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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Cambodia praised for sand ban

PHNOM PENH - AN ENVIRONMENTAL watchdog group praised Cambodia on Wednesday for banning the export of sand, the dredging of which the group says degrades coastlines and depletes fish populations.

The London-based group Global Witness said it was pleased that Prime Minister Hun Sen's government responded to its concerns over the potentially devastating impacts of sand dredging.

Hun Sen announced a partial ban on the practice and a total ban on exports on May 8.

Most sand exports have gone to Singapore, which has an ambitious land reclamation project, the group said.

Indonesia had been Singapore's main supplier of sand until January 2007, when the government in Jakarta banned its export.

The group - which has been critical of the country's attitude toward the exploitation of natural resources - said the ban was a positive first step.

In a report issued three months ago, Global Witness said that 'a huge sand dredging operation' began in Cambodia's Koh Kong province last year.

The group estimated the activity to be worth at least US$8.6 million per year in Cambodia. -- AP

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Cambodia actively preparing to deal with A/H1N1 flu

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia is actively preparing to prevent and deal with the possibly appearance of influenza A/H1N1, Health Minister Mam Bun Heng said on Wednesday.

"It is the require of Prime Minister Hun Sen," Mam stressed when he inspected the Calmette Hospital on Wednesday afternoon which was preparing for isolation wards and other facilities to accept the possible influenza virus infected patients. Mam also inspected the Phnom Penh International Airport to check out the use of temperature detectors and other relevant prevention and control measures.

Mam said that the Cambodian government has attached great importance to the prevention of the disease since the confirmation of the first influenza A/H1N1 in Mexico, adding that Prime Minister Hun Sen, on many occasions, also reminded the relevant government departments to remain on full alert in dealing with the disease.

Fifty sets of medical protective clothing, special-purpose vehicles, and related drugs have been ready in Phnom Penh and the tourism city of Siem Reap, Mam added.

Cambodia installed thermal scanners at its international airports and tightened supervision at its checkpoints with neighboring countries, while the Ministry of Health used the existing equipment and system nationwide for combating bird flu to monitor the A/H1N1 flu.

Thirty countries have reported 5,251 cases of influenza A/H1N1 as of May 12 and sixty-one deaths have been confirmed worldwide, according to WHO's website.

Last week health ministers from the ASEAN and their counterparts from China, Japan, and South Korea met in Bangkok pledging to cooperate in the face of the threat from the virus and to boost stockpiles of antiviral.

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Torture Survivors in Cambodia to Testify at Khmer Rouge Trial


PHNOM PENH — Looking across the courtroom where he is on trial for crimes against humanity, the chief Khmer Rouge torturer cannot avoid seeing an artist and mechanic who sit together side by side, watching him but mostly avoiding his gaze.

One short and forceful, his feet dangling just above the floor, the other melancholy and drooping a bit, the men are rare survivors of the torture house he commanded, Tuol Sleng, where at least 14,000 people were sent to their deaths three decades ago.

In the weeks ahead, the two survivors will take the stand to testify against their torturer, Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, and both have terrible stories to tell about a place of horror from which almost no one emerged alive.

Bou Meng, 68, the short one, survived because he was a painter and was singled out from a row of shackled prisoners to produce portraits of the Khmer Rouge chief, Pol Pot.

The other, Chum Mey, 78, was a mechanic and was spared because the torturers needed him to repair machines including the typewriters used to record the confessions — very often false — that they extracted from prisoners like himself.

Mr. Bou Meng and Mr. Chum Mey are living exhibits from the Khmer Rouge years — tangible evidence like the skulls that have been preserved at some former killing fields, or like hundreds of portraits of their fellow prisoners that are displayed on the walls of Tuol Sleng.

The photographs were taken at the moment detainees were delivered to the prison, before they were stripped and fettered and tortured and sent to a killing field.

Those killed at Tuol Sleng are among 1.7 million people who died during the Communist Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1979 from starvation, disease and overwork as well as from torture and execution.

Duch, now 66, is the first of five arrested Khmer Rouge figures to go on trial in the U.N.-backed tribunal.

He is accused of ordering the beatings, whippings, electric shocks and removal of toenails that Mr. Bou Meng and Mr. Chum Mey describe — indeed he has admitted in the courtroom to ordering the beating of Mr. Chum Mey.

