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Monday, April 12, 2010

Breaking into Southeast Asia’s largest “tiger den”

VietNamNet reporters investigate wildlife trafficking from Laos into Vietnam.

The Muang Thong tiger farm is located on Highway 13 about 30 kilometers from Thakhek town. From the outside, nobody would think that behind that small gate is an immense world of wild animals.

It took VietNamNet reporters several months of tracking down information and making contacts before, after a memorable journey to Laos’ Thakhek province, they successfully infiltrated the largest tiger farm in Southeast Asia.

Purporting to be people who had come to Laos to buy tigers to make tiger bone glue, VietNamNet reporters crossed into Laos at the Cau Treo border gate (Ha Tinh) and then proceeded to Thakhek, once a major node on the so-called Ho Chi Minh Trail.

The Muang Thong tiger farm is located on Highway 13 about 30 kilometers from Thakhek town. From the outside, nobody would think that behind that small gate is an immense world of wild animals.

The 200 hectare farm is surrounded by a five meter high fence with sentry boxes set 100 meters apart. It is said that guards are allowed to shoot anybody who enters the farm uninvited.

Luckily, two of the five owners of this farm are Vietnamese people from Ha Tinh province. A tiger trader introduced the reporters to them so we got into the farm by the main gate.

The gate opened and the scowls the guards had given us disappeared. We saw a number of cages with tall iron fences a world of tigers appeared in front of us. There are all kinds of tigers and tigers of all sizes in this farm.

Phan Anh D, one of the two Vietnamese owners, led us to a cage near the farm gate that held two big tigers. He said that this pair of tigers are put into the same cage for breeding. “We don’t sell only this tigers. You can choose any of the 720 animals in this farm, including bears, panthers and African lions. We are willing to sell them”, D said.

One of the two breeding tigers at Muang Thong tiger farm.

According to this man, around 100 tigers were born right on this farm. The remaining animals are transported from Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar. Tigers, both alive and dead, are transported to this farm on daily basis.

D is a Thai citizen of Vietnamese origin. He opened this farm six years ago. He said he initially contributed three million dollars to this farm to learn how to breed tigers in captivity.

“At the beginning, many tigers died and we suffered huge losses in the first year,” D related. “We began earning a profit from the second year, once we knew how to make tigers give birth in this farm. I have heard that it is a big deal in Vietnam whenever a tiger gives birth in cage. At our farm, several dozen tigers are born annually.”

He said the total value of the tigers in this farm is around $7.5 million.

The tigers at the farm need food worth around $1800 a day. Each adult tiger eats about five kilos of chickens daily. “We spend around $2000 a day but our profit is very high,” D said.

The major markets for tigers, according to this man, are Vietnam and China. “Vietnamese people come to our farm to buy tigers to make glue from tiger bones,” he said.

The value of a tiger of 100 kilos is about $14,000. Smaller tigers are cheaper. About a dozen tigers have been slaughtered to make bone glue right at the farm.

“Perhaps the smell of tigers is too strong, for within a one kilometer radius, no animal dares to come, not even the trained hunting dogs that we breed here,” said a farm worker who is specialized in slaughtering tigers.

The VietNamNet reporters asked D how to get tigers to Vietnam and he said the farm will deliver the carcasses to a customer’s address in Vietnam. The price for tigers without viscera is 3.3 million dong per kilo, COD to the central provinces of Nghe An, Ha Tinh and Quang Binh, and 4.4 million dong per kilo if the tiger is delivered in Hanoi.

He said tiger viscera weigh from eleven to thirteen kilos and a 100 kilo tiger can yield fifteen or sixteen kilos of bone.

The reporters still wondered about the means of transportation of tigers to Vietnam. “Don’t worry about it,” D assured them. “We have transported thousands of tigers to Vietnam. I will take your deposit worth 20 percent of the tiger in Vietnam. Three days later we will deliver you the goods (tiger)”.

When VietNamNet reporters expressed their wish to return to Vietnam with the tiger carcass, D said: “I don’t want to hide anything here, but this is my job. Set your mind at rest! I’ve taken thousands of tigers to Vietnam!”

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ASEAN AFTA Free Trade Meeting

Despite this week’s ASEAN summit being dominated by issues surrounding Burma and the domestic tensions in Thailand, the group’s finance ministers did get another opportunity to discuss the goal of an integrated free trade area within five years.

