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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Bags collected for Cambodia through Bags of Hope

Leah Anderson, Sue Cleave, in front, both from the Office of Schools, Wayne Hill, the first education department staff member to make a donation and organiser Maruschka Loupis.

IMAGINE walking a long way to school on a hot day and having to carry your water bottle, lunch and books in your arms.

Most schoolchildren in Cambodia don’t have a school bag, some of the lucky ones have an old bag tied together with string, Maruschka Loupis said.

Two years ago Ms Loupis and her husband George travelled to South East Asia and last year on their second visit to Cambodia, Ms Loupis decided she needed to do something about the lack of school bags.

“I work for the education department and have children of my own, and I thought, surely we must be able to contribute,” Ms Loupis said.

Through the charity organisation Bags Of Hope, more than 5200 school bags have been collected for distribution to Cambodia. “Now we need stuff to go in the bags, like pencils and exercise books,” Ms Loupis said.

The bags will be shipped to arrive before the start of the Cambodian school year in March.

Any individuals or organisations wanting to contribute bags, books or school supplies, contact Ms Loupis on 0425 367 52.
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Cambodia to claim 'war' with Thailand


Cambodia will argue that it is at war with Thailand and that intervention from a third party is needed when it presents its case to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) tomorrow.

A senior source in the Cambodian government also said they would produce evidence that the Thai military had been the aggressors during the border clashes and had used banned weapons, including cluster bombs and poison gas.

The source also said Cambodia was willing to let the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) play the third-party role, but he insisted that bilateral approaches employed since July 2008 to resolve the border dispute surrounding Preah Vihear temple had failed.

The chair of Asean, Indonesia's Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, has invited all the association's foreign ministers to a meeting in Jakarta on Feb 22 to discuss the dispute.

The Cambodian source said there were two reasons for the UN to intervene _ its successful running of elections in Cambodia in 1993, and as Preah Vihear was heritage-listed, it is the responsibility of Unesco to protect it.

"We have all the documents, all the evidence," he said.

"The role of the United Nations is to stop any war in the world, and this is a war between Cambodia and Thailand. It's not a small clash.

"So we'll present the case to the United Nations, we'll present the case to Unesco to show the damage to the temple. If necessary we can go to the International Court of Justice again," he said.

The UNSC meeting, which will be attended by the foreign ministers of Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, is expected to be informal and to take place behind closed doors.

The council consulted twice on the issue last week after letters were sent first by Cambodia and then Thailand. However, member nations have already expressed support for mediation efforts by Mr Marty.

National Security Council secretary-general Thawil Pliensri said concerned agencies, including the NSC, had prepared evidence for the UNSC meeting.

He said he was confident that Thailand will be able to defend itself against Cambodia's charges, adding that there were some platforms, such as Asean, where the parties could work to resolve the problem.

Other Thai officials and diplomats said that "technically" Thailand should succeed in meeting Cambodia's challenge at the meeting.

"If the council on Monday merely listens to the three [foreign ministers] and urges Thailand and Cambodia to continue their negotiations, perhaps with Asean's or Indonesia's assistance, then we'll have time to continue the negotiations with Cambodia although with more parties looking over our shoulders," said a seasoned diplomat.

However, he added that if the council were to do otherwise, Thailand had to be very careful, as its decision was binding on all UN members.

A Bangkok-based diplomat from one of the UNSC's five permanent members said the most likely outcome was "no statement, no vote, and discussion that urges the two countries to work together to resolve the disputes bilaterally".

Another Bangkok-based European diplomat said Thailand had become more isolated in the international arena since the 2006 coup and the subsequent political turmoil which had diminished its traditional role as a hub to develop regional consensus.

"Thailand was always a voice to be listened to, a stopover for major powers to seek consultations on regional issues," the source said.

"Now they choose to deepen more links with Indonesia."

One retired diplomat expressed concern that Thailand's "technical" arguments might be undermined by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's appeasement of the People's Alliance Democracy (PAD), which may have weakened the Foreign Ministry's case.

