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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Cambodia rubber price rises by 236 percent

PHNOM PENH (Commodity Online) : Cambodia’s General Directorate of Rubber said the price of dry rubber has increased by more than 236 percent year-on-year in the country.

Such sharp increase in rubber prices has not been seen for 60 years. It has resulted from demand outstripping supply, it said in a report.

The price of rubber sold to international markets this month reached $3,700 per tonne.In April last year, rubber was sold for only $1,100 per tonne, with a 2009 market high of $3,000 per tonne.

Last year, because of the unfavourable weather and unusual heavy rainfall in major producing areas such as Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, world production decreased around 6 percent.

So far, much of Cambodia’s 130,000 hectares of rubber cultivation consists of young crops, which have not yet yielded.

In 2009, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries reported that Cambodia produced 37,000 tonnes of rubber, 36,000 tonnes of which was exported.
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Bird flu kills another, virus still threat to Cambodia — WHO

PHNOM PENH, April 21 — The World Health Organization (WHO) and Cambodia said on Wednesday that another Cambodian man was killed by bird flu H5N1 virus which is considered still a threat to this Southeast Asian kingdom.

A 27-year-old Cambodian, of the eastern province of Prey Veng, died on April 17 as a result of respiratory complications after contracting bird flu virus H5N1, said a joint statement of WHO and Cambodian Health Ministry.

"Avian influenza H5N1 is still a threat to the health of Cambodians. I urge communities to be on the look-out for sick poultry and to report poultry die-offs to the ministry of health and agriculture hotlines so that they can be investigated before people start to get sick," said Cambodian health minister Mam Bun Heng in a joint statement.

The latest death brought the country's death toll from the deadly virus to eight out of 10 confirmed cases of H5N1, said the release.

The Ministry of Health's officials are now in the affected area conducting filed investigation to identify the man's close contacts and to initiate preventative treatment as required, it said.

"Health officials are also coordinating with the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries teams who are investigating possible poultry deaths in the area," said the press release.

Globally since 2003, there have been 494 laboratory confirmed cases of avian influenza with 293 related deaths, it said.

The virus does not spread easily between humans, although the virus H5N1 spreads between sick poultry and sometimes from poultry to humans, said the release. (PNA/Xinhua) vcs/utb
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BHP faces investigation into $2.7m Cambodia graft claim

BHP Billiton yesterday joined Rio Tinto in battling graft allegations, saying it had uncovered evidence of possible corruption by employees on an overseas project.

The Australian understands the conduct, now under investigation by the powerful Securities and Exchange Commission in the US, relates to a bauxite exploration project in Cambodia.

BHP has admitted making a $US2.5 million ($2.7m) payment to the community near the bauxite project, in the northeastern Cambodian province of Mondulkiri, near the Vietnamese border.

A Cambodian government minister described the payment as "tea money", a local term for unofficial payments to government officials.

BHP has rejected this, saying the money was put into a development fund investing in local social welfare programs. The company said it had paid $US1m in September 2006 to the Cambodia government for bauxite exploration rights.

BHP yesterday declined to reveal where the alleged corruption occurred, stressing only that it was not China. It would not comment on what the behaviour involved and whether employees had stood down or been fired but it said the activities involved mineral exploration, not marketing its products.

Last month, Rio sacked four workers, including Australian Stern Hu, after they were convicted of bribery and stealing commercial secrets related to deals to sell iron ore to Chinese steel mills. Rio has introduced sweeping changes to its Chinese operation and is conducting a review to avoid a repeat of the scandal.

Yesterday, BHP said the alleged corruption was uncovered after the SEC queried it during an investigation into mineral exploration projects.

"The company has disclosed to relevant authorities evidence it has uncovered regarding possible violations of applicable anti-corruption laws involving interactions with government officials," BHP said yesterday in a statement.

According to a report in The Cambodia Daily in July 2007, the nation's National Assembly was told BHP had paid $US2.5m to the government to secure exploration rights to a bauxite deposit in Mondulkiri with Japanese industrial giant Mitsubishi.

The claim was made by the then water minister, who described the payment as "tea money".

The minister's comments informed a report into Cambodian corruption by the non-government organisation Global Witness. The report, Country for Sale, details the claims and BHP's rejection of them.

Global Witness wrote to BHP in October 2008 requesting details of any and all payments made to the Cambodian government.

BHP responded saying it had put $US2.5m into a development fund and it had paid $US1m in September 2006 to the government for bauxite exploration.

"BHP Billiton has never made a payment to a Cambodian government official or representative, and we reject any assertion that the payment under the minerals exploration agreement is, or amounts contributed to the Social Development Projects Fund are, `tea money'," the miner said.

