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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Kien Giang boosts friendship with Cambodia’s Kep province

The friendship between Yuon and Cambodia have been travelling into Indochina federation, closer and closer following Ho Chi Minh's ideology.

The southern province of Kien Giang on August 29 presented 50 wheelchairs to the disabled in Cambodia’s Kep province and granted scholarships worth US$2,000 to the Cambodian students there.

The gifts were handed over by the Vietnam-Cambodia Friendship Association’s Chapter in Kien Giang and Kien Giang’s Union of Friendship Organizations at a debut ceremony for the executive board of the Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Association in Kep province.

Private computers and US$500 in initial financial aid were also given to the province on this occasion.

The event was attended by the Cambodian Standing Deputy Prime Minister, Men Sam An, and the Chairman of Kien Giang’s Union of Friendship Organizations, Le Van Hong, who is on a working visit to Kep province.

Mr Hong and his entourage toured the local scenery as well as cultural and historical relic sites in Phnom Penh during their stay in Cambodia.
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Veterans who saved 100 soldiers ask Obama to present citation

Vietnam veterans Ray Tarr, left, of Kittanning, and Donnie Colwell, of Emerickville. For a video of the interview, go to

By Torsten Ove, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Ray Tarr, 59, has a fake eye, a dent in his head, a withered arm and wince-inducing scars on his back, all courtesy of a rocket-propelled grenade that slammed into his tank in Cambodia in 1970.
"We had a saying in Vietnam," he shrugged last week in recollection. "When someone died or something bad happened, we just said, 'It don't mean nothing.' "

But the actions of his unit on March 26, 1970, a few months before he was wounded, did mean something -- resulting in a Presidential Unit Citation issued in March, 39 years after the fact.

Now the veterans of that battle are asking President Obama to present the citation to them personally in the East Room of the White House this fall. It could happen as early as October.

With a First Cavalry infantry company pinned down, outnumbered and out of ammunition, Mr. Tarr's Alpha Troop of the 11th Armored Cavalry rushed to save 100 men.

"I'm proud that I'm an American and could serve my country and that I could help those guys," said Mr. Tarr, of Kittanning, who was a 20-year-old tank loader.

"They were not going to live through the night," said his friend, Donnie Colwell, 61, of Emerickville, Jefferson County, who won the Silver Star for gallantry as commander of the unit's medical armored-personnel carrier.

"There were some other things that happened [in the war] that we could have gotten awards for. But the point is, we saved 100 grunts. They would have been massacred."

Alpha's commander at the time, Texas multimillionaire John B. Poindexter, 64, wrote a book about the rescue in 2004 called "The Anonymous Battle" and pushed for the citation.

The White House won't comment on whether President Obama will make the presentation. Presidents rarely do. Usually, another official does the job, typically at the unit's base, which in this case is California.

But Mr. Poindexter, owner of J.B. Poindexter & Co. in Houston, said all of his men deserve the honor of a White House ceremony. He said he'll pay for the trips for the 100 or so men who want to go.

"The Presidential Unit Citation is a tiny affirmation of my obligation to those men," he said. "On an institutional level, I feel the men who served in Vietnam, like those who served in Korea, Afghanistan and Iraq, fought a particularly unpopular war. This is a much-belated gesture of great importance."

Months in combat
Ray Tarr and Donnie Colwell first met in the motor pool at Quan Loi in 1969 and learned that they had lived near each other before they were drafted and sent overseas. Ray had been an apprentice bricklayer with his own car; Donnie had been attending Allegheny Technical Institute for electronics.

Times were turbulent and they knew the war was going badly, but they were too young to think much about it.

"We had no idea what we were getting into," Mr. Tarr said.

When they met, Mr. Colwell was commander of the unit's armored carrier that transported the chief medic, Gary Felthager, and had already earned two Purple Hearts for injuries suffered in mine explosions. Mr. Tarr became a loader in a Sheridan tank.

The men served under Mr. Poindexter, their bright, aggressive 25-year-old captain.

