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Sunday, May 02, 2010

China pledges more military aid to Cambodia+

PHNOM PENH, May 2 (AP) - (Kyodo)—China has pledged military aid to Cambodia worth 100 million yuan ($14 million), a senior government official said Sunday.

Hor Namhong, deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, told reporters upon return from China on Sunday that Chinese President Hu Jintao offered 256 military trucks and 50,000 military uniforms to the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, worth 100 million yuan.

He said the pledge was made at a meeting with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Saturday while Hun Sen was on a three-day visit to China to attend the opening of the Shanghai World Expo.

Another senior government official who accompanied the premier told Kyodo News the new Chinese aid was "a kind of" complement or replacement for military aid the United States had pledged but later suspended.

The United States had offered about 200 military vehicles and trailers to Cambodia under its Excess Defense Articles program.

But in early April, the U.S. government suspended military aid to Cambodia to protest the Cambodian government's deportation of 20 Uygur refugees to China.

The United States had tried to prevent the deportation but failed.

The refugees arrived in Cambodia via Vietnam and were placed under the protection of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

But Cambodia deported them anyway on the eve of the arrival of Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping on an official visit in December last year.

Critics say the Cambodian act underlined its growing ties with China, which has provided more aid and, unlike many Western donors, voices no complaints about corruption, democracy or human rights in Cambodia.

Cambodia has stated the deportation was "just implementing its policy and laws as a sovereign state."

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Cambodia to enjoy good crops this year, astrologer predicts

SIEM REAP, May 2, 2010 (Kyodo News International) -- A Cambodian royal astrologer predicted Sunday at one of the ancient temples in the Angkor Wat complex that Cambodia will have ''good'' agricultural crops this year.

Astrologer Korng Keng told a crowd of tens of thousands at Lean Chul Damrei Temple in Siem Reap Province that the country's crops, especially corn and beans, will be ''good.''

He made the prediction at a ceremony to mark the beginning of the rainy season in Cambodia, drawing his conclusions from the results of the Royal Plowing Ceremony.

The ceremony in Siem Reap is the first since 1967 when then Crown Prince, later King, Norodom Sihanouk presided over the plowing.

This year, Sihanouk's son King Norodom Sihamoni watched over the traditional welcome to the growing season along with thousands of government officials, diplomats, foreign visitors and Cambodians.

The ceremony is usually held annually near the royal palace in Phnom Penh at the start of the planting season.

But Thong Khon, minister of tourism, said the ceremony was in Siem Reap this year because the timing coincides with the first great Buddhist tourism event ''The Trail of Civilization and Art Performance'' at Angkor Wat in which more than 100,000 participants, including those from nine other countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations plus China, Japan, South Korea and India.

It is also being used to attract more tourists to Angkor Wat.

Tourism is Cambodia's second-largest income earner after the garment sector and Angkor Wat is the main target for foreign tourists in Cambodia.

According to government statistics, despite a decline in tourism worldwide because of the global economic crisis, Cambodia achieved an increase of 1.7 percent in foreign arrivals last year to 2,161,577.

And in the first three months of 2010, 683,692 international tourists visited Cambodia, an increase of 9.87 percent from the same three months last year.

In the Royal Plowing Ceremony, seven golden trays -- holding rice, corn, beans, sesame, grass, water or rice wine -- are laid out for a pair of royal oxen and predictions for the coming growing season are made from the choices made by the oxen when they reach the trays.

This year, the oxen ate most of the corn and beans, indicating Cambodian farmers will have ''good'' crops at least for these two products in 2010.

According to the royal astrologer, if the oxen eat the grass it means bad luck for farmers because insects may attack the crops.

If they drink the rice wine it means turmoil, fighting or robbery in the country.

But this year, the oxen ate no grass, rice or sesame and drank no water or rice wine.

Drinking water indicates lots of water for cropping, while eating sesame indicates a big harvest.

Last year, when the oxen ate all the corn and beans, Korng Keng predicted ''quite good crops'' for Cambodian farmers.

