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Thursday, March 12, 2009

2 bombs found during sewage system restoration work in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, At least 2 heavy bombs were found underground, when the sewage system was recently restored in a crowded area of Preah Sihanouk county of Preah Sihanouk province, said a police officer here on Thursday.

"The bombs should have been dropped from planes during the civil war period (in the 1970s and 1990s)," said Yen Bunnath, senior police officer of Preah Sihanouk province.

"There could be other bombs nearby," he said, adding that mine clearance experts from the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC) had kept them at their place for detonation.

About 256 people were killed or wounded by mines, bombs and unexploded ordnances (UXO) in 2008, according to the CMAC.

From 1992 to 2008, the CMAC had cleared hundreds of square kilometers of mine or UXO fields, and detonated some 2,415,906 pieces of landmines and UXOs nationwide.

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Two French men sentenced over child sex in Asia

STRASBOURG (AFP) — Two French men accused of frequenting child prostitutes in southeast Asia and recording their encounters have been sentenced to the maximum sentence of seven years in prison.

The court in the eastern French town of Colmar on Wednesday also issued fines for Robert Chung, 72, and Jean-Marc Malgarini, 51, of 70,000 and 50,000 euros (90,000 and 64,000 dollars) respectively.

Both were accused of traveling to Cambodia regularly and filming their encounters with girls under 15.

They were prosecuted for having "solicited, accepted or obtained" sexual relations with prostitutes under 15, as well as for importing and possessing child pornography.

Malgarini told the court he regretted his visits to Cambodia and Thailand -- around 30, according to visas found in his passport -- but argued that girls there would "jump" on him.

"You don't realise," he said. "When you go there, you suddenly have five or six girls who jump on you."

Questioned about some 20 films seized as well as dozens of photos on his mobile phone showing the suspects with young girls, Chung claimed to have recorded the encounters for "aesthetic" reasons.

Chung, a former doctor now stripped of his licence, said he was a lover of artistic images.

Malgarini was arrested in 2007 in connection with a probe linked to an Italian paedophile website. Chung was arrested shortly after at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport.

French authorities were able to intervene in the case due to universal jurisdiction for sex tourism allegations, a measure aimed at protecting children.

The two men are also to pay 12,600 euros to children's rights associations.
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UN provides over $6 mln to help Cambodia develop education

PHNOM PENH, The United Nations has granted 6,252,871 U.S. dollars for Cambodia to develop its education sector in 2009, said official news agency the Agence Kampuchea Presse (AKP) on Thursday.

UN channeled the grant through its Children's Funds to the Cambodian Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MoEYS), said AKP.

The grant agreement was signed here on Wednesday by MoEYS Minister Im Sethy and the fund's country representative Richard Bridle.

The grant will focus on capacity building, schooling equity and education quality enhancement, according to AKP. Read more!

Cambodian acid attacks highlighted by new film

A US production company has released a feature film highlighting the issue of acid attacks in Cambodia.

Finding Face features a case involving a heinous acid attack on a young karaoke singer by the wife of a senior Cambodian official in 1999. With many similar attacks going unpunished, the film's producers hope the movie will provide victims some sense of justice.

Presenter: Girish Sawlani
Speaker: Tat Marina, acid attack victim; Patti Duncan, producer, Finding Face; Skye Fitzgerald, producer, Finding Face; Jason Barber, human rights consultant, LICADHO

SAWLANI: Tat Marina was just 16 when she was brutally attacked by the jealous wife of a high level Cambodian government official.

The teenage Karaoke singer had been in a relationship with Cambodia's undersecretary of state Svai Sitha, but didn't realise who he was at that time or the fact that he was married.

When his wife Khoun Sophal learnt of her husband's affair, she was raged with jealousy. And in December 1999, she and an assailant, believed to be her nephew, attacked Marina and poured highly toxic acid on her face outside Phnom Penh's Olympic market.

The attack left her with severe burns to her face and body. Her lips were burnt to raw swollen blisters and had her ears removed by doctors as gangrene set in. While a warrant for Khoun Souphal's arrest was issued soon after, she's never been caught and is still believed to be hiding in Cambodia.

