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Friday, February 29, 2008

ASEAN countries suffer huge economic loss from poor sanitation

BALI, Indonesia, Feb. 28 (Xinhua) -- Four countries in Southeast Asia, Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam have suffered 9 billion U.S. dollars economic loss annually due to poor implementation of sanitation, about 2 percent of their combined GDP, a recent study conducted by the World Bank has said.

The study said that Indonesia, the biggest Southeast Asia economy, had suffered the most losses of 6.3 billion U.S. dollar per year.

Indonesia has struggled to save its state budget from the impact of the global economic slowdown, soaring oil price and commodities, as well as high inflation pressure. The government has planned to widen the budget deficit from 1.7 percent of the GDP or 73.3 trillion rupiah (about 7.97 billion U.S. dollars) to 2percent of the GDP or 83.7 trillion rupiah (some 9.1 billion U.S. dollars).

"Should sanitation be improved, the losses can be reduced and it can help reduce the deficit," an expert of the World Bank who goes with single name Saputra told Xinhua at a workshop on sanitation here.

Health and water impacts are the largest contributors to overall costs, said the study. The health costs were dominated by premature death, especially in youngsters, while water-related costs were dominated by access to clean drinking water, it said.

Overall 4.8 billion U.S. dollars were lost annually to sanitation-related diseases, of which 3.35 billion U.S. dollars lost in Indonesia, one billion U.S. dollars in the Philippines, 260 million U.S. dollars in Vietnam, and 187 million U.S. dollars in Cambodia, it said.

Diseases resulted from poor sanitation impact expenditure patterns, productivity and the income of household, government and enterprises, it said. On water, countries which have abundant internal freshwater resources, suffered significant freshwater pollution from human activities.

ASEAN countries have a combined population of 580 million with a gross domestic product of 1.1 trillion U.S. dollars.
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Exotiq RE reveals expansion plans

By Robert Carry

Exotiq Real Estate has revealed that it plans to further expand its services in Southeast Asia with Malaysia, Vietnam and Cambodia all set to be targeted.

The resort-based realtor, founded in 2001, currently has 11 offices in six locations spread across Indonesia and Thailand and a database of 4000 property listings is also planning to open offices in Australia and New Zealand.

Dominique Gallmann, one of the founders of the brand and current director for operations in Indonesia, said the company´s open approach has been key to its success to date: “We provide transparency in a largely unregulated marketplace with high quality, un-biased, property advice that is difficult to find in an environment where agents are typically trying to sell their own developments.”

The massive number of units Exotiq has on file has also been key to successfully matching buyers and homes. Angus MacLachlan, co-founder and director for operations in Thailand explains, “Each office in the network specializes in its local territory and contributes its listings to a central database. This allows us to pull together virtually every decent property on the market, creating enormous choice for our clients.” Read more!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Hun Sen Slams UN for Giving Asylum to Refugees in Cambodia

Cambodia's prime minister slammed the UN's refugee agency Thursday for using Cambodian territory to grant political asylum to foreign refugees without first consulting his government.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said the Cambodian office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has granted asylum to refugees from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.

"What right does it (UNHCR) have to use Cambodian territory to provide foreign nationals with political asylum without seeking permission from the Cambodian authorities," Hun Sen said in a speech at a development conference.

He did not say how many refugees were in Cambodia or how long they had been there. He said he ordered the foreign affairs and interior ministries to look into the issue with the UNHCR.

Toshi Kawauchi, a UNHCR protection officer, declined to comment on the issue, saying in an e-mail his office is "not in a position to discuss the numbers and other details of the refugees."

The relationship between Cambodia and the UN agency has been rocky in recent years, especially over the issue of refugees fleeing neighboring Vietnam.

Thousands of Vietnamese hill tribe people known as Montagnards have fled to Cambodia since 2001, when Vietnam's communist government cracked down on protests against land confiscation and restrictions on religious freedom. Many have been resettled in the United States, and a small number have voluntarily returned to Vietnam.

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Deputy PM attends Vietnam-Cambodia meeting on border co-operation

Yuon Communist always need border cooperations from Cambodia side, but there were no cooperations from Yuon Hanoi side for Cambodia. The more cooperation mean more Yuon immigrant free flowed into Cambodia with creeping political organizations in every province.

Permanent Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Sinh Hung arrived in Cambodia on February 27 to attend and co-chair the fourth Vietnam-Cambodia meeting on development cooperation in border provinces held in Sihanoukville from Feb. 27-28.

After an official welcome ceremony, Deputy PM Hung exchanged views at a closed session with Cambodian Deputy PM and Minister of Interior Sar Kheng on Vietnam-Cambodia bilateral ties and cooperation between border sharing provinces.

In the evening, Deputy PM Sar Kheng hosted a banquet for Deputy PM Hung his delegation.

At a senior officials meeting (SOM) held the same day, the two sides reviewed their cooperation in implementing agreements reached at the third meeting, which was held in Vietnam ’s An Giang province in 2006. They discussed measures to promote cooperation between border provinces in security, economy, culture, education, vocational training and health care.

The two sides approved contents of documents which will be presented at a plenary session on February 28. (VNA)
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Cambodia bans songs deemed to incite marital infidelity

Phnom Penh - The titles of the three songs banned from public broadcast for inciting infidelity say it all, according to Cambodian government and cultural officials, local media reported Thursday. The offending songs, If I Can't Be First Can I Be Second?, Love Another's Husband and May I Have a Piece of Your Heart Too? have been banished from the nation's thousands of karaoke restaurants, Khmer-language Koh Santepheap reported.

"We are searching for other songs which affect people's honour, especially that of women," the paper quoted Phnom Penh governor Kep Chuktema as saying.

The three songs are all written to be sung by women, but pop music analysts said Thursday they are relatively obscure tunes.

The ban is a further step by the government to crack down on unfaithfulness and "uphold cultural values."

Cambodia passed a controversial monogamy law in September 2006 which would see adulterers punished by up to 250 dollars in fines and a year in jail, though only one case has so far gone to court.

Although an outwardly conservative culture, the practice of keeping second wives, or mistresses, remains common, and many karaoke girls seek out "sweethearts" to supplement their earnings.

"People can still play the songs in private - this is only a public ban," one official said on condition of anonymity. "I don't think music has much to do with it, but it's an official request."
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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Cambodia suspends to release alleged terrorists

PHNOM PENH, Feb. 27 (Xinhua) -- The Cambodian Supreme Court here on Wednesday delayed to release verdict for three men charged with attempted murders of diplomats by suicide bombing and explosion against western countries' embassies in Phnom Penh.

Haji Chiming Abdulazi, 42, and Muhammady Alaludim Mading, 46, both Muslim from Thailand, as well as Cambodian Muslim Sman Esma El, 30, were already sentenced to life in jail by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court and the Appeal Court.

"We delayed to release verdict for the case and we will declare it on March 13," said Khim Pon, president of the Council of Judgment, after over four hours of hearing.

The trio were charged with planning to murder diplomats through suicide bombing and explosion against western countries' embassies in Phnom Penh, including those of United States, Britain and Canada, said prosecutor Chhoun Chantha in the courtroom.

"They were also linked with regional terrorist group the Jemaah Islamiyah," he added.

The group's leader, Hambali, was arrested by the Thai authorities in February 2004, after reportedly staying for six months in Cambodia, he said.

They were connected with international terrorism group the Al-Queda and their acts were of international terrorism, he said.

The Cambodian police authorities arrested the three men in cooperation with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Chhoun added.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Cruising Cambodia has never been so luxurious - Feature

Phnom Penh - Cambodia may not be the first place cruise liner passengers think of as the perfect luxury layover, but Cambodian officials are determined to change all that. With its pristine white sand beaches, some of the best diving in the region, inexpensive seafood delicacies and legalized gambling, Cambodia's main problem in the past has been that its ambitions have outstripped its infrastructure.

But all that is changing, says tourism minister Thong Khon.

"So far we have 1,000 rooms in Sihanoukville, but we are planning to have 1,000 more by 2009," he says. "The ministry, the private sector and local authorities are all working hard to improve infrastructure."

Sokha Hotel Group, owner of the 5-star Sokha Beach Resort, has just announced plans for a second 5-star resort just a few beaches away. Like its sister hotel, the resort also plans a private beach.

The developments appear to be paying off. So far this year five cruises carrying US, Asian and European tourists have docked in Sihanoukville, bringing 4,832 visitors, equal to the entire 2007 total, according to the port's general director Lou Khim Chhun.

The country's only deepwater port, Sihanoukville Autonomous Port is located about 240 kilometres from the capital and Chhun says that although the lack of infrastructure caused cruise ship visitors to dip by half last year, 2008 is already shaping up as a bumper year.

The port, touted to be one of the first companies listed on a Cambodian stock exchange planned for 2009, has already constructed a special dock dedicated to cruise liners.

Chhun admits he is rubbing its hands at the prospect of wealthy tourists entering the country by sea, taking advantage of the newly refurbished airport at Sihanoukville to fly to the ancient Angkor Wat temples, and returning to wine, dine and enjoy the several plush casinos.

"We have the capacity for four to five cruises to pass through per week, which equates to 4-5,000 visitors. I believe Sihanoukville is ready to extend its services as a cruise port. We certainly plan to host more and more," Chhun says.

Opportunities for day trips abound. The area's mushrooming dive companies speak of whale sharks, rare pink dolphins and untouched coral reefs.

Dugongs are known to inhabit areas near the municipality. Nearby Ream National Park's virgin forests teems with wildlife.

Sokha Hotel Group just announced yet another luxury resort for the former French hill station of Bokor in nearby Kampot province and with oil from offshore reserves expected to begin flowing within two years, infrastructure looks set to continue to develop rapidly.

Cambodia has won over some powerful allies. Royal Caribbean Cruises has named Sihanoukville as a prime layover for its flagship Rhapsody of the Seas and is enthusiastic about it on its website.