And Cambodia produced about 7.3 million tons of rice in 2009, leaving a surplus of nearly 3 million tons for export.

Chan Sarun, minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, recently said Cambodia is expected to become one of the world's major rice exporters when a long-term plan to increase land under rice cultivation to 3.5 million hectares from the current 2.6 million hectares is complete.

Rice production then is estimated to reach 12.25 million tons annually.

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North Korean agency says army day celebrated in foreign countries

Pyongyang, May 2 (KCNA) - Seminars, lectures, friendship meetings and film shows took place in Cambodia, Mongolia, Democratic Congo, Ethiopia, India and Russia between April 22 and 25 on the occasion of the 78th birthday of the heroic Korean People's Army.

Displayed in the venues were photographs on the immortal songun [military-first] leadership exploits performed by President Kim Il Sung [Kim Il-so'ng] and leader Kim Jong Il [Kim Cho'ng-il] and books and photographs introducing the Korean people in the struggle for building a thriving nation and the advantages of Korean-style socialism centring on the popular masses.

The participants of the film shows watched Korean films including "The Army of Korea", "Fireworks for a Thriving Nation", "We will Follow You to the End of the Earth" and "The Country I Saw".

The senior minister of Cambodia said in his addresses made at a seminar and film show that Kim Jong Il [Kim Cho'ng-il] has wisely led the whole affairs of the country under the banner of songun [military-first] while regarding the military affairs as the most important state affairs.

The chairman of the National Committee of the Genuine Lumumbist Patriotic Party of Democratic Congo in his lecture warmly hailed the exploits performed by the President by building the army, liberating the country and leading a war to victory.

The Korean People's Army has grown to be an invincible army equipped with modern offensive and defensive means and powerful nuclear deterrent under the leadership of Kim Jong Il [Kim Cho'ng-il], he added.

The chief of a branch of the Ethiopian Youth Study Group of the juche [juche] Idea at a friendship meeting referred to the fact that the President founded the immortal juche [juche] Idea and Kim Jong Il [Kim Cho'ng-il] has dynamically led the Korean people in the struggle for building a thriving nation with his original songun [military-first] politics.

Source: KCNA website, Pyongyang, in English 0527 gmt 2 May 10
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Vietnam's press gang at war over Flynn `find'

WILDLY handsome and extravagantly glamorous, Sean Flynn rode into the ranks of the missing astride a motorbike. It was Cambodia, 1970, and he was on the hunt for news. With his companion Dana Stone, Flynn was probably captured and killed by the Khmer Rouge, but their remains have never been found, despite intensive searches over the years.
The son of Errol Flynn was a noted combat photographer, and his thirst was for real adventure, rather than the Hollywood variety.

In the weeks just before an Old Hacks' reunion of Vietnam war correspondents in Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City, news emerged that Flynn's remains might have been found by a young Australian, Dave MacMillan, and his associates, including a Briton, Keith Rotheram, the owner of a guesthouse in Sihanoukville, southern Cambodia.

According to rumours seeping through the internet in recent weeks, and partly according to MacMillan himself, the bones thought to be Flynn's had been dug up with a mechanical digger and kept for some time before being handed to the US authorities. The dig had been filmed, and it seems that a lucrative documentary was in the offing.

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Rotheram has reportedly talked about the story going to "the highest bidder".

MacMillan said he had permission from Flynn's half-sister, Rory Flynn, to look for the remains, but members of the Old Hacks were upset by what they saw as the hasty and unscientific handling of their old friend's bones. Flynn was one of their own. He had been best man at Carl Robinson's wedding and Robinson, who covered the Vietnam War for Associated Press, had organised the Old Hacks reunion.

Flynn had shared a house with combat photographer Tim Page and the Australian Vietnam War correspondent Martin Stuart-Fox. Both were in Phnom Penh for the Old Hacks reunion, which last week moved to Ho Chi Minh City. And there, at one of the Old Hacks events, MacMillan arrived to "pay his respects", pointedly ignoring the cool reception he had received at an Old Hacks event in Phnom Penh the week before. Several people in Ho Chi Minh City told him he was not welcome, but he did not leave immediately.

