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Monday, May 26, 2008

Cambodia demands return of Preah Vihear artifacts

Phnom Penh - A lobby group comprised of Cambodian business people, archeologists and lawyers Monday called on the Thai government to return artifacts they alleged had been removed from the border temple of Preah Vihear decades earlier. The newly-formed Khmer Civilization Foundation comprises heavy hitting lobbyists including prominent human rights lawyer Sok Sam Oeun, businessman Moeung Son and leading archeologist Vong Sotheara.

"We ask the Thai government to return artifacts ... from the temple," chairman Moeung Son told a press conference in the capital.

"If the Royal Cambodian Government asks for these artifacts back and Cambodia can identify them, under international law, Thailand should give them back," Sok Sam Oeun said.

The call comes when Deputy Prime Minister Sok An was still overseas after UN-brokered talks with Thailand over the temple in Paris, which has proved a deeply sensitive topic between the neighbours.

Cambodia rejected an offer for Thailand to co-manage Preah Vihear and has asked the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to list it as a World Heritage site.

Thailand has disputed the border around the temple but seemed to have resigned itself to the World Heritage listing after the talks.

The temple, known as Prasat Phra Viharn by Thais, is sacred to both sides and was previously occupied by Thailand, but the International Court in The Hague ruled it to be Cambodian in 1962.

The Cambodian government has not yet raised the issue of the return of artifacts publicly.

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Cambodia resumes exports of milled rice

THE Cambodian government said it will resume rice exports after its two-month ban came to an end yesterday.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said that there was no rice shortage in Cambodia and that the ban, imposed on March 26 to ensure a stable supply of the country's staple food, had helped stabilize domestic prices.

Beginning today, rice exports can be resumed for some 1 million tons of milled rice Cambodia has in excess of its needs for domestic consumption, he said.

Cambodia produced a surplus of nearly 1.6 million tons of milled rice from last year's farming season, he said. But he added that exports must not exceed the total amount of surplus until the new harvesting season begins in December.

Hun Sen said more than 500,000 tons had been exported before he imposed the two-month ban.

The export ban primarily stopped rice from flowing to neighboring Thailand and Vietnam. Since the end of the harvest early this year, Cambodian farmers living in provinces bordering the two countries have been selling rice in large quantities across the borders, attracted by high prices.

In Phnom Penh markets over the weekend, a kilogram of low-grade rice was selling for between 1,800 riel (US$0.46) and 2,000 riel, little changed from before when the ban was imposed.

Earlier this year, rice of this quality cost about 1,300 riel a kilogram.

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Single donation for quake relief of China tops $301,000 in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, May 26 (Xinhua) -- The China Hong Kong and Macao Expatriate and Business Association of Cambodia here Monday donated 301,000 U.S. dollars for China's quake relief works, making the largest single donation so far in the kingdom.

"With your contribution, Cambodia's donation campaign for China's quake relief efforts reaches its climax," said Zhang Jinfeng, Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia, while receiving the money in deputy of the Chinese government.

The Chinese compatriots' affection has trickled into a sea of love, she said.

"The nature is cruel, but the people are affectionate," she said, adding that a nation can usually rise and flourish over disasters.

Yum Sui Sang, chairman of the association, told the ambassador that all his members believe in the good leadership of the Chinese government which will take the country to overcome the disaster.

"The 1.3 billion Chinese people become united again due to the disaster. We are just invincible," he added.

Also Monday, the Association of Chinese in Cambodia, which is the largest Chinese Cambodian civilian organization, donated over 200,000 U.S. dollars at the embassy.

Until Monday, the embassy has received around 1.165 million U.S. dollars of donation from the Cambodian government, the Cambodian royal family, Chinese and Chinese Cambodian societies, as well as local Chinese, Chinese Cambodian and Khmer indivi
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No breakfast for children because of aid cuts

KAMPONG SPEU, Cambodia (AP) — At dawn in a ramshackle elementary school in rural Cambodia, the children think of only one thing: their stomachs. They anxiously await the steaming buckets of free rice delivered to their desks.

But by the end of the month, they will no longer get free breakfast from the U.N. World Food Program. About 450,000 Cambodian students will become the latest victims of soaring global food prices.