Critics say the likelihood of realising a South East Asian bloc with free movement of goods, labour and capital within the hoped for time frame doesn’t seem promising.

Presenter: Scott Alle
Speaker: Charles Adams, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and former regional director of the International Monetary Fund.

ALLE: On paper, an ASEAN trading bloc could be a major force in world trade. If it was a single economic entity, the grouping of South-east Asian nations would rank as the world’s 10th largest economy, and with a population of around 600 million, the third biggest global market. But ASEAN’s diverse membership from Laos, one of Asia’s poorest nations to Singapore with its180 billion dollar economy, has meant progress toward the stated goal of economic integration by 2015 has been, well, slow.

ADAMS: What’s been lacking up until now has been the translation into concrete action plans, steps and measures.

ALLE: Professor Charles Adams from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy is a former regional director of the International Monetary Fund, and has represented the organisation at ASEAN forums. He says while the focus remains on moving the process toward, the concept of an ASEAN free trade area remains loosely defined.

ADAMS: What they have done if you like is define the objective in terms of freer trade, freer movement of labour and capital etc. Now they’re going well they began with some of the at the border issues in manufacturing and yes we’re now looking at this range of behind the border issues and issues to do with services liberalisation and those are in the best of circumstances tough areas

ALLE: Behind the border refers to a country’s domestic policies, in particular the regulatory framework affecting importers and exporters, the degree of government red tape. The meeting of ASEAN finance ministers did agree to act on some trade matters. A internal free trade deal signed last year intended to boost trade by streamlining and simplifying procedures will come into effect next month, while investment agreement aimed freeing -up investment flows and reducing investment costs will come into force in August. The meeting which was also attended by representatives of the World Bank, the IMF, and the Asian Development Bank also put out an updated forecast for South-east Asia raising growth estimates to five-and-a-half per cent for this year. Professor Charles Adams from the National University of Singapore.

ADAMS: I think the overall message that came out that was number one the regional seems to be bouncing back quite strongly from the global slowdown but there’s are still some concerns. My understanding is that they discussed what we call exit strategies which basically has to do with the pace at which some of the stimulus measures introduced during the global crisis are unwound.

ALLE: Just how quickly those stimulus funds, 950 billion dollars across Asia, will be wound back continues to be a challenge for policy makers, but as economists have noted there’s increasing signs of overheating in China and India.
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Cambodia's new battle: Reconciling with the Khmer Rouge - Feature

By : Robert Carmichael

Anlong Veng, Cambodia - Twelve years ago the town of Anlong Veng in north-west Cambodia surrendered to the government in a move that marked the end of the infamous Khmer Rouge movement.

Today most residents in the district are former Khmer Rouge cadre and their families. On Friday, 150 of them came together in a unique effort to discuss reconciliation, justice and reintegration.

Trying to reintegrate the supporters of one of the 20th century's most brutal regimes is vital to rebuilding Cambodian society, says Daravuth Seng, a Cambodian-American who heads a local non-governmental organization called the Center for Justice and Reconciliation (CJR), which organized the meeting.

"Our focus is to try to get victims and perpetrators to start talking in an effort to really understand one another, and in an effort to really work on reconciliation in Cambodia," he says.

He says he feels that most of the country's reconciliation efforts to date have been one-sided, excluding the Khmer Rouge.

The irony of setting the meeting in Anlong Veng was enhanced by holding it at the compound of the late general Ta Mok, the movement's final leader and one of its most brutal and intransigent members. Ta Mok is still well-regarded here.

Seng, who fled the killing fields of Cambodia as a boy with his family, acknowledges that what the organization is trying to achieve is "a huge, huge task," but says reconciliation must be inclusive.

"And with the Cambodian context, that must include a lot of the former perpetrators as well," he says, since understanding their perspective is central to reconciliation.

It is no small task. The Khmer Rouge were responsible for the deaths of around 2 million people during their rule of Cambodia from 1975-79. Many of those who died were executed, while others succumbed to starvation, overwork and illness.

After the movement was driven from power in 1979, it regrouped on the western borders with Thailand and fought the government in Phnom Penh until finally capitulating in the late 1990s

In Phnom Penh, 300 kilometres south-east of Anlong Veng, the formal process is underway to provide some measure of accountability for crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge regime. That process is the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, a joint Cambodian-United Nations court.

