Jul 13, 2009

Book: Jackson told daughter he was dying

Unmasked cover.component

The star had become skeletal, and some thought he was anorexic

"Unmasked" by Ian Halperin is a sympathetic portrait of Michael Jackson that explores Jackson’s prescription drug use, ties to Scientology, multiple plastic surgeries, skin bleaching, sexual identity and the lineage of his three children. In this excerpt, Halperin writes about Jackson's waning health in the months leading up to his death.

Before long, however, 10 concerts had turned into 50 and the potential revenues had skyrocketed. But those who knew Jackson best knew he was in no shape to perform 10 shows, let alone 50. “We knew it was a disaster waiting to happen,” said one aide. “I don’t think anybody predicted it would actually kill him but literally nobody believed he would end up performing.” Their doubts were underscored when Jackson collapsed during only his second rehearsal. “Collapse might be overstating it,” said the aide. “He needed medical attention and couldn’t go on. Not sure what caused it.”

Meanwhile, everybody around him noticed that Jackson had lost an astonishing amount of weight in the months leading up to the London concerts. His medical team even believed he had become anorexic. “He goes days at a time hardly eating a thing and at one point his doctor was asking people around him if he had been throwing up after meals,” one staff member told me in May. “He suspected bulimia but when we said he hardly eats any meals, the doc thought it’s probably anorexia nervosa. He seemed alarmed and at one point said, ‘People die from that all the time. You’ve got to get him to eat.’” Indeed, one of the known consequences of anorexia is cardiac arrest. This is what killed another iconic pop singer, Karen Carpenter, who admitted to suffering from anorexia shortly before her death in 1983

After spotting him leave one of his rehearsals, Fox News reported that “Michael Jackson’s skeletal physique is so bad that he might not be able to moonwalk anymore.”

“I never saw anybody weigh him, but he couldn’t have weighed more than [100 pounds] in the last month,” says one member of his L.A. staff who saw him every day. At Jackson’s official height of five foot ten inches, that represents a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 14.3 which, according to the National Eating Disorders Association, may indicate anorexia. The normal BMI for somebody Jackson’s height is between 18.5 and 24.9, meaning Jackson is at least 25% under the normal weight for a healthy male. Anything over 15% falls within the category of a potential anorexic. Although eating disorders such as anorexia are much more prevalent in women and girls than men, according to the association, as many as one million men suffer from the disease, which, curiously, is twice as prevalent in gay men. By any definition, Jackson’s rapid weight loss clearly indicated something was wrong.

For the first time, those in Jackson’s inner circle began to urge him to cancel the shows, but their pleas fell on deaf ears.

“There was just too much money at stake,” recalls one aide. “The people who had his ear told him he would be a laughingstock if he cancelled. They had to have known he was in no shape to go on, he was so frail, he kept canceling rehearsals. We wondered if somebody was going to cash in whether or not he performed. It just didn’t make any sense. I know his family was concerned, especially his brother Jermaine, but Michael was kept very isolated during those last weeks.”

One of Jackson’s closest friends claimed a month before Jackson died that Michael told his daughter Paris he only had weeks to live. “He called her into his room and told her not to get mad at him if he didn’t make it to Father’s Day. He had a premonition that his days were numbered. He felt extremely ill. Unfortunately, no one wanted to help him. His closest advisers tried to control him with medication, drugs and false hopes. They wanted to make sure he didn’t bail on the O2 gigs and that they would not be paid the money Jackson owed them.”

The friend said that Jackson spent the final months of his life writing extensively. He thinks it was a long farewell, and not that Jackson simply wanted to write to his fans. “He’d hole himself up in his room for hours, sometimes days and not move,” the source said. “I asked him if he was writing a novel. He replied ‘just some thoughts on my journey on this earth. I want to leave something to my children.’” This alarmed the friend. “After he told me that, I was concerned Michael was suicidal and that he was writing a long note to say farewell. His emotions during his last few weeks were completely erratic; I had never seen him more depressed. He knew he could not comeback because of his failing health and that he wouldn’t be able to pay all his debts. He told me three times that he felt like dying. At first I thought he was joking. Michael always liked to play the victim and convince people he was terminally ill. This time he was serious, he seemed to be convinced that he was dying. I wish I had taken him more seriously and tried to get him help. Unfortunately, Michael was like the boy who cried wolf — anytime he complained there was always doubt about his authenticity. He had spent years and years fooling people.”

Although the financial details of his arrangement with AEG won’t fully emerge until the estate is settled in 2010 and beyond, most of Jackson’s long-time inner circle suspect that the people who had the most to benefit from the London concert were those associated with the complex web of businesses associated with Tohme, including the giant real estate firm Colony Capital LLC. Colony Capital had saved Neverland from foreclosure more than a year earlier by purchasing a $23.5 million credit note in a deal brokered by Tohme. Somehow this action allowed Jackson to retain his prized estate.

On May 20, 2009 concert organizers suddenly announced that the first London concerts had been delayed for five days while the remainder have been pushed back until March 2010. At the time, they denied that the postponements were health-related, explaining that they needed more time to mount the complex technical production, though skepticism immediately erupted among ticketholders. Their doubts were well placed.

Michael Jackson's father: Singer couldn't have done 50 concerts


Joe Jackson is stoking controversy again. The father of late pop icon Michael Jackson, who died of undetermined causes June 25 at age 50, told ABC News today that his son was not physically capable of performing the 50 shows slated for his This Is It comeback concerts in London. "I was worried about his health because all the shows that I'm seeing—no artist can do those many shows you know, back to back like that," said he elder Jackson, who's been criticized for comments he's made in the wake of his son's shocking death. "I knew Michael couldn't do all those shows." Joe Jackson asserts that the singer initially agreed to do only 10 shows, but that concert promoter AEG Live added dates when the concert series proved enormously popular. In a statement released today AEG Live CEO Randy Phillips acknowledged that tour dates were added, but put the initial figure closer to 31. (AEG previously released video footage of Jackson rehearsing for the concerts just days before his death, moving a bit slower than he had in the past but seeming ready to perform.) Phillips also maintained that with the concerts spread out until February of next year the pace would have been manageable for Jackson. "If [50] was too many, then one would have been too many," he said. The King of Pop's This Is It tour was slated to begin today.

U.S. to spend another $1 billion on flu vaccine

ABC News

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States will spend another $1 billion on ingredients for an H1N1 vaccine, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said on Sunday.

"There'll be another $1 billion worth of orders placed to get the bulk ingredients for an H1N1 vaccination. Congress has agreed with the president that this is the number one priority, keeping Americans safe and secure," Sebelius said on CNN.

Sebelius has said plans were on track for a mid-October vaccination program, although it was not certain Americans would be offered the vaccine for the so-called swine flu.

"We are aggressively working on, first of all, testing the virus strains to get a vaccination ready. It needs to be safe so testing and clinical trials will start this month. We'll know a lot more by the end of the summer and it needs to be effective," she said.

The World Health Organization may issue guidance as soon as Monday on whether an H1N1 swine flu vaccine will be offered alongside the seasonal flu vaccine.

Vaccine makers Sanofi-Aventis, Novartis, Baxter, GlaxoSmithKline, Solvay and AstraZeneca's MedImmune subsidiary have finished making seasonal flu vaccines for this year.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has scheduled a July 23 advisory panel meeting to discuss clinical trials of the vaccines against the H1N1 influenza virus and the U.S. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice wills meet July 29.

