Archive for May 18th, 2007

It was a week of events … sort of … in Cambodia, starting on Monday the 14th with King Norodom Sihamoni’s 54th birthday. The party went on for three days, the public holiday part of it anyway, and the papers were full of birthday wishes.

He looks great, too. Must be that dancer’s body thing. Cyd Charisse is in her 80s and still has great legs.

And how about this lalapalooza of a Phnom Penh celebration? Norwegian National Day.

Right. Bet that was a real blow out.

For a look at the film “Sentenced Home”, the story of three Cambodian refugees facing deportation from the US, see the Independent Lens site.

The information they give on how immigration law works is most interesting.

If you’re planning a trip to Cambodia via Thailand, a new route is being talked about.

A major battlefield during the peak of border conflicts with Cambodia in the 1970s, Ta Phraya has now turned into a potential gateway for tourists to visit Thailand’s neighbouring country. Ratri Saengrungrueng, chairwoman of a tour operators club in this eastern province, said the route to Cambodia from Ta Phraya, which is an alternative to the Aranyaprathet checkpoint, has gained popularity with tourists wishing to visit the famous Khmer temple ruins of Banteay Chhmar _ a gigantic 12th-century Bayon sanctuary housing a four-faced monument and a magnificent bas-relief depicting a 32-armed Bodhisattva lokeshvara.

Don’t try this at the drop of a hat, however, as border regulations are an obstacle, even for the Thais.

Cambodia has a Minister of Tourism. Hun Sen fired the last guy last week saying the “reshuffle was made to address some irregularities at the ministry to strive for further development of the mushrooming industry.”

The new minster, Thong Kon, says he’s ” … determined to strengthen the tourism industry by enhancing cooperation with the private sector.”

You know what that means, don’t you? More hotels, big development, probably a lot of golf courses. Ack! Progress. I hate it. Development! I spit in the eye of development. I am, obviously, in the minority on this.

Some big American companies are looking at doing business in Phnom Penh.

GE, ConocoPhillips, Oracle, Fed Ex and ITT Defense have all sent reps as part of a delegation that met with “senior Cambodian officials”.

Does the word “boom” ring a bell?

No? Well, how about “land grab”?

Koh Kong Sugar, one of at least 57 ventures awarded “economic land concessions” since 1992 under a plan to turn fallow fields into export crop plantations, is a glaring example of how Cambodia is being parcelled out to politically connected companies, land rights advocates said.

Land title is a mess in Cambodia, and has been ever since the Khmer Rouge turned almost the whole country into a giant collective. Records were destroyed and people were shifted all over the place. Afterwards, farms and homes took root wherever without much thought to legal deeds or claims.

In 2001, a law was passed allowing people to keep any land that they’ve worked for five years, but very few have the paperwork to prove it’s theirs.

Now, the country is looking like prime real estate in the making, so land value is skyrocketing.

Speaking of skyrockets … and that’s about as cheesy a segue I’ve ever manufactured … this story from zmag is fascinating.

In the fall of 2000, twenty-five years after the end of the war in Indochina, Bill Clinton became the first US president since Richard Nixon to visit Vietnam. While media coverage of the trip was dominated by talk of some two thousand US soldiers still classified as missing in action, a small act of great historical importance went almost unnoticed. As a humanitarian gesture, Clinton released extensive Air Force data on all American bombings of Indochina between 1964 and 1975. Recorded using a groundbreaking IBM-designed system, the database provided extensive information on sorties conducted over Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Clinton’s gift was intended to assist in the search for unexploded ordnance left behind during the carpet bombing of the region. Littering the countryside, often submerged under farmland, this ordnance remains a significant humanitarian concern.

Going on from there, it details American bombing actions in the 60s and 70s. It’s astounding.

The data released by Clinton shows the total payload dropped during these years to be nearly five times greater than the generally accepted figure. To put the revised total of 2,756,941 tons into perspective, the Allies dropped just over 2 million tons of bombs during all of World War II, including the bombs that struck Hiroshima and Nagasaki: 15,000 and 20,000 tons, respectively. Cambodia may well be the most heavily bombed country in history.

And tragic.

Also tragic, the death of Kate Webb, on of the world’s true heros, and one of the few people on the planet I would have given a lot just to meet once.

Everything that a reporter should be, Kate was what every young woman with a dream of a life in journalism should aim toward, although very, very few will have the guts to do that.

Covering every major Asian conflict of her time, she put herself on the line over and over. Imprisoned by the Vietnamese army in Cambodia in 1971 and coming very close to death in Afghanistan more than once, she also worked in Indonesia, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Hong Kong after years in Viet Nam, and covered the Gulf War in 1991.

“She was a pioneer for female reporters and a role model for all foreign correspondents. She was one of the legends,” said veteran Agence France-Presse journalist Chris Lefkow, who covered the 1991 Gulf War with her.

The world is one Kate Webb poorer now, and that’s a crying shame.

Not gone, contrary to scientific thought for the past few years, is one of the meanest, scariest sounding creatures I’ve heard of in a long time, the Cantor’s giant softshell turtle.

What’s scary about a turtle?

Well, this one grows up to 6 feet long, buries itself in mud so no one can see where it waits, has a strike faster than a cobra and a bite that can crush bone. This in a country where no one wears shoes!

It may look like roadkill, but if you see one before it sees you, get the hell out of its way!

And that’s all I can do today.
Canot’s giant soft shell turtle

Read Full Post »