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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

CAMBODIA: Poachers turn gamekeepers in eco-tourism projects

MONDULKIRI, Poaching was a serious business for Chran Thabb - until his tracking skills were put to better use protecting his former prey. He is one of 45 rangers in the remote eastern province of Mondulkiri recruited for a grassroots tourism project that uses employment incentives to encourage environmental conservation.

"Before, whenever I saw an animal in the forest, my first thought was to shoot it," said Chran, now a guide for treks around Dei Ey village, in a protected forest area in Mondulkiri.

"I don't do that any more. The animals would become extinct and I want the next generation to see them," he said.

Because of its forests, mountains and rare wildlife, rugged Mondulkiri has been targeted by the Cambodian government as an area for eco-tourism development, after lobbying by WWF. The wildlife group launched conservation projects more than four years ago in this remote region, which has been likened to Africa's Serengeti for its abundant wildlife.

WWF has recruited former hunters to put their knowledge of the forest and expert tracking skills to good use. The overall aim is to establish an environment where wildlife can recover after years of hunting, poaching and neglect. Richer wildlife, conservationists hope, will attract tourists - and, in turn, create jobs for local communities.

Most of Mondulkiri's impoverished population comprises indigenous communities who practise shifting cultivation but also grow cash crops, although this is under threat from deforestation and changing climate patterns, according to a September 2009 report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Lack of access to education and primary healthcare are key development concerns in Mondulkiri, IOM says, with 59 percent of its population living below the poverty line, according to a 2004 study by the Cambodia Development Resource Institute and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

"In a poor province such as Mondulkiri, eco-tourism offers a long-term alternative livelihood to combat the short-term illegal activities they do now to earn a living," said Olga van den Pol, head of WWF's eco-tourism operations in Mondulkiri province.

Wildlife in the area, which is near the border with Vietnam, was severely depleted in the 1970s and 1980s when battling Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese soldiers relied heavily on hunting for survival.

But since the launch of conservation projects, rangers are seeing an increase in wildlife for the first time in years.

Community values

Most people in the area belong to the Phnong ethnic group. Bill Herod, a development worker who works with Phnong youth, said cultural forces should operate in favour of conservation efforts.

"Phnong are more likely to see common ownership of the land, and less likely to want to hunt for wildlife on an individual basis," he said.

Given Cambodia's violent past, it is especially important to avoid using violence to deter poaching and instead focus on encouraging livelihoods, conservationists say.

In countries such as Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo, governments have resorted to heavily armed patrols in an attempt to combat poaching. But this method is increasingly being shunned.

"For a poor rural person who wishes to feed their family, no deterrent will be sufficient, but the chances of being killed are far higher," said James MacGregor, a researcher for the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development. "Guns raise the stakes but don't combat the poaching necessarily," he told IRIN.


While those employed by the projects hope their fortunes will improve, the initiatives are no panacea for the area's poverty.

Krak Sokny, a teacher and farmer in Dei Ey village, doubted the eco-tourism initiatives would reach a sufficient scale to extend benefits to locals not directly involved, but said they would instil an active interest in conservation in villagers.

And while Dei Ey and other areas appear to be on the path to recovery, other lands in the province still face serious threats from speculators and slash-and-burn practices.

Local development workers also say police and well-connected officials continue to traffic wildlife and timber with impunity.

Against these forces, villagers in Mondulkiri's eco-tourism enclaves are trying to carve out a space for themselves and adventurous tourists.

"I'm hoping there will be more tourists so we can earn money that way and not have to go hunting in the forest," said Am Pang Deap, who previously made ends meet selling fried bananas in Dei Ey, but now works at a new eco-tourism resort. "People are trying to hunt less and maintain what's left for tourists."
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Boyfriend and Girlfriend Chosen as Rhodes Scholars

University of North Carolina seniors Henry Spelman and Libby Longino are both heading to Oxford next year, joining 30 other students from the U.S. who were selected as Rhodes Scholars. Besides being students at UNC, Spelman and Longino have another thing in common -- they have been dating for nine months.

Longino and Spelman met during freshman year and then reconnected two years later on a summer research trip in Turkey.

"The worst possible situation would have been if one of us won and the other didn’t," said Spelman. "It would have been hard for the winner to celebrate."

The scholarship, worth around $50,000 per year, funds a two to four year graduate study program at the University of Oxford in England.

When the chair of the Rhodes selections committee read off his name last Saturday Spelman said, "I just felt my knees loosen.”

"I staggered a bit and got this big, stupid grin on my face,” he said. “I can't remember anything that was said to me for the next ten minutes."

Longino also found it hard to process information after the announcement.

"I think my first thought was something really profound, like, 'Oh my god, I'm going to Oxford,' " Longino joked.

She said the whole experience will be much more exciting knowing that she and Spelman will be going to Oxford together.

"I couldn’t be happier," Longino said.

A double major in English and public policy analysis, Longino will pursue a master’s degree in forced migration. She says she wants to work for a non-profit or international organization on international human rights.

Spelman, who majors in classical languages and has a minor in creative writing, will pursue a master's degree in Greek and Latin languages and literature. He hopes to become a professor of Latin and Greek, and credits his unique combination of interests as being part of the reason he received the prestigious award.

"I'm passionate about studying Latin and Greek poetry, writing my own poetry, helping refugees and playing squash," said Spelman.

Outside of the classroom, Spelman heads the Amnesty International chapter at UNC and has spent two summers with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Tanzania. He also plays on the club squash team and is the editor of The Cellar Door, UNC's undergraduate literary magazine.