"FDA is working with the scientists at NIH (National Institutes of Health) to make sure that we have a safe and effective strain and then we're getting ready to make sure that we have a vaccination program," Sebelius said.

Health experts estimate at least 1 million people have been infected with H1N1 in the United States, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed 211 deaths. It often takes weeks or months to collect data on flu deaths.

About 36,000 people die each year from the seasonal flu in the United States alone, and 250,000 to 500,000 die globally.

(Editing by Maggie Fox)

Obama Prods Top Democrats to Pass Health-Care as Momentum Slows

Sky News

By Laura Litvan
uly 14 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama is pressing top Democratic lawmakers to move forward on overhauling the U.S. health-care system amid signs momentum for the legislation is slowing.

Obama summoned Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer to the White House yesterday to push for action before Congress takes its August break.

“We are going to do health care before we leave,” Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said at the Capitol following the meeting.

Congressional Democrats have been urging the president to get more involved in the negotiations, with lawmakers debating over how to pay for a plan likely to cost more than $1 trillion over the next decade and how big a role the government should play in insurance. Some Senate Democrats have said they may not be able to meet the August deadline.

Lawmakers said they felt greater urgency after the White House meeting, with Baucus saying “there was the strongest commitment I’ve yet seen” to get the bill passed.

“There’s no question that the president is prepared to use whatever political capital he has to make this work,” Rangel told reporters. “He wants a bill.”

Conflict Ahead

Obama has said the legislation is his top domestic priority and wants the House and Senate to get a bill to his desk for his signature by October. Conflicts between the House and Senate may get in the way of that timetable.

House Democrats today are scheduled to propose a $540 billion surtax over 10 years on Americans who earn more than $280,000 as part of broader legislation to revamp the health- care system. The Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, Richard Durbin of Illinois, said yesterday his chamber was unlikely to accept that.

Obama, who yesterday acknowledged the difficulty in passing a bill, said the administration and Congress are closer “than we’ve ever been” to crafting the legislation.

“For those naysayers and cynics who think that this is not going to happen, don’t bet against us,” he said at the White House. “We are going to make this thing happen because the American people desperately need it.”

Timetable Stands

Administration spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama wants the House and Senate to wrap up their bills before the recess to allow enough time for a final version to be hammered out when lawmakers return.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad said July 10 that while both parties are making progress, Democrats probably won’t reach Obama’s goal of getting the bill through the full Senate before Congress’s monthlong August recess.

The Finance Committee will approve the overhaul plan by early August, Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat and member of the panel, predicted in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt.”

Democrats in the Senate are working to draft legislation that at least some Republicans can support, though Republican leaders are signaling they probably won’t go along. Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander, the No. 3 Senate Republican leader, said yesterday that Democrats should scrap the ideas they are examining in that chamber and explore a pared-down measure.

‘Start Over’

“We should start over, that’s my advice,” Alexander told reporters. “We should start over at the other end, start with the 250 million who already have health insurance and make sure they can afford it.”

Finance panel Chairman Baucus is under pressure from other Democrats to curb his efforts to reach out to Republicans and drop plans to tax the most-expensive employer-provided health plans, a levy opposed by Democratic-leaning labor unions.

While House leaders will unveil their legislation today, they were forced to delay a draft bill last week that drew fire from the White House and dozens of their own members.

Pelosi, a California Democrat, said talks among Democrats will continue as the legislation moves forward, and she continues to push for House passage before the recess.

“It is our plan to introduce the legislation tomorrow,” Pelosi said at a press conference before the White House meeting yesterday. She defended the surtax on high-income earners, saying it is intended to make sure “that middle-income people in our country are not touched” by levies to finance health- care overhaul.

Durbin’s Approach

Durbin, the Senate’s chief Democratic vote counter, said in an interview on MSNBC yesterday that the Senate would probably take a “more conservative approach” to raising tax revenue.

Asked earlier if he planned to press ahead in light of the comments by Durbin, Rangel told reporters, “Durbin has left the House of Representatives,” referring to the senator’s 1983-87 stint in the House.

The surtax makes the most sense because “that’s where the votes are,” said Rangel, a New York Democrat.

A surtax of 1 percent would apply to incomes over $280,000 for individuals and $350,000 for couples, Rangel said last week. Higher rates would take effect when incomes reach $400,000 and $800,000 for individuals and $500,000 and $1 million for couples, he said.

Turkish PM told to take back Xinjiang genocide remark

Straits Times

BEIJING (Reuters) - An official Chinese newspaper urged Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday to take back remarks that genocide was being committed in China's Muslim region of Xinjiang, where rioting left at least 184 dead.

In Xinjiang's worst ethnic violence in decades, Uighurs attacked Han Chinese, the country's predominant ethnic group, in regional capital Urumqi on July 5 after police tried to break up a protest against fatal attacks on Uighur workers at a factory in south China.

Han Chinese launched revenge attacks two days later.

In an editorial headlined "Don't twist facts," the English-language China Daily said the fact that 137 of the 184 victims were Han Chinese "speaks volumes for the nature of the event."

The death toll included 46 Uighurs, a Turkic people who are largely Muslim and share linguistic and cultural bonds with Central Asia.

The newspaper urged Erdogan to "take back his remarks ... which constitute interference in China's internal affairs."

More than 1,600 people were wounded and more than 1,000 detained in an ensuing crackdown.

In comments broadcast live on NTV television last Friday, Erdogan told reporters: "The incidents in China are, simply put, a genocide. There's no point in interpreting this otherwise."

He called Chinese authorities to intervene to prevent more deaths.

Turkish nationalists see Xinjiang as the easternmost frontier of Turkic ethnicity. Thousands of Uighurs live in Turkey.

Turkey has sought to boost ties with China, the world's third-biggest economy. President Abdullah Gul last month became the first Turkish president to visit China in 15 years, signing $1.5 billion worth of trade deals, according to Turkish media.

Gul also visited Xinjiang during his trip.


Xinjiang has long been a tightly controlled hotbed of ethnic tensions, fostered by an economic gap between Uighurs and Han, government controls on religion and culture and an influx of Han migrants. Uighurs make up almost half of Xinjiang's 20 million people, but are a minority in regional capital Urumqi.

Beijing does not want to lose its grip on Xinjiang, a vast desert territory that borders Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, has abundant oil reserves and is China's largest natural gas-producing region.

On Thursday, Erdogan said Turkey would grant a visa to exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer, who is based in the United States. Kadeer told Turkish television that Turkish authorities had twice denied her visa application to visit the country.

Beyond Angkor Wat

style="float:left; margin:0 10px 10px 0;cursor:pointer; cursor:hand;width: 200px; height: 234px;" src="http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_I_OM9z64BQU/SluoCrWb1sI/AAAAAAAAAoo/Rk66Ubc-dsw/s400/090706_20.jpg" border="0" alt=""id="BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5358060945637365442" />

Overgrown with vegetation, a stone dharmasala, or rest house, lies outside one of the entrances to the Banteay Chhmar temple, one of the largest temples outside Angkor Wat.

Some of Khmer culture’s most exquisite sites lie outside the famed Angkor temple complex.

