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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Google says it will look into complaint from Cambodia that border map with Thailand is wrong

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) - Google Inc. says it will look into a complaint from Cambodia that a map of a disputed border with Thailand is wrong, though it stopped short of saying it would change the document.

The company is responding to a complaint last week from Cambodia about the Google Earth map that it called "devoid of truth and reality, professionally irresponsible, if not pretentious." Cambodia is calling on Google to replace the map with one that is internationally recognized.

The border area near the 11th century Preah Vihear temple just across the border in Cambodia has been the focus of a long-running dispute between Cambodia and Thailand. The World Court awarded the temple to Cambodia in 1962, but sovereignty over the surrounding land has never been clearly resolved.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Experiencing life in Cambodia

After an invitation from the Catholic Agency for International Aid and Development, Caritas Australia, a group of Queensland educators along with Caritas representatives travelled to Cambodia last November for 10 days to see the work of Caritas first hand. QCEC executive officer for communications Gerard Delaney reports

CARITAS is a Latin word for love, and love was clearly evident in the work that Caritas Australia is doing to support some of the poorest of the poor in Cambodia.
Our group flew into Phnom Penh on a rainy afternoon last November.

The bustling capital city of about 1.3 million people, despite pockets of obvious affluence, is clearly "developing world".

Rubbish and powerlines are strewn between the shacks and sheds that pass for houses and shopfronts.

Motor scooters are everywhere and many have three, four or even five people crammed onto them.

On the day we arrived, people were huddled together beside the road under whatever shelter they could find to wait out the storm.

A police officer asked our driver for money in order to be allowed to pass through an area of the city that was closed off due to the annual water festival, but the driver declined, refusing to be part of the corruption.

Despite the obvious challenges, people seemed to be happily going about their business.

Happy, peaceful and dignified were qualities we found consistently among the people we met during our 10 days in this intriguing nation.

An estimated 36 per cent of Cambodia's 14.2 million people live below the poverty line and about 85 per cent of these live in rural areas.

The average daily income of Cambodians is less than $1.20 per day.

Among other health issues, about 170,000 Cambodians live with HIV/AIDS and more than 60,000 children are orphaned by the disease.

Caritas Australia, known in Cambodia as Australian Catholic Relief (ACR), has been working there since 1979 when the Khmer Rouge genocidal regime collapsed.

The dictator Pol Pot seized power in mid-1975 with the aim of returning Cambodia to a purely agricultural-based society. He forced city dwellers out to rural areas to work on farms and labour projects.

Over the next four years, the combined effects of slave labour, malnutrition, poor medical care, torture and executions resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1.7 to 2.5 million people or about 20 per cent of the Cambodian population.

In many ways the country is still recovering from this horrific chapter in its history.

From 1979-1987 Caritas focused on providing emergency relief support and from 1988-97 on reconstruction work through the government ministries of agriculture, primary health care and education.

Since 1998 Caritas has worked in partnership with several local non-government organisations (NGOs) and has focused its energies on two main areas of support - integrated community development projects in both rural and urban settings, and HIV/AIDS care and prevention.

The partnership approach is central to the Caritas philosophy that local people are best placed to make decisions about their own needs and priorities.

The approach also helps ensure that improvements are sustainable as local people are empowered to design and manage their own development programs in a way that is culturally appropriate and therefore "owned" by the communities.

Caritas provides assistance to 560 Cambodian families with 2746 members in 73 villages and one urban slum area.
Support is also provided to 114 people living with HIV/AIDS and 162 orphaned and vulnerable children.

Caritas' community development work includes construction of school buildings and water wells and the provision of small loans to increase income generation capacity and food security through small businesses or growing vegetables and livestock.

Education about hygiene and health care is a high priority, along with HIV/AIDS prevention, care and support.

The positive impacts of the community development programs are obvious when comparing the villages working with Caritas and those nearby that are not.

The project villages are much cleaner, the poultry and other animals look healthier and gardens are thriving.

The people are engaged in meaningful activity such as weaving, handicrafts and farming, and the children have the opportunity to attend school.

The role and dignity of women in the communities is also a focus of self-help group meetings along with emotional health and well-being in general. In some communities a "Happy Happy Club" has been formed for children orphaned by HIV/AIDS to come together to play and talk about their hopes and aspirations for the future.

Seeing children in circumstances of such poverty was, for me, the most challenging aspect of this immersion experience.

In each of the rural communities we visited, we met the children at their school, which consisted of a concrete slab and an iron roof. There were no resources and the availability of a teacher was sporadic.

Despite the circumstances, the children were happy and vibrant. They beamed with delight and some joined in as we did impromptu performances of the Hokey-Pokey and I'm a Little Teapot. It was hard not to be moved by their joy, but equally difficult not to ponder what their future might hold.

