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Friday, April 01, 2011

Assembly Adjusts Corruption Law for Better: Analysts

Prime Minister Hun Sen said in a recent statement to the National Assembly that the amendments are needed to improve the speed and effectiveness of the law.

The National Assembly approved amendments to the country’s anti-corruption law Friday in what analysts say moves a key investigative body away from the administrative cabinet.

The amendments to the law will give more power to the head of the Anti-Corruption Body, which has executive power to conduct investigations.

A key amendment takes the ACU’s budget away from the Council of Ministers and puts it under the overall national budget, which is controlled by the Ministry of Finance.

Proponents of the amendments said Friday they would help activate anti-corruption legislation.

Om Yintieng, the head of the ACU and a senior adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen, told lawmakers in session Friday the amendments would help him fight corruption. Under the amendments, he will now have more say in staffing the unit.

Thun Saray, president of the rights group Adhoc, said the removal of the ACU’s budget from the Council of Ministers would give the unit more autonomy, but he urged the unit to work independently and without fear of senior officials.

He also welcomed the provisions that would allow the head of the ACU more control over the unit, which he said would help improve its work and give it more prestige.

However, Am Sam Ath, head of investigation for the rights group Licadho, said the new law, as others, will only help if it is properly implemented by the ACU.

With more independence of budget, the ACU now must show the will to fight corruption, he said.
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Cambodian PM declares assets in anti-graft push

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen holds up a document detailing his personal assets Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) office in Phnom Penh. -- PHOTO: AFP

PHNOM PENH - CAMBODIAN Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday declared his personal assets to the country's new anti-corruption unit and urged officials to follow his lead in a bid to tackle rampant graft.

'Today, I have fulfilled my obligation under the anti-corruption law,' the premier said as he personally delivered his documents to the unit's headquarters in the capital Phnom Penh.

Although the asset declaration is confidential, Hun Sen told reporters he earned a monthly salary of 4,600,000 riel (S$1,450).

He also encouraged senior government and military officials to follow his example ahead of a deadline next week. 'Don't be hesitant or afraid,' he said.

More than 100,000 state officials and heads of civilian organisations in Cambodia are required to make declarations of property, vehicles, business interests and other assets under the anti-graft law that was approved in 2010.

The confidential declarations will happen in stages and the April 7 deadline only applies to some officials, the anti-corruption unit said in a statement. -- AFP
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In Cambodia, Women Fear Death at Childbirth

By Marwaan Macan-Markar

KRAING KAOK, Cambodia, Apr 2, 2011 (IPS) - Death haunts women in this Cambodian village at a moment of happiness - when they give birth.

"Today, nothing frightens Cambodian women more than having to give birth," says Mu Sochuea, former minister of women’s affairs. "It is costly, risky and not safe for the mothers and the babies."

Cambodia has acquired the notoriety of having among the highest maternal mortality rates in the region. Five women die every day during childbirth, according to U.N. reports.

Public health experts attribute the high death toll to lack of sufficient midwives, limited health care centres, the cost of health services, and a bias in remote rural areas towards untrained traditional birth attendants.

Hak Sam Ath still fights back tears as she recalls how Ouch Lay, her eldest daughter, died at a health clinic that serves this fishing and trading community on the banks of the Stung Slot River. "She had high blood pressure at the time she had checked into the health clinic for her delivery," said Sam Ath. "But this was overlooked and she died on the night she was to give birth."

The death of mothers like 28-year-old Lay, over one year ago in this village some 60 kilometres southeast of Phnom Penh, confirms why a common saying in the local Khmer language about the dangers of childbirth still resonates in this country of some 14 million people. "The expression ‘crossing the river’ is used in Khmer to describe the moment when a woman is to give birth," says Sochuea, now an opposition parliamentarian. "It illustrates the risk and the danger of crossing a river, a totally uncertain experience, which is how childbirth is viewed by many here."

The country’s maternal mortality rates reflect this fear. There are 461 maternal mortality cases per 100,000 living births here, which is "among the highest in the region and which has not changed much since 1997," noted a report released Mar. 28 on the country’s progress towards achieving the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) - a set of global targets to reduce poverty, ensure basic education, achieve gender equity, and overcome major health challenges.

Such frequent maternal mortality has condemned Cambodia to fall well short of meeting the fifth of eight MDGs by 2015, which specifically calls on countries to improve maternal health by reducing maternal mortality ratios. Cambodia is also trailing to meet the first MDG: slashing the number of people living in extreme poverty and hunger.

"It is highly unlikely that the original [Cambodian MDG] target of 140 deaths per 100,000 live births can be reached," revealed the ‘Cambodian Millennium Development Goals (CMDG) Update 2010’, the report that was jointly produced by the government and U.N. agencies. "The target for 2015 has therefore recently been adjusted to a more realistic level of 250, which still represents a major challenge."

