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Friday, October 08, 2010

Construction on railway conecting China, Laos to begin in late October

By The Associated Press (CP)

BEIJING, China — A state news agency says construction will start this month on a railway from southern China to Laos, further connecting the country with its Southeast Asian neighbours.

The official Xinhua News Agency reported Friday that the 530-kilometre railway will connect Xishuangbanna city in the southern province of Yunnan to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. Work is expected to begin Oct. 28.

The project is part of the Trans-Asian Railway network, which is expected to pass through 28 countries in Asia, the report said, including Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam. Read more!

Cambodians hold buffalo race to honour the dead

VIHEAR SOUR, Cambodia — Thousands of Cambodians descended on a small village northeast of the capital Friday to cheer on the annual water buffalo race that marks the end of the 15-day festival for the ancestors.

"We hold the race to ask the Neakta Preah Srok (pagoda spirit) to protect us and to keep the people and animals in the village from illnesses," said farmer Sam Sen, who was also a judge in the race.

Around 20 villagers rode their buffaloes up and down a short stretch of road leading to the pagoda, to huge cheers from the crowd.

The buffaloes were adorned with colourful masks, their horns carefully bandaged to keep them from injuring anyone.

"I am happy, it was fun," said 23-year-old contestant Chan Ny after the race, still sitting on his buffalo. "I will be back next year."

The number of buffaloes taking part in the race has steadily declined over the last few years.

Sam Sen said this was because "many big buffaloes have been sold off" by families struggling to make ends meet.

Some of the village's buffaloes had also been struck by disease, organisers said.

Cambodians believe their dead ancestors emerge to walk the earth during the Pchum Ben festival, and they honour and remember them with prayers and food offerings at Buddhist pagodas.

Vihear Sour village, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) northeast of Phnom Penh, began holding the race more than 70 years ago. It is followed by a traditional wrestling match.
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Cambodian efforts to promote silk weavers

Cambodian handmade silk remained the centre of attraction at a conference organized by the National Silk Centre on the outskirts of Siem Reap at Pouk District, with funding from the European Union.

The main aim behind organizing the Silk Day was to foster the quality of handmade silk items, while giving an idea about the industry and the issues confronting it. The occasion also commemorated conclusion of a project for establishment and promotion of silk sector in Siem Reap and Bantey Meanchey districts.

The project that came along with the EU funding was executed by the Khmer Silk Villages and Chantiers-Ecoles de Formation Professionelle.

Experts at the conference informed that, Khmer silk all in all produces 19 different items for exports.
Also that, the US $25 million worth Cambodian silk industry, provided employment to around 20,500 weavers, this year.

Experts even said that, visitors get drawn towards the Cambodian silk items as it is handwoven.

The silk industry in the country is a vital source of employment for women in Cambodia, and even helps to scale down poverty in rural provinces. Customarily, the silk production task is being carried out by women weavers, who constitute 99.54 percent of the workforce.

The country uses around 400 tons of imported industrial white silk yarn, each year to churn out three tons of superior quality handmade golden silk.

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Cambodia: Abysmal Lawlessness, Powerless Citizens

Press Release: Asian Human Rights Commission
A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

WORLD: Cambodia --Abysmal Lawlessness And The Powerlessness Of The Citizens

(Part One)

The first election in post Pol Pot Cambodia was held in May 1993. The new constitution promised a liberal democracy and a system of governance based on the rule of law. However, the country is still in a state of abysmal lawlessness and ordinary Cambodians are powerless. There are no institutions in the country which can offer them any kind of protection. The Cambodian police is in a rudimentary stage of development, is known to be corrupt and completely under the political control of the regime and those who are rich and powerful. Cambodian courts are also known to be corrupt and are used as instruments of political control by way of jailing opposition politicians; people resisting land grabbing; those who express independent opinions and civil society activists who express solidarity with victims of abuse of power. There are no institutions that people can turn to make any complaints or to turn to any kind of help when faced with injustice. And the injustices that the people face are many.

The major complaint everywhere is that of "Land Grabbing". Having a title to a plot of land is normally the ultimate guarantee of some security in this poor country. However, having a title to land is of little use when the same land can be allotted to some company by a government authority, who does not even inform the original title holder when such allocations are made. It is only when the company begins the operation to redevelop the land that the original owners get to know that the land they rightfully own has been given away.

Naturally they protest and at that stage security forces enter the scene and harassment is the result. As the people literally have nowhere to go, they fight back. Then they are brought to courts on all kinds of charges and many are detained. There are thousands of reports of such happenings from around the country. "In the capital, Phnom Penh, 133,000 people -- more than 10% of its population -- are believed to have been evicted since 1990." (This is according to a report of reliable civil society organization).

The result of such land evictions is that those who are displaced are excluded from any benefits, and lose their source of income, they are exposed to poor health and their young face lack of education. In a country, with so little opportunities, eviction from land implies a transformation which ends in destitution. Hopes for stability and a future ends for many. Naturally the women and young and the elderly suffer the most. Naturally, prostitution and other similar problems are on the increase in today's Cambodia.

"The Cambodian courts continue to act on behalf of rich and powerful interests, ignoring the evidence, the Land Law and other relevant legislation, enforcing eviction where ownership remains undecided and imprisoning those who dare to protest", states a report from well known LICAHDO, a human rights organization. This view is confirmed by many other organizations and almost everyone.

Cambodian courts are not able to protect land titles. Their function is not the protection of the individual but the interests of those who are in power. The idea of the balancing of interests is an alien concept in Cambodia. The role of the authorities is to protect the state, not the people.


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Burma, Cambodia & Laos: Juggling trade and diplomacy

Heavy Chinese investment in its southern neighbours has been a boon as well as a diplomatic challenge for Burma, Cambodia, Laos and Viet Nam.

Even as these governments welcome Chinese investments in everything from dams to bauxite mines and rubber plantations, they have also made an effort to roll out the red carpet for other investors.

Laos, for instance, has made a move towards strategic diversification. Earlier this year, it scrapped a plan to let Chinese investors convert farmland and wetlands outside Vientiane into a new city.

The Chinese investors were said to have baulked at the cost of compensation and relocation, but there were other factors at play. Kham Ouane Boupha, the Laotian minister for land management, was quoted as saying the marshland had been designated a protected area.

As senior officials began a two-day meeting yesterday (October 7) in Vientiane to discuss land policies, it was clear that while China was the country's largest foreign investor - having put in US$340 million in the first half of this year alone - other players, such as Viet Nam and Thailand, had entered the field.

Likewise, in Cambodia, a huge investment in water infrastructure has drawn interest not just from China but also from India, Kuwait, Qatar and South Korea.

Governments need to decide whether they want to broker stronger alliances with Japan, Europe and the United States, noted a Laos-based analyst specialising in natural resources who asked not to be named. He pointed out that America's Lower Mekong Initiative - announced last year and aimed at Laos, Cambodia and Viet Nam - was clearly meant to counterbalance China.

Burma balances China's influence against that of India, which also has ventures there. Moreover, Burman nationalism provides a natural damper. Nevertheless, the regime is limited by its fraught relations with many Western powers.

Says historian Thant Myint U: "Western sanctions have been China's best friend. Though intended to promote democratic change, the net effect of the embargoes and boycotts has been far greater Chinese economic domination."

China is the country's largest investor, pumping in US$8 billion this fiscal year, according to official Burma data released in August. Still, Myanmar has no problem welcoming Thai, Japanese, Indian, Malaysian and Korean investment. Since 1988, Thailand has invested US$9.6 billion there.

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