By March 1970, Alpha Troop had been in combat for months near the Cambodian border, where construction battalions were building a road through the jungle in anticipation of a May invasion of Cambodia.

The 11th Cavalry's job was to seek out North Vietnamese Army units in the region and destroy them.

They endured numerous firefights, and each evening parked their tanks and armored vehicles in a ring to protect against attack or infiltration by highly trained troops, who crept up at night.

But one of their worst episodes was an accident. On the night of March 25, three men died and five were wounded in explosions that also destroyed one of their armored carriers.

The soldiers initially thought the blasts were the result of enemy action and braced for combat. They later learned that one of their own mortar shells had detonated inside its tube and set off other shells.

Mr. Colwell tried to help the wounded. One man, he recalled, had lost both arms and both legs. He died a short time later.

'Get ready, let's go'
When morning came after a sleepless night, the Alpha platoons moved out on reconnaissance patrols. By late morning, everyone heard sounds of a battle in the distance.

They learned from the radio that Charlie Company had wandered into an elaborate hidden North Vietnamese bunker complex and had come under heavy fire. U.S. fighter jets swooped in, dropping bombs in support of the trapped company, while Cobra helicopter gunships fired rockets and machine guns at the North Vietnamese.

But C Company was outnumbered 3-to-1 and taking heavy casualties. Its men were also out of water and ammunition.

Capt. Poindexter knew what he had to do.

"He just told us, 'Get ready, let's go,' " Mr. Colwell said.

"There was no hesitation," Mr. Tarr recalled. "In the Army, you follow orders. But you could tell by the looks on guys' faces that no one really wanted to go."

They hadn't slept in 30 hours and they were scared, but they moved out. It took more than an hour for the armored column to plow 2.5 miles through the triple-canopy jungle.

"We broke into a clearing, and there they were," Mr. Tarr recalled. "I remember seeing the wounded men. I saw three soldiers lying under ponchos, obviously dead."

But C Company rejoiced as Alpha Troop opened fire with .50-caliber and M-60 machine guns.

"It was just relief on their faces to see us," Mr. Tarr said.

"We were fighting for our lives," recalled Paul Evans, then an 18-year-old private, in "The Anonymous Battle." "Then out of nowhere, the tanks and [armored carriers] came busting out of the jungle. ... For 34 years, they have been my heroes and always will be."

Mr. Colwell, whose job was to protect Doc Felthager as he worked on wounded men, was one of the first Alpha troopers on the ground. He saw one man who had been shot through the forehead and had died, and another who had been shot in the leg and later died of blood loss. At least 66 other men were wounded.

A mad minute
Waving his pistol, Capt. Poindexter immediately ordered his vehicles to line up in a row with the Sheridans in the center. Alpha then launched what the men called a "mad minute," in which every vehicle fired all of its weapons for 60 seconds. They moved ahead another 50 yards and did it again. The North Vietnamese fired back.

"It was pandemonium," Mr. Tarr said. "You can't believe the noise, the smoke, the confusion."

The Sheridans and the armored carriers advanced, crushing the underground bunkers under their treads while infantrymen hurled grenades and fired at enemy soldiers.

Alpha lost one man: Robert Foreman, Mr. Tarr's platoon sergeant, who was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade behind his gun shield on a Sheridan.

The North Vietnamese suffered at least 80 killed and an unknown number of wounded. The rest fled. After dark, Alpha Troop carefully backed out and evacuated the wounded to a landing zone, where helicopters carried them to safety.

All told, the two units lost seven men in two days. More than 70 were wounded, Capt. Poindexter among them.

But had Alpha not come to the rescue, the survivors insist, every man in C Company would have died. The North Vietnamese units were tenacious and ruthless.

The war went on for Mr. Tarr and Mr. Colwell. There were other battles, including the one that sent Mr. Tarr to Walter Reed Army Medical Center and earned him his Purple Heart.

They moved on
When the Alpha troopers came home, no one thought much about March 26. For them, it was like many other firefights, and Vietnam was a war everyone wanted to forget.