"Abhisit usually says it's a matter for the foreign ministry, but when the PAD pushed for a harsh nationalistic tone, he silenced the ministry's legal experts," said the diplomat.
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Cambodia to boycott joint talks


Thailand's attempts to solve its border dispute with Cambodia through bilateral means have hit a snag after Cambodia said it would not attend a Joint Boundary Commission meeting.

ROCKY ROAD: Children get off the bus taking them home to Ban Phum Srol in Si Sa Ket’s Kantharalak district. The village was shelled during clashes between Cambodian and Thai troops.

The meeting had been tentatively scheduled for the end of this month but Var Kimhong, president of Cambodia's JBC, was yesterday quoted by the Xinhua News Agency as saying: "There will be no meeting of the JBC later this month. Now, bilateral mechanisms cannot resolve the issue".

The last JBC meeting took place in 2009. They were shelved amid deteriorating relations between the two nations.

Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya and his Cambodian counterpart Hor Namhong talked during the Thai-Cambodian Joint Commission (a separate body) meeting in Siem Reap earlier this month.

Both sides agreed to revive the JBC meetings and tentatively scheduled the next one for late February.

Since the border skirmish erupted on Feb 4, Thailand has stood firm in its stance that the dispute be resolved through the JBC, but Var Kimhong's remark could shut the door on Thailand's attempts to use the channel.

Chavanond Intarakomalyasut, secretary to the foreign minister, yesterday said the ministry had not received official notification from Cambodia that it would not attend the JBC meeting, although he conceded there were signs that it would not take part.

But Mr Chavanond said Bangkok stands firm in its determination to hold the meeting as efforts to settle the border dispute continue.

He said the matter would be decided after Mr Kasit returns from the United Nations Security Council's meeting on the Thai-Cambodian issue in New York tomorrow.

Hor Namhong and Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, as the current chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, will also attend the New York meeting.

Second Region Army chief Lt Gen Thawatchai Samutsakhon said Cambodia might be opposed to the JBC meeting taking place because it wants to internationalise the matter.

"Such a stance [to derail the JBC process] is not beyond our speculation," he said.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva yesterday said he welcomed Mr Marty's plan to hold a meeting of all Asean foreign ministers to discuss the Thai-Cambodian border dispute.

The invitations for the meeting, set for Feb 22, were sent out on Friday.

Mr Kasit has received his invitation and confirmed he will attend.

However, Mr Abhisit said the meeting must give priority to the bilateral framework between Thailand and Cambodia.

Indonesia, as Asean chair, should only work as a facilitator to support bilateral talks, he said.

"We have confirmed our position that the border conflict must be solved bilaterally," added Mr Abhisit.

However, he said he pinned his hopes on the UNSC meeting to help Thailand clarify what had happened in fighting between troops on the Thai-Cambodian border to the international community.

Asean secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan yesterday said Mr Marty had kept Asean informed during his recent "diplomacy shuttle" between Phnom Penh and Bangkok as he tried to defuse the situation.

"We are encouraged to hear the willingness of both parties to allow Asean to offer our good offices, conciliation and mediation as required by our Asean charter," Mr Surin said in Jakarta.

"It will be a first for Asean to get involved directly and intimately in a conflict between member states.

"But we will have no choice if the UNSC throws the case back to us after its meeting in New York."

Mr Surin said the Asean Secretariat is ready to lend support for Thailand and Cambodia to find their own amicable solutions.

"What the multilateral forum of the Asean FMs can do is provide moral support and encouragement for both parties to exert maximum efforts to find their own way out of their bilateral conflict," he said.

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Thailand to explain border rows with Cambodia to UNESCO

The Thai natural resources and environment minister Shuwith Khunkitti is preparing himself and artificial documents to lie to the UNESCO and the world. A false statement will make deliberate intent to deceive bringing shamefull to Thailand.