Banteay Chhmar
IT'S early on a Sunday morning in Cambodia, and I'm standing at a 12th-century moat. Across a causeway, through a tumbled-down gate, lies Banteay Chhmar, one of the largest temples ever built by the ancient Khmer Empire.
Cambodia's great temples of Angkor, 105 kilometres away, have long since been rediscovered after a quarter-century of closure by war. They now draw more than a million foreign visitors a year, not a few of whom regret that so many other people had the same idea.

But go beyond Angkor and you can find places that serve up the old solitude and sense of discovery.

Banteay Chhmar is among the most spectacular of these places. Getting to it entails hours on very bumpy and dusty dirt roads. Staying the night means making do with primitive accommodations: candlelit rooms in local homes, bathwater drawn from that same moat.

Off the tourist trail
I stayed the night, and it turned out to really make the visit. The next morning I rose early, as everyone here does, and took a walk in clean country air. I was seeing not only a temple but a way of life.

Today several thousand people - rice farmers, cattle herders, market vendors - make their homes on all four sides of the temple. The ancient and present day coexist.

Spending time here also means doing a good turn, spreading a bit of wealth in a part of a war-recovering country that has largely missed out on the tourist dollars that Angkor is bringing in.


Banteay Chhmar was created in the Khmer Empire's last great burst of construction, under the 12th-century Buddhist king Jayavarman VII. His engineers were thinking big even by Khmer standards: To contain a great settlement, they built earthworks and moats that formed a square measuring roughly a kilometre and a half on each side. At its centre, within another square moat system almost a kilometre on each side, they built the temple.

More than a century ago, French archaeologist Etienne Aymonier found the temple to be in a state of "indescribable ruin". It still is. But that's part of what makes the site so enticing. Exploring it means climbing over huge piles of large fallen stones, something to be tackled by only the sure-footed.

The temple is no longer a formal religious site, but Cambodians believe that it, like all those that their forebears left behind, remains a holy site. When rain is needed, locals are reported to walk in a procession around the temple, imploring heaven to help.

One of the best parts of this temple is the many hundreds of feet of bas-reliefs on its outer walls. We had to scramble up more stones to get a good view. Before us was a full sample of life 900 years ago. There were also many scenes of war with Champa, the long-vanished rival state to the east: The temple is in large part a memorial to four generals who lost their lives in that long conflict.

The carving style is similar to that of the Bayon temple reliefs in Angkor. The difference is that there's no need to fight for a view.

Late in the afternoon, we went for a look at what the ancient Khmer could do with water. Just east of the temple, they created a reservoir that measures more than a square kilometre.

The reservoir was now largely dry, but because its floor is low and collects water before the surrounding land does, it has been divided into rice paddies.
Generous hospitality
I passed the night at the house of a Cambodian family, friends of a friend. They couldn't have been more gracious. They gave me a room of my own, bottled water, mosquito coils and a big luxury: a car battery hooked to a fluorescent light. I could have light all night if I wanted it.

I got up at dawn, scoop-bathed in slightly murky water and walked to the moat from which it had been drawn. I took in the early morning sights: the mist, dogs prowling around in first light. I played amateur archaeologist for a bit, noting that an ancient feeder or outflow channel, now dry, was connected to the moat at this corner.

We had breakfast at a stall in the town's market; there are no proper restaurants. It was noodle soup with chicken, and very good.

I first visited Angkor in 1969. Back then, you could be alone in the big temples even there. I once walked through the largest of them, Angkor Wat, encountering hardly a soul. It's good to know that such an experience can still be had. You just have to work a bit harder for it.


How 'Song' is leading style a merry dance

A view of Song Design’s Phnom Penh boutique (above); and Cameron Diaz wears Song for Vogue (left). Store Photo By Holly Pham

An eco-friendly emerging Vietnamese fashion label is making waves on the local and international style scenes, with a bump by Vogue and Cameron Diaz
In June, Vogue magazine's Green Issue introduced the world's fashion circuit to a new name - Song, an eco-conscious high-end clothing line owned by French-born designer Valerie Gregori McKenzie.

Song, literally means "to live" or "life" in Vietnamese, was inspired by the founder's desire to create fashion beyond collections - one that could link to a way of life.

"A brand that embodies and celebrates life," says Valerie via email.

"For me life is about innovation [in alignment with] ecological sustainability - the reach toward others' and our social impact," she added.

Aesthetic choice
This principle is reflected throughout Song's choices of materials and aesthetics, as seen in products made from modern and traditional fabrics such as bamboo fiber, silk, and hemp.

The French-born McKenzie graduated from ESMOD Paris and held design and creative positions with fashion companies in Europe and the US, including Taverniti and Vuarnet.
She founded the luxury resort-wear fashion label in 1996, and since then the label has been consistent with the "fashion and ecology must walk hand in hand" philosophy. Song chooses organic over chemically treated materials and 100 percent handmade over machine-based embroidery in all operation and production decisions, "[to add] a little soul supplement and preciousness over generic garments," said Valerie.

Song adopts traditional Vietnamese silk techniques and is 100 percent handmade, making it even more exclusive and luxurious.

Indochina ambience
Based in Hanoi, Song embraces the "Indochina" imagery ambiance, reflected on the store decorations in contrast with the modern collections.

Since its launch in Cambodia last December, Song has been primarily offering a wide range of evening dresses and ball gowns, thus appeals more to the sophisticated and high-end audience rather than the ordinary lifestyle that the label is better known for.

Song has a store in Singapore and two outlets in Cambodia, one in Phnom Penh and one in Siem Riep. The label has gained a growing number of local followers, according to Song's store manager in Phnom Penh.

Perhaps it's fortunate that Song is enjoying growing international market appeal, as Cambodia is too small a fashion market.

Local connections
As McKenzie told the Post's Peter Olszewski earlier this year, she encourages incorporating Cambodian elements into her range, but will not do so "unless I find beautiful Khmer fabric that could also be produced on a large scale.

"The difficulty is to work with artisans while also being able to stay reactive and up to the international market demand. We already do this in Vietnam and while I have no connections yet to do it Cambodia, I welcome them."

Nonetheless, with Cameron Diaz's endorsement on Vogue this month and the growing middle class in Cambodia, market penetration is only a matter of time.

Recarving an art niche in Cambodian culture

Photo by: Stephanie Mee
Khmer woodcarving is heavily influenced by Indian styles and Hinduisim, as well as Buddhism.

Master wood-carver Chan Sim survived the Khmer Rouge purging of artists and now passes on the tradition of Khmer woodcarving to the next generation

PROFESSOR Chan Sim watches keenly as his students delicately chip away at blocks of wood, using metal tools to shape it into figures, scenes and decorative lintels based on designs and motifs passed down for centuries.

The small gallery and workshop on Street 178 are Chan Sim's, as are the students who are among hundreds who study under the master wood-carver to learn the ancient practice of Khmer woodcarving in the hopes of one day opening their own successful woodworking studios.

The 73 year-old Chan Sim began his journey into the art world in 1950 when he enrolled at the Royal University of Fine Arts. He studied visual arts such as painting, sculpture and woodcarving as well as history and archaeology, and in 1957 was awarded a Bachelor of Fine Arts. In 1959 he started teaching at the university, specialising in teaching woodcarving until the onset of the civil war in Cambodia.

Rich tradition
"When I was in university, many people from all over the region wanted to learn Khmer arts, including many Thais and Laotians who attended the school," says Chan Sim.