Mr. Poindexter did put in for individual medals for some of his men, but a unit citation didn't enter his mind for decades. He put aside the war, built a manufacturing empire and got rich.

In Pennsylvania, Mr. Colwell became a coal miner and Mr. Tarr a dental lab technician for the Veterans Affairs hospital in Butler. They raised families and moved on with their lives.

During his last days in Vietnam, Mr. Poindexter wrote a clinical account of the battle. After it was rejected by Armor magazine, he set it aside until 1999, when the regimental commander of the 11th Cavalry invited some veterans to discuss their Vietnam experience.

Mr. Poindexter revised the old manuscript, and Armor published it in 2000. He later developed the account into his self-published book, which included his recommendation for the Presidential Unit Citation and the recollections of his old comrades.

Mr. Tarr and Mr. Colwell both contributed.

Mr. Poindexter describes the book as a "faint eulogy for America's first wartime defeat." For him, the presidential citation is similarly symbolic.

There are veterans of Alpha Troop who don't see it that way. Some want nothing to do with reunions or commendations. Mr. Colwell said Doc Felthager, the medic who saved so many men before his eyes, has never responded to e-mails or calls.

Mr. Tarr and Mr. Colwell said they understand.

When Mr. Tarr was wounded in Cambodia, a young man on the tank behind him, Danny Ray Schmidt, of Indiana, took an AK-47 slug in the head and died.

"I was treated as a hero at Walter Reed and when I came home," he said. "What did Danny Ray Schmidt get? I think about that and I feel bad."

Mr. Colwell said he came home from the war an angry, confused young man. He struggled with bad dreams and a violent temper for years, and he drank too much.

It wasn't until a religious conversion a few years ago, he said, that he became a different person.

"I'm much calmer now," he said. "But the demons still chase me."

Torsten Ove can be reached at or 412-263-1510.
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Cambodia cuts troops at temple

The Hun Xen regime's soldiers are garding the 12th century Preah Vihea Temple

Fifty per cent of soldiers withdrawn from controversial temple

By The Nation Agencies

Cambodia has cut back its military presence at Preah Vihear Temple - a trigger point in the past year - while Thailand's Parliament is expected to allow the two countries to move ahead with boundary demarcation in the overlapping area.

"We have pulled out 50 per cent of the troops from Preah Vihear Temple," Chhum Socheat, spokesman for Cambodia's National Defence Ministry, said yesterday.

"This shows that the situation at the border is really getting better, and that both countries have a mutual understanding of peace," he said.

Thailand and Cambodia have been at loggerheads over the controversial Hindu temple since last year when Thailand opposed Phnom Penh's move to inscribe the Khmer sanctuary on Unesco's list of world heritage sites.

After the UN World Heritage Committee granted the coveted status in July 2008, both countries boosted their military forces in the area, with clashes following twice in October and April, leaving seven soldiers of both sides dead.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen last week said Thailand had just 30 soldiers stationed on the border, meaning Cambodia could stand some troops down and send them back to their provincial bases.

"We still have enough troops remaining to protect our territory," said General Chea Dara, deputy commander of Cambodia's armed forces.

If Thailand "shows a softer manner" they could cut the numbers further. "However, if anything happened, our troop mobility would be very swift," he said.

The Thai government in June re-ignited the row over the temple when it asked Unesco to reconsider its decision to list the temple located in Cambodia.

However, Unesco did not take the Thai request into consideration. The foreign ministries of the two neighbours maintained peaceful means to resolve the dispute through the Joint Commission on Demarcation for Land Boundary (JBC).

The JBC met last November, February and April to set a framework on boundary demarcation and provisional arrangements for the disputed area near Preah Vihear.

The results of the three meetings need approval from Parliament so further discussions on the details can be held.

Parliament is set to meet today to consider the minutes submitted by the Foreign Ministry, after the motion was postponed from last week since the Lower House was busy with the marathon debate on the budget bill.

Some senators, however, said they would reject the JBC minutes and demanded the government take a tough position to evict a Cambodian community from the contested area that they considered was under Thai sovereignty.