Marina's story's now being revisited in the documentary film Finding Face produced by the US based Spin Film. The film's co-producer Patti Duncan says putting the film together was an enormous challenge, but was driven by the need to raise awareness of acid attacks that have since increased substantially.

DUNCAN: She wanted to raise awareness about the topic of acid attacks, particularly in Cambodia where they have been on the rise. We hope that the film can also provide a vehicle for Marina as she continues to go through her own healing process.

ANONYMOUS VICTIM: They closed my case, they've never contacted me for any investigation or they never investigate anyone, they just close the case immediately, maybe right after the night of the accident, I don't know why they did this.

SAWLANI: Finding Face also explores the plight of other acid attack victims in Cambodia and underscores the fact that many of them will never find justice. Here's Jason Barber, a consultant with Cambodian Human Rights group Licadho.

BARBER: There's no reason to think that every acid attack in Cambodia ends up in the newspapers. So the real number of attacks we have no idea, I think no one has any idea. In '99 to 2004 I think there were 75 attacks reported, with more than 100 victims.

SAWLANI: In this respect the film's other producer Skye Fitzgerald sees Finding Face as a tool for justice for Marina and other victims.

FITZGERALD: The fact that there's never been any justice in any form and likely there'll never be any justice within the judicial system for her, this film is a way for them to seek some small form of justice and at least in the court of public opinion. There's a power and a strength to that that the family has reason to � that in itself is a goal worth achieving.

SAWLANI: In the months, and years following the brutal attack, the perpetrators husband, Svai Sitha had contacted Tat Marina in the United States expressing concern and even offering to take care of her needs. But he warned Marina and her family not to pursue a legal case. And with many of Marina's Cambodian based family members speaking out in the film, their safety is a matter of concern. But Co producer Skye Fitzgerald says any threats against them would incur a backlash.

FITZGERALD: We were very careful to collaborate with and brief a number of organisations including Human Rights Watch, the US embassy in Phnom Penh, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia, local human rights NGOs. We're very careful to brief them over the nature of the family's vulnerability when the film was released, and to create what we like to call a cultural or public accountability so that if someone were so foolish as to make a threat against the family there's be a significant outcry within the international community.

SAWLANI: It's been more than nine years since the attack and Tat Marina has moved on and lives in the United States with her brother and young son. But the main perpetrator, Khoun Sophal remains at large.

While Marina's role in the film gives her with some sense of justice, she remains haunted by the ordeal.

MARINA: I always get nightmares every time, sometimes it's not every time. I've tried to leave my past behind but it's so hard. When strange people come out of nowhere and they saw me the way I look and they look at me what I've done to myself, and that is I come home at night time and always have a nightmare.
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Cambodian garment exports fall 27 per cent

Bangkok - The value of Cambodia's garment exports in January was 27 per cent lower than in the same period last year as demand in the United States and Europe

slumped, national media reported Thursday.

Garment exports were worth about 246 million US dollars in January 2008 but had dropped to about 177 million in the first month of this year, according to figures released by the Ministry of Commerce.

Exports to the United States dropped by about 35 per cent while exports to Europe were down by about 10 per cent.

Garment manufacturing, Cambodia's only significant export industry, has been the hardest hit sector in the developing country's economy during the global financial downturn, with more than 30 factories closing so far this year.

More than 30,000 garment factory workers lost their jobs in the past 12 months, according to a World Bank report released Sunday.
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Cambodian PM: Phnom Penh to have conference center

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia will build a conference hall of international standard in Phnom Penh to host diplomatic events with foreign audiences, national media said on Thursday.

"I will use only 15 months to complete it," Chinese-language daily newspaper the Commercial News quoted Prime Minister Hun Sen as telling a graduation ceremony of the Royal University of Phnom Penh here on Wednesday.

"Before, we relied on hotels for international events, and it is always difficult to find a place, and sometimes we are forced to hold meetings in Siem Reap," he said.

The conference hall would be constructed with government funds next to the new Council of Ministers building, he said, adding that local architects would be tapped to design it.

The decision was prompted by plans for Cambodia to host a series of regional conferences in the coming years, including three regional meetings next year and two ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) summits in 2012, according to the premier. Read more!