Longino said her extensive international experience in social justice and human rights helped her as a candidate for the scholarship. Her travels have taken her all over the world, including Vietnam, Cambodia and Israel. She spent one summer interning with a microcredit program in Vietnam where she photographed homes and businesses of loan recipients and documented items bought from the loans. Other globetrotting activities included helping to start a group stopping child prostitution in Cambodia, and researching human trafficking in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

At UNC, Longino has served on the Student Attorney General's staff and is currently the president of the Carolina chapter of the Roosevelt Institute, a student think tank.

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State’s meddling threatens Khmer Rouge trials: report


Cambodian government interference threatens the Khmer Rouge war crimes tribunal, a report by an international monitoring group said yesterday, as the court heard final arguments in the trial of the regime’s chief jailer.

An Open Society Justice Initiative report noted the UN-backed tribunal had made progress in its first trial, against former Khmer Rouge prison boss Duch, but warned that concerns of political meddling could undermine the court.

“Political interference at the [court] poses a serious challenge to both the credibility of the court and its ability to meet international fair trial standards,” the report said.

A refusal by the court’s Cambodian investigating judge to summon high-ranking officials for questioning and statements against the court by senior government members have heightened concerns, the report said.

The organization also said that government delays in selecting a new international prosecutor after Canadian Robert Petit announced his resignation for family reasons in June has left the prosecution “without balanced and strong leadership.”

“While no reason for this delay has been stated publicly, it is becoming increasingly apparent that it will, and perhaps is intended to, weaken the office of the prosecutor by depriving it of long-term leadership,” the report said.

The troubled tribunal, which has also been hit by allegations that local staff were forced to pay kickbacks for their jobs, was created in 2006 to try leading members of the regime on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The process has often been hit by allegations that Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s administration has attempted to interfere in the tribunal to protect former regime members who are now in government.

As the court has sought to investigate other suspects, Hun Sen has made fiery speeches warning further prosecutions could plunge Cambodia back into civil war.

After Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, the court plans to try former Khmer Rouge ideologue Nuon Chea, head of state Khieu Samphan, foreign minister Ieng Sary and his wife, minister of social affairs Ieng Thirith.
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Japanese investors on tour in Cambodia

A delegation of Japanese investors has arrived in Cambodia to learn about the country's economic potentialities and investment opportunities, official news agency AKP reported on Tuesday.

The 21-member delegation was received here on Monday by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister in charge of the Office of the Council of Ministers Sok An.

During the meeting, Sok An talked about Cambodia's agricultural sector, a priority of Cambodia, saying that the royal government has paid attention to build agricultural infrastructure and seek for markets for the agricultural products.

Sok An further informed his guests of other potential sectors in Cambodia, including tourism, garment and construction. "Cambodia has benefited from the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) from many developed countries such as China, South Korea, Japan, the U.S and European countries", he said, adding that the royal government has been planning to operate the stock exchange market by 2010.

For its part, the visiting Japanese delegation said it has lots of investment experience in the fields of real estate and stock exchange market. Delegates also expressed their interest in the future Cambodian stock exchange.
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Ousted Thai PM rallies supporters to Cambodia


PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -Thailand said Friday it would not be provoked into violence in its diplomatic tussle with Cambodia over fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, even as the ousted leader taunted the Bangkok government by meeting with political supporters in the neighboring country.

Thaksin's visit to Thailand's doorstep has highlighted his ability to command headlines in his homeland and destabilize its politics, even three years after he lost power and fled into exile.

Dozens of opposition politicians and other Thaksin supporters drove across the border into Cambodia to meet with the ousted leader, irritating Thailand's government, which considers him a convicted criminal and a threat to its power.

Thaksin's warm welcome in Cambodia has strained already uneasy bilateral relations.

On Thursday, Cambodia expelled a senior Thai diplomat and arrested a Thai employee of Cambodia Air Traffic Services — which manages flights in the country — for allegedly stealing Thaksin's flight schedule and giving it to the diplomat.

Thaksin, a former telecommunications billionaire, was ousted by a 2006 military coup. He fled Thailand last year to avoid imprisonment on a corruption charge and now spends most of his time in Dubai.
Thaksin "is using a helping hand from a neighboring country as a tool to overthrow the monarchy and the Thai government," Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said Friday in Bangkok.

Thaksin's political battle with the Thai government — which came to power this year after months of protests aimed at removing the former leader's allies from power — has bitterly divided his country.

He accuses Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of having taken control by undemocratic means. Thaksin remains hugely popular among the rural poor, who have staged frequent rallies calling for his return to power, but he is reviled by many in the educated urban elite.

Abhisit said Friday that Cambodia's expulsion of the Thai diplomat was intended to provoke a "violent response" from his government, but that he would respond peacefully.

"The Thai government didn't fall for their trick," he told reporters in Bangkok.

Thaksin was named an adviser to Cambodia's government on economic affairs last week, causing Thailand to recall its ambassador, with Cambodia following suit. On Wednesday, Cambodia rejected a Thai request for Thaksin's arrest, saying he was being prosecuted for political reasons.
Nationalist passions have been running high on both side of the border since Thailand opposed Cambodia's bid to have an ancient temple designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Preah Vihear temple was awarded to Cambodia by the World Court in 1962, but some land around it remains in dispute.

Both countries deployed troops to the border over the dispute, leading to skirmishes that left at least seven soldiers dead.

Cambodia on Friday withdrew 1,000 special forces troops from the disputed border area, though others remained.

"We are withdrawing our forces because we want Thailand to understand that Cambodia wants the border of the two countries to stay peaceful and for the area to be developed for the sake of both countries," deputy commander in chief Lt. Gen. Chea Tara said.
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