Saturday, September 09, 2006

I created a Slide Show!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Biologist on hunt for supersize fishes

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) - Floating down the Mekong in his dinghy, Zeb Hogan is on the ultimate fisherman's quest: to find the world's largest freshwater fishes.

The American biologist's search is to take him to 10 rivers around the globe including the Nile, Amazon and Mississippi, looking for about 20 species of hulking fish such as the goliath catfish, Chinese paddlefish and North American lake sturgeon _ not to catch them, he says, but to save them.

"These big, amazing creatures all over the world, they might be goners, on their way out," he says.

Right now Hogan is on the Mekong that flows through the Indochinese peninsula, looking for a stingray said to weigh over 1,300 pounds _ as much as a full-grown longhorn steer.

He knows it's out there; he photographed one in 2002. And smaller stingrays abound. As he passes villages on riverbanks or floating on the water, he sees children playing with severed stingray tails.

The 2,600-mile Mekong is known for its diversity of river creatures, as well as their size, to judge from places along its banks named the Pool of the Giant Catfish, or the Pool of the Giant Carp. Just last May, fishermen in Thailand landed a Mekong catfish that weighed 646 pounds and was 8 feet, 10 inches long. It's believed to be the largest freshwater fish ever caught and measured. It ended up on dinner tables.

On his voyages, says Hogan, "The main question I'll be asking everywhere is what were populations like in the past, what are they now?" He believes, "you'll see a pattern that these populations of these large fish species are declining _ a lot."

These are not aquatic sasquatches he's looking for, but fish whose existence is proven fact. The goliath catfish is still fairly common, Hogan says, and Wisconsin has a fishing season for lake sturgeon. The Chinese paddlefish is very rare, but a 275-pounder was caught on the Yangtze River in China on Dec. 11, 2003. There are said to be 650-pound carp, but none over about 300 pounds has been seen in recent times, Hogan says.

Almost all maximum lengths and weights come from accounts over the ages by scientists, explorers and taxonomists, and "in many cases have been verified by present-day scientists like myself. That is, after all, one of the main objectives of the project," Hogan says.

Hogan, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is 31 and has worked on the Mekong since 1996. His research is supported by the World Wildlife Fund, the National Geographic Society's Emerging Explorers Program, and outdoor-gear companies Marmot and Patagonia.

He'll be working with other scientists studying the creatures, such as a biologist researching the Amazon's arapaima, which can weigh 450 pounds, and a Texas freshwater guide who will help him study the alligator gar, which can reach 300 pounds.

As they putter down the Mekong, Hogan and his two Cambodian assistants pass constant reminders of the importance of the Mekong's fish population to the 73 million people living along its banks. People busily mend nets, and at night, dozens of tiny candles in floating containers mark where nets have been laid in the water off Phnom Penh's riverfront.

Along the way, Hogan and his assistants pepper fishermen with questions and pictures of their quarry.

The fishermen may not have caught or even seen the fish, Hogan said, but often will say they have heard about it being somewhere else. "Theoretically, that's supposed to lead us to where the fish are."

Not always, though. He says fishermen are hesitant to admit they've hooked a big one, for fear of running afoul of Cambodian and international restrictions on hunting rare species. The penalties are small, but the fishermen don't want the bother.

Hogan expects to finish in December 2006 and give his fish counts to IUCN, the World Conservation Union, which compiles a Red List of Threatened Species _ creatures threatened by overfishing, pollution, dams and alien aquatic life introduced by humans.

IUCN lists some of the giants as endangered or critically endangered, but for others, there simply isn't enough data to judge.

"We have a sense that the world's largest freshwater fish are disappearing really fast," said Robin Abell, a WWF freshwater conservation biologist. "We do need to work to understand both the species and the threats to them."

"The most exciting part for me," says Hogan, "is that that no one's done this before."

He believes the stingray ultimately will take the title, but says he will adhere to tough standards.

"If I don't have a photo or a weight, to me, it's not legitimate," he said. "I can't go just by word of mouth ... fishermen are famous for exaggerating the size of fish that they catch."

Japanese MSDF vessels arrive in Cambodian port

(Kyodo) _ Three vessels of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force arrived in Cambodia on Tuesday, the last destination in the training squadron's 155-day cruise around the world, the Japanese Embassy said.

Naoki Mitori, the embassy's first secretary, told Kyodo News that the vessels Kashima, Murasame and Yugiri, with about 750 officers and crew aboard, including approximately 180 newly commissioned officers, arrived in the southwestern port of Sihanoukville in the morning and will stay until Friday.

In a statement, the embassy said the overseas training cruises by the MDSF have been conducted annually since 1957, but this is the first time for a training squadron to visit Cambodia.

The cruises are aiming at developing the newly commissioned officers' leadership and seamanship skills through training at sea, broadening their international outlook and enhancing mutual understanding and goodwill at each port of visit, it said.

Before coming to Cambodia, the training squadron visited 13 ports in 12 countries -- the United States, Russia, Britain, Germany, France, India, Turkey, Malta, Egypt, Mexico, Panama and Norway.