"It is a rich tradition that is steeped in history and symbolism, and is aesthetically stunning. Unfortunately, during the war this all changed."

The Khmer Rouge regime deemed the traditional Khmer arts unnecessary to their socialist agrarian revolution and purged countless monuments, artistic works and educated artists during its 1975-1979 rule of the country.

Chan Sim survived this dark period by hiding his education, telling people he was a simple labourer carving doorways for houses. When senior Khmer Rouge officials brought him stencils and blueprints for woodcarvings with foreign lettering he pretended not to be able to read the characters despite his fluency in French and slight knowledge of English. "Before the war there were 40 master wood-carvers in Cambodia," he says. "Only four of us survived."
After the liberation of Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge, Chan Sim immediately began teaching woodcarving again, and in 1980 opened up his shop, Art of Khmer Angkor, that still stands today. He has made it his life's goal to teach the rich history and specialised techniques of traditional Khmer woodcarving.

Heavy Hindu influence
He explains, "Khmer woodworking can be traced back as far as the 6th century AD, and was heavily influenced by Indian styles and designs and images from the Hindu religious pantheon, and later Buddhism.

"During the Angkor period, skilled artists were called upon by the kings to contribute their work to the vast building plans at Angkor, and it was then that the four main design types of Cambodia were consolidated."

Khmer woodworking design motifs have typically used four main styles since the Angkor period: wind, water, land and air. Each style has unique defining aspects, and symbolises elements of the human experience.

The wind style uses graceful curlicues and motifs of clouds to represent life and breath. The water style uses images of plants, such as lotus flowers, lily pads and fish to symbolise the life-giving force of water. The land style symbolises the body and makes use of vines, flowers, tree stalks and plant stems while the fire style employs intricate flame designs and is mainly used in temples, funerals and cremation ceremonies as it represents war and death.

"Khmer style is quite different from Thai or Laotian styles," says Chan Sim. "For example, the Thai like to use the fire style in many of their wooden artworks.

"Everywhere you go in Thailand you see these designs, but for Cambodians, this style symbolizes very negative aspects, so we use it very carefully."

Chen Sim explains that Khmer woodcarving designs rely heavily on spirituality, and many are religious in nature. "The most powerful images are statues that are highly realistic, and these must be treated with respect as spirits are often fooled into thinking they are real, and will come to inhabit the object," he said.

Powerful symbolism
"To be a proper woodcarver you must be aware of the power of symbols, the styles and the designs as well as the history behind the art."

The master woodcarver has also compiled two comprehensive books titled Book for Learning to Draw and Sculpt by Yourself, parts I and II, both of which contain blueprints and grids of drawing scales for common Khmer design motifs and have been endorsed by the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts. In 2000, the Ministry awarded him a certificate designating him a Master of Khmer Fine Arts.

As for Chen Sim's students, many study for years under his tutelage either at Norton University or the Royal University of Fine Arts, or at his workshop at Arts of Khmer Angkor.

Nationwide input
"My students come from all over Cambodia, from every province," he said. "They are keen to learn woodcarving and sculpture in order to preserve and carry on this aspect of Khmer culture, and because it can be very lucrative. Many return to their home provinces after they have mastered the art and set up their own shops, distributing their works to shops throughout Cambodia."

Wooden statues at shops along Street 178 range in value, from US $3.00 for a small wooden apsara at Arts of Angkor up to US $20,000 for a life-size wooden elephant at nearby Kosal Gallery. Prices vary depending on size, quality of wood and the skills of the carver.

As Chen Sim walked around the workshop giving tips to the diligent students, he stopped at one young carver working on a wooden reproduction of the famous statue of Jayavarman VII and said: "Very nice; almost perfect!"

The student swelled with pride and continued his work with extra vigour, smiling broadly as he did so.

Cambodia's old temples - without the crowds

John Burgess
The Washington Post

It's early on a Sunday morning in Cambodia, and I'm standing at a 12th-century moat. Traces of mist hover above the lotus leaves that dapple the water. Across a causeway, through a tumbled-down gate, lies Banteay Chhmar, one of the largest temples ever built by the ancient Khmer Empire. My friends and I will have the place all to ourselves.

We walk in. It turns out that we do end up sharing it, with a local man who brings his cows onto the grounds to graze. And with an affable mason who leads us across acres of fallen stone to see a message from the past, an inscription chiseled into the door jamb of a holy tower. This kind of company we welcome.

Cambodia's great temples of Angkor, 100 kilometres away, have long since been rediscovered after a quarter-century of closure by war. They now draw more than a million foreign visitors a year, not a few of whom regret that so many other people had the same idea. At peak hours, human traffic jams can form at temple steps.

But go beyond Angkor and you can find places that serve up the old solitude and sense of discovery.

Banteay Chhmar is among the most spectacular of these places. Getting to it entails hours on very bumpy and dusty dirt roads. Staying the night means making do with primitive accommodations: candlelit rooms in local homes, bath water drawn from that same moat.

I stayed the night, and it turned out to really make the visit. The next morning I rose early, as everyone here does, and took a walk in clean country air. I passed hens foraging with their chicks, boys tending to a mud oven in which charcoal was being made. I was seeing not only a temple but a way of life.

Today several thousand people -- rice farmers, cattle herders, market vendors -- make their homes on all four sides of the temple. They grow vegetables on the banks of a series of moats; they pile straw within the walls of lesser ancient buildings that dot their settlement. The ancient and present day coexist.

Spending time here also means doing a good turn, spreading a bit of wealth in a part of a war-recovering country that has largely missed out on the tourist dollars that Angkor is bringing in. People do have cellphones (charged by generator), and some have small tractors, but there are few other signs of affluence.

Banteay Chhmar was created in the Khmer Empire's last great burst of construction, under the 12th-century Buddhist king Jayavarman VII. His engineers were thinking big even by Khmer standards: To contain a great settlement, they built earthworks and moats that formed a square measuring roughly one 1.5 kilometres on each side. At its centre, within another square moat system, they built the temple.

More than a century ago, French archeologist Etienne Aymonier found the temple to be in a state of "indescribable ruin.'' It still is, despite the efforts of the friendly mason, who is part of a small reconstruction team. But that's part of what makes the site so enticing.

Exploring it means climbing over piles of large fallen stones. We passed ruined towers, courtyards and ceremonial walkways. Sometimes the stones were so high that we were walking at roof level.

The temple is no longer a formal religious site, but Cambodians believe that it, like all those that their forebears left behind, remains a holy site. In one surviving chamber we found a small contemporary shrine, with a Buddha image wearing a cloth robe, where people made incense offerings.

One of the best parts of this temple is the many bas-reliefs on its outer walls. We had to scramble up more stones to get a good view. Before us was a full sample of life 900 years ago: processions of elephants, prominent ladies tended by maids, children roughhousing, villagers in a sampan, servants tending a stove.

There were also many scenes of war with Champa, a long-vanished rival state to the east: The temple is in large part a memorial to four generals who lost their lives in that long conflict. On land, the men of arms go at one another fiercely with spears (you can identify the Chams by the curious blossom-shaped headdress they wear). On water, rows of men pull at oars from galleys as others strike at the enemy with spears. There are also images of the divine, notably the god Vishnu, with 32 arms arrayed like rays of light.

The carving style is similar to that of the Bayon temple reliefs in Angkor. The difference is there's no need to fight for a view. We did cross paths for a few minutes our first day with a party of about 20 French-speaking tourists. We saw no other visitors that day or the next.

