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Monday, December 12, 2011

Scientists discover more than 200 new Mekong species

Many of the animals recently identified by the WWF, like this self-cloning lizard, are under threat

Scientists have identified more than 200 new species in the Greater Mekong region of south-east Asia, a report by conservation group WWF says.

They say that throughout 2010 more than 100 plants, 28 reptiles, 25 fish and seven amphibians were discovered.

But the WWF warns that many are endangered - while others could disappear before they are identified.

The Greater Mekong area includes Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, Vietnam, Laos and Yunnan province of China.

It is one of the world's most bio-diverse areas, home to some of the planet's most endangered wild species including the tiger, the Asian elephant and the Mekong dolphin.

The WWF says that more than 1,000 species have been discovered in the Greater Mekong over the past 10 years.

BBC environment reporter Mark Kinver says that new species are frequently found in the region because of increasing levels of human activity, which is proving to be a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, building roads opens up remote habitats to scientists who can then venture into previously unexplored areas and record the rich diversity of wildlife.

But this can also have a damaging ecological impact, especially if it results in a greater exploitation of the land which destroys these fragile ecosystems, our correspondent adds.

Female-only lizard

Among recent finds was a female-only lizard species, which reproduces by cloning, and was only discovered after a scientist spotted it on the menu of a Vietnamese restaurant.

Ms Bladen said that the female-only cloning lizard was also an exiting find.

"This lizard is not genetically diverse and is therefore very vulnerable. So these species are often found in shrinking habitats that are under pressure from rapid and unsustainable development and climate change," she said.

"But while we have extraordinary richness in this region, it is a richness that is under threat and shrinking fast and needs urgent effort to protect it."

The latest WWF report comes just days after the organisation announced the extinction of the Javan rhino in Vietnam because of poaching, and a 70% reduction in the number of wild tigers in just over 10 years.

China, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia are all planning hydropower dams along the Mekong river to meet the increasing demand for electricity.

Another new species - discovered in 2010 - is a snub-nosed monkey found in a remote and mountainous part of Burma's Kachin state, WWF spokeswoman Sarah Bladen told the BBC.

"It is well known to locals, who would spot the black-and-white monkey in the rain with its head between its knees, shielding it from the rain running into its upturned nose," she said.
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Cambodia, U.S. start another joint exercise to boost military ties

PHNOM PENH, Dec. 12 (Xinhua) -- Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and the U.S. marines on Monday began another humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise to boost the two countries ' military relations, according to a press release from the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh.

The joint exercise was made just days after a similar one was ended last Friday between Cambodia's military police and U.S. marines from the III Marine Expeditionary Force.

The press release said that the joint exercise will be held in the vicinities of Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville and last until Dec. 18.
It added that U.S. marines and sailors from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Amphibious Squadron 5 aboard the USS Pearl Harbor and USS New Orleans will exchange experiences with Cambodian forces pertaining to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief response, as a means to enhance professional cooperation and coordination between the two forces.

Components of the exchanges include an engineering civic action project, medical and mass casualty response drills, platoon maneuvers, and a community relation-building blood drive campaign.

"This exercise serves as another example of how U.S. and Cambodian forces can work together, increase each other's cultural understanding, enhance capabilities, and improve coordination, while providing services to areas and individuals in need," said Jeff Daigle, charg d'affaires of the U.S. Embassy to Cambodia.

Humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercises have strengthened the relationship between the U.S. and Cambodian armed forces, while also improving the ability of Asia-Pacific nations to work together effectively to provide relief and assistance in the event of natural disasters and crises, added the press release.
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Cambodia to send labour to Qata

By May Kunmakara

The government has approved Qatar as a destination for the growing number of Cambodian labourers seeking employment overseas.

Workers will not be recruited for housekeeping services, however, private sector officials said. The abuse of maids in Malaysia – many of whom were reportedly under-aged – has brought much scrutiny to the recruiting agencies that sent the women abroad.

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday approved the agreement on domestic labour with Qatar that the two governments originally endorsed in 2008.

A statement from the Council of Ministers said the agreement would promote a higher level of private-sector cooperation between Cambodia and the gulf state, something in line with the Kingdom’s goals for globalisation. It would also curb illegal migration and mitigate the risk of a domestic labour shortage, the statement said.

Hong Chheoun, director of Cambodia’s National Employment Agency, was not immediately available for comment.

The Qatari market needs thousands of labourers annually, a demand higher than other labour-importing countries, An Bun Hak, chairman of the Association of Cambodia Recruitment Agency, said.

“We’ve seen that Qatar’s labour market conditions are much better compared to many other countries in the Middle East,” An Bun Hak recently told the Post.

“The [Cambodian] government is in part trying to reduce unemployment. Domestic labour markets are also not sufficient in supporting young labourers, so this is a temporary strategy for helping them find employment.”

About 300,000 Cambodians enter the labour market each year, according to a report from the United Nations Development Programme. Securing employment for recent entrants would require cooperation between the government and the private sector, the report said.

Qatar will absorb up to 40,000 Cambodian workers a year with fixed salaries of up to US$400 per month for unskilled workers, An Bun Hak said.

Cambodians sent to Qatar would not work as maids or housekeepers as they have in other countries, An Bun Hak claimed. Sending workers to private households presents a risk for abuse, he said.

“We won’t allow them to work in the housekeeping industry because we have different cultures and daily living habits. We want to avoid any abuse that could happen by chance so we decided not to send them to work in housekeeping,” he said, adding that Cambodians would be employed as construction workers and hotel staff.

Nine Cambodian maids have died in Malaysia this year, the Post reported last month. The Cambodian government temporarily prohibited recruitment companies from sending young women to Malaysia last month after cases of rape, forced detention, exploitation and death rocked both countries.

The Philippines has considered banning labour recruiters from sending maids to Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates because the countries could not guarantee the protection of the workers, according to UAE business publication Arabian Business. But Cambodian workers in Qatar would be protected by the gulf state’s Ministry of Labour, An Bun Hak claimed. Employers would also provide round-trip airfares once a year, a unique offer from the country, he added.

Cambodia sends about 80,000 domestic workers to South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia and Japan every year. While private companies manage business between the latter three countries, the South Korean government manages incoming labour from Cambodia.

Cambodia also signed a similar memorandum of understanding with Kuwait in 2008, however, a formal agreement has yet to materialise, An Bun Hak said, adding that he was unsure if complaints of abuse in the country were at fault for the delay.

“We’re waiting for an annoucnment from the government on [the Kuwaiti] market. If it’s okay, we will contact [employers],” he said..
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