious appetite for land in Cambodia's sugar industry, leaving more than 3,000 dispossessed families without fair compensation, while enriching well-connected investors.

Rights groups say the government has ignored residents' legitimate land claims by granting tens of thousands of hectares to local and foreign-owned sugar firms across the nation.

Land titles are a murky issue in Cambodia - the communist Khmer Rouge regime abolished property ownership during its murderous rule in the late 1970s - and disputes pitting developers and agricultural firms against villagers have sparked increasingly violent protests in the country.

Industry and government officials argue that there is compensation on offer for those affected, and that the sugar business is good for Cambodia because it creates jobs.

But activists say the compensation is inadequate. After years of seemingly futile protests, they are now urging the EU - and European consumers - to step in to combat what they term "blood" sugar.

"It is scandalous that the European Union permits this tainted sugar to be sold within its territory, but until the EU implements a ban on the import of goods produced on stolen land it is up to European consumers to say no to these products," said David Pred, a representative from the Cambodian Clean Sugar Campaign.

The coalition of rights groups and representatives from affected communities this week launched a campaign urging shoppers to put pressure on Tate and Lyle Sugars to stop buying from Cambodian suppliers.

Their website - www.boycottbloodsugar.net - includes a video showing distressed villagers watching as rural buildings go up in flames.

The British-based firm, once part of the Tate and Lyle group but now owned by the US company American Sugar Refining (ASR), failed to respond to repeated requests from AFP for comment.

The EU's ambassador to Cambodia, Jean-Francois Cautain, told AFP the European Union was looking into the concerns.

"The government has already given us some documents and we are in the process of studying them and then we'll have an important discussion," he said, welcoming Phnom Penh's recent announcement that it would review all land concessions following a spike in conflicts this year.

Government spokesman E.K Tha said authorities were "on the right track" in addressing land disputes, but referred specific questions about grievances in the sugar industry to the companies running the operations.
Koh Kong, one of three sugar-growing provinces, has the country's oldest and most active plantation, exporting around 20,000 tonnes of sugar to the EU in 2011 - double the figure from 2010 - according to local rights groups such as Equitable Cambodia and Licadho.

Ruling party senator and Cambodian business heavyweight Ly Yong Phat, who has sold his stake in the Koh Kong operation but still has ties to other sugar plantations, told AFP there was little companies could do besides offering compensation because concessions were legally granted by the government.

"If it were my land, I would share with them, then the problem is over. But it's the state's land. So what can I do?" he told AFP.

Frustrated by the battle, some affected families in Koh Kong recently accepted a hiked cash settlement, from around 10,000 riel ($A243), said community leader Teng Kao.

But most are still holding out for a deal that makes up for the loss of their livelihoods.

"We can't live without our land. Every day we ask for our land back so that we can grow rice and crops like before," he said
Read more!

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Unknown disease kills 60 children in Cambodia: WHO

An unidentified disease has killed 60 young children in Cambodia in three months, the World Health Organization said Tuesday as it raced to identify the cause.

"The number of deaths reported to WHO is 60 cases and they have all been in young children," said Dr Nima Asgari, a public health specialist for the UN body in Cambodia, adding that the first casualties were reported in April.

The WHO is currently working with the Cambodian Ministry of Health "to identify the cause and the route of spread of this disease", he said.

. And here is the rest of it.With the investigation still at an early stage, Asgari said it was difficult to specify the symptoms, which "include high fever and severe chest disease symptoms, plus in some children there were signs of neurological involvement".

There have been 61 reported cases so far, Asgari said, with just one patient surviving. The victims, all aged seven and under, were admitted to hospitals in the capital Phnom Penh and the northwestern tourist hub of Siem Reap.

In separate comments sent to AFP, the WHO said there were no signs yet of contagion.

"To date, there is no report of any staff or any neighbouring patients to the cases at the hospitals becoming sick with similar symptoms," it said.

Asgari confirmed there was "no cluster of the cases yet" but said the high mortality rate in such a short space of time was worrisome.
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Portland actress seeks to rescue ancient Cambodian opera by launching Save World Art

By Holly Johnson



Helena de Crespo holds a Cambodian mask
used in the ancient theatre art of Bassac

Portland actress Helena de Crespo was travelling through Cambodia about four years ago, when an accidental encounter changed her life.