Late in the afternoon, we went to see what the ancient Khmers could do with water. Just east of the temple, they created a big reservoir. Academics disagree over whether it did only symbolic duty as an earthly stand-in for the mythic Sea of Creation, or was part of an irrigation system, or both. Whatever the truth, I was awed by the scale.

The reservoir was now largely dry, but because its floor is low and collects water, it has been divided into rice paddies. We went for a stroll, walking along paddy dikes to keep our feet dry.

We said hello to members of a farming family who were tinkering with a small tractor. A woman had caught a bucketful of paddy crabs and insects, which she would sell as food.

I spent the night at the house of a Cambodian family, friends of a friend. They couldn't have been more gracious. They gave me a room, bottled water, mosquito coils and a big luxury: a car battery hooked to a fluorescent light.

Other members of our party slept at a formal homestay, the term given to guesthouses.

It had two rooms with large beds covered by mosquito nets. Downstairs there was a basic bathroom with a squat toilet and scoop bath.

In the morning we went exploring on foot. Mixed in among wooden homes we passed were the stone walls of lesser 12th-century relics that had been monasteries or small temples. The ruins of one temple's gate lay foliage-shrouded just a few steps from a house. Little boys ran about, and a teenage girl ironed clothing.

We had breakfast at a stall in the town's market; there are no proper restaurants. It was noodle soup with chicken, and very good.

I first visited Angkor in 1969. Back then, you could be alone in the big temples there. I once walked through the largest of them, Angkor Wat, encountering hardly a soul.

It's good to know that such an experience can still be had. You just have to work a bit harder for it.

If you go:

? Getting around: There is no public transportation to the sites described here; wheels are on a bring-your-own basis. Tour companies in Siem Reap will arrange visits. If you feel adventurous, you can strike deals directly with taxi or motorcycle drivers and go on your own.

Being Mealea and Koh Ker can both be visited in one long day. Banteay Chhmar, at four hours each way, is a bigger challenge to reach. If you're entering Cambodia overland from Thailand, you can save time by turning north at Sisophon town to reach the temple.

? When to go: Winter is Cambodia's peak tourist season. Avoid March, April and May, the peak time for heat. Don't be scared off by the summer-through-fall rainy season. The rains typically occur only in late afternoon.

? Where to stay: A French non-profit organization has been helping Banteay Chhmar operate a homestay program. It provides for overnight accommodations, often in a guesthouse next door to the host family's home; meals; local culture performances; and an ox cart ride. Tour companies can book you. Or you make direct contact by emailing program co-ordinator Tath Sophal at: tathsophal@yahoo.com.

Being Mealea isn't really far enough from Siem Reap for an overnight. Koh Ker has guesthouse accommodations.

? For more information: The

official Cambodian tourism site is www.tourismcambodia.com

Officials meet in Siem Reap for golf and informal talks

Cambodian soldiers walk down the mountain near the Preah Vihear temple complex last week. Cambodian military officers said Sunday that Thailand had brought in reinforcements to the border area.

Meeting between Thai, Cambodian military brass seeks to further dialogue between front-line commanders, defence official says.

HIGH-ranking Cambodian and Thai authorities held an informal meeting Thursday in Siem Reap to encourage their regional commanders to set up additional meetings in an effort to reduce tension along the border near Preah Vihear temple, a defence official said.

Chhum Sucheat, the spokesman and undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Defence, told the Post Sunday that ministry officials hoped the meeting would push the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) commander of region 4 and the Thai commander of region 2 to meet more regularly.

"We are optimistic from the meeting that the result will be more dialogue between Cambodian and Thai commanders, which will help reduce tensions in order to avoid armed confrontation," he said.

Neang Phat, a secretary of state at the Defence Ministry, and advisers to General Anupong Paochinda, commander-in-chief of the Thai army, participated in the meeting, said Chhum Sucheat, who added that after the meeting the Cambodian and Thai delegation played golf together.

Cambodia marks anniversary of temple's world heritage listing

Cambodian students mark the 1st Anniversary of the northern Preah Vihear temple's world heritage listing

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Cambodians on Tuesday noisily celebrated the first anniversary of the UN's world heritage listing of an ancient temple which has stoked nationalist tensions with neighbouring Thailand.

Posters of the 11th century Preah Vihear temple were plastered in pagodas, schools and prominent locations around the capital Phnom Penh while celebrators screamed, "Long Live Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage Site!"

"As Cambodian people, we are very proud of Preah Vihear temple. We must celebrate this day, it is historic for us," Phnom Penh governor Kep Chuktema said after a traditional dance ceremony at a pagoda in front of 1,000 people.

Waving colourful Cambodian flags, Buddhist monks, nuns, students and teachers gathered at pagodas and schools nationwide and promptly beat drums and rang bells at 11:00 am (0400 GMT) to herald the listing, officials said.

"I am very happy and proud of Preah Vihear temple. The temple belongs to Cambodia. Thailand has no right to claim it," said student Hang Dalune as at another event as hundreds of people sang and danced to nationalist songs, waving Cambodian flags.

Soldiers, villagers, monks and officials at Preah Vihear also celebrated the listing despite a standoff nearby between Cambodian and Thai troops, Cambodian commanders

The neighbouring countries have been at loggerheads over the land around the Preah Vihear temple for decades, but tensions spilled over into violence last July when the temple was granted UN World Heritage status.

Although the World Court ruled in 1962 that it belonged to Cambodia, the most accessible entrance to the ancient Khmer temple with its crumbling stone staircases and elegant carvings is from northeastern Thailand.

Thousands of people were also expected to gather in Phnom Penh's Olympic Stadium Tuesday evening for an anniversary ceremony complete with a fireworks display, official speeches and patriotic songs.

Relations between Thailand and Cambodia worsened last month when Bangkok announced it would ask UNESCO to reconsider its decision to list Preah Vihear as a world heritage site, as the surrounding land is still in dispute.

Key Sectors Challenged by Downturn: UNDP

The world economic crisis is having a direct impact on four of Cambodia’s key economic drivers, which will need to become more competitive, according to a report released by UNDP this month

By Ros Sothea, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
The world economic crisis is having a direct impact on four of Cambodia’s key economic drivers, which will need to become more competitive, according to a report released by UNDP this month.

Agriculture, construction, garments and tourism each face challenges from the economic downturn, and “Cambodia now needs to consolidate its progress, nurture its potential and sustain its growth,” the UNDP said in its report, “Cambodia Country Competitiveness: Driving Economic Growth and Poverty Reduction.”

“It is a unique opportunity right now,” Douglas Broaderick, the UNDP’s chief representative, told VOA Khmer. “Cambodia needs to get some of the things done that could set-up Cambodia to be stronger economically and to be able to help people in a much better way, in terms of competitiveness linked to economic growth.”

The agricultural sector, which generates a third of Cambodia’s GDP and employs more than half its workforce of 8 million people, suffers from low education in the rural work force, limited access to financing, poor roads and irrigation and limited market access, the report said.

The UNDP recommended the development of rural non-farm economies, such as roads, rural electrification, education and financial training, as well as better coordination between suppliers and manufacturers.

And while the cost of labor is a main motive for garment manufacturers to come into Cambodia, productivity remains lower than neighboring countries, the report said, citing as an example productivity that is three times lower than in Thailand.