Both men endured torture that continued for days, and Mr. Chum Mey said, “At that time I wished I could die rather than survive.”

But both men did survive, and today they are describing scenes that none of their fellow prisoners lived to recount.

“Every night I looked out at the moon,” Mr. Bou Meng recalled. “I heard people crying and sighing around the building. I heard people calling out, ‘Mother help me, mother help me!”’

It was at night that prisoners were trucked out to a killing field, and every night, he said, he feared that his moment had come. “But by midnight or 1 a.m. I realized that I would live another day.”

Though many Cambodians have tried to bury their traumatic memories, Mr. Bou Meng and Mr. Chum Mey have continued to return to the scene of their imprisonment and torture, as if their souls remain trapped there together with the souls of the dead.

During the first few years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, Mr. Bou Meng returned to work in an office at Tuol Sleng, which was converted into a museum of genocide. Now he uses it as a convenient rest stop, spending the night there on a cot when he visits the capital, Phnom Penh, from the countryside, where he paints Buddhist murals in temples.

Mr. Chum Mey, retired now from his work as a mechanic, spends much of his time wandering among the portraits, telling and retelling his story to tourists and their guides, as if one of the victims on the walls had come to life.

An eager and passionate storyteller, he will show a visitor how he was shoved, blindfolded, up the stairs during 12 days of torture, and he will drop to the floor inside a small brick cubicle where he was held in chains.

“As you can see, this was my condition,” he said recently as he sat on the hard concrete floor holding up a metal ammunition box that was used as a toilet. “It upsets me to see Duch sitting in the courtroom talking with his lawyers as if he were a guest of the court.”

Apart from their survival, both men’s stories are similar to those of many Tuol Sleng prisoners — country people who joined the Communist revolution during the Indochina war to liberate their nation from what they saw as foreign domination.

They were swept up in Khmer Rouge purges, like many others in Tuol Sleng, and they were tortured until they admitted being members of the C.I.A. or K.G.B., organizations they had barely heard of.

Both men lost their wives and children in the Khmer Rouge years, and although both have rebuilt their families, the past still holds them in its grip.

Mr. Bou Meng does not wander like his friend among the Tuol Sleng pictures, but he does keep one in his wallet — a snapshot-sized reproduction of the portrait of his wife, Ma Yoeun, who was arrested together with him but did not survive.

The picture shows a small woman, dressed in black like the others, looking forlorn and lost, her hair tousled — a record of the last time her husband saw her alive.

“Sometimes when I sit at home I look at the picture and everything seems fresh,” he said. “I think of the suffering she endured, and I wonder how long she stayed alive.”

The photograph reminds him of those most terrible moments of his life, but also of the happiest.

“We were still young, a boy and a girl together,” he said. “It’s my best memory. It was the day of our honeymoon. We slept together. It was a perfect day.”

Mr. Bou Meng has since remarried twice, but he remains shackled to his memories.

“I know I should forget her,” he said, “but I can’t.”

She visits him, he said, in visions that are something more than dreams, looking just as she did at that final moment — still 28 years old, leaving Mr. Bou Meng to live on and grow old without her.
Sometimes she appears together with the spirits of others who were killed, he said. They stand together, a crowd of ghosts in black, and she tells him, “Only you, Bou Meng, can find justice for us.”

Mr. Bou Meng said he hoped that the trial would cauterize his wounds, that testifying against Duch and seeing him convicted would free him from the restless ghosts and let him live what is left of his life in peace.

“I don’t want to be a victim,” Mr. Bou Meng said. “I want to be like everybody else, a normal person.”

But he said he knows that this may be asking too much of life.

“Maybe not completely normal,” he said. “But at least 50 percent.”
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Vietnam, Cambodia & the riches of the Mekong

( CHATSWORTH, CA - The wonders of south east Asia hold a unique allure for travelers, and now, AMAWATERWAYS has combined the region’s most fabled sights into one spectacular new program. “Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Riches of the Mekong” launches in September 2009; an exclusive 15-day itinerary highlighting the region’s historical and cultural riches, ancient ways of life, and traditions. Of course, passengers can rely upon the same award-winning philosophy, service, and attention to detail that has made AMAWATERWAYS the premier river cruise operator in Europe.

