Thursday, July 21, 2005

Women infected with AIDS increase in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, July 21 (Xinhuanet) -- Cambodia's women infected with HIV/AIDS have increased at an alarming rate in recent years, local media reported on Thursday.

Since 1997, more women than men are infected with HIV/AIDS eachyear, though efforts made to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS has resulted a drop in cases in Cambodia from 2.1 percent in 2002 to 1.9 percent last year.

According to the Ministry of Health, 60 percent of HIV/AIDS patients were women between 2003 and 2004. Among 100 women with HIV/AIDS, 42 were housewives infected by their husbands.

This trend may be more a social than a health problem, officials warned on Wednesday at a national forum. Women are afraid of being hit by their husbands if they suggest using condoms, The Cambodia Daily quoted Thida Khus, executive director of the Cambodian NGO Siaka, as saying.

Officials call for giving women greater importance in society, saying if they feel valued, women will be more comfortable negotiating with their husbands and protecting themselves and their children from infection. Enditem

WHO: Cambodia one of nations hardest hit by TB

PHNOM PENH, July 21 (Xinhuanet) -- The World Health Organization (WHO) has singled out Cambodia as one of the countries hardest hit by tuberculosis (TB), local press reported on Thursday.

With 70,000 people infected with the respiratory illness each year, TB killed 107 people for every 100,000 Cambodians last year, according to WHO estimation on Wednesday.

The global health body has set a specific strategy for Cambodia to fight the illness, calling for the provision of TB-specific treatment programs, an 85 percent recovery rate and the identification of 70 percent of all cases of BK, a new strain of TB, Khmer newspaper Island of Peace reported.

Approximately 33,000 of the 70,000 TB patients have tested positive for BK, Mao Tan Eang, director of the National Tuberculosis Center, was quoted by Rasmei Kampuchea as saying. He said 225 of every 100,000 Cambodians develop BK each year, while 508 of every 100,000 Cambodians are infected with all forms of TB.

Speaking at the National Tuberculosis Center's biannual evaluation meeting on Wednesday, Mao Tan Eang said Cambodia discovered 35 percent of BK or 10,500 positive patients in the first half of this year, Chinese newspaper Jian Hua Daily said.

Last year, Cambodia cured 90 percent of TB cases, identified 64 percent of BK cases and provided treatment to 100 percent of all TB cases. Meanwhile, the government spends 6 million to 7 million US dollars annually on the fight against TB. Enditem

UN approves Khmer Rouge tribunal location

Phnom Penh (VNA) - The United Nations has approved the newly-constructed military headquarters on the outskirts of Phnom Penh as the venue for the planned Khmer Rouge tribunal, according to the Cambodia Daily.

The decision was made during a recent closed-door meeting in New York between the UN and representatives from countries that are involved in the tribunal, said a diplomat who asked not to be identified.

"The group of Interested States is of the view that the UN should accept the premises offered by the Royal Cambodian Government at the Royal Armed Forces High Command headquarters" for the tribunal, the diplomat quoted the meeting's minutes as saying.

The meeting ended with the representatives agreeing to notify the Cambodian government of the decision. Originally, the tribunal was to have been held at two sites in Phnom Penh, namely Chaktomuk Theatre and the National Cultural Centre. But the government said using the military headquarters will save money and simplify the logistical requirements.-Enditem

Montagnards Deported from Cambodia to Vietnam

Cambodia has deported more than 100 members of the Montagnard ethnic minority to Vietnam, after a UN agency ruled they do not qualify for refugee status. Human rights officials are concerned the asylum seekers could be heading home to a hostile country.

Cambodian police with shields and electric batons blocked off the street leading to a UN refugee camp in the capital's suburbs early this morning, to prevent Montagnards from fleeing the compound before police loaded them into buses headed for Vietnam.

The Montagnards had slipped across the Cambodian border over the past several months, seeking asylum from what they say is a brutally oppressive government. They claim Vietnam has persecuted them for their Christian beliefs and taken their ancestral land in central Vietnam's highlands.

But the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said this group of Montagnards did not qualify for refugee status, which would allow them to resettle in a third country.

UNHCR associate protection officer Inna Gladkova said the UN refugee agency had fulfilled its obligations to the Montagnards, with the asylum seekers going through a thorough interview and appeal process. Other Montagnards are still in Cambodia awaiting a ruling.

