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Friday, September 26, 2008

Cambodia: King Pardons Half-brother

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA: Prominent Cambodian politician Prince Norodom Ranariddh on Thursday (25 Sept) was granted a pardon for his embezzlement conviction by his half-brother, King Norodom Sihamoni, paving the way for his return from exile.

Ranariddh, who is living in Malaysia, will come home Sunday (28 Sept) to resume his political career, said Suth Dina, a spokesman for the party named after the prince.

The king signed a royal decree pardoning "the convicted person named Norodom Ranariddh, who the court has sentenced to 18 months in prison."

In July, a Supreme Court judge upheld a lower court's ruling from last year that found Ranariddh guilty of breach of trust and sentenced him in absentia to 18 months in prison.

The lawsuit was filed by the prince's former colleagues in the royalist Funcinpec party, which he once led.

The court also ordered him to pay US$150,000 in compensation to the party.

The Funcinpec party, which ousted Ranariddh as president in October 2006, sued the prince on a charge of embezzling some US$3.6 million from the sale of the party's headquarters in August that year.

The prince now leads his own Norodom Ranariddh Party, which won two parliamentary seats in this year's general election two months ago.

His party has said the court ruling was politically motivated. He had been living in exile, mostly in Malaysia, long before the court case was initiated against him.

The prince is "happy" about the pardon, Ouk Phalla, Ranariddh's consort, said by phone from Malaysia. She declined to elaborate.

It was not clear what prompted the pardon. But local media have recently reported about behind-the-scenes maneuvering between Prime Minister Hun Sen's government and the prince's party to end Ranariddh's legal trouble.

The two politicians are known for having an on-again, off-again political relationship. They once served as co-prime ministers until Hun Sen staged a coup to unseat his rival.

When Ranariddh was still the leader of Funcinpec, Hun Sen encouraged the royalist party's followers to get rid of the prince for his weak leadership.

Ranariddh fired back, accusing Hun Sen of poking his nose in his business.

The prince and King Sihamoni are sons of former king Norodom Sihanouk.

In a letter to Sihamoni on Thursday, Ranariddh thanked the king for granting him the royal pardon "following intervention" from Hun Sen.

The prince, in a separate letter, also offered "warm congratulations" to his Hun Sen after the country's parliament endorsed him as the prime minister for another five years. (AP)

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Study: Mental health during pregnancy impacts child in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, Sept. 26 (Xinhua) -- A strong correlation between mental health problems during pregnancy and low birth weight and stunted childhood development has been identified by a study aiming to raise the profile of maternal mental health in Cambodia, national media reported Friday.

The study, conducted by the Trans-cultural Psychosocial Organization (TPO), Volunteer Service Overseas (VSO) and Cambodia Reproductive and Child Health Resource Centre (RACHA), focused on Pursat province and was largely based on interviews with 297 women, according to the Phnom Penh Post.

Among the sample study, symptoms of depression and anxiety were detected in 17.8 percent of pregnant women while 9.8 percent reported symptoms of anxiety only.

The risk factors identified by the study included poverty, unplanned pregnancy, history of abortion, loss of a child, illness or death of a family member, marital conflict and a history of mental health problems.

Currently, maternal mental health is of low priority amongst stakeholders in Cambodia, possibly due to a lack of research and understanding into the potential impact of poor maternal mental health on the general health and well-being of both mother and child, officials said.

Chan Theary, executive director of RACHA, said prioritizing mental health has long been neglected by both government and donor agencies in Cambodia.

"Women's mental health remains low on the agenda of planners and policymakers not only in Cambodia but generally in the developing world. This is an emerging public health challenge," she said, adding that depression will be the second most common global disease by 2020.

Professor Ka Sunbaunat, psychiatrist and director of National Program for Mental Health, said mental health problems in pregnant mothers have profound effects on the health of the unborn child.

"Mental health problems in mothers can cause children to have retardation, epilepsy or physical underdevelopment. Some of these problems are incurable," he said.
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Cambodia eyes nuclear plant for electricity


PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Impoverished Cambodia hopes to build a nuclear power plant to meet its future energy needs and help offset its dependence on imported oil, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced Friday during the first meeting of his new Cabinet.

In outlining his new government's vision, he said one of its priorities will be to expand electrical generation to power its small but growing economy. Increased housing and factory construction will generate more demand for electricity, he said.

Hun Sen offered no hint when Cambodia would actually have its first nuclear power plant, saying it is still "a long distance away for us, but this is our goal."

Building hydroelectricity and coal power plants will be the immediate priority for expanding electricity generation and reducing reliance on imported oil, Hun Sen said.

The government has identified 14 potential sites for hydropower plants and has granted contracts to Chinese companies to build several of them.

Electricity costs in Cambodia are among the highest in the world, and only about 15 percent of the country's 14 million people are connected to the power grid, according to the World Bank.
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