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Monday, June 23, 2008

Cambodia temporarily closes Preah Vihear temple

BANGKOK, JUNE 23 (TNA) - Cambodian authorities ordered the closure of an historic temple on the Thai-Cambodia border Monday, and deployed an armed military unit for added security at the site to guard the temple under consideration as a World Heritage site in the wake of continuing protest in Thailand over the issue, according to a senior Thai military source.

The source downplayed concerns that the move might affect bilateral relations, saying it was a precautionary measure for security reason to prevent ill-intentioned people cause any disturbances.

The Cambodian authorities made the move in light of continuing protests in Thailand's northeastern province of Si Sa Ket bordering Cambodia demanding the eviction of Cambodian souvenir vendors from the stairway leading to the ancient ruins of the temple and opposing Cambodia's move to apply for registration the temple as a World Heritage site.

The Phnom Penh government will apply for registration of the ancient temple as a World Heritage site during the upcoming UNESCO meeting in Canada between July 2-10 as both Thailand and Cambodia signed a joint communique last Wednesday endorsing the Cambodian application.

Thai Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama was taken to task in the Senate debate Monday for allegedly rushing through the temple deal with Cambodia.

Mr. Noppadon is among seven cabinet ministers in the Samak Sundaravej administration targetted by the opposition Democrat Party in a no-confidence debate scheduled on Tuesday.

He was accused of mishandling the Preah Vihear issue.

The foreign minister himself, however, dismissed the accusation and expressed confidence that he would be able to clarify all questions related to the issue.

Mr. Noppadon also shrugged off criticism that his plan to seek cabinet approval on applying for the reservoir and staircases leading to Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage site was merely an attempt to reduce pressure from many quarters in Thai society, saying the foreign ministry would issue a White Paper to explain its handling of the issue.

Bangkok Senator Rosana Tositrakul said a group of senators would petition the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) on Tuesday opposing Cambodia's registration of Preah Vihear as a World Heritage site. (TNA)

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New Generation of Mine-Clearing Dogs Born in Cambodia

By Rory Byrne

Puppies born recently in Cambodia are the first mine-clearing dogs to be bred and born in Southeast Asia. Most Asian dogs are unsuited for de-mining, so fully trained dogs are imported, mostly from Europe. But that could change if Cambodia's new breeding program succeeds, saving time, money and lives. Rory Byrne has this report for VOA from Kampong Chhnang, Cambodia.

These playful brown and white puppies are being trained for a deadly serious purpose. They will sniff out explosives so they can find hidden land mines and other unexploded bombs.

Cambodia is littered with millions of unexploded bombs and mines left over from three decades of conflict. Experts say between four and six million unexploded land mines lurk in the ground here, and they kill or maim over 400 people a year.

The puppies were bred from a pair of Belgian shepherd dogs imported from Bosnia. The parents were chosen because of their eager-to-please temperaments and good genetic history.

Local dogs are not suitable for clearing mines, or breeding mine-clearing dogs. Uk Rotha is a puppy trainer for the Cambodian Mine Action Center.

Rotha says the parents of these puppies are experienced mine-clearing dogs. Cambodian dogs are not looked after as well as foreign dogs - they normally run wild, so, he says, they are not good for breeding specialized dogs like these.

The puppies are isolated from each other most of the time so they build a strong bond with their human trainers. Heang Sambo has been training mine-detection dogs in Cambodia for 10 years.

Sambo explains that good land mine-clearing dogs must listen closely to their handler. They must have a good relationship with their handler because if they love him they will do what they are asked to do. Plus, he says, they need a sensitive nose which comes from good breeding.

The usual way to clear land mines in Cambodia is with metal detectors. But, says Sambo, this method is slow.

He says the difference between a metal detector and a dog is that the dog only smells explosives while the metal detector picks up the sound of anything metal, including rubbish.

If the puppies become successful de-mining dogs there are plans to expand the Cambodian breeding program as quickly as possible. Ngoun Thy is the senior dog instructor at the Cambodian Mine Action Center.

Thy says that importing trained land mine-clearing dogs is very expensive. One dog costs about $30,000, which is too much for a poor country like Cambodia. And, he says, because there are experienced dog trainers here it makes more sense to organize a local breeding program.

A successful breeding program in Cambodia will mean the country can field more dog teams, faster, and more cheaply, and that means more lives saved.

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