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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Vietnam, Cambodia agree to accelerate border marker planting

Speed up land grabe and encrouchment by Yuon Ha Noi, land and sea in thousand squar kilometres are shrinking deep into Cambodia territories.

VietNamNet Bridge – The eighth session of the Vietnam-Cambodia joint technical subcommittee for land border demarcation and marker planting was held in Phnom Penh from Feb. 23-25.

The Vietnamese delegation was headed by Nguyen Hong Thao, Deputy Head of the Foreign Ministry’s National Border Committee and member of the Vietnam-Cambodia joint border committee, whilst the Cambodian delegation was led by Long Visalo, Secretary of State of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and Head of the Joint Technical Committee for Land Border Demarcation and Marker Planting.

Based on the results of the border demarcation and marker planting activities undertaken by Vietnam and Cambodia as well as the current situation in each country, the two sides agreed to propose adjustments to the master plan governing the matter for the 2009-2012 period.

They also discussed preparations for the third session of the Vietnam-Cambodia Joint Committee for Border Demarcation and Marker Planting.
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Ecstasy threatens rainforests in Cambodia

Authorities, working with conservationists, have raided and closed several 'ecstasy oil' distilleries in Cambodia's Cardamom Mountains. The distilleries posed a threat to the region's rich biological diversity, reports Fauna & Flora International (FFI), the conservation group involved in the operation.

"The factories had been set up to distill 'sassafras oil'; produced by boiling the roots and the trunk of the exceptionally rare Mreah Prew Phnom trees and exported to neighbouring countries," said FFI. "The oil is used in the production of cosmetics, but can also be used as a precursor chemical in the altogether more sinister process of producing MDMA – more commonly known as ecstasy. The distillation process not only threatens Mreah Prew Phnom trees, but damages the surrounding forest ecosystem. Producing sassafras oil is illegal in Cambodia."

The raids followed a month-long investigation by FFI and the Ministry of Environment which turned up several newly built sassafras factories run by Vietnamese syndicates in Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary. The sassafras oil is usually smuggled to Thailand or Vietnam.

"The re-emergence of the sassafras factories in Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary is of enormous concern to us," Tim Wood, FFI Field Coordinator at Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary, said. "Not only are we faced with the prospect that the oil may be used for producing illicit drugs, but the factories have a very destructive impact on the fragile habitats and ecosystems in the sanctuary.

"These factories are located close to streams and by-products from the distillation process causes significant pollution of the environment. In addition, the distillation process itself uses enormous quantities of fuel wood from other rainforest trees. Finally, the factory workers typically engage in poaching wildlife from the surrounding forests to supplement their basic diets. Thankfully, on this occasion we were able to locate and destroy the factories before they were in full production mode."
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CAMBODIA: Cursed by oil and poverty

PHNOM PENH, Having allegedly exhausted Cambodia's timber resources to fund its 1990s civil war, business and military elites are plundering mining resources while failing to uphold international human rights and transparency standards, a new report warns.

The long-term effects could fuel corruption and contribute to a "resource curse", whereby a tiny elite soaks up the profits instead of using oil and mining revenues to alleviate poverty, London-based Global Witness states in Country for Sale.

Cambodia is Southeast Asia’s second-poorest country after East Timor, with 35 percent of its population living on less than US$1 a day, according to government statistics.

Revenues from the 2005 oil find, which could total more than $1.5 billion annually, according to some estimates, should be directed to achieving its 2015 Millennium Development Goals, say critics.

"I see the rise of Cambodia's mining and oil sectors as just one part of the wholesale diversification of natural resource and state asset exploitation in Cambodia," Eleanor Nichols, a campaigner for Global Witness, told IRIN.

"Historically, the revenue generated by their misappropriation has reinforced the position and impunity of elites, further strengthening their hold on the levers of power," she said.

Global Witness has had a rocky relationship with the government, having closed its office in Phnom Penh in 2005 after threats over a report implicating top officials of illegal logging.

The Nobel-prize nominated group first monitored the country's forestry resources in the 1990s when international donors urged logging reform.

Greater transparency demanded

The group, with several other NGOs, continues to urge international donors to demand more transparency in Cambodia’s young oil and mining sectors as a condition for aid.

Cambodia receives about $600 million aid every year. In 2009, the national budget is $1.77 billion, with donors pledging around $1 billion.

"It is fair to say that the revenue generated would be significant for a country which still relies on donor countries to provide the equivalent of over 50 percent of the annual government budget in development aid," Nichols said.

Secretive mining contracts, mostly in the country's remote northern provinces, allegedly require the forced, mass evictions of rural poor and indigenous people.

"On some sites, land has been taken from local people and cases of intimidation of residents are reported," Global Witness stated. "There has been no free, prior and informed consent by the local population in any of these cases."

The Cambodian embassy in London issued an angry response to the report, denying the accusations.

"The Global Witness report was fairly underhanded and failed to recognise the tireless work and vision of some in government," Michael McWalter, the Asian Development Bank's oil and gas adviser to the government, told IRIN in an e-mail.

Oil worries

The International Monetary Fund estimated the find off the southwest coast at two billion barrels, though energy giant Chevron has been tight-lipped about numbers.

