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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Back to Cambodia for Summit County local

Local philanthropist returns to Cambodia, steps back from charity work

In 1997, Summit County local Doug Mendel was traveling through Asia when he made as short stop in Cambodia.

The three days he spent there would change the course of his life.

“I went there as a traveler and those three days captivated my heart,” Mendel said. “I fell in love with the people, the culture, the weather.”

That love would draw him back to the small, southeast Asian nation 16 times over the next 14 years and inspire him to found the Douglas Mendel Cambodian Relief Fund, a nonprofit organization providing Cambodian firefighters with much-needed equipment, training and even fire trucks.

Now, as he prepares for his 17th trip, Mendel is winding down his charity work, though he says, the friendships he has built through his work in Cambodia will keep him a frequent visitor to the country he loves so much.

“I tell people now, when all's said and done, it's the friendships with the Cambodian people I treasure the most,” Mendel said. “I'm trying to step back from what I've done in the past, just because I got burned out and … I've realized I still have a passion and a love for the people and that's something I don't want to give up ever.”

On this next trip, a brief 11 days, Mendel plans to visit three towns, checking on the two fire trucks he has had donated and the many friends he has made over the years.

Mendel's philanthropic work really began in 2001, he says, when, on a third vacation in Cambodia he spotted a fire station.

“I was a volunteer firefighter for Lake Dillon (Fire Rescue) and I thought I could help,” Mendel said.

He returned home and asked the Lake Dillon fire chief if there were any supplies that could be donated. In 2003, he returned to Cambodia with a box of gear and a question.

“With the help of a Cambodian friend, I explained that this was a gift from a fire station in Colorado, and (asked) them to tell me what they wanted and I would do my best to bring other supplies on the next trip. Long story short, it turns into a nonprofit.”

Cambodia is a country of almost 15 million people, about 30 percent of whom live below poverty levels. While fires are not a particularly big problem, the country's fire stations are grossly undersupplied.

“Firefighters in Cambodia just don't have the proper equipment and training to protect the community in which they live,” Mendel said.

Over the years he's done his best to remedy that, collecting thousands of dollars in donations to support firefighters, and in 2006 he helped a fire truck donated by Red, White and Blue Fire Rescue find its way to the fire station in the village of Preynop.

That engine has responded to approximately 15 calls over the last five years, most recently a structure fire where the truck helped protect the surrounding area from the flames.

Mendel has also traveled with American firefighters, who helped train Cambodian emergency responders. All of that was in addition to what he says amounted to about two tons of gear, including helmets, boots and gloves.

But ultimately, he said, he got more out of his work than he gave.

“It's given me a purpose,” Mendel said. “It's been an incredible journey.”

Summit County businesses and individuals have always been very supportive of his efforts. Mendel said, though he is winding down his work, he encourages anyone interested in his work or looking for an update to get in touch with him at dough@the

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Thailand unperturbed by Cambodian charges on Preah Vihear shooting: PM

BANGKOK, May 25 - Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on Wednesday downplayed allegations by Phnom Penh that the ancient Preah Vihear Hindu temple was attacked by Thai troops in the recent border skirmishes, asserting that Indonesian observers would not be allowed to enter disputed area unless the General Border Committee (GBC) meeting is held.

The Thai prime minister made his remarks following reports that Cambodia will file a complaint with the World Heritage Committee (WHC) accusing Thai troops of firing about 400 rounds of ammunition targeting the ancient temple ruin.

Mr Abhisit said he is unworried about the latest move of the Cambodian government as it is clear that Cambodia breached the WHC agreement by allowing its troops to enter Preah Vihear temple.

"We also stand firm that the sole management of Preah Vihear temple and its surrounding area by Cambodia will intensify the conflict and every country concerned should help ease the problem, not creating the new ones," according to Mr Abhisit.

The meeting between Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia on the renewed border dispute has been held during the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) early this month, with the conclusion that the observers from Indonesia could come to inspect the border areas after agreeing to withdraw Cambodian troops from the 4.6 sq km area is signed as a result from the GBC meeting between both neighbours.

Cambodian Defence Minister Tea Banh did not adhere to the agreement we made at the ASEAN summit, Mr Abhisit said.

As Cambodia charged that Thailand has cancelled the planned GBC meeting, Mr Abhisit denied the allegation, saying the GBC meeting can still be held.

