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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Passports with Purpose raises $13,000 to build school in Cambodia

By Katie Hammel


One of the most difficult parts of travel is visiting a less-developed country, seeing a need, and wishing there was something you can do to help fill it. So four travel bloggers from the Seattle area got together and decided to raise some money and put it to use on a particular project. This year, that project is building a school in Cambodia, and they've been joined by over 50 additional travel writers, bloggers and travel websites in raising the funds.

The effort, dubbed "Passports with Purpose" started with a goal to raise $13,000 by December 21. But they weren't just asking for donations out of the goodness of your heart - those who contribute will be entered to win in drawings for some pretty cool prizes like Flip cameras, Shutterfly gift cards, travel gear, and even free stays at hotels around the world. Each entry costs $10 and you can enter to win the drawing for the prize of your choice. Each prize will be valued at $75 or more.

As of yesterday, the group met their $13,000 goal, but rather than stop there they've decided to go even bigger. Now they'll try to raise an additional $13,000 to staff the school with a nurse, install a water filer, and plant a vegetable garden.

The deadline to donate and win a prize closes December 21 and winners will be announced on January 5. All proceeds from the entries will go directly to American Assistance for Cambodia, an independent nonprofit organization formed in 1993, which works with the Cambodian government to build school in rural villages. Read more!

Waste skills, expertise could make difference in Cambodia

Kings County Councillor Chris Parker says a municipal partnership program between Kings and Battambang District, Cambodia, is a worthwhile project. Here, he holds a figurine he purchased while in Cambodia on a recent technical exchange mission. K.Starratt


BY KIRK STARRATT


Kings County Advertiser

A recent technical exchange mission between Kings and Battambang District, Cambodia was a success: delivering a waste management message.

The three-person Kings delegation included Councillor Chris Parker, program delivery specialist; Brian Van Rooyen, policy coordinator, Valley Waste Resource Management (VWRM); and Andrew Garrett, communication coordinator, VWRM.

“I’d say it’s definitely a worthwhile project for the municipality. We’re doing wonderful stuff there,” Parker said during a presentation to council colleagues at the November committee of the whole (COTW) session. “I couldn’t have asked for a better team.”

The technical exchange mission between Battambang and Kings County was the third activity in the partnership program, part of a Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) Municipal Partnership Program. The purpose was to “train the trainer” on environmental values and best practices in waste management with three pilot communes participating - Tuol Tael, Svay Por and Prek Preah Sdach.

The mission aimed to evaluate ways to increase the service level and citizen participation in waste disposal. Mission findings from the technical exchange, from Oct. 12 to 23, say the overall project would develop in five stages: public awareness education, improvements to the waste collection system, revenue generation to provide ongoing financial support to collection system changes, enforcement of an anti-dumping law and the formation of an inter-commune committee. Throughout the development of the project, pilot communes should share resources to strengthen and support social and service changes.

“They can’t afford garbage collection,” Van Rooyen said. “The collector pays the municipality for the exclusive right to collect.”

The success of the environmental awareness training program exceeded expectations. The enthusiasm, passion and dedication of the trainees indicates a high level of commitment, and the team believes this will carry the overall project.

Van Rooyen said they were pleased to meet with the instructors, supposed at first to be 12 to 15, but ended up at 22 people - all very excited. He said there was a $3 per diem budgeted for the two days of training with the instructors: very significant and important to the trainees, and Van Rooyen said this gives an idea of the different standard of living between Canada and Cambodia.

An eye-opening experience

Parker said it took about 600 hours of work to prepare for this two-week trip, but the purpose is to improve the living conditions of Cambodians. Political instability over the past several decades, families living in dumping sites, where cows roam free.

“One of the hardest things was to get that smell out of my mind,” Parker said about the dumping sites they toured.

Parker showed videos of the driving conditions, musicians and a dumpsite beside a cemetery. The bus service in Battambang: up to 25 people crowded on a wagon, drawn by a motorcycle. Land mines are a problem, and Cambodia has the highest per capita rate of amputees in the world. They witnessed lots of garbage being burned, and wanted to see how badly the water was polluted. On a boat trip, Parker ended up having to bail at one point: he was sick after water splashed in his mouth.

Van Rooyen said he learned from a province-wide study on marine waste that about 70 per cent of plastic in the water ends up below the surface. It starts to disintegrate and fish and other marine animals eat it and die.

“What we saw on the river is only the tip of the iceberg,” Van Rooyen said. “I’d hate to see what’s on the bottom.”

Parker said Kings could assist Cambodian municipalities with laws and fundraising to implement waste management programs. The people are downtrodden, but have an incredible entrepreneurial spirit.
Read more!