Bangkok-Thai natural resources and environment minister Shuwith Khunkitti is scheduled to visit France next week to meet the Secretary General of the United Nations Education, Scientic and Cultural Organization(UNESCO) and the director general of the world heritage center under UNESCO in Paris to explain border rows between Thailand and Cambodia related to the Ancient Preah Vihea Temple, a world heritage site, to the UN authorities.

Suwit said on saturday he would clarify before UNESCO authorities that Thailand did not invade Cambodia, and that is a spate of clashes between Thai and Cambodian troops a long the border near the Preah Vihear Temple were, instead, Thailand's attempts to protect national sovereignty, Thai News Agency(TNA) reported..

Suwit revealed that Thailand will also seek a review of the World Heritage Committee's listing of the Preah Vihear Temple for Cambodia, as Thailand has maitain its opposition to the unilateral listing based on the fact the 11th century Temple stands on an unsettled area of Thailand and Cambodia and that a World Heritage Site management plan proposed by Cambodia cover its vicinity which includes Thai territory.

The Thai minister said that Thailand will, therefore, ask the World Heritage Committee, at its next meeting with Bahrain in June this year, to postpone its consideration of the Cambodian management plan until Thailand and Cambodia include their borer re-demarcation.

Suwit has met parties concerned in Thailand, including the Ministry of Foreign Affair, the Royal Thai Survey Department, the Fine Arts Departement and the Thai World Heritage Committee to gather informantion in preparation for his trip to Paris next week..
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UNESCO names former director-general Koichiro Matsuura as special envoy on Preah Vihear

PARIS, Feb. 11 (Xinhua) -- The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has named its former director- general Koichiro Matsuura as special envoy to address the issue of Preah Vihear, the Paris-based UN cultural branch announced on Friday.

Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO has informed Cambodia and Thailand about the mission of Matsuura.

Matsuura will "visit Bangkok and Phnom Penh to discuss how the World Heritage site can be safeguarded" and "examine with both sides how to lessen tension and promote dialogue around the preservation of the Temple," according to a statement issued by UNESCO.

Bokova expressed concerns over the protection of the Preah Vihear Temple, which was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2008 but sparked clashes between Thailand and Cambodia, both claiming sovereignty over the antique temple.

Recent military confrontations on the border between the two states have caused deaths and injuries, as well as damages to the temple.

UNESCO called on Cambodia and Thailand to respect the World Heritage Convention of 1972, as both are signatories to the convention.
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UNESCO names Special Envoy to damaged Shiva temple on Thai-Cambodia border

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is sending Koochiro Matsuura, former UNESCO Director-General, as its Special Envoy to the damaged Preah Vihear Hindu temple on Thailand-Cambodia border, according to a United Nations release.

This Hindu temple, inscribed on the World Heritage List, has been damaged due to recent Thai-Cambodia clashes. Matsuura will address the issue of Preah Vihear and visit Bangkok and Phnom Penh to discuss how this Hindu sacred site can be safeguarded. He will examine with both sides how to lessen tension and promote dialogue around the preservation of the temple, the release adds.

Hindus, who had expressed serious concern at the reported damage, have welcomed the UNESCO move aimed at safeguarding the temple from future damage.

Notable Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada (USA) today, said that international community, UNESCO, and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) should immediately provide funding to bring back this Lord Shiva temple to its original shape as it was before Thai-Cambodia clashes began February four. These organizations should not shy away to shoulder their responsibility of saving the important heritage of the world and respecting the feelings of Hindus worldwide, Zed added.

Rajan Zed pointed out that this landmark age-old and revered Preah Vihear Hindu Shiva temple complex was important to Hindu heritage and must be preserved to pass it on to the future generations. Damage to 11th century Shiva temple was shocking and hurtful to the Hindu community world over. Lord Shiva, one of the major deities in Hinduism forming great triad with Brahma and Vishnu, was focus of worship of the Hindus, and it was important for them that Preah Vihear Hindu Shiva temple be protected. It was a world heritage and it was moral duty of the world to keep it intact for the coming generations, Zed stressed.