Cambodia could follow the patterns of Nigeria, Venezuela and Iraq, where mismanagement and secrecy surrounding oil contracts plunged the countries into further poverty, said Ou Virak, an economist and head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.

"There's every indication Cambodia is heading towards Nigeria. We fit very well of a profile of countries facing a resource curse," he told IRIN. "The fact that all key institutions with money are headed by only a few people indicates there is no intention of having a system in place for transparency and accountability."

Donors last year asked the government to consider joining the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) a global coalition of governments, companies and civil society groups that requires full disclosure of oil, gas and mineral revenues.

The government originally considered signing on to EITI, but reportedly said in October it would not endorse the initiative.

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) hosted a conference last March to address how the government should manage oil and gas revenues to alleviate poverty.

At the conference, delegates from the Cambodian National Petroleum Authority, Supreme National Economic Council, and Norwegian Petroleum Directorate discussed the possibility of establishing an independent fund to manage revenues transparently, a model that has worked in Norway.
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"Super" malaria threat on Thai-Cambodia border

LONDON, The fight against malaria could be undermined by the emergence on the Thai-Cambodian border of strains that are resistant to the most potent type of drug, the World Health Organisation said on Wednesday.

Artemisinin, a compound extracted from a Chinese herb, is regarded by medical experts as the best drug against malaria and is recommended for use in combination with other medicines to stop the development of resistance.

But the WHO said there was growing evidence that parasites resistant to artemisinin had emerged along the border between Cambodia and Thailand, where workers walk for miles every day to clear forests.

The risk is similar to the development of so-called "superbugs" that are resistant to antibiotics.

"If we do not put a stop to the drug-resistant malaria situation that has been documented in the Thai-Cambodia border, it could spread rapidly to neighbouring countries and threaten our efforts to control this deadly disease," Hiroki Nakatani, WHO assistant director-general, said in a statement.

The WHO plans to try and contain the spread of resistance with the help of a $22.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The prevalence of malaria has been reduced considerably over the past 50 years, but the disease still kills more than a million people every year.

Resistance along the Thai-Cambodia border started with chloroquine, followed by resistance to sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine and mefloquine, drugs used in malaria control several years ago.

The risk of resistance to any drug increases when it is used on its own, which is why the WHO recommends the routine use of artemisinin combination therapies, such as Novartis AG's (NOVN.VX) Coartem. (Reporting by Ben Hirschler, editing by Will Waterman)
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In Sihanouk's words: the Cambodian monarch's private archives

This file picture taken on Feb. 24, 1995 shows King Norodom Sihanouk praying during a Buddhist ceremony at Wat Mony Prasittivong outside Phnom Penh (AFP photo / files)

PARIS, Feb 25, 2009 (AFP) - In meticulously labelled boxes piled on shelves in an old Paris building lies the hidden story of Cambodia's King Norodom Sihanouk, his personal chronicle of 30 years of Khmer suffering and death.

After abdicating in 2004, the self-proclaimed "king-father" of the country, now aged 87, handed France his personal archives last January for safe-keeping at the National Archive.

"Rarely does a foreign head of state give archives to another country," said Olivier de Bernon, head researcher at the Far-East French Institute (EFEO) and the first to browse the "historically significant" papers.

"The archives were never in Cambodia, but came directly from Sihanouk's home in Beijing," said de Bernon.

It took him two years, with the help of two researchers and an archivist, to sift through the king's 10,000 photographs and one million documents. An inventory of the "Sihanouk Fund" is to be published this year.

Destroyed by later regimes, no personal records remain of Sihanouk's first reign, coronation or childhood. The Paris archives cover the later agitated times that followed Lon Nol's pro-American coup which overthrew Sihanouk on March 18, 1970.

Among the gems are a photograph of Sihanouk's resignation speech as head of state of the Khmer Rouge regime on April 2, 1976 and pictures of North Korea, where he was invited by the country's founder, the late Kim Il-Sung.

Head of state turned political prisoner, Sihanouk spent 1976-79 under house arrest in his Phnom Pen palace with Queen Monique.

A one-time sympathiser of the extremist Cambodian communist movement nicknamed "the red prince" during the Vietnam War, it was the king himself who came up with the name "Khmer Rouge" in 1960.

But de Bernon said Sihanouk was never a supporter of the extremists, with five of his children and 14 grandchildren killed under the murderous Khmer Rouge regime, which left a total of two million Cambodians dead.

"The king was in Beijing from April to September 1975 and was only in power for a year under the Khmer Rouge before resigning. It was only in 1977, like many others, that he understood how the regime operated, and in fact high-ranking Chinese officials had to intervene to ensure he wasn't killed," said de Bernon.

Letters signed Zhou Enlai, Malraux, Arafat, Mandela or Reagan are among Sihanouk's letters.

One from actress Jane Fonda congratulates him for the Khmer Rouge victory and offers to take up their cause in the US.

"Sihanouk has a literary style that shines through in his letters, speeches and thousands of drafts," said de Bernon.

A workaholic with a wide variety of interests, Sihanouk wrote poems, songs and even recipes, and played the saxophone and piano. He could sing in a dozen languages, sometimes for four or five hours at a time, and shot dozens of films glorifying Cambodia.
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