It left Tokyo on April 19 and is scheduled to return to Japan on Sept. 20, having covered an approximate distance of 55,042 kilometers.

During the Cambodia stopover, the vessels will be open to the public on Wednesday and Thursday.

Also during the visit, MSDF members will visit Cambodia's capital of Phnom Penh, where a music band comprised of members of the training squadron will give a performance, playing Japanese and Cambodian songs.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Cambodia 'suffering land crisis'

Cambodian labourers look at bulldozers and trucks at a site in Phnom Penh, 08 July 2005.
Cambodians are losing their homes to developers

There is a major land crisis in Cambodia, a leading United Nations human rights official has said.

The special rapporteur on adequate housing, Miloon Kothari, spent the past two weeks travelling around Cambodia.

He said that rich and powerful interests were grabbing land, leaving thousands of people dispossessed.

Over the past year land deals have been an increasing source of controversy, but this is the first time they have gained international attention.

The UN official has been to several disputed sites. They include a village in Poipet near the Thai border where five people died during forced evictions, and a river island in Phnom Penh, whose inhabitants are under pressure to sell up to a property developer.

There is a frenzy now across the country by the rich and powerful in Cambodia to acquire land
Miloon Kothari, UN special rapporteur on adequate housing

Mr Kothari is particularly concerned about the practice of land swaps. In recent months, dozens of publicly owned facilities have been given to private companies for redevelopment without any bidding process.

The companies are supposed to build new public facilities and housing in return, but Mr Kothari said they were using poor land which did not have access to electricity or running water, and thousands of families had been displaced. He is asking for more transparency in the government's dealings.

"There is a frenzy now across the country by the rich and powerful in Cambodia to acquire land. I think the donor communities and the UN agencies need to be much more outspoken. What I find missing here is a sense of outrage that should be there," he said.

Cambodia's Prime Minister, Hun Sen, announced a moratorium on land swaps at the beginning of June, but deals are still coming to light.

Last week, the interior ministry announced that part of Phnom Penh's royal palace had been given to a property developer.

Infamous tiger hunter given 7 years in jail in Cambodia

(Kyodo) _ An infamous tiger hunter in Cambodia, who had been on a conservationist group's list of most-wanted hunters since 2001, has been convicted of poaching and given seven years in jail, the group said Friday.

According to a statement released by WildAid, a U.S.-based environmental group, a court in the southwestern province of Koh Kong handed the sentence down Wednesday to Yor Ngun, 57, for his illegal hunting of endangered animals.

Yor Ngun, regarded as a skillful hunter, had been on the group's most-wanted list since he was first identified and interviewed by conservationists in the northern province of Preah Vihear in 2001.

According to the statement, he was first arrested by the Forestry Administration in September 2004, but was released after signing a document in which he pledged not to become a repeat offender.

On March 29, 2005, he was rearrested by the Forestry Administration in Koh Kong for transporting 25 bear jaws and 82 bear nails.

The provincial court's verdict concluded that Yor Ngun had killed "many endangered species" and gave the prison sentence based on Article 97 of Cambodia's Forestry Law.

Yor Ngun is known to have tracked and killed 19 tigers, 40 leopards, 30 elephants, 40 Malayan sun bears and three Asiatic bears, and 500 gaur, banteng and sambar in over 10 provinces, WildAid's statement said.

A government official told Kyodo News on Friday that the offender claimed during a court hearing Wednesday that he was poor and therefore had to hunt to earn his living.

"He actually was not poor because when he was arrested, he had $500 in his pocket," said Sun Hean, chief of international operations for the Agriculture Ministry and an adviser to WildAid.

He said the offender "moved very fast to different parts of the country for hunting animals...He was all over the potential places where animals live."

Suwanna Gauntlett, WildAid's country director for Cambodia, welcomed the successful prosecution.

"It is very important step forward for wildlife law enforcement which shows that the Forestry Administration is increasing its capacity to investigate and prosecute forest crimes," she said.

She said that since 2001, the Wilderness Protection Mobile Unit, a joint venture between the Forestry Administration and WildAid, has discovered 700 illegal hunters or traders and has rescued 28,000 live animals.

In 2000, the number of tigers in Cambodia was estimated at about 700 nationwide, but now there remain only some 200 to 300, Sun Hean said.

Tigers are hunted mainly for buyers in China and Thailand. In China, they are especially in demand for traditional medicines and gourmet dishes, while in Thailand their pelts are in demand for decorative purposes.

U.S. Creates Endowment for Cambodia Group

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- The United States has established a $2 million endowment to assist a Cambodian group researching crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge government in the late 1970s, the U.S. Embassy said Friday.

The fund will provide annual funding for the Documentation Center of Cambodia, which also tries to raise awareness about Khmer Rouge atrocities, embassy Charge d'Affaires Mark Storella said.

The radical communist policies of the Khmer Rouge, which ruled Cambodia in 1975-79, led to the deaths of some 1.7 million people from starvation, disease, overwork and execution. But none of its top leaders has faced trial.

Youk Chhang, the group's director, signed an agreement establishing the permanent endowment with a representative of the United States Agency for International Development on Aug. 30, the statement said.