"Cambodia is best known as the occasional side trip to Angkor Wat ... on your way to or from Thailand. But all that is changing with the revitalization of Sihanoukville, Cambodia's one and only beach resort," the cruise giant gushes.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Asia-Pacific managing director, Rama Rebbapragada, has predicted Cambodia will also benefit as a port of call from Hong Kong's planned new cruise terminal.

As people rediscover the charm of cruise holidays, the 10-member Association of South-east Asian nations of which Cambodia is a member continues to push itself as a major player.

ASEAN Cruise Working Group chairman, Kevin Leong, estimates the sector in the Asia-Pacific is expected to grow by more than 40 per cent from 1.07 million in 2005, to 1.5 million by 2010, reaching 2 million in 2015.

Cambodia's ambitions are slightly more modest, but no less integral to its plans for its already booming tourism industry.

"This year is the first time we will attract more than 5,000 cruise visitors. It's a big step forward and we are very optimistic about our future," Thong Khon says.

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Food inflation hits Cambodia's poor, threatens hunger

Cambodian women are cutting fishes making Prahok(salt fish fermented) for the price of triple due to scarcity of fishes in this year.

CHRANG CHAMRES, Cambodia (AFP) — On the long, gently sloping bank of Cambodia's Tonle river, Doem Lao chops half a dozen large fish heads in the early morning for the one meal that her family will eat that day.

It is the 45-year-old farmer's fourth unseasonably cold dawn in this quiet Muslim neighbourhood on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, where her extended family has set up camp with others from their village in the southern province of Takeo.

Like tens of thousands of rural Cambodians, they have joined the annual migration to the river to buy enough fish to make a year's worth of prahoc, a pungent fermented paste that is the only source of protein for many in the country's impoverished rural regions.

But the rice brought they from home has nearly run out and the fish have yet to appear in the large nets strung across the river in front of their camp.

The crude bamboo and metal mesh processing stalls on the riverbank are silent -- and February is the last month of the fishing season.

A sudden drop-off in the numbers of prahoc fish has seen their price more than triple this year, up to as high as 50 US cents a kilogramme from around 12 cents, putting this most basic of Cambodian commodities out of reach for many.

While not normally a benchmark by which to measure food security, prahoc prices have highlighted the spiralling costs of staple goods that are threatening Cambodia's poorest with hunger.

"We eat prahoc every day. Last year we made so much that we could sell some or trade it for rice," Doem Lao said, sitting in a tight circle with other village women and a few young children, while their men stood further up the river bank smoking cigarettes in anticipation of another long day spent waiting.

"This year I'm not at all hopeful. Some of us have left already. We're not going to have enough prahoc. We're not even going to have enough rice," she said.

Across Asia the cost of food is rising, for a variety of reasons, from higher demand and spiking global oil prices to environmental factors like global warming which disrupt the normal agricultural cycles.

But while other regional governments have responded by cutting import tariffs or establishing national food stockpiles, Cambodia appears reluctant to step in and halt the continuing upward climb of food costs.

For poor Cambodians, this means that in addition to losing their traditional staples like prahoc, they are not able to supplement their already meagre diets with other foods, particularly meat.

"Everything now is so expensive," said another village woman, Bhum Sap, rattling off the current prices of chicken, pork and beef, which can cost as much as five dollars a kilogramme, a fortune for Cambodia's estimated 4.6 million people struggling to live on less than one dollar a day.

Cambodia, in some ways, has become a victim of its own economic success. The country has recorded economic growth averaging 11 percent over the past three years, spurred on by a galloping tourism sector and strong garment and building industries.

Growing interest by foreign investors and a real estate boom that has helped create more than a few overnight millionaires have resulted in an unprecedented explosion of wealth.

But the sudden influx of cash into the fragile economy has not come without its pitfalls.

Over the past year inflation has spiked at 10.8 percent, compared with 2.8 percent at the end of 2006, driving up the cost of food and other staple goods and pushing the most vulnerable deeper into poverty.

"About 8.5 percentage points of December's inflation rate of 10.8 percent was accounted for by food price inflation," said the International Monetary Fund's Cambodia representative John Nelms.

For as many as 2.6 million people living in extreme poverty, the situation has been worsening over the last several years, which have been marked by poor harvests brought on by natural disasters such as flood or drought.

"Too many Cambodians still suffer from hunger and malnutrition for some or most of the time," the World Food Programme (WFP) said on its website.

The unrelenting rise in food costs only adds more depth to their misery.

"WFP is very concerned about the general increase of the cost of the staples, in Cambodia as well as elsewhere," the agency's country director for Cambodia, Thomas Keusters, told AFP.

Food inflation has even affected aid efforts at a crucial time, as aid agencies anticipate the need for more handouts in rural areas facing a leaner than normal year ahead.

In January last year, the WFP paid 237 dollars per metric tonne of rice, a cost that has now risen to 367 dollars a tonne, Keusters said.

"For every dollar received from the international and local donor community, we buy 55 percent less rice. With the general increase in the cost of food, the need for food assistance will not decrease," he said.

"On the contrary. As Cambodia faces new challenges such as climate change, changes in food availability, high energy prices, globalization and many more, we all need to strategise better," he said.
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Monday, February 25, 2008

Senior Chinese leader meets Cambodian official

BEIJING, Feb. 25 (Xinhua) -- He Guoqiang, a senior leader of the Communist Party of China (CPC), met here on Monday with Keo Puth Rasmey, chairman of Cambodia's Funcinpec Party and deputy prime minister.

He, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), said that relations between China and Cambodia had maintained smooth development, with fruitful cooperation in various fields.

He said that China treasured the traditional friendship with Cambodia and would always be Cambodia's good neighbor, friend and partner.

He applauded Cambodia's adherence to the one-China policy.

He said that the CPC was ready to increase exchanges with the Funcinpec Party through high-level visits and youth exchanges, in a bid to advance China-Cambodia relations continuously.

He briefed Rasmey about the 17th CPC National Congress, as wellas the upcoming "two sessions", or the annual sessions of the National People's Congress (NPC) -- the parliament -- and the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the top advisory body.

He also talked about China's struggle against recent weather disasters and preparations for the Beijing Olympics.

Rasmey said that Cambodia and the Funcinpec Party would firmly stick to the one-China policy and the Funcinpec Party would further promote friendly cooperation with the CPC.

Wang Jiarui, head of the International Department of the CPC central Committee, also attended the meeting.
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Sunday, February 24, 2008

French Colonial Class Stirs Property Investment in Cambodia

Longstanding and reputable overseas property investment specialists David Stanley Redfern Ltd have recently presented their stunning 1-2 bedroom French Colonial apartments in the emerging property market of Cambodia.

/24-7PressRelease/ - NOTTINGHAM, UK, February 24, 2008 - Available with a guaranteed 10% net return for the first 2 years and an expected 15%-20% capital growth to follow in light of Cambodia's thriving economy, this opportunity is one that's certainly not to be missed.

With just a 1000 reservation fee to secure the property and the 65% 'pay upon satisfactory completion' offer that's attached, the fail-safe purchase of a high demand apartment in the Cambodian capital is a whole lot more affordable and obtainable than you might imagine. Foreign investment in Cambodia between 2004 and 2005 increased by an astounding 450% and when combined with Cambodia's already strong tourism industry and its expected increase of 20% per year for the coming 5 years, tenancy is surely rewarding as well as being as good as guaranteed. With Cambodia's future and all investments made in it looking so promising, the financial benefits are clear but, what do you get for your money?

There's more to Cambodia than its cascading waterfalls, exotic tropical life and ancient relics from an austere but nonetheless auspicious cultural heritage. Modern day Cambodia enjoys a lifestyle not too dissimilar to any enjoyed in the developed western world and cinema, nightclubs, wining and dining are commonplace.

A handful of annual festivals and celebrations are also held, with anything from ploughing, paying respects to loved ones passed and performing arts being the featured theme, reflecting Cambodia's contrasting and simplistic sense of tradition. Understandably a popular tourist destination being the location of the auspicious Royal Palace, Phnom Penh is Cambodia's capital city and host to a number of accommodating local amenities that include restaurants, shops and various other attractions, so to hear that the only thing missing from the Cambodian property landscape are the highly sought after 'western' style apartments like the ones offered with this opportunity, is not only good news, it's time sensitive news.

Assertive and shrewd investors out there are sure to take advantage of these remaining apartments and so if this could be for you, you at least owe to yourself to contact David Stanley Redfern Ltd for an obligation-free chat about the varying specifications and services on offer, as well as any other queries or concerns you might have.

Find out more at

About David Stanley Redfern

David Stanley Redfern Ltd is one of the U.K.'s leading overseas property investment specialists. The reasons for this are an incomparable range of international properties spanning 40 destinations worldwide, and unrivalled customer care, which lasts long after the purchase has been completed. Experienced, professional staff and membership to the overseas property market's regulatory body: the Association for International Property Professionals, as well as their stringent due diligence procedures gives buyers the confidence that any purchase with David Stanley Redfern is a safe one.

DSR have just branched out into the _a href=""_Overseas Property Rentals_/a_ industry.

Media enquiries should be directed to Liam Bailey:
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Cambodia to restore its historic rail links

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Royal Government of Cambodia will be working together to restore around 600 kilometres of rail track between Thailand and Cambodia over the next two years.

“This is one of the last steps in the creation of a regional railway that will stretch from Singapore to Beijing,” said ADB President Haruhiko Kuroda at a ceremony in Sisophon, Cambodia. “Soon, trains will be running from Singapore to Sihanoukville.”

Another 48 kilometres of track near the Thai border will also be restored under the initiative.

Cambodia’s railway rehabilitation project will be funded by a $42 million concessional loan from the ADB. The authority will also appoint an international railway operator to operate, maintain and invest in the railway over the next 30 years.

The upgrade will not only revitalise Cambodia’s railways, but also enhance trade through reduced transport costs. The railway will also help ease traffic on Cambodia’s roads.

The project forms a vital component of the Greater Mekong Subregion’s southern corridor which links Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Pol Pot murdered Scot in Cambodia

MORE THAN 1.5 million people died in the killing fields of Cambodia, but one of the most puzzling footnotes in the slaughter and destruction of that country is the unsolved murder of the only British victim - the first Westerner caught up in the violence.