Page says he was blunt with MacMillan: "I said, `Mate, you've got no respect for the dead'."

Page had worked with MacMillan for a while in the past, in a search for Flynn's remains, largely because he thought the young Australian had good connections in Vietnam.

Page is positive the answer to Flynn's disappearance lies somewhere in dusty archives in Hanoi. The North Vietnamese had a lot of influence in Cambodia in the early 1970s; most Khmer Rouge cadres had a Vietnamese adviser.

At the Old Hacks reunion in Ho Chi Minh City last week, Page was still upset. "The mystery becomes more of a Tantric, 3000-piece jigsaw puzzle," he says, adding that he had been in communication with MacMillan after the so-called discovery.

He ordered him to hand the remains over to the US military body specifically set up to locate the war dead: the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC). It seems that MacMillan did finally hand some remains over and, after the publicity following the find, JPAC instituted its own search at the site, finding a few more small pieces of bone.

MacMillan declined to comment for this article, other than to say: "I can't comment, sorry. Thanking you so kindly for your time . . . all questions should be forwarded to Rory Flynn, who I have copied on this email."

Employed by Dogma, which has an urban guerilla fashion outlet in Ho Chi Minh City, the Queenslander apparently lives in Vietnam.

Meanwhile, JPAC's testing seems to have largely ruled out the possibility the remains, which apparently consist of a skull and some small bones, are Flynn's. "The remains are badly fragmented due to the manner in which they were recovered," a spokesman for the US embassy in Phnom Penh says. "Limited analysis suggests that they may be indigenous." Further testing, he adds, is under way.

MacMillan, whose Facebook site has in the past featured a photo of him with a Cambodian scarf wrapped around his head, a cigarette dangling from his mouth, and sporting a Flynn-like moustache, has objected in a letter to a US newspaper to some of the coverage of his find. He says no payment was asked for the remains; he says Page is annoyed because his own documentary about his search for Flynn's remains was jeopardised; he says the excavator was carefully used and he and his associates had the consent of various Cambodian authorities and JPAC knew of their work. He denies they were "amateur bone hunters".

Page says MacMillan's efforts have at least stirred up interest in the journalists who were lost in Cambodia. Thirty-seven foreign and Cambodian journalists, photographers and cameramen were killed or declared missing in Cambodia between April 1970 and April 1975. One was an Australian, photographer Alan Hirons, 24. He had been in Cambodia a week or so when he was taken by the Khmer Rouge. His remains have not been found.
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Shrimpers Fear Ruin From Oil Slick

By ANGEL GONZALEZ and MARK LONG VENICE, La. — Tuan Nguyen fled Saigon on April 30, 1975, the same day Ho Chi Minh's troops swept into the city to bring the lengthy war to a close. Mr. Nguyen's father, a wealthy businessman, arranged for a boat to spirit the family away from the South Vietnamese capital, leaving nearly all their worldly goods behind.

"We lost it all; all I had was a backpack," said the lean 50-year-old.

Now, almost exactly 35 years after his departure, Mr. Nguyen and his several hundred local compatriots face another fearsome twist of fate: a seemingly uncontrollable oil spill encroaching into Louisiana's rich wetlands shore, raising the specter of an environmental catastrophe and threatening to put his profitable shrimp distribution business, the largest in town, on hold indefinitely.

A deepwater well 50 miles offshore from Venice is gushing at least 5,000 barrels of crude a day into the Gulf of Mexico, and it could take months before BP PLC , the company responsible for the spill and cleanup, manages to finally cap the flow. The incident — damage from which some say could eclipse the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989 — has prompted a sweeping response from the federal government, and has brought down sharp criticism of BP and the operator of the rig that burnt and sank last week, Transocean Ltd.