After visiting the famed temples of Angkor Wat in that battle-scarred country near Siem Reap, she headed down a road with her interpreter. There on the side of the road was an ornate traveling theater. De Crespo, born in Spain and raised in Britain, was familiar with outdoor theatre, as years ago she had traveled in South America, performing with a troupe that mounted shows in various venues, some of them outdoors.
But she hadn’t seen anything like this, especially amid the poverty of the land.

“I told my interpreter ‘Stop the car, I want to meet them,” de Crespo recalled. The Cambodians along the roadside accepted her visit calmly. She urged her interpreter to ask them who they were and what they did, and in turn, to tell them that she was an actress. When they found out she was involved in theater, they welcomed her openly. They offered her what little food they had, and invited her to take photographs.

They showed her how they powered the stage lights with an old generator run by a car engine. They showed her their costumes, and how they lived under the stage. Amid dire poverty and life in substandard conditions, they were performing live theater in Khmer (Cambodia’s official language) regularly to local audiences, who regularly number over 1,000 at a single presentation.

After more than two hours had passed, she had had animated discussions with company director Len Chouen, and she learned his amazing story. Len Chouen had come from a theater family who performed the ancient art form of Bassac, a mix of opera, theater, music and dancing dating back 4,000 years, disciplines he learned as a child. When all artists in Cambodia were slated to be killed during the Khmer Rouge, his family members were wiped out by Pol Pot’s soldiers, but because he was small he was hidden under their dead bodies, and was able to escape. De Crespo learned that Len Chouen had formed his company, about 86 members in all–including orphans wandering the countryside–in order to preserve Bassac. As she was about to leave, he begged her to help the company, which is titled the Reasmey Ankgor Bassac Theater Troupe.

“I was leaving the next day,” de Crespo said. “All I could think about was them. I was really ignorant. I didn’t know anything about Bassac. All I could see was those people suffering. I thought, ‘What can I do? Where can I turn?’ Bassac, she learned, is an ancient art form originating from India, using many of that country’s mythological characters, and was inspired by the Ramayana, an ancient Sanskrit epic that is an important part of the Hindu canon. Ramayana thematically explores human values and the idea of dharma, the principal or law that orders the universe. So many people were unable to read, so through traveling theater they learned about the gods and their traditional stories through theater.

When she returned to Portland, de Crespo started contacting various social service agencies to help raise money. No one in America answered her request, but through her connection with England’s Actors Equity, she found International Performance Aid Trust (IPAT), a group operating out of Britain and Belgium. Eventually, their funding enabled the Bassac company to purchase land for their theater center. Other improvements are in the works, including a water pump, health center, school and a more permanent theater space. “They’ve got some pigs and chickens and a pond for fishing, and papaya trees have been planted,” de Crespo said. But she said there is much more that they need. During the monsoon season, she added, the theater group members are forced to move elsewhere due to lack of shelter.

De Crespo and a group of other Portland people sympathetic to her cause have recently formed a not-for-profit group titled Save World Art. The Cambodian project, originally called “Cambodian Treasures–The Bassac Project,” will be the inaugural effort of this fund-raising group. And to raise money de Crespo has launched her own money-raising project, the performance of a chilling, dryly funny one-woman play titled “Elective Affinities” by Syrian-American playwright David Adjmi. A site-specific playlet about a wealthy woman with no humility, it is designed to be performed in opulent private homes, and is by invitation only, although de Crespo says that could change. She has performances slated in the Portland area and in Ashland this summer.


video


Members of the Reasmey Ankgor Bassac Theatre
 Troupe perform to large audiences


“Many people in Cambodia are still struggling to say alive,” de Crespo said. “Between 1975-1979, two million Cambodians perished during the genocide. Even after 30 years their infrastructure is still very bad.” She added that Save World Art is geared toward helping with buildings, health, sanitation and self-sufficient food production. But it’s also aimed at something more that could help the entire country–reviving an ancient art form that can enhance tourism as well as the quality of life for Cambodians.

“Who would have thought,” de Crespo said, ” that my stopping a car and walking out to meet a group of people in the Cambodian countryside would have such a great effect on my life?”
You can contribute a tax-deductible donation to help the Cambodian project here or here.
Watch “Cambodian Treasures: Preserving Bassac Theatre”.

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