Gunmen burst into Scottish academic Malcolm Caldwell's Phnom Penh government guesthouse and shot him repeatedly in the chest and leg, killing him instantly. He was found with his apparent assassin slumped by his body and also riddled with bullet holes. At the time, the BBC reported he was killed by Vietnamese agents to discredit Pol Pot, but 30 years after the murder documents newly obtained by the Sunday Herald under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the genocidal dictator himself ordered the assassination, early in the morning of December 23, 1978.

Just hours earlier, the 47-year-old father of four had met the despot, demanded to see deposed leader Prince Sihanouk and had asked about missing Cambodians and ministers, most of whom, it transpires, were already dead.

According to the classified documents, journalist Wilfred Burchett had seen an official Cambodian report a year later which said: "Caldwell was murdered by members of the National Security Force personnel on the instructions of the Pol Pot government."

An unnamed British civil servant adds: "Caldwell told Burchett he had every intention of asking some pointed questions and that he was absolutely determined to see Sihanouk.

"It is likely, therefore, that he upset his hosts, who were probably concerned that a prominent supporter/apologist of the Pol Pot regime might report in a critical vein on his return home.

"Matters probably came to a head after a private interview which Caldwell had with Pol Pot."

The papers also reveal a chilling account of the murder from eyewitness Richard Dudman, made five days later at the British embassy in Washington. The journalist for the St Louis Dispatch told officials of the moment a young gunman shot at him and Caldwell in the Khmer Rouge VIP guesthouse at 12.55am.

Born in Stirling into a middle-class Tory-voting household, Caldwell went on to get a double first at Edinburgh University by the time he was 21. He became a Marxist academic at London University's School of Oriental and African Studies and a left-wing activist, serving as head of CND in 1968-70.

A supporter of the Khmer Rouge, he was one of the first Westerners allowed into the country after 1975, and travelled to Cambodia with Dudman and fellow American journalist Elizabeth Becker just as the true horror of the genocide was becoming apparent.

Caldwell had spent three weeks touring the country surrounded by Khmer Rouge minders but had seen and surreptitiously photographed the impoverished peasants.

Dudman reported that in Phnom Penh he knocked on Caldwell's door as a young uniformed man appeared in the corridor with a machine gun on his shoulder and a pistol in his hand and fired at the two men. Dudman ran into his room and two shots were fired into the door. Then he heard more shots. 90 minutes later, a Cambodian security officer told Dudman that Caldwell was OK and he had to stay in his room.

But, Dudman then said, "An hour later a high ranking foreign office official told me Malcolm Caldwell was dead and asked me to witness the scene."

Dudman went to look and saw the open door of Caldwell's room and saw his dead body "supine, eyes wide open and body soaked in blood".

He estimated Caldwell had been hit at least three times. The official told Dudman that the dead gunman had shot Caldwell and then shot himself.

Becker's account indicates that the murder scene could have been staged. The Washington Post journalist found herself face to face with the killer and ran back into her room and hid in her bath.

After the shots, she then heard bodies being dragged up and down stairs on three different occasions. Dudman and Becker later noticed that there were bloodstains on the stairs and corridor.

The Foreign Office officials speculate that because of the time lapse and Becker's account, it was very possible that Caldwell's murder scene had been stage-managed.

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Asian Countries Discuss Issues Surrounding HIV/TB Coinfection

Health officials from nine Asian countries on Wednesday met in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to discuss strategies for curbing the spread of tuberculosis among people living with HIV/AIDS in the region, DPA/Earth Times reports.

At the meeting, representatives from Cambodia, China, Fiji, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Vietnam and the World Health Organization voted to implement measures to expand HIV and TB testing among people diagnosed with one of the diseases, as well as to maximize early access to antiretroviral drugs.

Shigeru Omi, regional director for WHO's Office for the Western Pacific, said that people who are newly diagnosed with TB have "insufficient access to HIV testing, resulting in the late diagnosis of HIV coinfection" (DPA/Earth Times, 2/20). Omi said that between 25% and 50% of people diagnosed with TB in the Western Pacific region die because they do not have adequate access to HIV tests.

According to a statement released by WHO, HIV-positive people who develop TB are 10 times more likely to die earlier than those who do not have TB. The number of TB cases in the Western Pacific region accounts for about one-third of the global TB burden, Xinhuanet reports (Xinhuanet, 2/20).

Reprinted with kind permission from You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery at The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation© 2005 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Former Khmer Rouge leader to 're-enact' crimes for judges

Ian MacKinnon, south-east Asia correspondent

Images of genocide victims are displayed on the walls of the Tuol Sleng Musuem of Genocidal Crime, formerly the Khmer Rouge torture centre run by Kaing Guek Eav. Photograph: Corbis

The Khmer Rouge's chief interrogator who headed the notorious prison where 14,000 Cambodian men, women and children met their deaths is to return to the scene of his alleged crime next week to stage a ghoulish "re-enactment".

The extraordinary scene will see 65-year-old Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, guide investigating judges from Cambodia's UN-backed genocide trial through the Tuol Sleng torture centre almost three decades after he fled the advancing Vietnamese troops that ended the Khmer Rouge's four-year reign of terror.

Several of only seven people who survived their incarceration in the former school in Phnom Penh's suburbs will join the party next Wednesday.

Afterwards they will give taped evidence in a "confrontation" with their Khmer Rouge jailer at the tribunal's headquarters.

A day earlier, Duch, who is charged with crimes against humanity along with four other senior Khmer Rouge leaders, will be taken to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek on the capital's outskirts where most Tuol Sleng inmates were murdered and buried in shallow graves.

Duch, who was a maths teacher before joining the revolution to establish a peasant utopia, will explain to the French co-investigating judge, Marcel Lemonde, and his Cambodian counterpart, You Bun Leng, the details of what happened there in the years after 1975, when up to 1.7 million people died.

The first war crimes trials are due to begin later this year, confounding the fears of many of the Khmer Rouge's victims that the communist ideologues responsible for killing a quarter of the population through torture, execution, disease and starvation might never be brought to justice.

Almost a decade of wrangling over the ground rules governing the tribunal and many petty disputes between the Cambodian judges and lawyers and their international counterparts had threatened to kill off the process before it started.

But the arrests of four senior Khmer Rouge leaders, and the detention by the tribunal of Duch, who was already in military custody, has seen the process move swiftly forward.

The defendants have unsuccessfully appealed their detention orders and have even been confronted by their victims in emotional court testimony.

The re-enactment is part of the judges' investigative process to gather evidence against Duch, who has acknowledged his role in the Killing Fields after finding Christianity.

However, he contends that he was merely following Pol Pot's "verbal orders from the top".

Duch will be accompanied by his lawyers as he walks the judges around the two sites in private. Both serve as a memorial and museum to the dead but will be closed to the public during the re-enactment.

The Killing Fields memorial at Choeung Ek is a glass tower of piles of victims' skulls discovered in the surrounding shallow pits. Duch allegedly sat under a tree watching as Khmer Rouge executioners murdered their victims.

Classrooms at Tuol Sleng remain much as they were left in 1979, with metal-framed beds to which victims were chained before being electrocuted to make them confess to non-existent crimes, invariably of being CIA agents.

Paintings by one Tuol Sleng survivor, Van Nath, graphically portraying other tortures carried out there, adorn the walls of some rooms. The vividly-coloured oils sit beside the stark black-and-white photographs of the thousands brought to the prison.

"For the re-enactment Duch will be assisted by his lawyer," said Lemonde. "This is a normal investigative action, the aim of which is to clarify the declarations by each of the participants, using photos, audio-visual recordings and 3D reconstructions."
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Faber Sees a Holiday in Cambodia for Investors: William Pesek

Feb. 22 (Bloomberg) -- If you want to learn about Cambodia's economy, you can peruse government data and a small mountain of aid-agency reports. Or you could go trekking in the jungle near Mount Kbal Spean.

There, 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of the temples of Angkor, you'll find a small nature preserve. The Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity is one of a handful of efforts to protect Cambodia's wildlife that sprang up during the last nine years of peace.

It's mostly a breeding facility for critically endangered animal species. There, you will come face to face with gibbons, lemurs, turtles, scores of local birds and even native bees. The scene may offer one of the best reasons for investors to pay more attention to Cambodia.

When most think of Cambodia, extreme poverty springs to mind. While stability since 1998 is raising living standards, a third of the nation's 14 million people live on less than 50 cents a day. Much of the blame goes to lingering fallout from the mass killings by the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979.

There's a cruel irony to the fact that Cambodia's No. 2 tourist attraction is the infamous ``Killing Fields,'' one of the sites where an estimated 1.7 million died under dictator Pol Pot. Nearby, hawkers still sell Dead Kennedys T-shirts, a nod to their 1980 song ``Holiday in Cambodia.''


Yet waves of tourists are making their way to Cambodia, pumping up its $7 billion economy. Until recently, most made a beeline for Siem Reap, where Angkor's magnificent temples rise defiantly from dense forests. These days, more are exploring the nation's capital, Phnom Penh, and the fast-growing selection of beach resorts.

In 2007, tourist arrivals topped 2 million. For an economy that depends largely on the garment sector -- it accounts for 80 percent of exports -- increasing tourism is a big plus. It will help sustain the roughly 10 percent growth of the past four years.

Together with efforts by conservationists around the country, strong growth explains why investors such as Marc Faber are bullish on Cambodia. Both show that after decades of struggling to survive, Cambodians are getting serious about preserving their heritage and competing in the globalization age. Cambodia, in other words, is becoming a normal country.

``Cambodia offers an enormous potential for future capital gains,'' says Faber, the Hong Kong-based investor and publisher of the Gloom, Boom & Doom report. ``It may take some time, as was the case for Vietnam and India, where stocks languished for a number of years before huge upward trends in asset prices developed. But patience was amply rewarded.''

Contrarian Bet

The Asian Development Bank continues to pump fresh aid into the economy. ADB President Haruhiko Kuroda was in Cambodia this week to christen a project to rebuild decades-old railway tracks to spread the benefits of growth.