The UNDP also recommended that the government re-examine its investment laws, to improve the manufacturing of textiles and garments, which comprised 12 percent of the GDP in 2007 and employed more than 360,000 people.

The sector lost 51,000 jobs between September 2008 and March 2009, as a global economic crisis, kindled by a US financial meltdown, spread. Around 70 factories have closed in that time.

The UNDP recommended training workers to begin producing goods higher in value, and to improve industrial relations.

Meanwhile, competitiveness in the tourism sector remains poor, ranking 112th of 130 countries at a recent World Economic Forum, due in part to high energy costs and expensive flights, as well as limited infrastructure and costs associated with corruption, the UNDP said.

Human resources in the sector remain low, and an uneven application of policies and rules plagues the sector.

“Rich cultural assets, such as Angkor Wat, give Cambodia a competitive advantage, but reliance on Angkor Wat as the primary tourist attraction cannot be sustained,” the report said.

The UNDP recommened relaxing tourist visa restrictions, exploring open sky policies and reducing the costs and improving the quality of tourism products.

In the construction sector, Cambodia has enjoyed an increase in both scale and value of projects, including high-rise apartment and office buildings currently under construction.

The country has the lowest wages for construction workers in Southeast Asia, but productivity is relatively low and there are shortages of labor to meet demands and of skilled workers, the report said.

Engineers and architects are overwhelmingly foreign, while electricians, welders, carpenters and other skilled workers are in short supply.

Added to these difficulties is the complicated constrution law, which means it takes an average 710 days for approval of construction permits—compared to 200 days in Vietnam and 150 days in Thailand.

Companies say they resort to paying bribes in order to shorten the time frame.

“The highly bureaucratic regulation of licensing in the construction sector may reduce its competitiveness,” the report said.

Cambodia is at the bottom 10 percent of countries in the World Bank’s corruption index, leading to a dearth of investment from the world’s largest industrialized countries, whose own national laws forbid participation in corrupt practices.

The UNDP recommended investments in vocational training, improvements to permit procedures and the strengthening and enforcement of building standards.

With the four key sectors flagging, costs remain high in information and communication technology, discouraging further investment.

Overall, the UNDP recommended putting more resources into education, as Cambodia lags behind its Southeast Asian neighbors, ranking lowest in the region.

Cheam Yiep, a Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker and head of the National Assembly’s finance commitee, said the UNDP’s analysis was “just partly true,” but he did not elaborate.

Still, the goverment will take the report’s findings under consideration, he said.

Storms Threaten Monday Launch of Space Shuttle

Space shuttle Endeavour sits on Launch Pad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral,

By Brian Wagner
pace shuttle Endeavour is set to launch on a mission to the International Space Station, after a series of weather delays.

The seven-member crew of Endeavour is hoping the weather will clear at Kennedy Space Center for the latest launch attempt Tuesday evening.

NASA officials called off the last attempt late Sunday, only minutes before they had hoped to send the shuttle on its way to the International Space Station. A series of lightning strikes near the launch pad forced officials to delay the launch attempt on Saturday.

Shuttle weather officer Kathy Winters said officials must monitor conditions very closely around the shuttle facilities.

"Our primary concern on launch day is the thunderstorms and showers that could be in the area, particularly within 20 nautical miles [37 kilometers] of the shuttle landing facility and 10 nautical miles [19 kilometers] of the launch pad," Winters said.

Endeavour is running a month behind schedule, due to a hydrogen leak on the launch pad. NASA officials say they have fixed that problem in the shuttle's external fuel tanks.

The main objective of the Endeavour mission is to deliver the third and final segment of the Japanese Kibo science laboratory. The Kibo module will expand work space on the station and allow astronauts to expose experiments to the vacuum of space.

The Endeavour crew will spend nearly two weeks at the station to install Kibo and perform other maintenance tasks, such as swapping out batteries in the station. Astronaut Tim Copra will replace Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, who has been living aboard the station since March.

While the shuttle is docked to the station, the number of astronauts will rise to 13 - the most in space at one time during the station's history.

After Endeavour returns to Earth, only seven shuttle missions will remain before NASA plans to retire the fleet next year.

Soldiers of the Royal Thai Army in the streets of Bangkok on the day after the coup.

A country of southeast Asia on the Gulf of Thailand (formerly the Gulf of Siam), an arm of the South China Sea. Various Thai kingdoms were founded from the 13th century on, frequently coming into conflict with neighboring Burmese and Cambodian powers. Siam remained an absolute monarchy until 1932, when the king was compelled to accept a constitution, and the country was renamed Thailand in 1939. Thailand was occupied by the Japanese in World War II, and most of its numerous postwar governments were controlled by the military. Bangkok is the capital and the largest city. Population: 65,100,000.
ountry, mainland Southeast Asia. Area: 198,116 sq mi (513,119 sq km). Population (2005 est.): 64,186,000. Capital: Bangkok. The population is predominantly Thai, with significant Chinese, Khmer, and Malay minorities. Language: Thai (official). Religions: Buddhism (official); also Islam. Currency: Thai baht. The country encompasses forested hills and mountains, a central plain containing the Chao Phraya River delta, and a plateau in the northeast. Its market economy is based largely on services (notably trade) and light industries; agriculture employs a large proportion of the workforce. Thailand is a major producer of tungsten and tin. Among its chief agricultural products are rice, corn, rubber, soybeans, and pineapples; manufactures include clothing, canned goods, electronic equipment, and cement. Tourism is also important. Thailand is a constitutional monarchy with two legislative houses; its chief of state is the king, and the head of government is the prime minister. The region of Thailand has been continuously occupied for 20,000 years. It was part of the Mon and Khmer kingdoms from the 9th century AD. Thai-speaking peoples immigrated from China c. the 10th century. During the 13th century two Thai states emerged: the Sukhothai kingdom, founded c. 1220 after a successful revolt against the Khmer, and Chiang Mai (which evolved into the kingdom of Lan Na with Chiang Mai as its capital), founded in 1296 after defeating the Mon. In 1351 the Tai kingdom of Ayutthaya (Siam) succeeded the Sukhothai. Myanmar (Burma) was its most powerful rival, Burman armies occupying it briefly in the 16th century and destroying it in 1767. The Chakri dynasty came to power in 1782, moved the capital to Bangkok, and extended its empire along the Malay Peninsula and into Laos and Cambodia. The empire was formally named Siam in 1856. Although Western influence increased during the 19th century, Siam's rulers avoided colonization by granting concessions to European countries; it was the only Southeast Asian country able to do so. In 1917 Siam entered World War I on the side of the Allies. Following a military coup in 1932, it became a constitutional monarchy and was officially renamed Thailand in 1939. It was occupied by Japan in World War II. It participated in the Korean War as a member of the UN forces and was allied with South Vietnam in the Vietnam War. The country subsequently became a regional economic powerhouse, though serious social problems also emerged, including a growing gap between rich and poor and a major AIDS epidemic.