While Global Witness did not draw any negative conclusions about the management of the development fund, it did identify an issue with the $US1m payment to government, although one outside the control of BHP.
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Cambodia's genocide trial described as expensive farce

The United Nations' chief legal counsel called for donors to help fund Cambodia's United Nations backed genocide trial. The tribunal is not funded by UN member states but instead relies on voluntary contributions. Since 2006 it has cost around 50 million US dollars a year to run. Now a former high-profile supporter of the UN-backed tribunal says further funding would be a waste of money.

Presenter: Sen Lam
Speaker: Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch Asia division director

SEN: Brad you were a vocal supporter of the UN backed tribunal before but not now so what changed your mind?

ADAMS: We had very high hopes for this tribunal. For more than 20 years politics had stopped the international community from helping Cambodians bring the Khmer Rouge to justice. There were Cold War politics between the United States, China, the former Soviet Union and Vietnam that stopped it. We thought that the tribunal would be able to bring new facts to the Cambodian people, let them know what really happened. We thought that it would be a chance to create a model court in Cambodia where there would be an independent judiciary and where some of the judges and prosecutors involved would be able to take the skills that they obtained from this process and bring them into the Cambodian courts and try to improve Cambodia's terrible judicial system, which is essentially under the thumb of Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Cambodian government and does its bidding.

Unfortunately none of that has come to pass, it's been a very expensive process, as you said more than 50 million dollars per year, they've conducted one trial which took more than a year. That trial was of a person who had admitted his guilt and still it was dragging on and on to the point that many Cambodians were getting disinterested and losing hope. And now we have a situation where the UN staff of the court want to pursue additional cases, and the Cambodians are blocking it. So the process has become politicised in exactly the way we were hoping it wouldn't.

LAM: Do you think part of the problem might be that the process and indeed the tribunal has been watered down so much that it's no longer meaningful?

ADAMS: It really depends on whether the Cambodian government wants the trial to happen and wants the facts to come out. If they do, then it can be very meaningful. But Hun Sen has made it clear over and over again that he doesn't want the trials, he's said repeatedly he doesn't want them. He has said that it was a mistake to have them, he has said that he hopes they fail. He can't really just pull the plug because of public opinion in Cambodia, so he's doing everything he can to make them less meaningful than they could be. And the consequences that people who were responsible for the deaths of thousands or in some cases tens of thousands remaining free, including possibly some members in his party, which is the main reason most people think that Hun Sen has been trying to block the process.

LAM: But I guess they have to start somewhere and so they're for instance next year hearing from four other quite formally high level Khmer Rouge officials. So that's a good start is it not?

ADAMS: It would be a good end. The problem is it's too late for anything to be credited as a good start because we're years into this and tens and tens of millions of dollars have been spent.

LAM: What would you like to see Brad?

ADAMS: I'd like to see speedy trials of people like Nuon Chea, the former number two to Pol Pot, Ieng Sary, the former foreign minister, Khieu Samphan, the President of the Khmer Rouge; these people have a case to answer and they should answer it while they're healthy, alert and alive. And there's a risk that these men are going to die in custody because the process is just dragging on and on. I'd also like to see many more people investigated and indicted, I'd like to see the Cambodian government to cooperate with those investigations instead of trying to block them.

LAM: So why do you think the UN is persisting with this whole exercise if it's such a farce?

ADAMS: Well the UN has a reputational risk here, they actually didn't want to get into this. Kofi Anan tried to stop it, but Australia, Japan and France in particular insisted that the UN participate. Now they've committed themselves to this process and as a former UN staff member I can tell you there's a lot of institutional inertia in the UN and also a lot of covering one's rear end. So that they don't want this to be seen as a failure, and so they keep throwing as far as I'm concerned good money after bad without insisting on high standards. I mean the statement that the UN released with the Cambodian government yesterday said that this could become a model court, which is really shocking because the UN has long been aware that the Cambodian model is the worst model for international justice or hybrid court that has been created thus far.
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Cambodia genocide trial begins

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — A notorious torture center boss went before Cambodia's genocide tribunal Tuesday for its first trial over the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people at the hands of the Khmer Rouge regime more than three decades ago.

Kaing Guek Eav — better known as Duch, who headed the S-21 prison in Phnom Penh — is charged with crimes against humanity, and is this first of five defendants scheduled for long-delayed trials by the U.N.-assisted tribunal. The hearing Tuesday was for procedural matters, and testimony was expected to begin only in late March.

Duch intently followed the proceedings in a courtroom packed with some 500 people after he was was driven there in a bulletproof car from a nearby detention center.