In addition to its community empowerment programs, Caritas also provides funding support for programs for people living with HIV/AIDS, education programs for deaf children and adults, and a youth-for-peace project that are implemented by partner aid organisations Maryknoll, Caritas Cambodia and Catholic Relief Services (Caritas USA).

Caritas Australia maintains an office in suburban Phnom Penh. The team of six staff are all local people and the professional, dedicated way they go about their work is highly impressive. The support projects are all carefully planned and outcomes are measured and documented right down to the number of chickens in each village.

The office is headed up by 49-year-old Lay Sothy ("So - tee") who as a teenager in 1975, like hundreds of thousands of others, was forced out of Phnom Penh and separated from his family under the Pol Pot regime.

Sothy returned to the city in 1979 and his involvement with Caritas happened by accident. He was working two jobs as a taxi driver and government factory worker and secretly learning English at night.

In 1990 he delivered a Caritas visitor to the office in his cab and at the time the religious sister in charge was looking for a driver and offered him a job.

He soon became the office book keeper and the rest as they say is history. Caritas encouraged and supported Sothy to study and he graduated with a masters degree in development management from the University of Cambodia in 2007.

This immersion program has been particularly important in helping strengthen relations between Cambodia and Catholic education. ACR program officer Sothun Nop will visit Brisbane as a guest of Brisbane Catholic Education from April 14-25 to work with students and staff in the archdiocese including a presentation at BCE's "Powerhouse of Leadership" event on April 19.

While there are indicators that things are improving, there is still a long way to go before all Cambodians can live with an acceptable level of human dignity.

Caritas Australia is committed to working with the poor and striving to empower them to improve their quality of life.

I believe the Australian Catholic community, in supporting Caritas, can be extremely proud of the contribution it is making to this challenge.

Caritas' annual Project Compassion Appeal will be officially launched by Governor Penelope Wensley on Shrove Tuesday, this week, at the Australian Catholic University at Banyo.

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Cambodia asks US to cancel $339M debt from 1970s

Associated Press

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- Cambodia asked the United States on Tuesday to cancel $339 million in debt that dates to loans from the 1970s - or consider converting most of it into development aid for the impoverished country.

The proposal, which came during a visit by U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Scot Marciel, was the latest in a long-running exchange about how to handle the debt and how the money was used 40 years ago.

"Cambodia has asked the United States government to cancel the debt but if it cannot do that, at least turn 70 percent of the debt into aid for the social development of the country," Deputy Foreign Minister Ouch Borith said after the meeting. He said if the latter option were accepted, Cambodia would discuss repayment plans for the remaining 30 percent.

Marciel, who is Washington's ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, later explained to reporters that the debt could only be waived if Congress passed a law authorizing it.
The low-interest loans financed rice, cotton and other agricultural commodities during the regime of Gen. Lon Nol, who came to power in a 1970 coup that ousted Prince Norodom Sihanouk. The United States was the main financial and military supporter of Lon Nol's regime until it was toppled by the genocidal Khmer Rouge movement in April 1975.

Cambodia's government says the money was also used to "buy weapons and support the war, which caused great suffering to the Cambodian people," Ouch Borith said.

The countries have not set a repayment plan in part because the Cambodian government refuses to accept responsibility for debts incurred by the Lon Nol regime and because they disagree over the amount owed.
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Tim Etchells on performance: Cambodia's beat goes on

Can Cambodia begin to rebuild its shattered cultural heritage? Tim Etchells wonders if the answer lies with a team of Khmer dancers ... and a specially modified laptop

I've recently returned from two weeks in Cambodia, travelling with 18 other artists, dancers, choreographers and performance-makers at the invitation of Ong Keng Sen's Flying Circus Project. Based in Singapore, Keng Sen's Theatre Works outfit has been running these exchanges – predominantly Asian in focus, but with routes out in all directions – for something like 10 years. The intention varies with each incarnation, but the broad hope is for a two-way artistic exchange between invited and local artists, and between the invited artists themselves. To call this latter group diverse would be an understatement: our trip saw passports from Indonesia, Slovenia, Turkey, South Africa, India, UK, Lebanon, Singapore, USA and Austria, among others, landing on the immigration desk in Phnom Penh.

Highly organised and efficient on one hand, Flying Circus also courts a creative openness that at times borders on chaos. The logic for Keng Sen is that the encounter must have its own energy, that the group itself must conjure something new from the situation. An approach like this takes time and nerve, but it undoubtedly pays off.

Looking back, it's hard to say what made the biggest impression on me. The country itself remains blighted by poverty, and still in recovery from the devastation of the Pol Pot era and subsequent years of civil war and instability. Culturally, there's a determined attempt to recover what the Khmer Rouge tried to wipe out in its brutal five-year drive to Year Zero, which involved – alongside much else – killing intellectuals, artists, teachers and anyone who spoke French. For this reason, there's much talk of archives, of remembering and preserving. Around 300 feature films were made in Cambodia before 1975, of which as few as 30 now survive. They have been gathered in the last five years and preserved along with other film, sound and photographic materials at the Bophana archive in Phnom Penh, our base for half of the workshops.