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The Next Step for Microfinance: Taking Deposits

By Barbara Kiviat

Some 30 years ago, the field of microfinance was born from a radical concept: poor people, when lent small amounts of money, will pay it back in a timely manner. In the meantime, that money can be put to use in ways that help boost income—goat farming, say, or carpet weaving—and, ostensibly, raise a family's standard of living. Now another radical concept is starting to take hold: that the thing people really need, more than business loans, is a safe place to save their money. It's what development expert Robert Vogel calls the "forgotten half of rural finance."

To be clear, loans aren't going away. A quick look back at last year's credit crunch reminds us how important lent money can be to economic activity. The reason loans came first in microfinance, though, wasn't grand strategy but pragmatism. In most parts of the world anyone can make a loan, including the non-profits that trek into developing countries to reach people traditional financial institutions have ignored. The same isn't true of savings accounts and other banking products, which are typically heavily regulated.

Yet ask people what they want, what's more important for day-to-day living in a Ugandan village or Indian slum, and a safe place to keep their money often trumps business lending. Early adopters of what's sometimes called savings-led microfinance find that the demand for savings accounts far outstrips the demand for loans. Bank Rakyat in Indonesia, for instance, has 10 savers for every one borrower. "Low-income people need a variety of financial services," says Bob Christen, director of the financial services group at the Gates Foundation, which has given tens of millions of dollars in grants to savings initiatives.

This, of course, makes perfect sense. Simply think of your own saving and borrowing habits. In fact, even under the construct of microcredit—which, by definition, lends money for business use—borrowers often spend part of their loan on things that would typically be paid for from a checking or savings account. Survey data from Bank Rakyat shows that micro-borrowers use funds for household needs, like school fees, home repairs and holiday expenses, some 30% of the time. The issue, importantly, is not that poor people don't have savings, but rather that they tend to save in hard-to-tap assets, like livestock and jewelry. To free up cash, the solution is often to pawn possessions—and to pay someone a fee in the process.

The range of work the Gates Foundation has found to fund shows the breadth of organizations interested in creating a better way. Some money is going to help existing savings institutions and credit unions gather more deposits, but a lot is also funding development in technology meant to make savings easier to access and accounts less costly to maintain. "Agent-based banking," in which financial services are delivered though existing institutions—like pharmacies and newsstands—is one key area of research. Another: mobile banking. In Kenya, for example, the telecom M-Pesa has seen smash success with its mobile-phone-based banking, which includes a way to save.

A number of traditional microfinance institutions, many of which have evolved into formal banks, are also assigning renewed importance to gathering deposits. A few years ago, Grameen, one of the industry's largest players, loosened rules around its savings accounts to better accommodate how clients wanted to use them.

But not all microfinance institutions have been quick to drum up savings. While some microfinance institutions, especially well-established players in Latin America, rely heavily on depositor funding, many other organizations find it easier to run their microlending businesses with money from investors. Microcredit is such a hot topic in the realm of finance that even with the credit crunch, many institutions are awash with money from investors drawn to the notion of making a profit while simultaneously furthering a social mission. The idea of gathering deposits seems time-consuming and expensive without much pay-off.

So some development outfits are essentially going back to the beginning and building new organizations with savings at the center. Since 2005 Oxfam America has been creating savings groups in villages in Mali, Cambodia, Senegal and El Salvador. Each group has about 20 members—in the tradition of microfinance, almost all of them are women. The members contribute a small amount of money each week, and then, from this pot of savings, lend out sums to those members who need loans. The program is based on a model that's common throughout the world—such groups are called tandas in India and tontines in West Africa—and designed for Oxfam to eventually bow out.

"What we've done is taken the paradigm of microfinance and flipped it inside out," says Jeffrey Ashe, Oxfam America's director of community finance. "We're creating autonomous groups and defining sustainability in a whole new way." In many ways it's microfinance back to its roots—small, rural, community-based. But it also represents the next step forward.

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