More importantly, the government is stepping up efforts to attract foreign capital. It plans to set up a stock market in 2009 and officials are working to diversify the economy. Prime Minister Hun Sen recently visited India and appealed to technology firms to invest in Cambodia.

Of course, Cambodia is a contrarian investment with a capital ``C.'' For every positive trend cited in this column, one can find a reason, or two, to avoid the place.

While Cambodia has great promise, says Simon Ogus, chief executive of DSG Asia Ltd. in Hong Kong, it has a long, long way to go before many investors are willing even to consider putting money there. For one thing, he says, ``the monetary system is 95 percent dollarized'' and the country lacks a bond market.


Cambodia's challenges run deeper. Crushing poverty means all too many aren't being educated to compete globally. Good roads, bridges, and power systems are in short supply. The export-dependent economy is vulnerable to a U.S. slowdown and rising fuel costs.

Corruption means double-digit growth doesn't get very far anyway. In Transparency International's 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index, Cambodia ranked 162nd -- behind Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and Tajikistan.

Cambodia also is sitting on a discovery that will either attract investors or have them aggressively avoiding the country: oil. While deposits are still being estimated, the potential of Cambodia's petroleum industry is attracting interest from BHP Billiton Ltd. and Chevron Corp.

Next BRICs

The question is what happens to billions of dollars of oil revenue. Corruption-prone governments have a poor track record of using such wealth wisely, too often suffering the ``oil curse.'' Since weak institutions oversee its underdeveloped economy, Cambodia's odds aren't great.

Then again, what if Cambodia surprises skeptics? That's a big ``if,'' given the prime minister's failure to eradicate corruption and crack down on illegal logging.

Yet investors are searching for the next generation of developing-market stars now that the ``BRIC'' economies -- Brazil, Russia, India and China -- and Vietnam have been discovered. Watching neighboring Vietnam thrive also may inspire Cambodia's government.

If oil profits are used to improve education, reduce poverty and upgrade infrastructure, investors who took a chance on Cambodia will be, in Faber's words, amply rewarded.

(William Pesek is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Cambodia builds two statues for famous monk and musician

PHNOM PENH, Feb. 21 (Xinhua) -- The city government of Phnom Penh on Thursday held inauguration ceremony for the statues of a famous monk called Choun Nat and a musician called Krom Ngoy to honor their efforts and contributions to help the Cambodian society in the 19th and 20th centuries.

"We built their statues to respect and honor their efforts while they were alive in helping Cambodian society," Major Kep Chuktema said while addressing the ceremony.

The statues, which were made of copper and gold, were over two meters in height.

Choun Nat's statue is located in Hun Sen Park and Krom Ngoy's statue is in a Public Park in front of the Cambodiana Hotel.

Choun Nat (1883-1969), was former Buddhism Patriarch, or Chief of Cambodian monks. He is also linguist, poet, writer and literateur.

Choun Nat, who made great contribution in composing the Khmer language dictionary, is known as the most impressive literature and cultural promoter that Cambodia ever produced.

Krom Ngoy (1865-1936), was a musician for Tro-Ou, which is a kind of Khmer musical instrument.

He played Tro-Ou to educate people about everyday life and morality of Khmer people. His words became codes of morality of Cambodian people.

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Cambodia to deport U.S. veteran for false threat

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia will deport a U.S. veteran who told journalists that militants were planning a rocket attack on the U.S embassy in Phnom Penh, deputy police chief Sok Phal said on Thursday.

Gerald Forbes, 63, of Hawaii, was arrested for sending e-mails to journalists asking them to spread the warning the embassy would be rocketed, then overrun, he said.

"He admitted he did it because he was angry with the slow reception of his pension. In fact there was no group to commit an act of terror," Sok Phal told Reuters without further explanation.

He said Forbes, in the country on a tourist visa, would be deported and never allowed to re-enter Cambodia.

"He has no money for a flight ticket, so we're arranging the ticket for him," Sok Phal said.

A U.S. spokesman said the embassy "never thought it a credible threat", but riot police were sent to guard the embassy on Monday night, when Forbes said the attack would take place.

(Reporting by Ek Madra; Editing by Michael Battye and Jerry Norton)
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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Khmer Rouge leader halts Cambodia genocide court cooperation: report

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — The French lawyer defending Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan at Cambodia's genocide tribunal has said his client will no longer co-operate with the UN-backed court, a report said Wednesday.

Jacques Verges, nicknamed "the Devil's advocate" for his defence of some of the world's most notorious criminals, said Khieu Samphan would not speak to court officials until thousands of pages of evidence against him is translated into French.

"In a trial, there is a human being and this human being is fighting," Verges was quoted as telling the English-language Cambodia Daily.

He also told the paper that without a translation of the court documents, which are in English, he would not be able to adequately defend his client.

Verges, a fierce anti-colonialist, reportedly befriended Khieu Samphan and other future Khmer Rouge leaders while at university in Paris in the 1950s.

In a long career, he has acted for Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie and Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, better known as Carlos the Jackal.

Tribunal co-investigating judge Marcel Lemonde told AFP that other suspects detained by the UN-backed court have also invoked their right "to remain silent at every stage of the proceedings."

But he said this would not hamper the court's investigation into their alleged crimes.

"We have to organise the investigation differently, that's it," he said in an email.

So far five people have been detained by the tribunal, including former Khmer Rouge ideologue Nuon Chea, the most senior surviving leader of the 1975-79 regime which oversaw one of the worst chapters of the 20th century.

Up to two million people died of starvation and overwork, or were executed by the communist Khmer Rouge, which dismantled modern Cambodian society in its effort to forge a radical agrarian utopia.

Cities were emptied, their populations exiled to vast collective farms, while schools were closed, religion banned and the educated classes targeted for extermination.
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US embassy in Cambodia receives threat

The US embassy in Cambodia received a terrorist threat prompting authorities to dispatch police and military police to protect it, a government official said.

Khieu Sopheak, the spokesman of Cambodia’s Ministry of Interior on Tuesday (Feb 19) confirmed that there was a threat against the US embassy.

“The threat was sent through a media company, which informed the US embassy on the threat. The US embassy told the authority and we sent our forces to protect the embassy,” the spokesman said. “In addition, we also made an investigation and now we know the identity of the suspect.”

He declined to give more details about the suspect.

During his visit to Koh Kong, Joseph Mussomelli, the US ambassador confirmed the threat. “However, we should not pay too much attention to the threat as it doest not pose any security or safety threat to us,” the US ambassador said. “We are not concerned about the threat.”

The ambassador said American officials in Cambodia still feel secured and safe to move around.

A police source said hundreds of police and military police—both in uniform and civilian clothes—were sent to protect the US embassy and the residence of the US ambassador following the threat. The armed forces were also deployed near the French and British embassies.
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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Foreign Minister: PM won't meet Thaksin in Cambodia

( - Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama denied rumours that Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej is going to meet with ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra during his visit to Cambodia.

Mr Samak is scheduled to go to Cambodia on March 3 as the first visit to Asean countries after he becomes prime minister.

Mr Samak's trip came amid news reports that Mr Thaksin will play golf with Cambodia's prime minister Hun Sen.

"I do not want to give any opinions regarding the ousted premier, and I do not want people to perceive that he has any power in the current government," Mr Noppadon told reporters. "The prime minister's visit is on behalf of the government."

He added that the Preah Vihear temple is expected to be discussed during Mr Samak's visit to the neighbouring country.

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ADB opens rail project in Cambodia

Agence France-Presse . Phnom

Penh The Asian Development Bank Monday launched a multi-million dollars project to restore Cambodia's devastated railways in a key step towards the creation of a regional rail system.

Approximately 600 kilometres of track destroyed during Cambodia's protracted civil war will be rebuilt at a cost of 42 million dollars, the ADB said.

'This is one of the last steps in the creation of a regional railway that will stretch from Singapore to Beijing,' ADB president Haruhiko Kuroda said in a statement. 'Soon, trains will be running from Singapore to Sihanoukville,' Cambodia's only deep-water port on the country's southern coast, added Kuroda, who was speaking at an inaugural ceremony near Cambodia's border with Thailand.

Rail service in Cambodia remains unreliable, with trains running only intermittently. But for impoverished Cambodians, rail travel is one of the few affordable transportation options, and an unofficial train service flourishes along some portions of the country's battered track system.

These small trollies, built out of bamboo platforms and powered by motor-scooter engines, are known locally as 'bamboo horses' and ferry people and goods across large swathes of the countryside.

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Spanish queen arrives in Cambodia

Phnom Penh - Queen Sophia of Spain arrived in Cambodia Tuesday for a five-day visit at the invitation of Cambodian monarch, King Norodom Sihamoni. The wife of King Juan Carlos will visit a number of Spanish-funding humanitarian projects during her stay, including an anti-human trafficking organization, and a demining project, according to a schedule obtained from a palace source.

She is also scheduled to attend a gala dinner with King Sihamoni on Wednesday as well as visiting the ancient Angkor Wat temple complex in the northern province of Siem Reap before flying out Saturday.

Queen Sophia had scheduled a visit to Cambodia last year but returned home minutes after landing at the airport due to a family bereavement.
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Monday, February 18, 2008

Bringing baseball to Cambodia

Joe Cook found joy in baseball after he fled Cambodia's killing fields. He's driven, perhaps obsessed, to bring the game home.

DOTHAN, ALA. -- The baseball ground rules are different in Cambodia.

A ball hit off the water buffaloes grazing in the outfield is in play, but a ball lost in the adjoining rice paddy is not. And timeout must be called whenever a motorcycle approaches on the dirt road that cuts through the outfield.

"You can't put it in perspective with words," said Jim Small, managing director for Major League Baseball's operations in Asia. "You just need to see it."

But even then you can't always believe what you're seeing.

Shirtless children in plastic flip-flops batting cross-handed. Adults who insist on trying to pitch with both hands wrapped tightly around the ball. And slides that aren't so much slides as they are baserunners falling down, then rolling.

"Teaching baseball in Cambodia," Joe Cook said, "it's not easy."