The spill isn't the first livelihood-threatening challenge the local shrimp harvesters have faced down. Erosion wipes enough land to cover a football field off the coast here every 40 minutes; hurricanes including Katrina and Rita devastated the area; and for years the entire U.S. shrimp industry has struggled against a flood of imports of cheaper, farmed seafood from overseas.

Mr. Nguyen's home nation of Vietnam is among the biggest exporters of this farmed shrimp to the U.S., and is one of six countries that was slapped with tariffs on its imports in 2003 after the U.S. government ruled the country's exporters were dumping shrimp into the market at unfairly low prices.

Amid all these challenges, the number of days fishing in the Gulf was down 64% last year from the 2001-03 average, according to the Southern Shrimp Alliance industry group, while the prices garnered for the crustaceans were last year down between 42% and 45% from 2001, according to National Marine Fisheries Service data.

"The shrimping industry, even prior to the oil spill, has been struggling to make ends meet," said Deborah Long, a spokeswoman for the Southern Shrimp Alliance. "There's a double whammy going on, in that the price that fishermen got plummeted while the cost of fuel increased."

Plaquemines Parish's Southeast Asian community is a Cold War legacy--many immigrants fleeing to the area from the Communist takeover of Vietnam and the carry-over turmoil and slaughter in Cambodia. While people of Southeast Asian descent made up just over 2% of the parish's total population in 2000, Vietnamese and Cambodians have an outsized presence in the shrimp industry here. The weather and landscape is reminiscent of Southeast Asia's tropical wetlands, and the fishing life offers some independence.

"If you've got your own boat, you do what you want to do," said Steve Tran, 48, who first lived in California and Florida and worked in restaurants before coming here. Others have always been fishermen, like Chamroeun Kang, 57, who left Cambodia in 1982. Mr. Kang lives on a boat docked at Mr. Tran's distribution business while he builds his home, which he lost to Hurricane Katrina. Before the spill, he was looking "to work and make some money to build a home," he said. After being picked up with his family on the sea by a Maersk shipping vessel, Mr. Nguyen lived in a camp in Hong Kong for a year, and then moved to Paris for 2 years, where his older brother resided. Then he emigrated to the U.S., first to Pennsylvania. But "it was too cold," he said. Mr. Nguyen started the shrimp dock and distribution business here in 1989 and grew it to prosperity. "It was a normal business until Katrina hit" and entirely wiped it out, he said.

"That's when I learned to use the fork lift," said his wife, Kim Vo, who comes from a middle-class family and also lived in Pennsylvania, where she met her husband. She said that the insurance company never reimbursed the family for the storm losses and they had to rebuild everything themselves. But they rebounded: By last year, the business was moving 2 million pounds of shrimp a year, Ms. Vo said.

Now Mr. Nguyen is helping his fellow Vietnamese get work with the very company responsible for the spill. Under pressure by the U.S. Coast Guard to ramp up its response efforts, BP has offered contracts to the local shrimping community to help contain the oil and clean it from the Mississippi Delta's ecologically delicate marshes.

On Saturday, Mr. Nguyen was helping the shrimpers--many of whom speak English poorly--fill out applications for clean-up work. The application requires a physical address--and since many shrimpers live on boats, he puts in the address for his company, Sharkco Seafood International Inc.

Six fishermen in his office animatedly argued in Vietnamese, while Ms. Vo, translated for a reporter: The fishermen wanted to know who's going to pay for the fuel to get their boats out to sea to help clean up oil. BP would reimburse the fishermen, Ms. Vo said, but she recommended the fishermen "keep all their invoices," she said. The shrimpers would get paid between $1,000 and $2,000 per 12-hour day, depending on the size of their boat, Mr. Nguyen said. With harsh weather and rough seas hampering spill-response efforts, and with BP battling technical difficulties to shut down the leak, the road ahead for the shrimping business here looks grim, just as the May-December fishing season was set to begin.

"Now my business is paperwork," Mr. Nguyen joked, referring to his helping fishermen apply for clean-up contracts.
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