Five local suppliers have defaulted on contracts to provide rice because they can get a higher price elsewhere, program officials say. Prices of rice have tripled on the global market since December.

Faced with a shortfall of more than 14,000 tons of rice, and with more pressing needs to meet, the World Food Program stopped the free breakfasts in March. The schools' remaining stocks are expected to run out in the coming days.

That will leave students without what was often the best meal they got all day.

"I feel hopeless," said Boeurn Srey Leak, a 15-year-old in sixth grade.

Rich countries have pledged $469 million for food aid to address what is expected to be a $755 million deficit, due to food prices that have risen 76 percent since December. The U.S., already the largest provider of food aid, is expected to contribute almost a third of that money. If Congress approves, the U.S. will contribute $770 million more to be available after Oct. 1.

But the money will not arrive in time to save some food programs from being cut or ended.

"I don't think there is a single program that doesn't have some kind of concerns because they have to scale down," said Susana Rico, an official of the World Food Program which feeds almost 89 million people worldwide, including 58.8 million children. "The majority of countries will suffer some kind of cutbacks in rations or programs in the next three to five months."

The numbers are grim. In Burundi, Kenya and Zambia, hundreds of thousands of people face cuts in food rations after June. In Iraq, 500,000 recipients will likely lose food aid. In Yemen, it's 320,000 households, including children and the sick.

Private aid agencies based in the U.S. also said food price hikes are hurting their projects.

Mercy Corps will likely distribute 20 percent less food to Iraqi refugees in Syria and serve 12 percent fewer Colombian families fleeing violence in the countryside. World Vision may stop helping 1.5 million people — nearly a quarter of the number it serves — because of rising food prices and pledged donations not yet delivered. At least a third are children.

In Cambodia, the free breakfasts that started in 2000 have made children visibly healthier, said Nheng Vorn, the principal of Choumpou Proek School, about 40 miles west of the capital, Phnom Penh.

"They are more focused on lessons, and their reading ability has improved subsequently," he noted.

But principals at many such rural schools don't have the money to replace the breakfast program. Girls in particular will be at risk of dropping out because families need them at home to work in the fields or help raise siblings, said Thomas Keusters, the World Food Program's Cambodia director. Children in Cambodia often start school late and repeat grades a lot, he said.

"It's not uncommon to have a girl in grade five or six who is already 15 or 16 years old," Keusters said. "We are paying them to come to school. I'm very concerned about them because I have no rice."

About six miles away from Choumpou Proek school, the students of Sangkum Seksa school devour hearty portions of rice, peas and sardines in the morning. The school has only 10 rooms, housed in two faded yellow concrete buildings. Some students go barefoot.

"I can only feel pity for them," said the principal, Tan Sak. "I have no solution for them after the current stock is used up."

Before the free breakfasts, many students left school before noon so they could eat lunch at home.

"I had difficulty sitting in the class because my stomach was growling," Rim Channa, a 13-year-old fifth-grader.

Now, once again, all they will have for breakfast is the tart fruit from the nearby tamarind trees.

Associated Press Environmental Writer Michael Casey contributed to this report from Bangkok, Thailand.

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Ex-Thai PM 'plans city in Cambodia'

Thailand's ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra is planning to build a "modern city" in neighbouring Cambodia, replete with a financial district and port, an official said.

The businessman, who owns English football club Manchester City, told Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen of his plans for Koh Kong province, near the Thai border, during a meeting on Friday in the capital Phnom Penh.

"He did not say how much money will be invested, he just told Prime Minister Hun Sen about his plan," Hun Sen's spokesman, Eang Sophalleth, told AFP.

Thaksin, joined by other Thai investors, told Hun Sen the planned city would include a financial centre, hospital, schools and housing, he said.

A port to be used for fixing ships would also be included, he said.

Eang Sophalleth said Hun Sen welcomed the plan, asking Thaksin to work on his project with the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC).

Thaksin was toppled in a military coup in September 2006 and went into self-imposed exile in Britain.

The 58-year-old former Thai premier returned to Bangkok in late February after his allies swept back into power in elections late last year.

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