Cook, a Cambodian refugee who survived the Khmer Rouge genocide to escape to the United States, has spent the last five years trying to turn the former killing fields of his homeland into fields of dreams for a generation that has known little more than war, poverty and despair.

Along the way he's lost his life savings, his car and nearly his marriage. And, Cook insists, some people in Cambodia would like to see him dead.

"I want to walk away from this. I do. But these kids," he said, pointing to a photo of three shoeless children in torn clothes toting bats and gloves through a rice paddy, "baseball brings smiles to their faces."

In December, thanks to Cook, Cambodia fielded a national baseball team for the first time in the Southeast Asian Games in Thailand. It was a milestone as inauspicious as it was historic: Cambodia's first four hitters struck out without even touching the ball, and it took four games for the team to get its first hit.

By then Cambodia had been outscored, 67 to 1 -- which, according to Cambodian ground rules, added up to a tremendous victory.

"We didn't win a damn game. But winning is nothing," Cook said a month later. "The biggest deal is we showed up. We had the guts to be there. We're satisfied with that."

Whether they show up again, however, is anybody's guess. Although the other five baseball teams that played in the Southeast Asian Games are supported by organized and relatively well-financed national organizations, the Cambodian team is supported largely by Cook and whatever donations his nonprofit organization can scrape together.

Lately that hasn't been much. Two months before the games, Cook was far short of the $50,000 he figured it would take to get Cambodia to the competition.

He was also half a world away, in the tiny southeast Alabama town of Dothan, working as a chef at a Japanese steakhouse.

Mark Dennis, a Dothan businessman, helped Cook obtain more than $41,000 in loans, wiring the final $4,500 himself from a neighborhood pharmacy less than an hour before the registration deadline.

"It seems like he's overcome so much to get to this point," said Dennis, who last month took over the bookkeeping for Cambodia Baseball. "I just had a hard time seeing him fail that close."

Despite the victory of showing up in Thailand, Cook hardly feels like a winner these days. He's $41,500 in debt, and Cambodia Baseball has just $1,585 in the bank.

"I've spent all my savings," Cook said, fighting back tears during a recent interview while sitting on a sofa in his cramped second-floor apartment. "I'm so frustrated. I've had enough of this. Do you know how stressed I am? It's a disaster right now."

The apartment's carpet is shabby and stained, the walls grimy and in need of paint. The sofa, which sits next to a broken coffee table, is both an office and a bed for Cook, who leaves the bedroom to his wife and daughter. During his last trip to Cambodia in December, his 4-year-old Hyundai XG350 was repossessed and both the gas and electricity were turned off.

He wasn't thrown out of the apartment because his boss pays the $450 monthly rent.

"I'm the grandfather of baseball in Cambodia," he said. "Yeah, that's great. But I live in a poor way."
About the same time Cook dived headfirst into Cambodian baseball, he also filed for divorce from his wife, Veasna Puk Van. The couple quickly reconciled, but the new stresses are testing that tenuous truce.

"We talk about this all the time," Cook said while translating for Van, who speaks little English. "She thinks it's too much. She's asked me to give it up. We don't have anything."

Major League Baseball has sent coaches to Cambodia, donated $10,000 in equipment and a container to ship it in and paid for Cook to fly back and forth from Alabama -- contributions worth more than $50,000 over the last two years alone.

Then when Small heard Cook planned to outfit his national team in second-hand uniforms donated from Little League teams in Dothan, Major League Baseball stepped forward again and got Majestic, the official supplier for big-league teams, to alter some stock Dodger uniforms, changing the cursive script across the chest from "Dodgers" to "Cambodia."

"When I got to the field in Bangkok the Cambodians were working out on a practice field, and the first thing I was struck with was how great they looked," Small said. "They looked like ballplayers. That's the highest compliment I could give them."

But in accordance with Major League Baseball's policy regarding international baseball programs, Small hasn't been able to give any money.

Local companies and schools in south Alabama have also helped collect, store and ship equipment to Cambodia, but few have donated cash.

And aside from some assistance with visas and other travel documents, the Cambodian government has been more a hindrance than a help, Cook said, greeting him with red tape rather than open arms.

Cook said he had spent about $300,000 on Cambodian baseball since the fall of 2002 -- huge chunks of it coming out of his pockets or those of family members.

But he can't go on that way.

"I'm burning out. I can't do this alone," he said. "I don't want to do anything with baseball in Cambodia anymore. Period."

Father Frank Cancro, a Catholic priest in North Carolina who visited the first baseball field in Cambodia, chuckled when he heard that.

"He's said that at least three times since I've known him," Cancro said. "But he hasn't quit."

As a result, from a misshapen diamond carved out of the middle of a jungle near the village of Baribor five years ago, Cambodian baseball has spread to more than 50 teams in four age divisions in three provinces. Cook estimates there are more than 100 schools, 5,000 children and 2,000 adults playing some form of baseball in Cambodia.

But with regular trips to Cambodia too expensive and too difficult to arrange around his work schedule, Cook directs his fledgling coaches by Internet, downloading videos sent to him from Cambodia each night, analyzing them, then e-mailing back his comments. His website keeps track of the effort and solicits donations.

"I need 2 1/2 years to go to Cambodia," said Cook, 37, a slender man with close-cropped black hair and wire-rim glasses. "To build structure, to build an organization, to teach coaches."

Cook's love affair with baseball began shortly after a Christian aid organization rescued him and what was left of his family from a Philippine refugee camp in 1983, relocating them to Chattanooga, Tenn.

Cook, whose legal name is Joeurt Puk (he began using Cook after taking his first restaurant job), said he spent nearly half his childhood in Cambodia living off tree bark, insects and grass in labor camps run by the genocidal Khmer Rouge. Along the way he lost his father and two sisters, was nearly killed when a booby trap exploded next to him, then survived an artillery barrage that pounded the road he and hundreds of others were following on their escape to a Red Cross camp across the border in Thailand.

"I was starving and I just wanted to end my life," Cook said.

Arriving in Chattanooga as a 12-year-old, he was introduced to a number of marvelous things he had never seen before, such as a flush toilet, television, radio, the mirror.

And baseball.

"Seeing kids running around without having to worry about booby traps or gunshots, explosions. America was like heaven," Cook said. "I didn't know how to grip the ball. I didn't know nothing. But baseball at that time, it was fun.

"I finally found myself happy in America for the first time."

He eventually wed Van, a political refugee from Cambodia seven years his senior, in an arranged marriage that produced two children, a stocky 10-year-old boy named Ankorwat, after the ancient Cambodian temples, and a shy, dark-eyed 5-year-old daughter, Sumuri.

And though he had to start working at a young age, lying about his birth date on a job application and never playing organized baseball beyond Little League, he never forgot the transformative power the game had on his life.

And that wound up turning his life around again nearly six years ago, when he returned to the Thailand border to reunite with his sister Chanty, who everyone assumed had been killed by the Khmer Rouge.

"The community where I was at, it was like nowhere else I had ever heard of," Cook said of the poverty he saw in Baribor. "I saw the happiness in their faces. And my heart just opened. The school got me. The community got me.

"That's what changed my life. So I told the kids, 'When I come back, I'm going to bring baseball. I'm going to bring the American gift.' "

A few months later he made good on the pledge, returning with enough second-hand bats, balls and gloves to field two teams. Working with some schoolchildren, he hacked a clearing out of the jungle, built a crude infield and a tiny pitcher's mound.

The field had unusual dimensions, and just 20 players showed up for the first game on Nov. 26, 2002. Yet that was enough to give the sport the locals called "throwball" a foothold.

"It's called baseball," Cook repeatedly corrected, insisting the children use the English words for bases, bats, balls and everything else associated with the sport.

Fields -- along with English lessons -- soon started sprouting in other towns. Cook built a shelter for abandoned children and began providing meals and schoolbooks. He hired a pair of former teenage prostitutes to work as scorekeepers and administrative assistants after first teaching them to read and write. And then Cook, who started attending church shortly after arriving in the U.S., began offering Christian Bible study classes to a population that is more than 95% Buddhist.

"I've seen the benefit of this," said Cancro, the North Carolina priest who visited Baribor. "I've seen the books and things that have gone to the schools."

Cook insists the country's insular government has cast a wary eye on him and his program.

"The government was very suspicious of what I was doing," he said. "I guess I am in danger because I'm bringing American influence to the homeland. Baseball in Cambodia, it's going to be a way of change."

The government disagrees.

"No, no," said a spokeswoman at the Royal Cambodian Embassy in Washington, who would give her name only as Chey. "If he was in danger, why would he keep going back to Cambodia? There is no danger there."

But things are changing, just as Cook predicted.

Small, who was in Thailand for the Southeast Asian Games, said the poor, shy children he had seen in Baribor seemed different after putting on their sparkling white jerseys with their homeland written across their chests.

"How cool for them to have a chance to represent their country," he said. "How many of us have ever been able to say that? [And] the Cambodian cheering section. There were probably 15 friends and relatives of Joe's that had come over. Most of them had never been out of Baribor, let alone been on a bus before.

"But they were there to cheer their team. They were so proud."

Which might be why Cook, at least so far, has been unable to quit.

"He's overcome so much to get to this point," said Dennis, the Dothan businessman. "He's a little guy in a big adventure."
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Cambodia Rejects US Claim on Debt

Phnom Penh, Febr. 17 (PL) Cambodia rejected this Monday the United States' complaint about the 339 million dollar debt contracted by Lon Nol's regime after defeating the monarchy in 1972.
The Cambodian government declared the illegal administration of the country was responsible for the indebtedness and, therefore, the current executive has no responsibility whatsoever in the liquidation of such an amount, said its official spokesman, Khieu Kanharith.

Phnom Penh's reaction occurred after the US undersecretary of State to East Asia and the Pacific, Scout Marcial, urged Cambodia to sign an agreement to renegotiate the debt.

The government spokesman rejected Washington's demand relating to the outstanding bills of General Lon Nol (1972-1975) due to the low interest financing of farming products.

