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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Smile from nowhere

Cambodia is the place where, for the first time, I really cursed the world of technology.

It began on a surprisingly smooth minibus ride from the capital, Phnom Penh, towards Battambang - the second-largest city in the country, and I wished my eyes were able to take a photo every time I blinked.

Was that too much to ask?

Instead, my camera groaned under my attempts to capture every second of the dynamic country as we zoomed through traffic at what felt like an average speed of 140 kilometres an hour.

The postwar history of the "Land of a Thousand Smiles" tends to prompt a grimace rather than a grin - but that's changing.

The nation was at least 30 years behind the rest of the world, I'd been warned, thanks to the Khmer Rouge role in a civil war that crippled it. Like the beautiful lotus flower, which grows like a weed across the countryside, the country is reopening itself to the outside world.

The 300km journey between Phnom Penh and Battambang is not the most popular of journeys for tourists: they tend to fly 45 minutes to Siem Reap, home of the famous ruins of Angkor Wat.

We stopped at a silversmith village, filled with the most intricate silver creations; where adorable children ran from their huts clutching trays of jewellery and ornaments. Other family members busily hammered away, barely looking up as they knocked out another elaborate design.

There is a certain level of satisfaction in handing over a couple of US dollars to a small child in a village off the beaten tourist trail. In a country known for corruption which filters down from the government to street level, parting with a few greenbacks to the person you just witnessed creating the item leaves one with a great sense of economic satisfaction.

Pottery manufacturers in Kompong Chhnang, tucked away in lush country like the set of Platoon, are also worth a deviation.

Rural Cambodians have the most novel common sense about them, as if, after being knocked down through their civil war, they've jumped back to their feet, dusted themselves off and kept going. Immensely resourceful and impossibly polite, even the most sheltered Cambodian has a basic grip on English and will bend over backwards to have you witness their lives.

Once in the country's northwest, it becomes obvious Battambang city is less than used to visitors. Centred around a busy food market and a nondescript river, the city boasts one major hotel, a handful of backpacker accommodation - and one rather luscious French boutique hotel called La Villa.

Ad Feedback The smattering of French colonial architecture is a pleasant surprise, and suspends visitors in a sort of time warp.

On a rusty bike, the town really comes alive: riding along the Sangker River to Wat Slaket pagoda, the residence of the provincial Buddhist patriarch, was a highlight of the trip. There we met a 12-year-old monk and his mother, who gave him to the monastery to ensure he had a better life. His haunting gaze was a window into a wise soul.

We also met an older monk who beamed the famous Cambodian smile. "Thank you for your smile. I give you my smile too. It is important to give your smile to people. If you give your smile, it makes the world better and spreads peace," he told our group.

My eyes prickled with tears, which mixed with sweat from the bike ride in the searing heat to make a salty tang on my lips.

Cycling enabled us to inhale the smells of the countryside and wave at the children who would run to the roadside to practise their English. "Hello, hello," they yelled, with the odd "bonjour" thrown in.

We heard the noises of wedding celebrations and soccer wins, funeral dirges and loudspeaker entreaties for donations to the local monastery.

A couple of days later we walked through the village of Kompong Khleang, about an hour from Siem Reap. This community, again off the beaten trail, is home to more than 20,000 people who live in enormously high stilt houses and make a living from fishing.

Children screamed welcome from high up in their homes which, when the monsoon arrives, will have water lapping at their doorstep and fishing lines cast from their windows.

Despite the remoteness of the village, cellphone towers loomed overhead. Landlines are like hen's teeth and the country has adopted mobile technology to the extreme - nine mobile phone companies compete to provide services to a population of 15 million.

Near Siem Reap we visited the Khmer silk village of Phnom Srok or "the little hill" and watched over the shoulders of women who weave intricate silk scarves. We witnessed the silk production line - from silkworms on a mulberry tree leaf to the finished product - by visiting each family responsible for one of the five steps in the process.

Stepping outside the comforts of the minivans was, in short, experiencing the country - rather than just passing through and ticking the boxes of the major tourist spots.

And it made for a moving and unforgettable adventure.

* The writer travelled courtesy of Adventure World, Cathay Pacific, Dragonair and Bangkok Airways.

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DSR Cambodian Culture Conservation French Colonial in Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh has a grace and beauty not found in other Asian capitals. This vibrant Cambodian city has a rich and varied French Colonial heritage including villas, churches and boulevards.

( - Phnom Penh has a grace and beauty not found in other Asian capitals. This vibrant Cambodian city has a rich and varied French Colonial heritage including villas, churches and boulevards.

Between the granting of independence and the dark days of the Khmer Rouge, a new golden era of architecture emerged, driven by French-educated Khmer architects. This was characterised by a fusion of Bauhaus, European post-modern architecture, and traditional elements from Angkor.