To meet such a challenge in a country still struggling to rise to its feet after the 1991 peace accords - which ended two decades of deadly conflict, genocide and occupation - the U.N. has courted a prominent ally: Bun Ray Hun Sen, the wife of Cambodian Prime Minster Hun Sen. The former nurse was recognised in late February as the national champion for U.N. Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon’s Action Plan for Women’s and Children’s Health.

"We are tackling the maternal mortality issue at an extremely high level," Douglas Broderick, the U.N. resident coordinator here, told IPS. "We will be working with the first lady to raise the profile of the maternal mortality challenge in the country."

Limited numbers of midwives and skilled birth attendants in the hospitals and health centres has contributed to maternal mortality, with the rural rice- growing areas - home to nearly 85 percent of the population - being the worst hit. Nearly 40 percent of births in Cambodia are "unattended by skilled birth attendants, who could save women’s lives in case of emergencies," according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

"Maternal mortality in rural areas is three times higher than in the urban areas," says Chea Thy, the national health advisor at the Cambodia office of Plan International, a British child rights agency. "Some health centres don’t have qualified midwives."

Midwives are paid approximately 10 dollars for assisting in a birth and the profession is struggling to attract larger and committed numbers to meet the health ministry’s national health plans. The government has set its sights on opening 1,600 health centres across the country, with each having up to two midwives. This would mark a sizeable increase from the less than 1,000 health centres that currently dot Cambodia.

The high cost of health services in a country where over a third of the population live in poverty is also fingered as an explanation of why maternal care is so poor.

"The average payment for a four to six day stay at a hospital is 130,000 riels (about 27 dollars)," Henk Bekedam, director of health sector development at the WHO’s regional office, told IPS. "That includes mothers going for delivery, a patient who has broken a leg, or somebody hospitalised for diarrhoea."
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Cambodia Honors 2 Chinese Peacekeeping Soldiers Killed in 1993 Blast

Cambodia on Friday commemorated two Chinese U.N. peacekeeping soldiers killed in a blast in the country's Cheung Prey district in Kampong Cham province on May 21, 1993.

The ceremony was presided over by Lieutenant General Nim Sovath, chief of Cambodian Defense Ministry's Department of Politics and Foreign Affairs, and Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia Pan Guangxue, with the participation of local Chinese communities and some 100 locals.

The ambassador recalled that nearly 800 Chinese U.N. soldiers were on mission in Cambodia in 1992, and there was a mid-night explosion on May 21, 1993, killing the two soldiers -- Chen Zhi Guo and Yu Shi Li, other three were wounded.

"Even though they passed away, their braveness is still kept in our hearts forever," he said, "Their sacrifices have made closer relations between Cambodia and China."

On behalf of Cambodian Royal Armed Forces, Nim Sovath expressed deepest condolences to the Chinese government and the victims' families for the death of the two Chinese U.N. peacekeeping soldiers in the engineering unit of the Chinese People's Liberation Army.

"The government of Cambodia would like to express its gratitude to Chinese Communist Party and the government of China for sending engineering forces under the U.N. umbrella to Cambodia for peacekeeping," he said, "Their sacrifices were in the cause of seeking peace and security for Cambodia."
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Cambodia Ready to Talk on Border Row: PM

Cambodia has received mixed information from Thailand about its participation in next week's meetings in Indonesia on border conflict between the two countries, said Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday afternoon.

"Now we have received mixed information from Bangkok on the meetings," he said in a press briefing, referring to the meetings of Cambodia-Thai General Border Committee (GBC) and Joint Border Committee on Demarcation for Land Boundary (JBC) on April 7-8 that are to be held in Bogor, Indonesia.

He said that Cambodia has already prepared itself for the meetings. Cambodia's GBC will be led by Defense Minister Tea Banh and JBC by its president Var Kimhong.

The premier made the remarks after Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya on Thursday said that there is a possibility that only the Thai-Cambodian Joint Boundary Committee (JBC) meeting will be held in Indonesia, without convening a General Border Committee (GBC) meeting.

"Until now the Thai Defense Ministry still hopes that Cambodia will host the 7th GBC meeting so that the JBC meeting would be the only meeting to be convened in Indonesia on April 7-8," the Thai state media MCOT online quoted Kasit as saying.

Cambodia and Thailand's troops exchanged fire just a week after the disputed Preah Vihear temple was enlisted as a World Heritage Site on July 7, 2008. Since then, both sides have built up military forces along the border, and periodic clashes happened, resulting in the deaths of troops on both sides.

The latest clashes took place on Feb. 4-7, killing and wounding many soldiers and citizens of both sides.
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