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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Vietnamese worldwide celebrate President Ho Chi Minh birthday

VietNamNet Bridge - The Vietnamese communities in France, Russia and Cambodia on May 16 held celebrations of President Ho Chi Minh’s 118th birth anniversary, which falls on May 19.

In Paris, the Vietnamese embassy staff paid a floral respect to the nation’s first President at Compoint alley where President Ho lived in 1920s.

The celebrations continued with a memorial ceremony at the Montreau Park, Montreuil city, 15 kilometres off Paris, where Ambassador Le Kinh Tai was joined with the municipal Honourable Mayor and Congressman Jean-Pierre Brad and deputy mayor Patrick Petitjean. They laid a floral wreath at the Monument dedicated to President Ho in the presence of representatives from local authorities and people.

The two French dignitaries said it is an honour for their city to hold the Vietnamese people’s beloved Uncle Ho statue.

President Ho Chi Minh is a brilliant man of history and the father of the heroic Vietnamese people in the struggle against colonialists and turning Vietnam into an independent and sovereign nation, they said.

They also expressed satisfaction at the recent fine development of the traditional friendship and cooperation between the two nations.

In Moscow, Russia, the Vietnam Literature and Art Association in Russia joined the Vietnamese embassy and Vecsa Company to hold a poem night under the theme “Ho Chi Minh - the most beautiful name.”

In Phnom Penh, the Vietnamese-Cambodian Association in the Cambodian capital city held a ceremony for the same purpose, where they launched a movement to follow President Ho’s example among the Vietnamese community.

(Source: VNA)
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Don't make preah vihear a political football

Competing claims to area around temple must not devolve into nationalistic one-upmanship

Funny things happen during election time and Cambodia is no exception in this regard. Vietnam used to be on the receiving end of vitriol from Cambodian politicians (those on the royalist side of the house) looking to score quick political points. But with overlapping claims to Preah Vihear Temple currently the centre of attention, there is a growing concern that Thailand will replace Vietnam as the preferred target for verbal attacks.

The two countries took their dispute over the temple to the International Court of Justice in 1962. Thailand lost as the court ruled that the Hindu temple of Preah Vihear belonged to Cambodia. Thailand accepted the ruling with a heavy heart. But the point of contention that has yet to be resolved concerns the 4.6 square-kilometre area around the temple.

Cambodia last year put the Preah Vihear Temple forward as a potential Unesco world heritage site. The UN body will decide on its status in July, which is about the same time that Cambodians will go to the polls. What has been eating Thailand about the proposal is that it includes the 4.6 square-kilometre area around the temple.

Both sides comfort themselves by saying that Unesco's acceptance has no bearing on national sovereignty. But in reality, Thai policy-makers, especially the military, which oversees the disputed areas, think an unwanted precedent would be set if Unesco accepts the proposed boundaries.

In political terms, it would be another feather in Cambodia's cap in its effort to claim the entire disputed area.

Given the fact this is an election year in Cambodia, it would be damaging for any politician to back away from this. They can't be seen as giving in to Thailand or anybody else for that matter.
Moreover, the fact that Thailand is experiencing political turmoil doesn't help.

But regardless of the political atmosphere in the two countries, this dispute between Thailand and Cambodia is still an important issue. After all it's about national sovereignty, a human-invented notion that boxes citizens inside political borders. Modern nation states demand loyalty from their citizens and unquestioning respect for these man-made political boundaries.

Problems surface when these boundaries overlap with those of neighbouring countries. Nations have gone to war and friends have turned into foes because of it.

Fortunately for Thailand and Cambodia, there is no lingering mistrust between the two countries, so there should be plenty of political will from both sides. But what is needed is a demonstration of sincerity from both sides to address this dispute in the spirit of friendship.

At the moment, all kinds of proposals are being floated, but so far Phnom Penh has yet to show any sign that it favours one over another - if it is even interested at all. Any sign of willingness could be translated as the country softening its sovereign claim to the disputed 4.6 square kilometres. Both countries could, for a start, begin to look for ways to demilitarise the areas, as this would send a positive signal to all sides that the two countries are sincere in looking for a peaceful solution to the problem.

Moreover, the two sides need to shelve nationalism for now and put the interests of the Hindu temple first. After all, this was an important historical site for local people centuries before there was such a thing as the International Court of Justice, or Thailand and Cambodia for that matter.
There are a lot of hang-ups from many Thais who still remember the day when the International Court of Justice ruled in favour of Cambodia. It doesn't help anybody if we are still clinging to the bitter past.