Four former leaders of the movement, including its head of state and foreign minister, are in pre-trial detention. A fifth person, the regime's former security chief, was tried last year and judgment in his case is due in the coming months.

Early on at Friday's meeting, which was sponsored by Germany's development arm DED, it becomes clear that some former Khmer Rouge are concerned the court is looking to prosecute five more suspects.

The participants tell the meeting they are satisfied that justice and reconciliation require the prosecution of the five already in custody, but say the tribunal must stop there.

Im Chaem, a deputy council chief in Anlong Veng, says she and other elderly residents are concerned the court will investigate more and more suspects.

She says when they crossed over to the government in 1998, Prime Minister Hun Sen promised there would be no losers.

"Now we don't know when our turn will be because we lived and served during that time," says Im Chaem, who has previously denied allegations of extreme cruelty levelled at her when she was a Khmer Rouge district chief. "There might be another five, and then five more and then 10."

The tribunal's public affairs officer Lars Olsen says the exchange highlights the contrast between victims and perpetrators of violence. He says that most Cambodians he encounters around the country are victims and want more prosecutions, not fewer.

Olsen tells the participants that the court is not looking to add further names to its list of suspects, and says a maximum of 10 in total are to face trial.

His answer reveals the limitations of the tribunal's work. The inevitable political and practical compromises mean thousands of people will get away with murder - including possibly some of those present at the meeting.

The former cadre broadly agreed on a number of points about reconciliation. One was that more than a decade after the movement's collapse they want other Cambodians to stop referring to them as "former Khmer Rouge."

"The term 'Khmer Rouge' is associated with killing and persecution," says one. "We are finished if we are referred to as that. Our children's lives will be ruined, and no one will let their children marry ours. We should just say we are all Cambodian now."

They also called for more economic development in the area, and said all people should be equal before the law.

There is recognition too that their lives have improved since reintegration. Anlong Veng today has schooling, medical care, tarred roads, and the opportunity for educated young people to go on to university.

It is a far cry from what went before, when thousands of Khmer Rouge lived in the mountains and were constantly on the move.

"Now it has changed from bitterness to sweetness - this is very important," says another attendee. "During the war we were always changing our position, unable to stay together and even eat together. Now that the war has ended we are able to gather at the same table and have a meal."

CJR's Seng is encouraged by the day's exchanges, and says one old lady cried as she told him she regretted what she had done as a Khmer Rouge cadre.

Seng says it is vital to understand the psychology behind what happened in order to prevent future atrocities.

"There is no quick fix for reconciliation, but I honestly believe this is moving in the right direction," he says. "We can't leave out a huge group from the reconciliation process."
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Cambodia rice output rises

PHNOM PENH (Commodity Online) : Southeast Asian nation Cambodia said its rice production registered a marginal increase during 2009-10 farm year.

According to an Agriculture ministry report, the country produced 7.58 million tonnes of paddy during the period, an increase of 5.7 percent over last year.

The country grew 2.33 million hectares of rice, yielding 6 million tonnes of paddy in the wet season, and 380,000 hectares for 1.58 million tonnes of paddy in the dry season.

The Ministry of Agriculture said Cambodia could have 3.5 million tonnes of paddy left over for export, a 10.75 percent rise on the 3.16 million tonnes left over last year.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said this year’s success in paddy output helped ensure food security and lessen the impact of the global economic crisis.

Cambodia plans to raise yields to as much as 3 tonnes per hectare by 2012 to increase exports of processed rice to international markets.

The Ministry of Agriculture said Tuesday that Cambodia could have as much as 2.24 million tonnes of rice for export, after farmers brought in 2.83 tonnes of paddy per hectare this year.

In the farming year 2008-09, Cambodia grew 2.61 hectares of rice, an average paddy yield of only 2.74 tonnes per hectare.

The Supreme National Economic Council said last month that Cambodia could produce as much as 15 million tonnes of rice paddy, leaving 8 million tonnes for export.

However, rice millers and other industry insiders say the quality of processed rice remains low, keeping Cambodia out of a market that has proved lucrative for neighbouring Vietnam and Thailand
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