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Saturday, May 23, 2009

UN study advises caution over dams


AP Environmental Writer= BANGKOK (AP) — A dam-building spree in China poses the greatest threat to the future of the already beleaguered Mekong, one of the world's major rivers and a key source of water for the region, a U.N. report said Thursday.

China is constructing a series of eight dams on the upper half of the Mekong as it passes through high gorges of Yunnan Province, including the recently completed Xiowan Dam, which — at 958 feet (292 meters) high — is the world's tallest. Its storage capacity is equal to all the Southeast Asia reservoirs combined, the U.N. report said.

Laos, meanwhile, has started construction on 23 dams expected to be finished by 2010 on the Mekong and its tributaries, the U.N. said, as a means to spur development and lift the country from poverty. Cambodia and Vietnam also have ambitious dam-building plans.

"China's extremely ambitious plan to build a massive cascade of eight dams on the upper half of the Mekong River, as it tumbles through the high gorges of Yunnan Province, may pose the single greatest threat to the river," the report said.

The report went onto to say that the impacts of the proposed dam development include "changes in river flow volume and timing, water quality deterioration and loss of biodiversity."

China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a regular briefing the government pays equal attention to the development of the Mekong and its protection. The Mekong is known as the Lancang river in China.

"I would like to point out that the Chinese government attaches great importance to the exploration and the protection of cross-border rivers and conducts the policy of equal attention to development and protection," Ma said.

The proposed dams would add further pressure to the Mekong, which runs through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The 307,000-square-mile (795,000-square-kilometer) river network is home to dozens of rare bird and marine species, including the Mekong giant catfish, and is a source of food and jobs for the 65 million people who live in the river basin.

The river and its vast tributary network already face threats from pollution, climate change and the effects of earlier dams that were built in China and have caused water levels to drop sharply on the upper Mekong.

Still, the U.N. report said for the time being, the Mekong's pollution levels were not at "alarming levels" while water shortages and conflicts over water on the Mekong have so far not emerged.

"The Mekong is in good condition at this time and can take more pressure such as irrigation development or industrial development," said Mukand S. Babel, one of the reports' authors.

The report, however, found several river basins in the Mekong that are under threat, including the Tonle Sap in Cambodia, Nam Khan in Laos and Sekong-Sesan Srepok in Vietnam and Cambodia due to increasing development and demand for water.

It called for countries bordering the Mekong to work more closely together to ensure that the region's growing population and expected economic development doesn't further strain the capacity of the delta.

"The time to tackle these challenges is now, otherwise the projected growth and development may impact on the basin's ability to meet future water needs," said Young-Woo Park, a U.N. regional director.
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California sex offender faces new charges in Cambodia

Formerly a patient at atascadero state hsopital, he is suspecting molesting four young boys

Jack Louis Sporich was living an idyllic retirement, splitting his time between a luxury condo in Sedona, Ariz., and a sprawling home he was having built in a tourist mecca in Cambodia.

The 74-year-old retired engineer appeared to have escaped his past, which included his classification as one of California’s most dangerous sex offenders, one who authorities suspect may have molested more than 500 young boys over the years.

Now, officials say Sporich, who won his release from Atascadero State Hospital in May 2004 without spending a single day in treatment, may have reoffended.

He has been charged in Cambodia with indecent acts against minors in a case involving four young Cambodian boys, according to an official in Phnom Penh whose organization helped investigate Sporich.

Cambodian news accounts of his arrest indicate Sporich denied the allegations, which included the claim he lured the children — ages 9 to 13 — to his home with toys and candies. The Cambodia Daily reported he also attracted youngsters by dropping dollar bills in the street.

He was arrested Feb. 2 and remains in custody in the tourist town of Siem Reap, according to Seila Samleang, executive director of Action Pour Les Enfants-Cambodia.

APLE-Cambodia is a nongovernmental organization that works closely with Cambodian police to target foreign pedophiles who exploit youngsters in that country, and Sporich had been under investigation by the group.

Samleang said in an e-mail to The Sacramento Bee the charges are misdemeanors punishable by a prison sentence of one to three years.

Sexual exploitation of children has been a problem in Cambodia for years, where the age of consent is 15.

Todd Melnik, the defense attorney who won Sporich’s release from Atascadero, said he knew nothing of the Cambodia charges. An e-mail to Sporich this week seeking comment did not receive a response.

Troubling history

Sporich is no stranger to charges of sex with kids.

He spent nine years in prison after his conviction in Ventura County on seven counts of lewd acts upon children under 14. Then, he was committed to Atascadero State Hospital as a “sexually violent predator” deemed too dangerous to be released upon completion of his sentence.

David Lehr, a Ventura County defense attorney who originally prosecuted Sporich, said he may have had as many as 500 victims, and he typically befriended boys through their parents and offered to take them on camping trips.

The parents frequently would pay Sporich for gas and the time he spent on the trips, Lehr said last week.

“If I had to pick from a list of former and current SVPs, he would be, by far, the first one I would be most concerned about,” Lehr said in an interview for a 2006 series of stories in The Sacramento Bee about sexually violent predators.

Sporich was released from Atascadero in May 2004, after two juries were unable to agree on whether he would reoffend, and he immediately moved to Arizona, where the only requirement he faced was that he register as a sex offender once a year.

He is not listed on the current sex offender registry maintained by the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

Sporich’s case was highlighted in The Sacramento Bee’s series, which revealed it was far easier for offenders to win release from Atascadero by refusing treatment than by undergoing the lengthy treatment program designed to prevent them from reoffending.

After The Sacramento Bee’s series, lawmakers introduced a number of proposed improvements to the system and voters later that year overwhelmingly approved Proposition 83.

That measure increased prison sentences for habitual and violent offenders and did away with the requirement that sexually violent predators be allowed a trial every two years. Instead, they now can petition annually for a hearing, but the burden of proof is on them to convince a court they no longer pose a threat.

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Cambodia finds three passengers traveling with A/H1N1 virus patient

PHNOM PENH, Cambodian health authorities have found the three passengers who arrived here on the same flight with a woman who was later confirmed to have A/H1N1 virus, a health official here said on Saturday.

The three, all Cambodian-Americans, were found Friday, and one of the old man now stays in Battambang province while the two others, a father and his daughter, in Kampot province, according to Sok Touch, director of the epidemic disease department at the Ministry of Health.

"We have got their samples and sent to the Pasteur Institute in Phnom Penh for testing A/H1N1 virus. The results would be available later today," he told reporters, adding that "the three's health are normal with no influenza symptoms now."

Sok Touch said that the Health Ministry has not took isolation measure to them, but asked them to have a self-isolation, and not to visit relatives as well as go to the public places in the next seven days.

The three arrived in Phnom Penh from the United States via South Korean on May 17. A Vietnamese woman traveled with them on the same flight feel unwell and hospitalized at Incheon, South Korea, and later she was confirmed of the disease.
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