Thai jailed in Cambodia over Thaksin flight leak

By Ek Madra


PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - A Thai engineer was jailed in Cambodia for seven years for spying on Tuesday after he obtained flight details of fugitive former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a ruling likely to prolong a bitter row between the two countries.

The court said Siwarak Chutipongse, 31, had breached national security when he leaked the flight details to Thai diplomats ahead of Thaksin's visit to Cambodia last month.

Thaksin, who lives in exile after skipping bail last year ahead of a prison sentence for graft, caused a diplomatic uproar when he visited Cambodia to begin work as an economic adviser to its government.

The move was widely dismissed as a publicity stunt staged by Thaksin and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to boost the billionaire's profile and discredit the Thai government.

"Thaksin is Cambodia's adviser, so the government of Cambodia has an obligation to protect his life," Judge Ke Sakhan said in reading the verdict. "If anything happens to him, we would be blamed and that could lead to rocky relations with Thailand."

Siwarak denied leaking the information and said he obtained the flight details because he wanted to know when his former prime minister would arrive.

PARDON SOUGHT

Chavanond Intarakomalasut, a senior Thai Foreign Ministry official, told reporters in Bangkok that the government would submit a formal request for Siriwak's pardon if he chose not to appeal.

His arrest on November 10 prompted Cambodia to take temporary control of Thai-operated Cambodia Air Traffic Services (CATS) and suspend all Thai expatriates at the company.

The ruling is likely to ramp up diplomatic tensions that reached boiling point when Cambodia refused to extradite Thaksin or recognise his conviction on the grounds that he was a victim of a vendetta by his political rivals.

The extradition snub and Cambodia's offer of a home and a job to Thaksin led to the recall and expulsion of diplomats and the freezing of bilateral agreements, including a pact to jointly develop untapped energy reserves in the Gulf of Thailand.

The downgrade of diplomatic ties has prompted concerns about a possible military confrontation along their disputed frontier and fears the border would be closed. Neither has happened.

If the border was closed, traders say Thailand's economy would suffer most because Cambodia imports more goods from Thailand, which relies on its neighbour for just 0.05 percent of total imports.

Read more!

Cambodian court tries Thai man for spying, intensifying dispute between Asian neighbors

By SOPHENG CHEANG , Associated Press


PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - A Thai man went on trial Tuesday for allegedly spying on Thailand's former prime minister while he was in Cambodia as a guest of the government, a case that threatens to worsen a diplomatic feud between the two nations.

The trial in the capital of Phnom Penh follows Cambodia's decision last month to name former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra its special economic adviser. The appointment and Thaksin's subsequent visit to Cambodia angered the government in Bangkok and resulted in a recall of ambassadors from both sides.

Thai national Siwarak Chothipong, an employee of the Cambodia Air Traffic Service, which manages flights in the country, was accused of stealing Thaksin's flight schedule before his Nov. 10 arrival and sending it to the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh.

Thaksin stayed five days, getting red-carpet treatment as he talked to Cambodian economists.

Siwarak, 31, was arrested Nov. 12 and charged with stealing information that could impact national security. If found guilty, he faces up to 15 years in prison.

Siwarak acknowledged in Municipal Court that he saw the flight schedule and passed the details on to Thai embassy First Secretary Kamrob Palawatwichai who was later expelled from the country. But he denied stealing the document.

"I took a look at the flight schedule and made a phone call to Kamrob about the flight schedule," Siwarak told the court. "But I didn't get a copy of the flight schedule and hand it over to anyone."

Two other employees from the Cambodia Air Traffic Service testified that Siwarak asked them about the flight schedule.

Thaksin went into self-imposed exile last year before a Thai court found him guilty of violating a conflict of interest law and sentenced him to two years in prison. He had served as prime minister from 2001 to 2006, when he was ousted in a military coup after being accused of corruption and showing disrespect to the monarchy.

Thaksin's supporters and opponents have repeatedly taken to the streets since then to spar over who has the right to rule the country, sometimes sparking violence.

Thaksin's visit to Cambodia led to allegations he was trying to ignite a new political crisis from across the border.

Critics, including Thailand's government, have portrayed Thaksin as a traitor for accepting the Cambodian appointment and have lambasted Cambodia for hosting him while he is a fugitive. Relations have already been roiled by several deadly skirmishes in the 1.5 years over land surrounding the ancient Preah Vihear temple.

Siwarak allegedly gave Thaksin's flight schedule to the Thai Embassy's first secretary, who was then ordered by Cambodia to leave the country for carrying out activities inconsistent with his official duties. Thailand responded by ordering out the first secretary of Cambodia's mission in Bangkok. The two countries already had recalled their ambassadors.
Read more!