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

DEVELOPMENT-CAMBODIA: Urban-Rural Divide Set To Widen

By Marwaan Macan-Markar

BANGKOK, Feb 18 (IPS) - Phnom Penh’s skyline is set for a dramatic change, now that South Korean companies have confirmed plans to build two skyscrapers in the Cambodian capital. The 42-storey Gold Tower is scheduled to be completed by 2011, while a 53-storey structure will be ready the following year.

Such a transformation will invariably serve as visual symbols of the direction this nation has taken on the road to development. It will add to the impressive numbers Cambodia’s has recorded over the past two years, with the economy growing by 11 percent in 2006 and nine percent in 2007.

The likelihood of more tall towers wrapped in glass following these two appears possible. The South-east Asian country ‘’received more than 1,500 requests for construction projects worth 1.5 billion US dollars in the first nine months of 2007,’’ the ‘Phnom Penh Post’ newspaper reported recently, quoting Urban Planning and Construction Minister Im Chhum.

Yet such a picture only confirms why Cambodia is increasingly becoming a country with deep economic divisions, with the economic boom concentrated in only three urban centres -- Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville -- at the expense of its rural areas, where 80 percent of the country’s 14 million people live.

A new study by a U.N. agency lays bare the extent of food insecurity, high malnutrition and the ‘’food poor’’ in one of this region’s poorest countries still struggling to put behind it the nightmare of a brutal war and oppression that lasted over two decades. ‘’The mix of food products available in Cambodia should normally be adequate for a balanced diet, but productive capacity or purchasing power of many households is limited,’’ states the World Food Programme’s (WFP) ‘Food Security Atlas’.

Currently, close to 35 percent of Cambodians, or some 4.6 million people, live below the poverty line of one U.S. dollar a day. Of that, 90 percent come from rural areas, states findings by the WFP. ‘’In 2005, over 630,000, or 37 percent of Cambodian children aged under five years were suffering chronic protein-energy malnutrition ( or stunting),’’ adds the WFP, quoting figures from the Cambodian Demographic and Health Survey Report.

Cambodian’s classified as ‘’food deprived’’ amount to 21 percent of the population, close to three million people, states the WFP, drawing on the 2007 Food Insecurity Assessment, conducted by, among others, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation. The ‘’food poor’’ are those who eat less than the minimum diet to supply basic energy requirements.

The appearance of Siem Reap among the 10 provinces described as ‘’hot spots’’ due to ‘’high malnutrition rates’’ by the WFP in its mid-February study illustrates the two faces of Cambodia’s development story. For years, the city of Siem Reap has seen rapid growth, with many plush hotels coming up, to cater to the planeloads of tourists flying into the city. Its main draw: the majestic Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples built during the 14th century and before.

Yet the tourist dollars that have been pouring in have not trickled beyond the city’s borders. ‘’Siem Reap is one of the poorest provinces in the country,’’ Thomas Keusters, head of WFP’s Cambodia office, told IPS by phone from Phnom Penh. ‘’Tourism is only focused in the city. But only 15 miles away from the city centre, people are very poor.’’

The Cambodians left out from the city’s growth are those with little education in the province who cannot find jobs in the hotels, adds Keusters. ‘’The people who have found employment are those who can read and write and can help the tourism sector.’’

Cambodia’s weak education system beyond the main urban centres was highlighted Thursday in a report on education trends in the region released by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). It has one of the ‘’highest repetition rates’’ of school children in the first grade, at 24 percent, revealed the ‘2008 Education for All Global Monitoring Report’.

In addition, Cambodia and Laos ‘’have the lowest early childhood care and education coverage in South-east Asia, with only nine percent and eight percent of children aged three to five enrolled in pre-primary school, respectively,’’ added the UNESCO study.

Even the World Bank admits that despite Cambodia’s success on some fronts -- such as reducing the number of people living in poverty from 47 percent of the population in 1994 to 35 percent a decade later -- inequality is a problem. During the past 10 years, the consumption power of the country’s richest 20 percent grew by 45 percent, as against an only eight percent rise in the consumption power of the poorest 20 percent, the Bank noted in its 2007 study of equity in Cambodia.

This economic divide exposes what ‘’growth rates do not show, about who is benefiting and who are the losers,’’ says Shalmali Guttal, a senior researcher at Focus on the Global South, a Bangkok-based think tank. ‘’The ordinary people in the rural and urban areas have been losing for years. There is a systemic problem in the distribution of resources.’’

The prospect of immediate change for the economically marginalised appears remote, she explained in an interview, because of the poor being deprived or denied access to land in the rural areas or even to fish in the country’s largest lake. ‘’Fishing concessions have been sold to private companies and the local fishing communities have a little catch, depriving them of income and their main source of protein.’’

Amnesty International (AI) is the latest human rights group to raise the alarm about the harsh measures used by the administration of Prime Minister Hun Sen to support a trend of forced evictions in the urban and rural areas to acquire land for commercial ventures and ‘’development’’ projects. It warned that 150,000 Cambodians are in danger of losing their homes and lands to projects that cater to the whims of the country’s wealthiest.

Vireak and Sopheap are just two people from a village of subsistence farmers near the coastal town of Sihanoukville who were affected last April, said the London-based rights lobby in a mid-February report. Most of the village ‘’was burned to the ground by law enforcement and military officers, forcibly evicting more than 100 families,’’ states AI.

‘’The Cambodian government has adopted policies, supported by international donors, aimed at developing and improving the lives of the poor. But such policies are in stark contrast to the realities experienced by Vireak, Sopheap and other victims of forced evictions, who sink deeper into poverty through the actions of the authorities,’’ added AI.
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ADB president arrives in Cambodia for visit

PHNOM PENH, Feb. 17 (Xinhua) -- Asian Development Bank (ADB) President Haruhiko Kuroda arrived in Phnom Penh Sunday for his first official visit to Cambodia.

Kuroda is scheduled to meet with senior Cambodian government officials on Monday to discuss ADB's assistance programs in this country and the important role of regional cooperation in the Southeast Asia region, an ADB news release said.

Kuroda will also travel to Sisophon in northwest Cambodia to launch a new railway rehabilitation project and will sign a package of five grants and loans that will help spur job creation, expand educational opportunities, and enhance growth, it said.

Cambodia has received over one billion U.S. dollars in assistance since joining ADB in 1966, according to the news release.

Between 2004 and 2007, ADB has provided six grants and nine loans to Cambodia totaling 250 million U.S. dollars, it said, adding that ADB plans to provide an additional 50 million U.S. dollars in assistance this year.
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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Agent Orange still looms large/Doctors in Cambodia report many babies born with deformities

Makoto Ota/Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

The proportion of babies born with disabilities in eastern Cambodia is more than 50 times higher than in other parts of the country, according to local doctors.

While the reason for the higher rate has not officially been confirmed, it is generally believed to result from the use of Agent Orange, a dioxin-containing defoliant, by U.S. forces during the Vietnam War.

The scale of the damage wrought by use of the chemical in Cambodia is still unclear as there has been little research into the victims. Local doctors have called for an official survey on the effects.

In Preah Pdaw, Kampong Cham Province, a village with a population of about 1,000, Srey Neang delivered her first baby in November 2005.

However, the baby had male and female genitals and three legs, one of which had two toes. "My doctor told me my baby was born like this because of my karma. I was so sad," Srey, 23, said.

Meanwhile, in the Ponhea Krek district of the province, a 25-year-old couple had their fourth baby in October 2006. But the couple said it was born with no eyes and that the skin all over its body was chapped.

The mother said she had given birth three times before and that all three babies had the same condition and had since died.

Near the border with Vietnam there are numerous reports of babies being born with disabilities similar to those of Agent Orange victims, such as those with their fingers joined or missing, or with a cleft lip.

A doctor at the province's central medical center said, "About 5 or 6 percent of the 200 babies born here each month have deformities." This compares with less than 0.1 percent in Phnom Penh.

"In 1966 and 1967, military aircraft flew over almost every morning, dispersing light yellow powder that killed all the trees," said Meng Bang, 67, the village chief of Trameng in the province, about five kilometers from the Vietnam border.

During the war, the Cambodian government repeatedly complained to the U.S. government about the use of the chemical, prompting the United States to compensate owners of dead trees in 1969, official U.S. documents show. He said they received compensation in 1967, which showed the U.S. government privately recognized the damage caused by the chemical.

A doctor living in Phnom Penh has been conducting his own research into the effects and victims of Agent Orange in the country.

"I'm sure that dioxins have been causing deformities in babies," he said. "So it's important to conduct comprehensive epidermal research in areas near the border to prove there's a relationship between the dioxin and the deformities."

But he added, "It's difficult to secure funds and staff for that, so I'm going to have to rely on support from other countries."

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Convicted Khmer Rouge Commander Dies

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Sam Bith, a former Khmer Rouge guerrilla commander serving a life sentence for masterminding the abduction and murder of three Western tourists in 1994, died Friday, a government spokesman said. He was 74 years old.

Sam Bith was sentenced to life in prison in December 2002 after being found guilty of conspiring to kill Australian David Wilson, Briton Mark Slater and Frenchman Jean-Michel Braquet, all tourists, in 1994.

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith announced that Sam Bith died at 9:30 p.m., without disclosing a cause of death. Sam Bith's wife, Khem Ri, said he had been "very sick" with diabetes and high blood pressure and had been hospitalized 10 days earlier.

Sam Bith had served as a Khmer Rouge commander in southwestern Cambodia, where a train carrying the three foreign backpackers was ambushed on July 26, 1994.

About a dozen Cambodians were also killed and many others injured in the armed attack by Khmer Rouge rebels at Phnom Voar, or Vine Mountain, 62 miles southwest of Phnom Penh.

The rebels held Wilson, Slater and Braquet under miserable conditions and killed them three months after the attack when protracted government negotiations for their release failed.

Two other former Khmer Rouge field commanders — Nuon Paet and Chhouk Rin — are serving life sentences for their involvement in the murders.

The Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia from 1975-79, implementing radical communist policies that led to the death of some 1.7 million people through starvation, disease, overwork and execution.