UNESCO had announced earlier this week that it would send a mission to assess the damage caused by the recent armed clashes between the two South-East Asian neighbors to the Shiva temple. (ANI)
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No Cambodian-Thai border commission meeting in later Feb: official

PHNOM PENH, Feb. 12 (Xinhua) -- Cambodian border chief said Saturday that no meeting of the Cambodian-Thai Joint Commission on Demarcation for Land Boundary (JBC) would be held later February.

"There will be no meeting of the JBC later this month," said Var Kimhong, president of JBC. "Now, bilateral mechanism cannot resolve the issue."

Chavanond Intarakomalyasut, secretary to Thai Foreign Minister, said on Feb. 7 that the JBC was scheduled to meet in the last week of February.

The United Nations Security Council is to hold a meeting on Monday to discuss the Cambodian-Thai border conflict.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong and his Thai counterpart Kasit Piromya will report to the meeting about the issue. Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, whose country is the current chairman of the ASEAN, will also attend the meeting.

The latest clashes between Cambodia and Thailand on Feb. 4-7 had killed at least 8 people and injured 67 on both sides, and tens of thousands of the two countries' villagers nearby the disputed area fled for safe shelters.

The border between Thailand and Cambodia has never been completely demarcated. Although the International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that an 11th century temple itself belonged to Cambodia, the row over the 4.6-square-km territory around the temple has never been resolved.
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Water beds: a luxury ecolodge in the Cambodian rainforest

There's more to Cambodia than beaches and temples. A luxury waterborne ecolodge offers a wilderness break in style

Four Rivers Lodge on its idyllic bend in the Tatai.

It's pitch black as I set off tentatively in my kayak, the starless sky merging seamlessly into the inky river. The only sound is of my paddle in the water and a faint chirping of cicadas. Suddenly the darkness is broken – a tree decorated in a thousand fairy lights is frantically flickering on the riverbank.

"It's the firefly disco," says Chilly, my guide, pointing at the twinkling display.

I am, it's fair to say, in the middle of nowhere. This is the Tatai river, east of Koh Kong, in the southern reaches of Cambodia's Cardamom mountains. Half-way between Bangkok and Phnom Penh, this is a pristine area of rainforest and coastal mangroves that barely features on the tourist trail.

What's more I'm camping – though it's not exactly pop-up tent and baked beans. I'm staying at the Four Rivers Floating Lodge, which takes glamping to a whole new extreme.

The brilliant idea of Romanian owner Valentin Pawlik, the entire resort is waterborne. You get here by boat, arriving at one of a series of floating wooden platforms. A central pontoon houses bar, restaurant and library. There are 12 huge and super-luxurious South African safari tents (six more are planned), with private decks and sunloungers, double-sinked en suite bathrooms, and flatscreen TVs and DVD players that seem a tad incongruous in the heart of the jungle. But, hey, this is wilderness in style.

It's all very eco-friendly too – largely solar-powered, and staffed mostly by locals – so you needn't have a guilty conscience. Move it away and there'd be little sign that it had ever existed.

Leaving the fireflies to party I paddle slowly back home and feast on spicy shrimp and freshwater fish with coconut, cooked in banana leaves, before heading for a blissful night's rest, lulled to sleep by the gentle bobbing of the water.

Most visitors to Cambodia flock to the revitalised capital of Phnom Penh further east, and the temples around Siem Reap in the north. This coastal region, part of the Koh Kong Conservation Corridor, is home to some of the country's most impressive natural sights. The long civil war kept developers and loggers at bay, and the potential for ecotourism is huge (although the threat of hydroelectric power plants looms).

Four Rivers, with its gorgeous setting on a bend in the river, is magical at all times of day – misty in the morning, glowing at sunset and prettily lit up after dark – and as tranquil a place as you could wish for. I spend much of my time here kayaking through the mangrove maze (spotting those fireflies, and watching monkeys gather at the water's edge at dusk), swimming in the river from steps outside my tent (a pool is planned) and visiting waterfalls, where the pounding torrent gives a great back massage.