Fortunately enlightened developers are preserving and refurbishing these timeless buildings to offer a mix of heritage, modernity and sumptuous amenity.

DSR Asset Management Ltd have a new release of 1 - 2 bedroom apartments
for sale in French Colonial Phnom Penh competitively priced from £29,000 - £90,000. The refurbishment has been carried out to very high standard.

David Redfern of DSR said “After a little over a year of developing these units in Phnom Penh, we are very relaxed that at each interval demand has easily outstripped supply - both in terms of the sales and rentals.”

Phnom Penh is serviced by a modern international airport, and the city is experiencing massive growth as it is being discovered by a wider global audience.

The apartments can be fully-managed to produce hassle-free income from letting and there is a queue of customers for flats like these.

”All of the units developed so far are tenanted, and the developer and management company have a waiting list of expats ready to rent those that will be completed and hitting the rental market this quarter.

This is a great position to be in and demonstrates that the market is very hungry for high quality, stylish, well located accommodation like French Colonial,” said David

In the sought after riverside French Quarter demand for property of this type far exceeds supply and capital growth is running at an astonishing 17-20% per annum.
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Former K.Rouge prison deputy denies torture

PHNOM PENH (AFP) - The former deputy head of the main Khmer Rouge prison on Tuesday denied he had tortured prisoners as he sought to play down his position in Cambodia's late 1970s hardline regime.

Mam Nai, 76, told the UN-backed war crimes trial of former jail chief Duch that his role had been only to question inmates at the notorious Tuol Sleng prison.

"I was just a plain and simple interrogating cadre," Mam Nai said, addressing the court as a witness, not a defendant.

"I only interrogated prisoners without applying torture. It is my understanding that applying torture brings untrue confessions."

His former boss Duch is accused of overseeing the torture and execution of around 15,000 people who passed through Tuol Sleng.

Although documents from the regime say Mam Nai was Duch's deputy and tortured prisoners into confessing espionage, he said he only interrogated "not important" inmates and used psychological tricks rather than abuse.

"When I asked the person about their biography and activities, it was not difficult at all (to get a confession)," Mam Nai said.

"If a prisoner refused to respond... I instructed guards to take prisoners back to their cell to think for a while, to reflect on their positive and negative activities," he added.

Mam Nai, whose Khmer Rouge nom de guerre was Chan, went on to tell the court that he was "unclear" on the organising structure of the notorious detention centre and knew nothing of mass killings there.

The witness, appearing in court wearing purple fingerless gloves and a traditional chequered Khmer scarf, batted away judges' questions throughout the day.

He said he had not known all prisoners at Tuol Sleng were presumed guilty and destined to be killed, and that he could not recall drafting prison documents shown to the court, which appeared to be signed by him.

When French judge Marc Laverne asked whether he suffered from memory problems, Mam Nai replied that he has trouble recalling the names of his children after a recent accident at his home.
"I fell onto the ground and fell unconscious for a while. Since then, I seem to forget a lot," Mam Nai said.

The 66-year-old Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, has accepted responsibility for his role governing the jail and begged forgiveness near the start of his trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

But he has consistently rejected claims by prosecutors that he held a central leadership role in the Khmer Rouge, and maintains he never personally killed anyone.

Led by Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the Khmer Rouge emptied Cambodia's cities in a bid to forge a communist utopia. Up to two million people died of starvation, overwork, torture and execution during the 1975-79 regime.

Four other former Khmer Rouge leaders are currently in detention and are expected to face trial next year at the court, which was formed in 2006 after nearly a decade of wrangling between the UN and the Cambodian government.

The tribunal is marred by a dispute between prosecutors over whether to pursue more suspects. It also faces accusations of government interference and claims that local staff were forced to pay kickbacks for their jobs.

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Treating 4,000 diabetic patients in Cambodia, a high-prevalence but resource- limited setting: a 5-year study

Despite the worldwide increasing burden of diabetes, there has been no corresponding scale-up of treatment in developing countries and limited evidence of program effectiveness. In 2002, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health of Cambodia, Medecins Sans Frontieres initiated an outpatient program of subsidized diabetic care in two hospital-based chronic disease clinics in rural settings.

We aimed to describe the outcomes of newly and previously diagnosed diabetic patients enrolled from 2002 to 2008.

Methods: We calculated the mean and proportion of patients who met the recommended treatment targets, and the drop from baseline values for random blood glucose (RBG), hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), blood pressure (BP), and body mass index (BMI) at regular intervals. Analysis was restricted to patients notlost to follow-up.

We used the t test to compare baseline and subsequent paired values.