After being ousted from power, Khmer Rouge leaders fled into the jungle to fight a guerrilla war until the late 1990s, when they defected to the government en masse.

By the late 1990s the guerrilla group had become undisciplined, and many commanders acted like local warlords or bandit leaders.

Sam Bith defected from the Khmer Rouge to join the government in 1997 and received a general's rank in the Cambodian army, but he was arrested in May 2002 after being implicated by another former Khmer Rouge official in the killings.

In convicting him in 2002, a judge said Sam Bith had given an order to his subordinates on Sept. 28, 1994, to kill the foreigners.

Sam Bith had pleaded innocent and claimed in court he had already been relieved of his position as a regional commander by Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot weeks before the train ambush. Pol Pot died in 1998, just before the communist group collapsed in 1999.
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Cambodia to host 6th Mekong Flood Forum

PHNOM PENH, Feb. 16 (Xinhua) -- The Mekong River Commission (MRC) will hold the 6th Annual Mekong Flood Forum on May 27-28 in Phnom Penh, a MRC press release said on Saturday.

The forum aims to raise awareness of the current state of data collection, transmission and exchange, especially in the fields of water level and rainfall, at the national and regional levels in the Mekong River Basin, it said.

Another objective is to exchange information about the database systems and the tools used for dissemination of flood forecast and early warning, it said.

It will also provide an opportunity for participants to discuss the emerging needs related to flood forecast and to share the progress each country has made towards a holistic and balanced flood management plan, it said.

Stakeholders from MRC member countries, namely, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, donor agencies and scientists from the Mekong Basin and the international community, dialogue partners such as China and Myanmar, as well as international and national civil society organizations, are expected to join the forum, it added.

MRC is a regional organization responsible for the general safe management of the Mekong River.
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Friday, February 15, 2008

Cambodia: No Rush to Repay US Debt

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Cambodia has more pressing concerns than repaying millions of dollars it owes the United States, a government spokesman said Friday, rebuffing Washington's latest demand for settlement of loans from the 1970s.

"We have many affairs to attend to," said government spokesman Khieu Kanharith, noting that repaying $339 million to the U.S. was not high on Cambodia's priority list.

The comments came a day after Scot Marciel, the U.S. State Department's deputy assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs, urged Cambodia to sign a draft agreement on repaying the debt. Marciel made the remarks Thursday in Washington in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee's Subcommittee on Asia.

The outstanding debt stems from rice, cotton and other agricultural commodities financed by low-interest loans the U.S. provided to Cambodia during the regime of Gen. Lon Nol in the early 1970s.

Lon Nol came to power in a 1970 coup that ousted Prince Norodom Sihanouk. The United States was the main financial and military supporter of Lon Nol's regime until it was toppled by the genocidal Khmer Rouge movement in April 1975.

The two countries have not yet come up with a repayment plan, partly because the Cambodian government refuses to accept responsibility for debts incurred by the Lon Nol regime, and partly because of a disagreement over the amount of debt owed, Marciel said.

After years of deadlock, Cambodia agreed "in principle with the amount of principal it owed" in 2006 but then refused to sign a draft bilateral agreement drawn up by the U.S., Marciel said. Cambodia has subsequently demanded additional concessions, including a lower interest rate, he said.

He said Cambodia also does not deserve any debt reduction from the U.S. because it is neither heavily indebted nor facing crisis of external balance of payments.

"Cambodia has accumulated arrears to the U.S., while paying other creditors on time, and in at least one case, early," Marciel said.

About $154 million of Cambodia's debt "would be due immediately," if the 2006 agreement is implemented this year, he said.

Khieu Kanharith said immediate payback was unlikely.

"Even if we have to repay it, we can't repay it because that would severely affect our financial and economic situation," he said.

Despite recent economic growth, Cambodia still relies on hundreds of millions of dollars in annual foreign assistance for development.

The government spokesman added that the United States "has not compensated the Cambodian people" for its bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam war either.

The difficulties Cambodia faces today as it tries to rebuild after more than two decades of civil war "are also partly the result of the American bombing."

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Studying Angkor's demise, archaeologists warn of repeating the past

SIEM REAP, Cambodia: By destroying vast tracts of forest to enlarge their farm land, inhabitants of the wondrous city of Angkor lit the fuse to an ecological time bomb that spelled doom for what was once the world's largest urban area.

So believe archaeologists engaged in groundbreaking research into the ancient civilization of Angkor.

And they are warning that history could repeat itself through reckless, headlong pursuit of dollars from tourists flocking to see Angkor's fabled monuments.

"It's just a weird cycle. It seems like Angkor is self-repeating itself," said Mitch Hendrickson, who recently led an excavation as part of research into Angkor as a human settlement.

Conservationists have long expressed concerns about the state of the monuments, especially the stress from the tourist invasion. They also say the uncontrolled pumping of underground water to meet rising demand of hotels, guesthouses and residents in the adjoining town of Siem Reap may be destabilizing the earth beneath the centuries-old temples so much that they might sink and collapse.

"There's just so much building going on without any concern about the long term. Things are moving so fast in Siem Reap today that it's going to chew itself up very quickly and become unsustainable," said Hendrickson, an archaeologist from the University of Sydney, Australia.

From their city, Angkorian kings ruled over most of Southeast Asia during their pinnacle between the 9th and 14th centuries, overseeing construction of architectural stone marvels, including Angkor Wat, regarded as a marvel of religious architecture.

While the 1431 invasion from what is now Thailand has long been regarded as a major cause of Angkor's fall, archaeologists from the Australian university's Greater Angkor Project believe earlier ecological forces led to the city's demise.

Their findings supported a theory in the early 1950s by Bernard-Philippe Groslier, a prominent French archaeologist, that the collapse of Angkor resulted from over-exploitation of the environment.

Angkor's inhabitants started rice farming from the low lying area near the Tonle Sap lake just south of Siem Reap town, said Roland Fletcher, another archaeologist with the project.

But gradually, they cut down natural forest to extend their farm land up to the slope of Kulen mountain, 50 miles (80 kilometers) to the north, said Fletcher, who led 10 archaeologists to excavate various sites near the Angkor complex.

Flooding ensued, and huge amounts of sediment and sand were washed down to fill up canals — thus probably choking the vital water management system.

Using NASA's airborne imaging radar data, the project has conducted numerous aerial and ground surveys across nearly 1,200 square miles (3,108 square kilometers) which revealed that the city — with about 1 million inhabitants — was far larger than previously thought.

It covered some 385 square miles (997 square kilometers) and featured a sophisticated hydraulic system that proved too vast to manage.

Angkor was "a huge low-density, dispersed urban complex" comparable to Los Angeles and "by far the most extensive preindustrial city on the planet," Fletcher said.

Its water network included an artificial canal used for diverting water from a natural river about 15 1/2 miles (25 kilometers) north of Angkor, and two mammoth, man-made reservoirs known as the East and West Barays.

"They (people) probably didn't necessarily need any of this extra water ... because just a rain-fed rice agriculture is quite sufficient to feed a very substantial population," said Damian Evans, a project member.

One theory, he said, was that the Angkorian kings built the water system just "to demonstrate their power and their authority to rule."

But he said only excavations and soil analysis could yield more clues.

"It's a process of going to those sites on the ground and looking for finer detailed information like the profiles of the canals underneath the ground and the types of sediment that lie within those canals," he said.

Armed with a printed digital map of the Angkor area, Evans and Fletcher toured an excavation site at the West Baray where archaeologists dug trenches to seek traces of an ancient channel through the bank. They were trying to determine whether the channel really existed and could have served both as water inlet and outlet.

The reservoir is walled by four banks — now covered with jungle — each 40 feet (12 meters) high, 331 feet (100 meters) wide and about 12 miles (19 kilometers) in length. It can store up to 1.8 billion cubic feet (50 million cubic meters) of water.

Fletcher called it "the single largest artifact and piece of engineering in the preindustrial world."

"All of this work is aimed at understanding how the water management system of Angkor functioned ... and how it stopped working," he said, adding that forest clearance is "the current key piece of information" about the ecological peril that caused Angkor to tumble.

Although past environmental problems were associated with deforestation, they also underline the menace the tourism boom is posing to the temples, the researchers say.

"The same types of things which we knew were problems of Angkor are essentially being repeated in our modern day context in the Angkor area — things like unsustainable use of water, massive overdevelopment without any consideration of the long-term effects," Evans said. "There's definitely lessons to be learned from what happened here before."
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RIGHTS-CAMBODIA: Painter to Meet His Jailer at Khmer Rouge Trials

By Marwaan Macan-Markar

BANGKOK, Feb 15 (IPS) - Sometime this year, two men who stood on either side of the genocide unleashed in Cambodia in the 1970s may finally face each other in a special war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh.

For one of them, Vann Nath, it is a moment that he has waited patiently for over almost three decades. He was one of only seven people who came out alive from Tuol Sleng, a high school in the Cambodian capital that was converted into a prison during the Khmer Rouge regime’s brutal grip on power from April 1975 to January 1979. At least 14,000 people who were imprisoned there were not as fortunate. They were all tortured and killed.

The other is Kaing Khek Eav, or ‘Duch’, who was the chief jailer of Tuol Sleng, or S-21, as it was known by the extremist Maoist group. He is currently under custody, along with four other surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge, of the U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal. The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), as the special tribunal is officially called, is expected to hear its first case this year.

’I have been hoping for this tribunal for nearly 30 years. I wanted the Khmer Rouge leaders to face justice for what they did,’’ says Nath, who has carried the torment of his one year in S-21 since he found freedom in January 1979. ‘’I will go and attend the trial of Duch to see if the tribunal will deliver a good verdict.’’

But the 61-year-old, who has a shock of white hair and thick black eyebrows that have whitened at the edges, is prepared to do more. ‘’I am ready to go and testify if the court needs me as a witness,’’ he said in an interview during a recent visit to Bangkok. ‘’I think it is a secret of the court: to invite me or not.’’

Such an appearance will inevitably add to Nath’s legendary status in his country. For not only is he an inmate who witnessed the horrors that unfolded in S-21, but he has made it his mission, since his freedom, to tell the story of his nightmare through paintings that have a raw, immediate and blunt quality. They are frozen moments of agony that have flowed from his memory.