There are excursions into the jungle, led by a former poacher, to spot wildlife and to visit villages and fruit plantations (overnight camping is a new option too). As I'm here at the end of the rainy season, when leeches and mud make trekking treacherous, we take a boat downstream instead. Thick mangrove forests line the banks, and dolphins can sometimes be spied in the estuary opening on to the Gulf of Thailand. Koh Kong island appears on the horizon, an as yet undeveloped paradise with pristine beaches and untouched rainforest.

We stop at Koh Sra Lau, an island with one tiny fishing village, and wander around while women sit mending nets and offer us fried fish with tamarind sauce and papaya. There's no tourist fatigue here, just friendly welcomes. A little boy grabs my hand and leads me to the village school, where children proudly sweep the classroom before the teachers appear.

I'm keen to explore more, so the next day head to Chi Phat village, and a community-based project started by conservation charity Wildlife Alliance in the Southern Cardamoms Protected Forest. It aims to preserve the rainforest by helping villagers earn a living from ecotourism, instead of illegal logging or hunting endangered animals, and giving tourists a unique green adventure. It's a winding bus journey down to the port town of Andoung Tuek and a two-hour boat ride along Phipot river to the village. There are several guesthouses, but I choose a homestay on the outskirts of town with Chou and her young family, who sit underneath the stilted wooden house, a cow curled at their feet like a pet dog. A far cry from the luxuries of Four Rivers it may be, but it's clean, comfortable and a great way to see everyday village life.

Chi Phat is all about outdoor adventure: you can trek or cycle into jungle and mountains for days at a time, sleeping in hammocks or rustic campsites, go birdwatching, take boat trips or check out the nearby bat caves and an area dotted with mysterious ancient burial jars. I sign up for a 28km mountain bike tour to O'Malu waterfall. Crossing grassy plains and traditional farmland, we follow Lucky – a 23-year-old from the village who's been trained in everything from bike maintenance to wildlife spotting – up steep paths through the tangled jungle, with gibbons calling high overhead. It's a challenging ride in parts (yep, I end up on my bum in a puddle at one point) but jumping into the cool pool at the base of the waterfall is a great reward.

There's no one else around as we tuck into lunch, sitting on rocks in the sunshine, surrounded by rainforest, the waterfall roaring. Marvellous though the sights of Angkor Wat and the buzz of Phnom Penh are, I can't help thinking that it's Cambodia's more remote natural attractions that offer the best adventure – and one it would be a shame to miss.

• Tents for two at Four Rivers Eco Lodge ( cost from $118 a night including breakfast and boat transfers. Information on Chi Phat from Homestay rooms cost $3 a night. Singapore Airlines ( flies to Phnom Penh (via Singapore) from £687pp return

HanumanAlaya, Siem Reap
In a quiet part of the city, this budget hotel has a great open-sided bar with bamboo blinds and ceiling fans, a swimming pool with fountains, and rooms in traditional style – silky fabrics, polished wood – but with air-con. Spa treatments are available. Doubles from $35.

The Vine Retreat, Kep province
This stylish eco-friendly retreat, on an organic farm that grows pepper and tropical fruit, has a spectacular location that offers the best of both worlds – the jungled mountains of Phnom Vor tower above it, but the coast of the Gulf of Thailand, and its beach-lined islands, is in sight. Airy wooden-floored terraces are dotted with low tables and floor cushions, there's a bar and restaurant, and a group room sleeping five is available along with the doubles. Guests can borrow bikes to explore the area's caves and natural pools, take a tuk-tuk into Kampot town, or head to one of several white-sand beaches. Doubles from $25.

Song Saa, Koh Rong archipelago
At the other end of the scale, this resort, opening in April, looks set to offer world-class barefoot luxury, with 25 bungalows on two islands, Koh Ouen and Koh Bong, connected by a footbridge over a marine reserve where dugongs, seahorses and tropical fish can be spotted. Bungalows for two from $700 a night.
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