For more information on Thailand, visit Britannica.com.
ormerly known as Siam, Thailand became a constitutional democracy in 1932. Buddhism (almost entirely of the Theravāda form) plays a leading role in all aspects of national life, and since the Saṃgha Administration Act of 1902 has enjoyed constitutional status as the official religion. Under this measure a religious hierarchy was created presided over by a supreme patriarch (saṃgha-rāja) who is appointed by the king. Because of this link between Buddhism and nationalism, it is traditional for all young men to spend a short period of time as monks, usually during the three-month rainy-season retreat. Most parents would consider it a great honour should their son wish to prolong his stay and take up the religious life on a permanent basis, but for most it is a kind of ‘national service’ forming a step on the way to an alternative professional career.
The Pāli chronicles refer to Thailand as Sāmindavisaya, and speak of a close relationship between it and Sri Lanka dating back to the Middle Ages. Monks were sent from Thailand to restore the ordination lineage in Sri Lanka when Buddhism had fallen into decline there. The original inhabitants of the region were the Mons, who may have been introduced to Theravāda Buddhism in the early centuries ce by missionaries sent from India by Aśoka. It became firmly established in those areas of the Mon kingdom known as Haripuñjaya and Dvāravatī. From the 5th to the 15th century, an important power in the area was the Khmer Empire, in which various forms of Hinduism and Mahāyāna Buddhism were also popular. In the 11th century, missionaries were sent from Burma, and the Thai people arrived in the region having been displaced from China by the Mongols. They found the Theravāda form of Buddhism congenial and it began to displace Mahāyāna forms. Around 1260 the kingdom of Sukhothai became independent from the Khmers and King Rama Khamheng (1275-1317) declared Theravāda the state religion. Sukhothai fell in 1492 and was replaced by the kingdom of Ayudhya, which ruled until 1767. During this time an edition of the Pāli Canon was produced by King Songdharm (r. 1610-28) and relations between the Saṃgha and the crown became closer. Ayudhya was overthrown by Rama I (1782-1809) who founded the Chakri dynasty and devoted himself to the purification of the Saṃgha. One of his successors, Mongkut (Rama IV, r. 1851-78) was himself a monk for 27 years before becoming king. Having been a member of the strict Thammayut order (which he himself founded) he decreed on becoming king that all monks, including those of the majority Mahānikai (Pāli, Mahānikāya) should henceforth observe the stricter disciplinary practices. Although monks are the main source of religious authority, lay groups have also been established in recent times, and many Thais are pressing for a more modern outlook on the part of the clergy and an updating of the ancient teachings to make them more relevant to the problems of contemporary life.

British Government Defends its Strategy and Support in Afghanistan


By Tom Rivers

For the first time since eight British soldiers died in Afghanistan last week, Britain's Defense Secretary Bob Ainsworth addressed parliament as he tried to rebut claims British forces are under-equipped for the tough mission they are engaged in. The British government has had to restate to the British public why its forces are in Afghanistan in the first place.

As British deaths in Afghanistan have edged past the number killed in Iraq, Gordon Brown's approach to Afghanistan is being attacked on two fronts.

With the British soldier death rate escalating in Helmand province, the public is losing faith in the government and its justification for being in Afghanistan 7.5 years after first being deployed.

And for those who still back the Afghan operation, many say Brown's government has not given the troops all the resources required to fight a determined insurgency.

Among the most vocal of critics in this camp, opposition Conservative party leader David Cameron.

"People will say, especially today and rightly, that our urgent priority is to get the right equipment to our forces on the front line," Cameron said. "They are right. Of course we must do that. It is a scandal in particular that they still lack enough helicopters to move around in southern Afghanistan. The government must deal with that issue as a matter of extreme emergency."

British Defense Secretary Bob Ainsworth said in the House of Commons that government is doing all it can to adequately protect troops in Afghanistan and he promised more assets would be moved into the theater of operation, but he underlined the mission will remain dangerous.

"It is our duty to supply the kit and equipment that is needed in order to keep people as safe as we can, but we cannot remove risk from this kind of operation," he said.

Three of the eight soldiers who died most recently were just 18 years old. It is that young age that is resonating with an uneasy British public.

The prime minister maintains that winning in Afghanistan is crucial to keeping the streets of Britain safe.

"If we are to defeat this vicious insurgency and by doing so make Britain and the world a safer place, then we must persist with our operations in Afghanistan. I am confident that we are right to be in Afghanistan, that we have the strongest possible plan and we have the resources needed to do the job" the prime minister said.

But only about half the British public agrees with that argument. An ICM survey in Britain's Guardian newspaper shows 46 percent backing British involvement in Afghanistan while 47 oppose it.

A majority would like to see all British forces withdrawn by the end of the year while 42 percent favor an immediate pull-out.

Thai-Cambodian conflict enters 2nd week


Image via AP
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Thailand accused Cambodia of eyeing even more of its land and leaflets appeared in the Cambodian capital calling for a boycott of Thai goods, as a military standoff over disputed border territory entered a second week Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Cambodia asked the U.N. Security Council to intervene in the dispute over the 1.8 square miles of land near the ancient temple of Preah Vihear, warning that the two sides were at "an imminent state of war."

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said he had no choice but to appeal to the United Nations after discussions with Thailand on Monday failed to produce a breakthrough in the crisis.

He made a similar request to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, but the region's key bloc urged the two countries to continue bilateral negotiations.

In a countermove Wednesday, Thailand's ambassador to the United Nations, Don Pramudwinai, said Cambodia was bringing the quarrel before the Security Council because "the Cambodian target is not only Preah Vihear but the entire common border."

Don told Bangkok's Business Radio that Cambodia was trying to force Thailand to accept a French colonial map as the document that demarcates the border, stretches of which are disputed.

The French map generally favors Cambodia, and Thailand rejects it saying it was drawn up by a colonial power to its own advantage. Thailand relies on a different map drawn up later with American technical assistance, but accepts a ruling by the International Court of Justice that awarded the disputed temple to Cambodia in 1962.

The fight over the land near Preah Vihear escalated this month when UNESCO approved Cambodia's application to have the complex named a World Heritage Site.

Thailand sent troops to the border July 15 after anti-government demonstrators attacked Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej's government for supporting Cambodia's application to UNESCO. They claim the temple's new status will undermine Thailand's claim to land around the temple. Cambodia responded with its own deployment.

Both sides have pledged not to use force, although some 4,000 troops are now amassed in the area.

The standoff entered its second week as Cambodia prepared to hold national elections on July 27.

Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej said Wednesday Cambodia's stance on the issue may "weaken" after the polls.

"After the elections, it may be easier to talk," he said.

When asked about Thailand's response to Cambodia's recent diplomatic offensive, Samak said: "Let them show their position. There is no damage."

Thai academics have suggested that a solution may only emerge after the polls as politicians on both sides played to nationalist popular sentiment.

Cambodian's Information Minister Khieu Kanharith has earlier dismissed such suggestions, saying the problem was caused by Thailand and that the timing was irrelevant.

The dispute has also shaken Thailand's domestic political scene.

The National Counter Corruption Commission has begun to investigate Samak and his entire Cabinet over accusations that the government violated Thailand's Constitution by not consulting Parliament before supporting Cambodia's application.

The investigation could lead to the impeachment of all members of the government, although the process would be a long one, commission spokesman Klanarong Jantik said Wednesday.

Cambodian police were meanwhile investigating leaflets distributed in Phnom Penh that call for a boycott of Thai products and services.

"While the government is trying to solve the dispute with Thailand, we do not want to see any discrimination against Thai products, and people should not be aroused by such incitement," police chief Brig. Gen. Touch Naroth said.

The atmosphere remained calm among Cambodian and Thai troops at the hilltop Preah Vihear temple Wednesday, despite the intense diplomatic rhetoric by the respective governments.