A glossy new brochure, “Vietnam, Cambodia and the Riches of the Mekong 2009-2011” sets forth sailing dates, prices, and other details, and is available now. The brochure sets forth complete itineraries for the 15-day program, as well as an optional 8-day Central Vietnam pre-extension and an optional 4-day Hong Kong post-extension.

Program Highlights:

- 2 nights in Vietnam’s bustling capital of Hanoi, famous for its graceful colonial architecture, verdant parks, tranquil lakes, and ancient temples

- An overnight cruise onboard a luxurious traditional junk in Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its spectacular limestone cliffs

- 3 nights in Siem Reap,Cambodia, gateway to the Angkor Archeological Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to the legendary Angkor Wat

- An unforgettable 7-night cruise on the Mekong River aboard the luxurious, new 92-passenger MS La Marguerite, the most deluxe vessel on the Mekong

- An overnight in historic Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam


AMAWATERWAYS has redefined European river cruising since its founding in 2002 by river cruise industry pioneer, Rudi Schreiner, cruise industry executive Kristin Karst, and former owner of Brendan Worldwide Vacations, Jimmy Murphy. In 2009, two brand-new 148-passenger vessels, MS Amalyra and MS Amadolce, joined the luxurious AMAWATERWAYS fleet in Europe, which consists of the MS Amacello and MS Amadante (2008), MS Amalegro (2007), and MS Amadagio (2006). In 2010, AMAWATERWAYS will welcome MS Amabella and continue to offer popular itineraries on the historic Danube, Main, Rhine, and Mosel rivers, as well as the Douro River in Portugal, the Rhône in France, and the Volga-Baltic waterways in Russia.

For brochures or more information on the new “Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Riches of the Mekong” program - or any of AMAWATERWAYS’ exciting river cruise itineraries - log on to or call 800-626-0126.

Ana Figueroa Phone: 800-626-0126 Email: .
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Israel sends first economic attaché to Cambodia

Navit Zomer, Israel Money

Mission to facilitate economic cooperation between Israel, Southeast Asian country

The Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor has opened Israel's first economic mission in Cambodia's capital of Phnom Penh, under the charge of the economic attaché in Thailand, Tzahi Selzer.

During May a first Israeli delegation of telecommunications companies visited the Southeastern Asian country. Some 15 companies took part in the delegation, including such high profile names as ECI, Gilat and Comverse, whose representatives met with top local government officials.

Simultaneously, a Cambodian agricultural delegation came to Israel last week to participate in the Agritech agricultural exhibition in Tel Aviv.

According to Selzer, Cambodia is mainly interested in Israeli companies involved in irrigation technologies, agriculture, infrastructure and medical devices.
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Royal oxen signal worry for Cambodian rice farmers

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Cambodia's royal oxen performed an ancient ceremony to predict the country's agriculture fortunes -- and raised fears of a low rice harvest by refusing to eat any of the grain.

King Norodom Sihamoni presided over the ceremony in a park outside the palace where thousands of people watched royal astrologers observing the animals' behaviour.

After a symbolic ploughing of a portion of the field, a pair of royal oxen were led to seven dishes -- rice, corn, beans, sesame, grass, water and alcohol -- laid out on trays.

They were seen eating only beans and corn, allowing the palace's chief astrologer Kang Ken to declare that this year "beans and corn harvests will be bountiful."

The astrologer did not spell out to the crowd what it meant for the rice harvest -- but he later told reporters that it would be only about 30 percent of the expected amount.

"I am extremely worried. As the oxen did not eat the rice, I fear that I cannot have (a) good harvest of rice," said farmer Vong Sak, 53, after the ceremony, which marks the start of Cambodia's planting season.

While still taken seriously by many rural Cambodians in this deeply superstitious country, ploughing ceremony predictions have been called into question in recent years.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, who did not attend the ceremony, rebuked the royal astrologers for failing to predict deadly floods in 2001 that claimed 59 lives.

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Cambodia Deja Vu: the Invasion of Pakistan

Pfaff, William

PARIS -- Last September, during the American presidential campaign, I wrote a column declaring that the United States had again invaded Cambodia, only this time "Cambodia" was Pakistan. President George W. Bush had ordered U.S. ground attacks on the Taliban inside Pakistan's Tribal Territories, without Pakistan's authorization.