"This first hearing represents the realization of significant efforts to establish a fair and independent tribunal to try those in leadership positions and those most responsible for violations of Cambodian and international law," presiding judge Nil Nonn told the chamber.

Duch, 66, is accused of committing or abetting a range of crimes including murder, torture and rape at S-21 prison — formerly a school — where up to 16,000 men, women and children were held and tortured, before being put to death.

He has made no formal confession. However, unlike the other four defendants, Duch "admitted or acknowledged" that many of the crimes occurred at his prison, according to the indictment from court judges. Duch, who converted to Christianity, has also asked for forgiveness from his victims.

Duch has been variously described by those who knew him as "very gentle and kind" and a "monster."

"Duch necessarily decided how long a prisoner would live, since he ordered their execution based on a personal determination of whether a prisoner had fully confessed" to being an enemy of the regime, the tribunal said in an indictment in August.

In one mass execution, he gave his men a "kill them all" order to dispose of a group of prisoners. On another list of 29 prisoners, he told his henchmen to "interrogate four persons, kill the rest."

After the fall of the Khmer Rouge, Duch disappeared for two decades, living under two other names and as a converted Christian before he was located in northwestern Cambodia by a British journalist in 1999.

Taken to the scene of his alleged crimes last year, he wept and told some of his former victims, "I ask for your forgiveness. I know that you cannot forgive me, but I ask you to leave me the hope that you might."

His defense lawyer Francois Roux said Tuesday that his client has been in detention for nine years, nine months and seven days, adding, "This situation is unacceptable."

When the communist Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975 after five years of bitter civil war, many of their countrymen thought peace was at hand. But in their effort to remake society, they instituted a reign of terror that lasted nearly 4 years, until ended by an invasion by neighboring Vietnam.

Many victims feared that all the Khmer Rouge leaders would die before facing justice, and getting even one of them on trial is seen as a breakthrough. But there are concerns that the process is being politically manipulated and that thousands of killers will escape unpunished.

"It's going to be a very big day for the Cambodian people because the justice that they have been waiting for 30 years is starting to get closer and closer," tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath said on the eve of the trial opening.

Duch's hearing before the tribunal was expected to last two or three days, Reach Sambath said.

The trial comes 30 years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, 13 years after the tribunal was first proposed and nearly three years after the court was inaugurated.

The tribunal has been plagued by political interference from the Cambodian government, allegations of bias and corruption, lack of funding and bickering between Cambodian and international lawyers.

Some observers believe Prime Minister Hun Sen — a former Khmer Rouge officer himself — is controlling the tribunal's scope by directing the decisions of the Cambodian prosecutors and judges.

The Cambodian side in the tribunal has recently turned down recommendations from the international co-prosecutor to try other Khmer Rouge leaders, as many as six according to some reports. This has sparked criticism from human rights groups.

"The tribunal cannot bring justice to the millions of the Khmer Rouge's victims if it tries only a handful of the most notorious individuals, while scores of former Khmer Rouge officials and commanders remain free," the New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a release Monday.

Others facing trial are Khieu Samphan, the group's former head of state; Ieng Sary, its foreign minister; his wife Ieng Thirith, who was minister for social affairs; and Nuon Chea, the movement's chief ideologue.
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University professor discusses state of world public health

The University FIMRC chapter hosted Dr. Holtan’s talk on Tuesday.

By Katherine Lymn

Horror health stories of Madagascar and Cambodia sprinkled Dr. Neal Holtan’s talk about world public health to a small group of University of Minnesota students Tuesday.

Holtan used his voyage from growing up in small-town Iowa to working in the appalling standards of Third World health work as a framework to illustrate the importance of public health.

The University chapter of the Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children hosted Holtan, who currently serves as medical director for the Minnesota Institute of Public Health.

FIMRC vice president and political science sophomore Tyler Dirks said the student group works to raise money for FIMRC clinics in Costa Rica and other countries.

While Holtan said his move from Iowa hospitals to Minneapolis emergency rooms seemed drastic, his work in the Third World hospitals was incomparable.

Children in hospitals in Cambodia played with used bandages, and a government-sponsored midwife in Madagascar used rusty razors to cut umbilical cords off newborns, Holtan recalled.

“It would just hit you in the face,” he said of the public health conditions he’d seen.

Students were shocked at these descriptions and showed interest in the type of work Holtan does.

Perhaps the most interested student was the one with the least experience in health education.

Andy Knapp, a chemical engineering student, said he found the discussion fascinating.

“It was awesome,” he said, adding that he wasn’t even aware this health field existed.

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