Youk Chhang said Friday that interest from the endowment will help sustain his institute -- also known as DC-Cam -- which is in the process of turning itself into a permanent center for new generations of Cambodians to learn about the genocide.

"In that way, we have a secured foundation," he said. "The center will become a place where genocide survivors' children can reconnect to the past while trying to move on with their lives into a better future."

DC-Cam is an independent research institute that originated in the Cambodian Genocide Program at Yale University in 1995 with a grant from the State Department.

It holds a large quantity of documents and evidence of Khmer Rouge crimes.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Cambodians like to see ex-king's portraits remain on public

PHNOM PENH, Aug. 29 (Xinhuanet) -- Most of Cambodians would like to see their former King Norodom Sihanouk's portraits remain on public display.

An informal poll published by The Cambodia Daily on Monday shows that most would like to see the retired King's portraits remain.

The former king, who is currently in Beijing for medical treatment, asked the government and private citizens to take down images of himself and former queen Monineath from schools and public buildings.

Only portraits of the reigning king should be displayed, he said in a message in French posted on his website dated Wednesday.

"The retired King is a symbol of a whole nation," Diep Chhuon, deputy governor of Banteay Meanchey province, was quoted as saying."Taking (the royal portraits) down would make people wonder, worry.It would be a bad omen," he added.

"His Majesty King Sihamoni's portrait would look lonely," PraunVa, a high school director in Kandal province said. The royal couple's portraits have now hung side by side with the new monarch in schools, pagodas and government buildings.

King Norodom Sihamoni asked his father to reconsider his request, suggesting that doing so would unsettle the Cambodian people.

"Monks, Buddhists, ordinary people and government officials think the King-Father and Queen-Mother have done great deeds for the nation," the King wrote in the letter to his father. "If there are no portraits of your majesties, we will feel ill at ease and far from your great generosity."

Meanwhile, FUNCINPEC party President Prince Norodom Ranariddh also requested that his father should rethink his request.

But there were also some critics saying the former king has good reason for wanting to see his portrait removed. He (Sihanouk)was likely sending a necessary message by asking that his portrait be removed, opposition leader Son Chhay said.

"A new King is on the throne, but we want to believe (Norodom Sihanouk) is still our King," he said.

Cambodia to strength nuclear transport law

With the ratification of three draft laws, Cambodia will become a signatory to several international conventions, local media reported on Tuesday.

Cambodia's National Assembly on Monday ratified the three draft laws, including one which will bring Cambodia in line with international standards on the transportation of nuclear materials.

Another draft law will make Cambodia part of an international convention against illegal activities on sea borders, according to The Cambodia Daily.

National Assembly President Price Norodom Ranariddh told the assembly that sea border issues, which are complicated by the matters of oil exploration, are more tangled than those on land.

The third draft law passed by the National Assembly is on the international convention against illegal activities at sea.

Defense Minister Tea Banh on Monday pledged that government will pay attention to the nuclear issues and will form a committee to cooperate with international partners to prevent the nation from ever being used as a transit route for such material.

But he also raised concerns about the country's ability to deal with nuclear problems, stating Cambodia does not have specialized laboratories to identify nuclear substances and local nuclear experts still have limited competence. He appealed to the international community to provide more human resource training in the field.

In 2000, the National Assembly unanimously agreed to ratify the nuclear test ban treaty, aligning Cambodia with most of the world's nations in a global campaign aimed at preventing nuclear proliferation.

Cambodia supports Thailand's IPU Executive Board membership

Phnom Penh (VNA) – Chairman of the Cambodian National Assembly Norodom Ranaridh has said that he completely supports the Thai Parliament's bid for a seat in the International Parliament Union (IPU)’s Executive Board.

During August 29 talks with visiting second Deputy Speaker of the Thai Parliament Lalita Lerksamran, Chairman Ranaridh said that relations between the two parliaments should be strengthened and developed not only at bilateral but also multilateral levels including the ASEAN Inter-Parliament Organisation (AIPO)’s General Assembly, the IPU and the Association of Asian Parliaments for Peace (AAPP).

Regarding bilateral relations, Ranaridh asked the Thai Government to pay due attention to solving outstanding issues between the two countries, covering legalising procedures for Cambodian guest-workers to work in Thailand and border issues.

He also urged Thailand to further bilateral cooperation in the fight against trans-national crime, particularly women and children trafficking.

For her part, Lerksamran affirmed that Thailand’s foreign policy aims to enhance its relations with other countries, especially neighbours. She asked Cambodia to increase the exchange of visits with Thailand to promote their bilateral ties.-Enditem

Cambodia's aid spent on hiring foreign expertise

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen says about 20 percent of the foreign aid given to the country is spent on hiring expensive foreign experts.

He says in 2002 alone, around 115 million US dollars was spent on such overseas technical aid.

But Hun Sen has also told a gathering of government officials that much of that money is spent on first-class air tickets and five-star hotels for the foreign experts, who sometimes only polish the results of hard work done by Cambodians.

The prime minister says much of the money could be better spent on improving infrastructure...and he's called on government officials to work harder themselves.

Cambodia receives foreign assistances of about 500 million dollars a year.