The situation is equally dire in the performing arts, since only a handful of classical Khmer dancers survived the killing fields. These old masters are now a precious resource, teaching new generations techniques that otherwise would have slipped away for good. Back home in England, I generally run a mile from people attempting to rescue traditional forms; but in Cambodia, the initiative made more sense – the difference, perhaps, between a past that is dying from irrelevance or lack of interest, and one that has only recently survived assassination.

What I sensed in the younger artists and dancers we worked with, though, was a desire to move forwards with the past, and not to retreat into it. These Cambodian twentysomethings are savvy and hungry, and well aware that their country is opening up, and that internationally financed redevelopment and tourism have been following the inflow of NGOs. They know that they'll need new approaches in the arts, and new political voices to meet the challenges ahead.

I asked Keng Sen what he feared the most from his project. We talked about economic and political dangers (artists as the vanguard for property developers) and about the cultural dangers (Cambodians caught in retreading western postmodern art practice). Then we talked about the positives: the meetings, the collisions, the insistence on and the articulation of differences. There was one moment in the workshops that crystallised these possibilities for me. Tarek Atoui, Lebanese sound artist, ran a session with the Khmer participants that involved sounds collected by the dancers played out from a laptop and a complex array of homemade sensors, motion triggers and pressure pads. It was late in the afternoon when the dancers from Amrita Performing Arts, our hosts for half of the project, took to their feet and began to move in and around Atoui's machinery.

What happened was tentative at first, then suddenly too much. It was as if the dancers wanted to play the system, or make music with it, rather than dance with it. My heart sank. Then all at once they turned a corner and were dancing again – the turning wrists and fingers, lowered centres of gravity, eye contact, pantomime pauses and forward rolls all instantly recognisable from Khmer classical forms. They weren't dancing for the electronics, nor were they dancing with them exactly; they were dancing with and against them, entering and refusing, insisting on and moving through. There was tension in the dancing and music that afternoon, just as there should be on occasions of meeting. It was a privilege and an inspiration to be there.
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Runner hopes feat is one for the Record Book

By Mike DeDoncker
GateHouse News Service

ROCKFORD, Ill. — Glenn Greenberg has proved that he’ll go just about anywhere to run.

He hopes that, in doing so, he has run himself into a mention in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Greenberg, who became the 68th person to complete a marathon on all of the world’s seven continents in 2002, thinks he may be the first to have also run a half marathon on every continent. He said he has applied for recognition by the Guinness book, but he has yet to receive a response.

Greenberg finished his half-marathon quest in Cambodia when he ran the 14th Angkor Wat International Half Marathon — a charity run to raise money to provide artificial limbs for victims of land-mine explosions — on Dec. 6.

“Once I got into it,” he said, “what really motivated me was that there was no one that I could find out about who had done both a marathon and half marathon on all seven continents. As I understand it, to get in the Guinness book, you either have to outdo someone who has done something to get in there or you have to do something that hasn’t been done.

“I got a copy of the book, and I couldn’t find any entry that said anyone else has done this.”

Greenberg said longtime friend and running partner Rose Austin, who had begun running half-marathon races that accompanied the marathons he was doing, is responsible for his second around-the-world running feat.

“When I finished my seven continents in the marathon,” he said, “Rose still had two continents to go for a half-marathon on all seven.”

He ran half marathons with her in Stuttgart, Germany, and on Australia’s Gold Coast and decided “as long as I have a couple of them in, I might as well finish the seven continents.”

Races in Nashville, Tenn., on Madagascar and Easter Island, and in Antarctica — the only place where he repeated a site of his seven-continent marathon runs because there is only one running event there — gave Greenberg six continents to lead up to the run in Cambodia.

He said the course from the temple at Angkor Wat was flat but rough “with very heavy traffic as we ran through the temple grounds.”

Greenberg said the Madagascar and Easter Island runs stood out most among the seven “because Easter Island is so desolate — it took a five-hour plane ride off the coast of Chile to get there — and then there is just one little town on the island and NASA landing strip, where the space shuttle could land if it had to, and that’s it. Everything runs wild there, the horses and everything. Nothing is penned up.

“Then, Madagascar was an interesting race just because of the lifestyles they live and the course was unbelievably hard to run. We ran six miles in sand and then the rest of the race was on a road that had nothing but huge holes in it.”

Greenberg, who said he runs about 40 miles per week to stay in training, said the second seven-continent feat has left him with no immediate goals, except to run a half marathon on the Indianapolis 500 track in Speedway, Ind., in May.

“I want to run more marathons,” he said, “but I don’t have any specific plans. I’m sort of an impulse runner. If something comes up I could, next week, decide to go run a marathon.”

Mike DeDoncker can be reached at (815) 987-1382 or
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