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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Spirits blamed as girls faint in Cambodia


Teachers of 10 teenage girls who collapsed one after another at their rural Cambodian school blamed the mysterious ailment on angry spirits on Saturday.

The girls, aged between 14 and 18, were treated in hospital after fainting but doctors could not ascertain why the youngsters were struck down, said Ruos Lim Chhee, head of the high school in Pnov, northern Cambodia.

He said that all of the girls were found to be healthy, with no signs of food poisoning, although two were a little low on glucose.

"We are afraid we are under a spell because we didn't offer any traditional dancing and music to the spirits on the opening day this year," he said.

"But we have just offered fruits, boiled chickens and wine to the spirits today, and we hope the students will get better and the spirits will take care of us."

Mil Khim, a teacher who witnessed the string of incidents on Thursday, said one of his students started to complain of chest pains early in the morning and then suffered convulsions before falling unconscious.

"The strange phenomenon lasted only a few hours, as eight seventh graders and two from eighth and ninth grade fainted subsequently," he said.

Cambodians in rural areas often believe supernatural forces are behind unexplained events.

"We think that perhaps the spirits are angry because the doctors, teachers and even police found no trace of poison or physical weakness," said district governor, Pech Sophea.
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British orphanage head in child sex claim in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH — The British founder of a Cambodian orphanage is facing prosecution for sexually abusing children at the home, officials said Saturday.

Nicholas Patrick Griffin is accused of abusing "many" children, both boys and girls under the age of 15, said Sun Bun Thorng of the government's anti-human trafficking department in Siem Reap, northern Cambodia.

Around 70 children housed at the orphanage, near the historic Angkor Wat temples, will be removed for their own safety, he told AFP.

The 52-year-old was arrested earlier this week and officials said they expect to uncover more cases as the investigation progresses.

Sun Bun Thorng said Griffin was the founder of Cambodia Orphan Fund, which according to its website aims to "create projects that will help Cambodian people break the poverty cycle and help themselves to a positive future".

The orphanage takes children up to the age of 18.

Griffin, who is believed to have left the UK in 2006, faced several charges of child molestation in 2008, but these were dropped due to lack of evidence, Sun Bun Thorng said.

Chheng Vanna, deputy director of social affairs in Siem Reap, said that her department helped police investigate institutional abuse at the orphanage.

"We will have to move the children because since the founder will be in detention, nobody is going to support them," she said.

Cambodia is engaged in a major drive to net foreign paedophiles as it looks to shed its image as a haven for sex criminals.

In a separate investigation another Briton, Matthew John Harland was charged with "purchasing child sex and committing indecent acts" with four girls aged from 12 to 16 in Phnom Penh, according to the victims' lawyer Peng Maneth.

She said the 36-year-old's trial was delayed on Friday after allegations emerged that he paid a bribe of 15,000 dollars to a court official.

Samleang Seila, country director of anti-paedophile group Action Pour Les Enfants, said the Harland case was the first exposure of alleged corruption in court.

Cambodia has jailed dozens of foreigners for child sex crimes since 2003 or deported them to face trial in their home countries.
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Clinton, Gates to hold talks in Melbourne

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is to visit Australia as part of a two-week, six-nation tour of the Asia-Pacific region.

The tour, starting next week, takes in Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand, the State Department announced on Friday.

In Melbourne, Mrs Clinton will be joined by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates for annual consultations between the US and Australia.

Despite warm relations between the two countries, Mrs Clinton will become the highest-ranking official from the Obama administration to visit.

She called off a scheduled visit in January to focus on relief after Haiti's earthquake; President Obama has twice called off trips to Australia due to domestic concerns.

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ADB-Funded Cambodian Rail Line Reopened to Help Regional Trade

By Prak Chan Thol

PHNOM PENH, Oct. 23 (Reuters) - Cambodia has reopened a stretch of railway destroyed during the country's war and officials described it as a step towards boosting regional trade through rail links with neighbors.

The Asian Development Bank is contributing $84 million to a $141 million project to repair 650 km (400 miles) of railway linking Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, to its borders with Thailand and Vietnam by 2013.

The first section officially opened on Friday runs 120 km (75 miles) southwest from Phnom Penh to Touk Meas in Kampot province, near the border with Vietnam.

Kunio Senga, director general of the Asian Development Bank's Southeast Asia Department, told a news conference the rail link would lower the cost of staple commodities that poor Cambodian families depend on and would help position the country as a sub-regional transport hub.

Tauch Chankosal, secretary of state at Cambodia's Ministry of Public Works and Transport, said a study was under way for a rail link between Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, possibly with financial help from China.

''The estimate is about $600 million,'' he said of the construction cost. ''The funding is not yet finalized.''

Toll Holdings Ltd of Australia has signed a 30-year concession to operate and maintain the railway, which was frequently mined and attacked by Khmer Rouge guerrillas leading to the deployment of cars mounted with machine guns in front of locomotives in the 1980s and 1990s.

Wayne Hunt, CEO of Toll Global Logistics, said the priority was to get freight operating. He said the firm had already invested $5 million and planned to employ 600 people eventually.

The 110-kilometre section that opened Friday runs south from Phnom Penh to the town of Touk Meas. Once it is completed in 2011, the full southern line, which is 250 kilometres long, will link the capital with the port of Sihanoukville.

Reconstruction of the northern line, which runs 390 kilometres north-west from Phnom Penh to the Poipet border crossing into Thailand, is scheduled to finish in 2012.

Once that is completed, the final link in the Singapore-Kunming chain will be the railway between Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam.
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