Results: Of 4404 patients enrolled, 2,872 (65%) were still in care at the time of the study, 24 (0.5%) had died, and 1,508 (34%) were lost to follow-up. Median age was 53 years, 2,905 (66%) were female and 4,350 (99%) had type 2 diabetes.

Median (interquartile range (IQR)) follow-up was 20 months (5 to 39.5 months). A total of 24% (51/210) of patients had a HbA1c concentration of <7%>60 years, living outside the province, normal BMI on admission, high RBG on last visit, and coming late for the last consultation.

Conclusions: Significant and clinically important improvements in glycemia and BP were observed, but a relatively low proportion of diabetic patients reached treatment targets. These results and the high loss to follow-up rate highlight the challenges of delivering diabetic care in rural, resource-limited settings.

Author: Marie-Eve RaguenaudPetros IsaakidisTony ReidSay ChyLim KeukyGemma ArellanoWim Van Damme
Credits/Source: BMC Medicine 2009, 7:33
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Southern Gold 'strikes gold' in Cambodia

Southern Gold Ltd says it has found significant gold mineralisation at one of its projects in Cambodia.

The gold junior found "a number of prominent gold intersections" during its first reverse circulation drilling program, the company said.

Shares in the company leapt on news of the discovery, which identified gold intersections as rich as 8.8 grams per tonne.

Other metals including silver, copper and zinc also were located at the site.

Southern Gold managing director Stephen Biggins said the maiden drilling program validated the company's confidence in the area.

"I am delighted with the results of this first-pass drill program and look forward to aggressively following-up these results," Mr Biggins said in a statement.

At 1107 AEST, shares in Southern Gold were up 1.5 cents, 15 per cent, to 11.5 cents.

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MRC calls for public submissions on proposed Mekong hydropower schemes

PHNOM PENH, The Mekong River Commission (MRC) has established a web page to allow the public to make submissions regarding the 11 hydropower schemes proposed for construction along the mainstream Mekong.

The submissions, which can be made at or by post or fax, will provide input to the MRC's Strategic Environmental Assessment that is looking at the wider economic, social and environmental implications of the proposed dams in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, according to MRC's statement released on Tuesday. MRC member countries will use information presented by the study to guide their decisions on these projects, it said.

Jeremy Bird, Chief Executive Officer of the MRC Secretariat, said that Mekong governments (include Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam) have expressed "a strong desire" to understand the full range of opportunities and risks of any proposed mainstream hydropower project, particularly those of a regional nature, before a decision is taken to proceed.

"In order to do this effectively, it is important to have a broad consultation process that allows us to hear the views of communities, NGOs, researchers and businesses. These web page submissions provide one of the tools to help achieve this."" he added.

As set out in the 1995 Mekong Agreement, MRC Member Countries must undergo a formal inter-governmental consultation process prior to building any dams on the river. Projects proposed for development on the mainstream in the lower Mekong Basin will come to the Commission for consultation, with a view to assisting member countries to reach consensus.

Past studies have shown that the development of hydropower can be both positive and negative. For example, the electricity generated and foreign exchange earnings can support a country's development programs, MRC's statement said. "However, a major concern is the effect that proposed dams could have on fish migration and numbers, and ultimately on the people that live in the river system and who rely on fish for their livelihoods and protein intake," says Xaypladeth Choulamany, a Fisheries Program Co-ordinator at the MRC. "What we need to do is to fully understand the basin wide implications of this and other impacts."
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Vietnam launches campaign against human trafficking

Hanoi- Vietnamese police will launch a two-month campaign next week targeting human trafficking, a police official said Tuesday.

The General Department of Police has asked its forces nationwide to make plans to combat rings involved in trafficking in border regions, especially areas near China and Cambodia where many women have been trafficked.

'Human trafficking is becoming very complex in Vietnam due to the economic crisis,' said Nguyen Tri Phuong, deputy director of the National Social Order Crime Investigation Department. 'Traffickers are taking advantage of increasing unemployment to cheat women.'

Phuong said many women want find it hard to get other work after losing their jobs. Traffickers lure many into their trap by promising good jobs overseas. After taking them out of Vietnam, traffickers sell them to brothels or for other work.

'One hundred and ninety-one trafficking cases involving 417 women and children have been discovered so far this year,' Phuong said.

The state-run Viet Nam News on Tuesday reported traffickers often sell women and children they kidnap in northern provinces to contacts in China.

Traffickers often take advantage of dark nights and a lack of vigilance among families to kidnap their children. In isolated cases, they have murdered parents to kidnap newborn babies.

Vietnamese police will closely co-ordinate with provincial police and bodies in China, Cambodia and Laos to prevent trafficking rings, Viet Nam News reported.

Since 2005, there have been 1,600 cases of human trafficking with 4,300 victims and 3,000 people were investigated for involvement.
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