Thai Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Suwit Khunkitti is now in Paris to meet with WHC and his Cambodian counterpart, prior to the meeting of the UNESCO the World Heritage Committee scheduled to be held in June.

The premier said he can assess the situation regarding the UNESCO posigion only when Minister Suwit returns from the Paris meeting, but said he always believed that Thailand and Cambodia could still solve the border dispute by dialogue.

The International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled 49 years ago that the 11th-century Preah Vihear belonged to Cambodia, although its primary entrance lies in Thailand. However both countries claim ownership of the 4.6-square-kilometre (1.8-square-mile) surrounding area.

Last month Cambodia asked the World Court to clarify a 1962 ruling about the ancient temple on its disputed border with Thailand following the latest armed clashes between the two neighbouring countries. (MCOT online news)
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Team Finds Widespread Cluster Munitions Near Border

The Cambodian Mine Action Center has found more than 300 hectares of land peppered with cluster munitions, believed to be fired by Thailand during border fighting in February.

Clearance of the unexploded ordnance could take up to a year or more, demining officials said, following an assessment of the area by CMAC and Norwegian People’s Aid.

“We are searching for more areas affected with submunitions of cluster munitions,” CMAC Secretary-General Heng Ratana told VOA Khmer Wednesday.

Jan Erik Stea, program manager for mines at Norwegian People’s Aid, told reporters Wednesday the munitions were found druing a two-day assessment in April. Twelve areas, including four in villages, spread over more than 1.5 million square meters in Preah Vihear province’s Choam Khsant district were identified, he said.

“Between 5,000 and 10,000 people will be directly impacted by the cluster munitions,” he said. “They have small submunitions between the houses, which is of course a danger for the people living there.”

Two types of submunitions—M42 and M85—were identified, he said.
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Cambodian activist says UN risks failing Khmer Rouge victims

Phnom Penh - A Cambodian rights activist warned the United Nations on Wednesday it would fail the victims of the Khmer Rouge unless it ensured that two controversial cases at the war crimes tribunal were properly investigated.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, made his comments in a public letter to Clint Williamson, who acts as liaison between UN headquarters and the government, during his trip to Phnom Penh.

Ou Virak's comments come amid fears the UN is working to shut down the third and fourth cases at the behest of the government. Prime Minister Hun Sen has long said he would not permit either case to go to trial, citing a risk of civil war.

Ou Virak, whose father was killed by the Khmer Rouge, warned against any decision to close the UN-backed tribunal at the conclusion of its second case, which is due to start on June 27.

'If such a decision is indeed effected, it will fatally undermine the integrity of the (tribunal) and the justice which it seeks to dispense in all cases, including Cases 001 and 002,' he wrote.

In its first case, the tribunal last year convicted the Khmer Rouge's head of security, Comrade Duch, of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The court's second case is against four senior surviving leaders of the movement.

The next two cases reportedly involve five former members thought responsible for tens of thousands of deaths during 1975-79.

But observers have said political opposition and UN inaction mean they have little chance of getting to trial.

Ou Virak singled out the tribunal's international investigating judge, Siegfried Blunk, a German national, whose office closed the file in the third case last month without interviewing the suspects or investigating alleged crime sites.

Subsequent public comments by the international prosecutor, Andrew Cayley, seemed to confirm long-standing rumours that Blunk's office had done little work on the case.

Ou Virak said that while the government's opposition to cases three and four was well-known, Blunk's role as the international investigating judge 'is a matter of utmost concern.'

'(Blunk's) actions raise the question of whether the United Nations has conceded to the demands of the (Cambodian government) and is now acting to prevent any further cases from going to trial and to ensure the closure of the (tribunal) with the conclusion of Case 002,' he wrote.

Both the tribunal and UN headquarters have refused to answer questions about the controversial cases. When asked earlier this month whether the court was trying to bury cases three and four, Blunk, who took up his post in December, responded with a threat.

'The use of the word 'bury' is insolent, for which you are given leave to apologize within two days,' Blunk wrote in an email without specifying a penalty.

Blunk has since refused to answer any questions from the German Press Agency dpa.

The UN has also repeatedly refused to answer any questions on the next cases.

Case Four is still with the investigating judges' office, which is led jointly by Blunk and Cambodian judge You Bunleng.

More than 2 million people are thought to have died during the Khmer Rouge's rule of Cambodia.
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