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Friday, June 26, 2009

Four Teens With East Texas Ties Have First H1N1 Cases in Cambodia

DALLAS (AP) - Four American teens who went on a mission trip to Cambodia to help the needy, wound up needing help as they became the first cases of swine flu in that Southeast Asian country, officials with the youth ministry said Thursday.

Whether they contracted the new strain of influenza in the United States, on the plane or in Cambodia remains a mystery.

The teens came down with fever after arriving in Phnom Penh on June 18, according to a statement from Ron Luce, president of Teen Mania, the Christian youth organization based in Garden Valley that sponsored the group.

The four were released from a Cambodian hospital Thursday but remain in isolation.

They were among 40 American students in Cambodia participating in a Teen Mania summer work project known as global expeditions.

They went to volunteer in orphanages, do home repairs and yard cleanup in slums but were soon sidelined by sickness.

The youths are from across the U.S.

Teen Mania said the stricken high school students were not from Texas, but declined to say where they were from. The World Health Organization and other health officials are monitoring their condition.

All 40 flew out of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on June 17.

Everyone in the group has been quarantined and expected to remain in a lodge in Phnom Penh for another three or four days, Luce said.

Organizers say the teens are anxious to get back to work. When not working on crafts for orphans or writing letters of encouragement to missionaries in Cambodia, Luce said they've passed the time singing, laughing and praying together as well as planning what they hope to do for the community once they're released.

Half the group is scheduled to return to the states July 7 while the rest will travel to Thailand to do more work projects there.

Teen Mania has about 700 students volunteering in service projects in 13 countries. This is the third time the organization has taken youths to Cambodia since its founding in 1987.

"This group raised money for months and months to go to Cambodia and serve the lord Jesus ... and they're stuck in a house in Cambodia," said Ed Hale of Escondido, Calif., whose nephew is one of their hosts in Cambodia. "They can't do what they were sent to do. It's a tragedy."
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Four Cases of Swine Flu in Cambodia

Cambodia has confirmed an additional three cases of swine flu after reporting its first case this week. All four flu patients are U.S. nationals.

Cambodia’s first confirmed case of the H1N1 virus was reported on Wednesday.

A 16-year-old American girl developed symptoms after arriving in Phnom Penh last Friday. She sought medical care at a private clinic on Monday and was immediately placed in isolation.

The girl was visiting Cambodia as part of a student group. Other members of the American group were put under voluntary observation.

Three more cases of the virus were confirmed yesterday among the student group but all four are said to be in a stable condition and recovering well.

The World Health Organization has declared the H1N1 virus spread a global pandemic and has been advising governments to prepare for a long-term battle.

There have been more than 50,000 confirmed cases of the H1N1 virus and at least 237 people have died since it emerged.
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Cambodian editor sentenced on 'disinformation' charge

New York, June 26, 2009--The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the sentencing today of Hang Chakra, editor-in-chief of the opposition Khmer-language daily Khmer Machas Srok, to one year in prison stemming from his reports on alleged government corruption.

According to the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), a Cambodian court ruled that Hang Chakra violated criminal disinformation laws by publishing a series of articles that accused officials working under Deputy Prime Minister Sok An of corruption. The court also fined the editor 9,000 riels (US$2,250), according to SEAPA.

Cambodia's National Assembly decriminalized defamation in 2007, a move many hoped would end the legal harassment of journalists who reported critically on government affairs. But journalists still risk criminal prosecution and maximum three-year jail terms on disinformation charges, which are outlined in the penal code that was enacted under the former United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC). Cambodian newspapers, including the Phnom Penh Post, denounced the verdict, and quoted Hang Chakra as saying "this is the cruelest thing to happen to me."

In a June 4 article in the Phnom Penh Post Hang Chakra said he stood by the story. "When the prosecutor asked me to show them more information, I told them that I stood by the information published in my newspaper and told them that I could not reveal the source of the information."

The paper pointed out that under the Press Law, publishing "false" information, while a criminal offense, carries only a fine of up to 5 million riels (US$1,250). "But the UNTAC criminal code contains much harsher punishments," the paper noted, "with offenders facing a prison term of between six months and three years, and a fine of up to 10 million riels."

UNTAC's legal authority expired with the promulgation of a new national constitution in 1993; the 1995 Press Law broadly protects press freedoms. But since the decriminalization of defamation, Cambodian officials have resorted to the UNTAC-era criminal code to clamp down on media criticism.

"We urge the relevant Cambodian authorities to release journalist Hang Chakra," said Bob Dietz, CPJ's Asia Program Director. "Cambodia's 1995 Press Law broadly protects press freedom, and rulings such as these run counter to the letter and spirit of that legislation. The court should not rely on outdated laws to prosecute journalists who report on government corruption."

It is not clear whether Hang Chakra will appeal. The ruling comes amid a wider crack down on free expression in Cambodia that has targeted government critics including two opposition politicians who have been stripped of their parliamentary immunity so that defamation charges may be brought against them.
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Thai official to avoid temple issue in Cambodia

BANGKOK (AFP) – Thailand's deputy prime minister said he would steer clear of a dispute over an ancient temple on the Cambodian border when he meets the neighbouring country's leader this weekend.

Troops from both sides have built up on the frontier in recent days near the the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple, where seven soldiers have died in clashes since tensions flared last year.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has said he is sending his deputy, Suthep Thaugsuban, to Phnom Penh on Saturday to explain Thailand's decision to ask world heritage body UNESCO to reconsider listing the temple.

But following a warning by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen that Thailand must respect his country's sovereignty, Suthep said he would now avoid the issue.

"I will not discuss any topic that could trigger conflict," Suthep told reporters in Bangkok.

"But do not jump to conclusions that my mission will not achieve anything. I am confident that bilateral talks will enhance a better understanding that Thailand will treat its neighbours cordially," he said.

Hun Sen vowed on Thursday to take a hard stance on the dispute over the temple, the ownership of which was awarded to Cambodia by the World Court in 1962, sparking decades of tensions.

Unrest flared in July 2008 after UNESCO granted world heritage status to the ancient Khmer temple with its crumbling stone staircases and elegant carvings.

Thai army chief General Anupong Paojinda said on Friday that troops from both sides wanted to avoid clashes and were regularly speaking to each other to ease tensions.

"We will not be the first to start fighting," Anupong told reporters.

"The local commander told me the situation is still calm. Forces from both countries deployed at the temple are constantly in contact with each other and there is no indication that it could lead to confrontation," he said.

The Thai government will protest the listing of Preah Vihear at a UNESCO meeting which is continuing in Seville, Spain until June 30.
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