The exhibitions of his paintings since 1980 -- the first in the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum -- have scenes of prisoners being whipped and their fingernails pulled out, of one having his neck sliced by a Khmer Rouge guard, and of a mother being beaten as her baby is grabbed from her hands by a prison guard. His most recent exhibition, which opened in Bangkok this month, has disturbing portraits of prisoners in chains and an emaciated figure of Nath being led away by two prison guards.

They are paintings, moreover, that have come to graphically represent the horror of the Khmer Rouge regime, which was responsible for killing close to 1.7 million people, nearly a quarter of the country’s population at the time. Most of the Cambodian victims, even babies, were either executed or died due to forced labour or starvation. Among them were two of Nath’s sons, who died of starvation while he was imprisoned.

But dredging up such memories for his next canvas brings little relief or creative joy. ‘’When I paint the scenes of prisoners being dragged by the guards, it is still very hard for me,’’ he explained in a flat, controlled tone of voice. ‘’They bring back memories of my time there. It makes me go into the painting and remember the painful moments of that dark period.’’

In fact, a book Nath wrote about his experience in S-21 confirms how close to the truth his images of torment are. During an encounter with ‘’the former butcher of Tuol Sleng,’’ as he described a former prison guard, Nath asks him how accurate the images of the prison were. ‘’No, they are not exaggerated,’’ the guard had said during that early 1996 meeting. ‘’There were scenes more brutal than that.’’

‘’Did you see the picture of the prison guards pulling a baby away from his mother while another guy hit the mother with a stick?’’ Nath writes in his book, ‘A Cambodian Prison Portrait’, of the question he next posed to the now freed Khmer Rouge guard. ‘’What did you and your men do with the babies? Where did you take them?’’

‘’Uh ... we took them out to kill them,’’ the guard replies. ‘’We were ordered to take all of them to be killed.’’

‘’You killed those small babies? Oh God!’’ writes Nath of his pained response. Then, he adds: ‘’My words dried up. His last statement was not a lie. All these years, in the back of my mind, I had always thought that they had spared the children.’’

Yet the ‘Painter of Tuol Sleng’ is the first to admit his work as an artist, which evokes so much pain, is also the reason why he survived the prison. For when Nath, who was born into a poor farming family, was arrested and dragged into S-21, he was singled out for his talent. Till then, he had been a painter of billboards in Battambang, a city in north-west Cambodia some 300 km from Phnom Penh.

He was ordered by the prison’s tormentors to paint the portrait of a man he had little knowledge of -- Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge leader. His first painting, in black and white, was based on a black-and-white photo of the reclusive tyrant. Later, he shifted to a painting in colour.

He knew, then, that he was painting for his survival. There was no provision for error. Some of the other imprisoned painters who had been ordered to do likewise had been executed for their failure.

The final arbiter was Duch, who had said ‘’good’’ and ‘’it’s all right’’ after studying one of Nath’s portrait of Pol Pot.

Yet how good Nath was in the eyes of Tuol Sleng’s chief jailer came to light after the Khmer Rouge was driven from power by the Vietnamese army. In 1980, while working at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Nath was shown a list by a researcher examining the prison’s documents.

It was a list of prisoners that Duch had authorised to be killed on Feb. 16, 1978. On it was Nath’s name. But next to it was an entry written in red ink. ‘’Keep the painter,’’ it is reported to have said.
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Next Stop for Big Oil: Cambodia?

By Susan Postlewaite

As Chevron and partner Mitsui Oil explore offshore, skeptics worry that Cambodia will fall prey to the "oil curse"

In the world of $90-a-barrel oil, oil companies have plenty of incentive to search in unusual places for the fossil fuel. One of the newest energy frontiers is in the clear blue waters off the coast of Cambodia. Here, where fishing sampans sail among scattered, picturesque islands in the Gulf of Thailand, U.S. oil giant Chevron (CVX) has drilled 15 exploratory wells 150 kilometers offshore from the tourist town of Sihanoukville. If all goes according to plan, Chevron will begin extracting oil and gas from these wells by 2011.

Onshore, many Cambodians are watching—some hopefully, others nervously—about what oil might mean for one of the world's poorest nations. Prime Minister Hun Sen has recently called discussion about the oil finds "premature" and "speculative," and will say little about the prospects, which Chevron initially estimated at 400 million barrels. That's not much compared to neighboring Indonesia, with 4.3 billion barrels in reserve, or Malaysia, with 3 billion. But for a poor country like Cambodia, which has precious few energy resources, it's a big deal. Quietly, the premier has been lining up undisclosed partners for a small domestic oil refinery while the Cambodia National Petroleum Authority has begun talking about setting up a national oil company.

How important is oil for Cambodia? The International Monetary Fund produced a "moderate economic scenario" last year that showed revenues to the government from oil could be $174 million when Chevron's production starts in 2011, peaking at $1.7 billion annually after 10 years. For a country with a total national budget of just $1.2 billion, such a windfall could bring such benefits as raises for public teachers now paid $80 a month, rebuilding the education and health systems destroyed during the Khmer Rouge era, or bringing electricity and clean water to the bypassed rural areas that make up almost all of the country. "There are a lot of uncertainties about the amount of oil available," says IMF Resident Director John Nelmes, who explains the $1.7 billion estimate is a conservative one based on total reserves of 500 million barrels.

Overlapping Claims With Thailand
Of course, the size of the estimated oil reserves hardly ranks Cambodia with the big leagues. But the current picture in Cambodia could change. In addition to Chevron's Block A, five other blocks licensed for exploration are so far unexplored. And in an overlapping claims area with Thailand there are huge unexplored oil fields that cover an area as much as all six existing blocks combined. Cambodia and Thailand signed a memorandum of understanding in 2001 to resolve the overlapping claims, but no progress has been made since then and diplomatic ties worsened after Cambodians burned down the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh in 2003. Cambodia's Deputy Prime Minister Sok An says negotiations are expected to resume soon and he's willing to split the claims "on a 50-50 basis."

The question is, how should an undeveloped country like Cambodia proceed in tapping those resources? The possibility that Hun Sen's government might set up a state-owned oil company and a state-owned refinery horrifies some foreign advisors who worry that Cambodia could fall victim to what economists call the oil curse. That's the phenomenon of corruption in developing countries with state-owned companies that control abundant oil reserves. It's too easy for corrupt government officials to skim profits from state-controlled oil companies, says Warwick Browne, a former extractive industries project manager for Oxfam America in Cambodia.

Having a Phnom Penh-controlled oil and gas company would be "a very bad move," says Browne, adding that such state-owned entities "are black holes for corruption." He says a small national oil refinery would probably not be profitable and the government would have to subsidize sales to the population while forgoing the opportunity to earn needed foreign exchange by exporting to neighboring countries.

Other Obstacles
Government officials won't discuss these questions publicly. Chevron, after three years of exploration at a cost of more than $120 million, says in a public statement that the undersea reservoir has a complex design and contains "small dispersed fields, rather than one core field." Translation: It will take more technical expertise and cost more to extract. With partner Mitsui Oil Exploration (Moeco), Chevron is considering a third round of exploratory drilling in 2008 and 2009.

Another complication: a recent dispute between the joint venture and the government over the way Chevron would eventually be taxed on royalties. The two sides are expected to compromise eventually but won't discuss the matter. Even so, production will probably begin by 2011 under terms of Chevron's and Moeco's license with the government. (Chevron officials in Bangkok declined to comment.)

The licensing of the other blocks taking place is raising eyebrows. Browne says the information about the contracts is kept secret in the hands of Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, who signs the concessions, and Te Duong Tara, head of the Cambodia National Petroleum Authority. (Both declined BusinessWeek requests for interviews.) Quietly, the CNPA over the past year has handed out licenses for the five other blocks to three Chinese companies and two international partner groups.

Beefed-Up Security
One block went to a consortium including Singapore Petroleum, Malaysia's Resourceful Petroleum, and Thailand's PTTEP International. Another went to a consortium led by Indonesian company Medco Energi Internasional Tbk with partners Kuwait Energy and Sweden's Lundin Petroleum. The others went to Chinese companies, including Chinese National Offshore Oil (CNOOC) and China Petrotech Holdings.

Meanwhile offshore, the Cambodian Navy recently ordered patrols to ensure security in the Gulf surrounding the oil fields, an area where Cambodia and Thailand have had a border dispute.

Now all eyes are on Chevron. A petroleum consultant who asked to remain anonymous says the other companies are waiting to see; their contracts allow for six years of exploration before production is required. "They're gambling. Very often they sit back and wait and see if there are any hits. The strategy is to wait, watch, and then decide whether to drop out or resell their license," the consultant says.

Calls for Anti-Corruption Laws
The government is growing impatient with all the pessimists. Hun Sen, in a rare and testy public mention of oil, assured 600 people at a Nov. 7 investment conference in Phnom Penh that the country knows how to avoid the oil curse. "Cambodia is on the right path," the Prime Minister said. "I am hopeful Cambodia will be able to benefit from the sector in the near future."

Opposition party leader Sam Rainsy in December urged lawmakers to adopt an anti-corruption law before the oil begins flowing to prevent government "looting of the nation's oil wealth."

Andrew Symon, petroleum researcher with Menas Asia, a research company from Britain, says he's optimistic about the potential: "It's an exciting area and very contentious politically. If there were to be gas this would be very significant for Cambodia," But, he wryly notes, "There's no shortage of voices wanting this to be a curse. It almost makes it seem it should be left in the ground."

Whether Cambodia, with no oil expertise, will be able to, as U.S. Ambassador Joe Mussomeli put it last February, use its oil resources for "tossing off the shackles of the Pol Pot regime" remains to be seen. According to Mussomeli, oil has been a "horrific curse" in many nations, "rendering the population destitute while a small, corrupt elite siphons off revenue that should go to improving the welfare of all the people." He has called for Cambodia to sign onto a "transparent policy framework" that ensures no one misuses the revenues.
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