That was also when Barack Obama's foreign policy campaign platform was promising withdrawal from Iraq and military emphasis on Afghanistan and Pakistan, location of the "real" problem in the great war on terror.

A younger generation than mine, including senior military officers (not to speak of Barack Obama), may not know exactly why the United States and the South Vietnamese army invaded Cambodia in 1970, and what the result was. The invasion was a failure, and the result a humanitarian catastrophe.

Washington, frustrated in its war against the Communist Viet Cong in South Vietnam, which eventually included bombing on a scale greater than the bombing of Germany in the Second World War, decided it could solve its problem by an invasion to cut the Communist supply routes inside neutral Cambodia (which it nonetheless was also bombing: dropping 540,000 tons of explosive on Cambodia over four years).

The invasion accomplished nothing except further destruction in Cambodia. It destroyed the U.S.-supported military government in Cambodia and empowered the native Cambodian Communist resistance, known as the Khmer Rouge, which eventually, in order to create a utopian society, killed some 2 million of its fellow Cambodians.

The later head of the Genocide Studies Program at Yale wrote of the bombing: "The emergent Communist party . . . profited greatly . . . (using) the widespread devastation and massacre of civilians (to justify) its brutal, radical policies."

Three years after the invasion, the Viet Cong, with its North Vietnamese allies, forced American forces to retreat from Vietnam, and by 1975 ruled the country. In Cambodia, the genocide had begun.

The invasion was occasion for Richard Nixon to declare that the U.S. was not "a second-rate power" nor "a pitiful helpless giant" standing by while "the forces of totalitarianism and anarchy . . . threaten free nations and free institutions throughout the world."

How long ago it seems -- 39 years! And here we are again.

The United States, despite its plan to deploy nearly 70,000 troops this year in Afghanistan, finds itself and its NATO allies in danger of defeat by the Taliban guerillas.

U.S. bombing, with remote-controlled "drones," of the Pakistani Tribal Territories, where the Taliban take refuge among their Pathan tribal kinsmen, has killed many people but has had no decisive effect on the fighting in Afghanistan.

American bombing inside Afghanistan is protested by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who says the air-strikes are fast turning the Afghans against the U.S., which risks "losing the moral battle" against the Taliban. Gen. James L. Jones, U.S. national security adviser, says, "We can't fight with one hand tied behind our back."

Karzai says, "How can you expect a people who keep losing their children to remain friendly?" Jones says of Karzai, "I think he understands that we have to have a full compliment of our offensive military power when we need it."

The former Pakistani military government of Gen. Pervez Musharraf was unwilling to send the Pakistan army into the Tribal Territories to attack the Taliban and al-Qaida.

He is now ousted, and the civilian government led by President Asif Ali Zardari, put under immense pressure by Washington, and frightened by the success of the Taliban in operations outside the Tribal Region, has agreed to the ground offensive now going on, in which Pakistani commanders are accompanied by U.S liaison officers and air controllers.

U.S. Command in "Af-Pak" now has been transferred, in obvious urgency, to former Joint Special Operations commander Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

Will a special forces officer think that guerrillas -- with refuge in an inaccessible and unconquered region, amid a tri-national ethnic population of some 40 million fellow Pathans -- can be beaten by guided bombs or special forces raids? Or that an unenthusiastic Pakistani army will do the job? Or 70,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, when the Taliban can always refuse battle and pull back into the mountains?

Moreover, what is supposed to be accomplished by this war against the Taliban, which threatens to leave Afghanistan in ruins, and to tear Pakistan apart? Do the Taliban threaten the United States? Most of them could not find the United States on a map.

What have they ever done to the United States? What if the United States would just go away and leave the Pakistanis, Afghans and Pathans to settle this among themselves?

President Barack Obama says the war will not be won by military means but by a "surge" of civilian development experts, reconstruction leaders and democracy teachers, just as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently told Congress that the U.S. is training. Will this "surge" get there in time? My own feeling is that President Obama is in over his head; and that American military command, not knowing what else to do, is reverting to Vietnam, which most of its members were too young to experience.

Visit William Pfaff's Web site at
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