Human rights groups have condemned the deportations and criticized the Cambodian government for forcing the asylum seekers back to Vietnam.

Ny Chakrya, head of the monitoring section at the local rights group ADHOC, says the Montagnards could not be assured of security at home.

"We have concern that the UNHCR has not a monitor or has not office to monitor on the Montagnards who was today returned," said Ny Chakrya. "The problem is that the Vietnamese government can threaten or can make a problem with the Montagnards because we have information that Vietnam government punish some Montagnards who were returned."

Through police radios, the sound of Montagnards crying and shouting behind the camp's tall fence could be heard as officers ordered them onto the buses that would take them to the border. Members of the group tearfully peered through the bus windows or covered their heads as the vehicles drove away flanked by a half dozen police cars and motorcycles blaring sirens.

Speaking by phone from inside the camp before the deportations, Montagnard Romas Ing said the group does not want to live in Cambodia or the US. He said they want to live in Vietnam, but only if they have freedom and their land is returned.

ASEAN in tariffs progress

Martin Abbugao

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is said to be on track to achieve a zero-tariff regime by 2015, a key ingredient for its ambitious plan to create a single market and production base by 2020.

Regional trade officials said the 10-member group was working its way through the difficulties of implementing the proposed ASEAN Free Trade Area.

The process has been fraught with problems due to the wide variations in economic development of the nations, from wealthy Singapore at one end of the spectrum to Burma, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam at the other.

Overall, AFTA aims to abolish tariffs on traded goods by 2010 for Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Brunei and Thailand, the most developed nations of the group collectively known as the ASEAN 6.

Tariffs for the four poorer countries will be wiped out by 2015.

While trade is not normally a frontline issue at ASEAN's annual foreign ministers' meeting, the issue of economic integration is expected to be touched at this year's session in Laos next week.

ASEAN trade officials point out the successes for the region - a market of 550 million people with a combined gross domestic product of US$1 trillion (HK$7.8 trillion) - since the AFTA process began in 1993. In particular, the ASEAN 6 have already trimmed tariffs on goods in their inclusion list to not more than 5 percent as of 2003.

Vietnam was given until 2006 to slash tariffs to 0-5 percent, Laos has until 2008, while Burma and Cambodia have until 2010.

Thai exports to the region rose to US$21.2 billion in 2004 from US$6.5 billion in 1993, and ASEAN has become Thailand's largest export market.

But analysts say the group still has many big challenges to overcome if it is to realize its AFTA goals, particularly in removing protectionist barriers on certain sectors deemed ``sensitive'' to domestic interests.

The group must also ensure that members' tariff liberalization commitments are honored and prod the bloc's less-developed members to include more products in a basket headed for tariff cuts.

Moreover, ASEAN should also speed up implementation of non-tariff measures - another pillar in the overall goal to create a European Union-style economic community by 2020 or earlier.

``ASEAN has a window of opportunity in which it is still viewed as a major and important trading bloc,'' said Ernest Bower, a US business consultant and former president of the US-ASEAN Business Council. ``China and India are growing fast, and in the process they are drawing attention away from an ASEAN viewed as not entirely serious about economic integration.''

Already, some ASEAN countries have sought to protect certain industries under an AFTA provision allowing the temporary exclusion of certain sectors from tariff reductions.

Malaysia has sought a delay in the opening up of its auto sector, sparking a demand for compensation from Thailand, a regional manufacturing base for the world's major carmakers.

The Philippines asked to protect its nascent petrochemical industry.

Singapore's trade ministry said it had conducted bilateral talks with Manila on the issue and this was resolved amicably.

ASEAN's biggest member, Indonesia, has also put rice and sugar on a ``highly sensitive'' list of items that are to be excluded from drastic tariff cuts, according to Indonesian trade ministry spokesman Imam Pambagyo. He said Indonesia expects rice and sugar to be liberalized in 10 to 15 years.

Vietnam has asked for a delay in opening up the automobile accessories and light trucks market, which again led to negotiations for compensation with Thailand.

Some other countries may ask to protect certain sectors when the deadline to slash tariffs to 0-5 percent draws nearer. But Bower said ASEAN should put a stop to ``backsliding and side-deals'' if it wished to be seen as a unified market, especially as it negotiates free-trade deals with neighbors like China, Japan and India. AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE