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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Cambodia destroys tonnes of oil used to make ecstasy

PHNOM PENH, Jan 28 (AFP) - Cambodian authorities and Australian police on Thursday began destroying tonnes of a raw ingredient used to make the party drug ecstasy, an anti-narcotics official said.

They started burning 14.6 tonnes of confiscated sassafras oil, which is extracted from a rare tree found deep in Cambodia's jungles, said Moek Dara, secretary-general of Cambodia's national authority for combating drugs.

"If we don't crack down on the oil, a lot of people, not only those in Cambodia, will suffer," he told AFP, adding that it would take at least 10 days to destroy the sassafras.

Sassafras is an ingredient for cosmetics but also a precursor chemical to make ecstasy. Five litres of the oil would produce 10,000 pills of the club drug, officials said.

The oil comes from the rare M'rea Prov Phnom tree, Moek Dara said.

The stocks of sassafras, which were confiscated in anti-drug raids last year, were being destroyed in the northwestern province of Battambang along with nearly six tonnes of other chemical substances, he added.

Cambodia destroyed 35 tonnes of sassafras in 2007 when authorities made the oil illegal.

Impoverished Cambodia has become a popular trafficking point for narcotics, particularly methamphetamines and heroin, after neighbouring Thailand toughened its stance on illegal drugs in 2002.

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From Cambodia’s Killing Fields to $125,00 win in Las Vegas

By Robin Leach

It was a long and difficult journey from “The Killing Fields” of Cambodia for refugee Kimbo Ung, who has now settled in Las Vegas and become a full-time poker player. Kimbo recently defeated World Series of Poker bracelet winners and a Hollywood actor in the Heartland Poker Tour at Red Rock Casino to win the $125,000 pot.

Antonio “The Magician” Esfandiari was there. Layne Flack was there. Lou Diamond Phillips and yours truly were there when 300 players from the Midwest invaded Las Vegas for the celebrity event. But the biggest star was a 42-year-old unknown who spent the past three years on the bubble.

Kimbo, the winner of $125,901, nearly busted out multiple times. He sat at the Final Table as the short stack, and at one point had 80,000 chips when his opponents had millions. But Kimbo is no stranger to starting over, having spent a lifetime overcoming horrifying and unbelievable odds as The Comeback Kid.

Kimbo relates his childhood to the Oscar-winning film The Killing Fields. He explained: “The movie didn’t even do justice to the horror we faced before we reached the United States as refugees.”

One of seven children, he learned English and graduated from high school on the East Coast. Without a college degree, Kimbo worked as a graphic designer in New York City. The daily grind of 14-hour days and traveling by train from Connecticut became too much, so he and his wife, Sokhim, moved to Texas to start over.

Kimbo and Sokhim, also from Cambodia, invested in the dream of owning their own business. Two years after opening a seafood restaurant, the couple realized the hard truths of the service industry and decided, having run out of money, to start over yet again. They packed their belongings in their truck and made the trek to Las Vegas.

During their drive three years ago, they had to stop to fill jugs of water for their overheating truck. Pulling up at Palace Station, the truck died for good. Kimbo and Sokhim started over a third time just as the economic recession began.

Unable to find a job, Kimbo made a living playing poker. “I never considered myself a pro, but I supported myself through poker,” he said. After 18 months of bad beats and missing the money, Kimbo gave up tournaments and played only two to five no-limit games.

On a day off from her job at a Strip casino, Sokhim and her husband were at the movies at Red Rock when she noticed a qualifier round of the Heartland Poker Tour about to start. She urged Kimbo to invest $250 of their last savings in the qualifier. Sokhim had no way of getting home 20 miles away while Kimbo played, and he didn’t want her hovering over the table. So she watched three more movies while he looked for the winning hands.

Kimbo played the qualifier and won his way into the sellout Main Event, returning to battle accomplished poker players such as Theo Tran, Mary Jo Belcore-Zogman and David Singer. Low on chips throughout, a turning point came when he beat Theo. “I reminded myself to never give up,” said Kimbo, who made it to the Final Table.

Heartland Poker Tour producers weren’t surprised when they learned of Kimbo’s honesty shortly after the set was dismantled and shipped back to the Midwest.

“Our players are good people,” HPT President Todd Anderson said. “If a stereotype exists of today’s poker players, Kimbo seems to fit it at first glance. With dark glasses and an Ed Hardy hoodie, he appears emotionless, focused, confident and aggressive.

“At one point he was dangerously low on chips and had to ask another player to make change. Kimbo was given too much and really needed the chips, but said he’d never feel good about stealing from an older man. So he returned the overpay chips, and his luck turned, and he went on to win.”

After the shock of his win started to wear off, Kimbo revealed that he doesn’t normally wear glasses or conceal his face when he plays.

“I didn’t want to embarrass myself by becoming the first player to cry at the Final Table,” he said, crying as he hugged his wife, becoming the first champion of the televised Heartland Poker Tour’s Season 6.

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Minority groups in Cambodia get spotli

According to media sources in Phnom Penh, the Center for Advanced Study (CAS) has announced a release of the first book about the history of ethnic minority groups in Cambodia.

Jan 27, 2010 – According to media sources in Phnom Penh, the Center for Advanced Study (CAS) has announced a release of the first book about the history of ethnic minority groups in Cambodia.

The 664-page book examines the lifestyles and cultures of Cambodian residents of Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai and Laotian descent, as well as members of Muslim and other minority communities, CAS director Hun Sokhom was quoted by the Phnom Penh Post as saying.

"We hope the book will help Khmer people better understand the traditions and cultures of each ethnic group," Hun Sokhun said, adding that he believed that widespread distribution of the book will reduce discrimination directed at minority groups.

The book is based on two separate studies carried out by Khmer and foreign experts - a three-month study by the United Nations in 1996, and a 12-month study in 2006, paid for by the Rockefeller Foundation, according to the newspaper.

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