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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Thai, Cambodian troops leaving disputed territory

By Sopheng Cheang

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - A monthlong standoff between Thailand and Cambodia appeared to be ending as both sides pulled back their troops Saturday from disputed territory around a temple near their shared border, a Cambodian official said.

The redeployment from the Preah Vihear temple area began Friday evening and was continuing on Saturday, said Hang Soth, director-general of the Preah Vihear National Authority. The authority is the government agency that manages the historical site.

The standoff near the 11th-century shrine began on July 15 after UNESCO, the U.N.'s cultural agency, approved Cambodia's application to have the complex named a World Heritage Site. Both countries have long held claim to the temple, but the World Court awarded it to Cambodia in 1962.

About 800 troops from Cambodia and 400 from Thailand had been in the area.

The Cambodian military refused to answer questions about the pullout and it was not certain when it would be completed.

On Thursday, Cambodian Deputy Defense Minister Gen. Neang Phat said the two countries had agreed to a gradual redeployment of troops from the area ahead of talks Monday between their foreign ministers on territorial disputes.

Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej had backed Cambodia's World Heritage site bid, sparking demonstrations by anti-government protesters who claimed the temple's new status would undermine Thailand's claim to the surrounding area.

The protests left Samak politically vulnerable, and he had to take action to appease his nationalist critics. On July 15, Thailand sent troops to occupy the Keo Sikha Kiri Svara pagoda _ claimed by Cambodia and near Preah Vihear.

Cambodia responded with its own troop deployment. The two sides came close to a shootout on July 17 when Cambodian monks sought to celebrate Buddhist lent in the pagoda.

Troops on both sides raised their weapons, but no shots were fired, and the Cambodians eventually backed down.

The border dispute has not been resolved despite two rounds of talks since last month, with the countries referring to two different maps.

Cambodia uses a French colonial map demarcating the border, which Thailand says favors Cambodia. Thailand relies on a map drawn up later with American technical assistance.
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Pagoda housing throws lifeline to poor students

Written by May Titthara

Phnom Penh pagodas offer free accomodation to poor but talented students from the provinces who otherwise couldn’t afford to complete their degrees

M TEMPORARY residence in one of Phnom Penh's many pagodas remains the best and sometimes the only way for provincial students with limited resources to pursue their dream of a university education.

"I was worried after graduating from high school because I had no relations in Phnom Penh," said Kang Rotha, a second-year information technology student at the University of Sachak Asia.
In a book-lined room filled with hanging monks' robes, the young scholar considered his good fortune to have been given accommodation at a pagoda.

His parents came to the capital to find him housing at one of the capital's temples. They eventually found space at Svay Popey pagoda.

"My family is poor, so without the option of living at the temple I could never achieve my dream of attending university," Kang Rotha said.

He added that life at the pagoda can be strict. The gates close at 11pm, so stragglers could find themselves out on the street for the night.

Despite such restrictions, Kang Rotha is quite happy living with the monks. "It is quiet here and good for studying. The monks always give us good advice," he said.

The pagoda boys

Chea Ly, secretary general of The Khmeng Wat Association, said that some 4,000 students currently live at pagodas in the capital while they complete their university studies. Children in Cambodia's provinces have few opportunities for higher education, and the cost of living in Phnom Penh makes the goal of a university degree a difficult one to achieve.

Even students with family in the capital find that life as a "pagoda boy," as the poor scholars are commonly known, has its advantages.

"I have family in Phnom Penh, but I don't want to live with them because they always disturb my study time," said Veng, who lives at Dam Dek pagoda.

Tip Sao, a monk at Wat Botum, explained the basis by which students are chosen for residence at a pagoda.

"They must come from poor families, mainly in the provinces," Tip Sao said.

"They also must be committed to their studies."

Residents live at the pagodas during their four years of university study, after which they move on to make room for a new crop of needy students.

In addition to their course work, residents must spend one day each month - at the full moon - studying the Pali language, Tip Sao said, adding that about 1,000 students currently live at Wat Botum.

"We have a great concern for students from poor provincial families who have such a strong desire to continue their education," said Tip Sao. "We are happy to help them as best we can."
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Official: Lao flooding not danger for Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, Aug. 16 (Xinhua) -- The current flooding in Laos wouldn't cause any serious danger for Cambodia, although the two neighboring countries share water from the Mekong River, English-Khmer language newspaper the Cambodia Daily Saturday quoted an official as saying.

"The water (here) hasn't risen (to those levels in Laos) and there is nothing to be worried about," said Nhim Vanda, vice president of the National Committee for Disaster Management

He had contacted his equivalent department in Laos for information about rising water levels and then became confident that the problems there wouldn't extend downstream to Cambodia, he said.

Cambodia was well insulated from rising water levels in Laos because of the number of lakes available here for any excess water to drain into, he said.

The Mekong River in Kratie province was around 20 meters high, a normal level for this time of the year and the secondary rivers, lakes and the Tonle Sape River were all at safe levels, he said.

"Even if the water comes strongly, we have a lot of places to store," he added.

The Mekong River Commission Friday reported that the Mekong River hit its highest level in Laos in 100 years, adding that Cambodia would likely suffer from the after-effects as the flood water moved downstream.
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