Most importantly, we need to de-link Preah Vihear from politics on both sides. Unless this is done, there will be no peace for the temple.
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Thailand, Cambodia to discuss disputed temple's World Heritage status in Paris

BANGKOK, May 18 (Xinhua) -- Thai Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama said Sunday he would travel to France on May 22-23 to meet with Cambodian and UNESCO officials to discuss the Cambodian government's plan to register the ancient Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage site.

Noppadon said he had met Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An recently and discussed the plan, with the Cambodian official becoming more flexible and wanting to settle the dispute with Thailand amicably, according to state media Thai News Agency.

He emphasized that both countries would receive equal benefits and that the Thai government would not give away overlapping areas claimed by both countries.

Thailand has said it welcomed the Cambodian government's move to register the historic Phreah Vihear temple complex as a UNESCO World Heritage site, but also said the Phnom Penh government must settle a disputed 4.6 square kilometer area surrounding the temple, so that both countries could jointly manage the area.

UNESCO's stance is that the two neighbors must first settle their differences before the registration of the heritage site can take effect.

The issue regarding the ownership of the historic site, dated back to the 9th century, has been long disputed between the two neighbor countries. Previous rulings by the International Court of Justice, commonly known as the World Court, in Hague have recognized the temple as belonging to Cambodia.

It is widely understood by both sides that the Preah Vihear temple building itself stands atop a cliff inside the Cambodian territory, but the only convenient access to the temple lies on the side of Thailand in Kantharalak district of the northeastern Thai province of Si Sa Ket.
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Habitat for Humanity's Annual 'Carter Work Project' Headed to Mekong in 2009

Habitat for Humanity International's 26th annual "Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project" will be held in the Mekong River region in November 2009. The Carters will join thousands of volunteers in building houses and bringing attention to the need for decent and affordable housing to countries along the Mekong River. The event will also launch a five-year Habitat for Humanity campaign to assist families across the region.

The Mekong region - defined to include Vietnam, the Yunnan Province in China, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia - has seen significant economic growth in the past 20 years. Yet it is still home to some of the poorest families in Asia. Nearly one third of the population (80 million out of 250 million) live in poverty, many living on less than a dollar per day.

"Rosalynn and I are pleased to travel to the Mekong region to join volunteers from around the world in 2009," said President Carter. "Together during the week, we will help hundreds of families into decent housing and bring attention to an area where many people live in deplorable poverty."

The week-long building project will secure homes in partnership with an estimated 300 families. It also will begin a five-year Habitat for Humanity initiative to assist 50,000 families across the five countries by engaging corporations, individuals and partner organizations in the fight to end poverty housing.

"The need for affordable housing is immense in the Mekong region," said Jonathan Reckford, CEO of Habitat for Humanity International. "We look forward to bringing worldwide attention to this issue through the Carter Work Project and to working alongside these 300 families and assisting thousands more throughout the five-year campaign to improve lives through homeownership."

Plans for the event include builds in northern Thailand, where Habitat for Humanity Thailand runs a successful program working with tribal families; in rural communities in Yunnan, southwestern China; in southern Laos; in slum areas of the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, and in communities along the Mekong delta in southern Vietnam.

"Habitat for Humanity has a strong and growing presence in all the Mekong countries through a wide range of housing solutions," said Richard Hathaway, vice president for Habitat for Humanity International's Asia/Pacific region. "This project will provide a significant boost to those programs to serve even more families in need of decent shelter."

The 2009 Carter Work Project will mark the fourth time the former U.S. president and his wife have built with Habitat for Humanity in Asia. Previous Carter Work Projects were held in India in 2006, in South Korea in 2001 and in The Philippines in 1999.

This year, the event was held in the U.S. Gulf Coast to help with the ongoing recovery efforts after 2005's hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Habitat's annual project also was renamed the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project to recognize the former first lady's years of dedicated service.

Habitat for Humanity International is an ecumenical Christian ministry that welcomes to its work all people dedicated to the cause of eliminating poverty housing. Since its founding in 1976, Habitat has built more than 250,000 houses worldwide, providing simple, decent and affordable shelter for more than 1 million people.

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Cambodian village gets mosque

TRAMOUNG CHRUM, Cambodia — When residents of this poor Cambodian village need something built, they call on the Lightmans.

The Jewish-American family's latest gift: a mosque.

"We never had such a beautiful mosque in our village," said 81-year-old Leb Sen, a toothless village elder with a wrinkled face. "The young people said to me that I am very lucky to live long enough to see one now."

Flashing a broad grin, Leb Sen brought his palms together and bowed repeatedly in gratitude toward his American donors — Alan Lightman, his wife, Jean Greenblatt Lightman, and their daughter, Elyse.

Alan Lightman, a 59-year-old humanities professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said building the mosque was not part of his family's original plan to improve education in the village, about 44 miles northwest of the capital, Phnom Penh.

"It's too much to comprehend. We never imagined that we would build a mosque in a remote village in Cambodia," said Lightman, author of the best-selling novel "Einstein's Dreams."

"It was so strange for us to be there ... halfway across the planet, and it's a religion that's far from our religion," he said.

The Lightmans first learned about the village in 2003, when a friend introduced them to various rural education projects. Two years later, the Harpswell Foundation, an organization founded by Lightman to help children and young women in developing countries, built a four-room concrete school, the village's first.

Some of the 600 villagers came to Lightman in 2006 asking him to fund a new health center, a popular choice among the women, and a mosque, which the men favored. He told the villagers they would have to choose one. In the male-dominated community, it was a mosque.

"The men have won again, but the mosque is also very important for preserving our culture and tradition," said 50-year-old Sit Khong, one of the five women in the village who were part of a committee to pick the project. "We will never find enough money to build it ourselves anyway."

The mosque, with the gold-colored inscription "Funded by Loving Gift of Lightman Family" above the front door, opened May 9. It can accommodate about 200 people and replaces a tiny building on wood stilts that held only 30 worshippers.

The villagers follow Imam-San, a small Islamic sect that incorporates Buddhism, Hinduism and animism. The Imam-San makes up about 3 percent of Cambodia's 700,000 Muslims, who themselves represent only 5 percent of Cambodia's 14 million people, according the U.S. State Department annual report on religious freedom.

Besides mixing in elements of other religions, Imam-San followers pray only once a week, not the traditional five times a day. "In the view of the real teaching of Islam, they are not pure," said Tin Faizine, a 24-year-old Muslim student who was interpreting for the Lightmans.

Elyse Lightman, who is writing a book about Imam-San culture and traditions, said she was happy to help a community that is not fully embraced by either mainstream Muslims or Buddhists, Cambodia's majority religious group.

"You can see why Muslims don't consider them to be their own," she said. "And then Buddhists say, 'Well, you pray to Allah.' So, they're caught in the middle."

She noted that the Imam-San, like the Jews, have faced persecution over the centuries, most recently when the Khmer Rouge seized power in Cambodia from 1975-79 and abolished all religion.

"I think there is part of me that felt some sort of kinship in this," she said.

About 500 followers of Imam-San from around the country came to this village of wooden houses and mango trees to celebrate the opening of the new mosque.

Sem Ahmad, 57, said he wanted the Lightman family to help build a mosque in his village in Battambang province in northwestern Cambodia.

"It is beautiful. I'd love to have the same mosque because we do not have one like this in our village," he said.

But Lightman said this would be his "first and last" mosque, because "I don't think I have the resources or the time to build more mosques."

The mosque was built with $20,000 from his family's savings, not the foundation's funds, he said.

In the future, he plans to focus on education for underprivileged Cambodians, which is his foundation's main goal.
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Events to aid children in Cambodia; Yoga teacher hopes to raise $30,000

In the early part of the decade, Kingston yoga teacher Amanda Daniels spent close to two years touring Cambodia. She returned home profoundly affected by the poverty and suffering she had witnessed.

Daniels recently pledged to raise $30,000 by December for the Cambodian Children's Fund, a registered charity that provides poor and abused children with health care, education, food and job training.

On Monday, Daniels is holding the first of a series of events to kick-start her campaign. A "full moon Yoga for Cambodia" celebration will take place from 7 to 9:30 p.m. at the Feel Yoga Studio, 80 Princess St. Suggested donation is $10 or more.

On Friday, the Spencer Evans Trio, along with Chris Brown, will perform at the Grad Club on Barrie Street in support of Daniels' campaign. Tickets cost $10 in advance or $12 at the door. Music begins at 9:30 p.m.

Daniels said in a release that her goal is to support the children's fund and urge all Kingstonians "to remember our fundamental interdependence and to act from this awareness," and to foster world citizenship by connecting Kingston with Cambodia.

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