Troops from both sides "continued interacting cordially," said Cambodian Brig. Gen. Chea Keo without elaborating.

Associated Press writers Ambika Ahuja and Sutin Wannabovorn in Bangkok, Thailand, and Sopheng Cheang in Cambodia, and Sumeth Panpetch along the Thai-Cambodian border contributed to this report.

Thailand shuts tourist spots after fatal clashes

Preah Vihear temple / Image via ultimatecambodia.com

Thai authorities have closed indefinitely tourist spots near the Preah Vihear temple as Thai and Cambodian soldiers clashed twice in the vicinity on Friday, leaving two Thai and two Cambodian soldiers dead, and several injured.

Closed are Pha Mor E-Daeng cliff, the Khao Phra Viharn National Park and its gate to the Preah Vihear temple in Si Sa Ket province.

According to Maj Gen Thawatchai Samutsakhon, deputy chief of the Second Army, the clashes followed a landmine explosion that blew off a Thai soldier's leg in Phu Ma Khua area a few kilometres west of Preah Vihear temple.

By bangkokpost.com

It lies in an area which both Cambodia and Thailand claims to be its own.

After the explosion, 30 Thai soldiers visited the area Friday morning to clear landmines.

Twenty-three Cambodian soldiers showed up and told the Thais to retreat, claiming it was Cambodian soil.

The Thais resisted, and both sides started to fight about 7am.

The clash lasted five minutes, and killed two Cambodian soldiers and injured nine.

A second round of shooting erupted about 2pm, in an area about two kilometres away.

Maj Gen Thawatchai says he assumes Cambodian troops came in search of revenge.

The second round of the gun battle lasted about half an hour, killed two Thai soldiers, injured seven, and also set ablaze a Cambodian market near the entrance to Preah Vihear temple.

Cambodia has deployed more than 3,000 soldiers at the ancient temple ruins and Thailand had slightly over 2,000 troops on Pha Mor E-Daeng cliff, according to some reports.

At the site of the deadly shooting, Phu Ma Khua, both sides left about 300 soldiers each to confront each other late on Friday.

Defence Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwon said the morning clash was an accident which could normally result from misunderstandings by low-ranking officers as the forces of both sides were located close to each other.

Army chief Gen Anupong Paojinda said the morning clash resulted from a misunderstanding and officers at the scene would have to work out measures to prevent it from recurring.

Initially, the Foreign Affairs Ministry said it was preparing to take serious action over the clashes but changed its mind in the evening when it acknowledged the incidents were caused by misunderstandings.

Spokesman Tharit Charungvat said army leaders of both sides have arranged to meet and the ministry would wait for the result.

The government will lodge a protest over the incident with Cambodia, according to the ministry.

The government reaffirmed Thailand's sovereignty over the area where the clashes took place. It called on the Cambodian side to avoid any use of force and to continue with negotiations under bilateral mechanisms.

ANALYSIS-China's far-west strife reveals a country in flux

URUMQI, China, July 13 (Reuters) - The potential dark side of China's future was on show last week when crowds of Han Chinese, clutching clubs, axes and mobile phones, sought revenge after a rampage by minority Uighur Muslims.

By Chris Buckley

URUMQI, China, July 13 (Reuters) - The potential dark side of China's future was on show last week when crowds of Han Chinese, clutching clubs, axes and mobile phones, sought revenge after a rampage by minority Uighur Muslims.

The ethnic violence in Urumqi, capital of the far-west Xinjiang region, was also a product of the new China, with its increasingly mobile and sometimes assertive population.

Enmity between Uighurs and Han Chinese mixed with high-tech communications and sometimes fumbling state security to stoke the strife in Urumqi, which the government says killed 184 people.

There are many unanswered questions about the tumult that began with a student protest over Uighurs killed at a factory in far southern China. Not least, how many died in the subsequent violence by Uighurs and then rioting by Han Chinese residents.

But the mayhem has also highlighted how China's market economic transformation is changing society in ways the ruling Communist Party and its security forces may struggle to master.

"There are deep faultlines behind the veneer of stability in China," said Nicholas Bequelin, an Asia expert with Human Rights Watch who has long studied Xinjiang.

"The Party is trying to hold things together, but social change has set in motion powerful undercurrents that prove uncontrollable with the old tools."

Uighur discontent over the factory deaths spread on the Internet, and both sides used mobile phones to record images of protest, before authorities severed such communications.

Recent smaller and less deadly outbreaks of protest in China have also reflected the potential for the tensions of a society in flux to sometimes overwhelm the Party's traditional controls, with news from local clashes rippling nationwide and globally.

That certainly does not mean more deadly riots will engulf China. The one-party state is still a potent force, as the thousands of troops now guarding Urumqi show. But last week's events highlighted the social strains that may some day seriously challenge the Party's grip on a country home to 1.3 billion people and the world's third biggest economy.


The spiral of protests, riots and violence started around the People's Square in central Urumqi on July 5, when the students gathered to protest the factory killings.

According to many Uighurs, that conflict began with Internet, text messages and street rumours beyond the grasp of Party censors, helping spread claims that dozens, if not hundreds, of Uighurs were slain in the factory in Shaoguan, Guangdong.

All Uighurs interviewed in Urumqi were convinced the official count of two dead in the factory strife was fiction. Few in China trust central state-run media these days, and that applies especially to the discontented Uighurs.

"If you're told something on television, you assume the opposite is true," said Alim, a Uighur official, who added that he believed 50 or more Uighurs were killed at the factory.

Economic discontent also drove the students to protest, said Alim. In the past, the Chinese government could ensure Uighur workers were alloted a percentage of jobs in state-owned firms, he said.

"But now private companies just want Han workers, and even the state-owned companies ignore the quotas," he said. "So even our best graduates have difficulty finding good jobs."

After police began to arrest the demonstrators, word of the confrontation spread quickly among Uighurs, over mobile phones and by word of mouth, said residents.

Some Uighur residents of Urumqi have blamed the killings solely on recent, ill-educated migrants from southern Xinjiang. But others said the killers were a mix of migrants and poor locals, unhappy over the Chinese wealth and job opportunities they believe too often go to Han Chinese migrants.

"There are many Uighurs moving to cities who don't have the skills to make money, and even people who have studied hard and have skills can't find work," said Mamatali, a Uighur businessman and Urumqi native.

Yimaja, an unemployed metal worker from southern Xinjiang, said many of his fellow migrants felt betrayed after coming to the big city and finding their hopes for steady work frustrated.

"Now we feel we have no hope ... Looking at all the tall buildings, we feel we can never live in them," he said, sitting near a mosque on the edge of downtown Urumqi, with its office towers.

"Now if my stomach is full, I just sleep," he said.

That despair found such a deadly outlet because many poor Han Chinese migrants have moved into neighbourhoods close to Uighurs.

"I think that the worst of the violence came from poor rural migrant Uighurs against poor rural migrant Hans," said Bequelin. "It is the increased contacts between the haves and the have-nots that is leading to a spike in social frictions."

But now more than ever images from these localised clashes can spread swiftly, making it more difficult to contain.

When Han Chinese massed on the streets of Urumqi last Tuesday to protest the killings of July 5, word spread quickly through mobile phones. As the protest escalated into rioting, many protesters used phones to take pictures of friends wielding axes or machetes and smashing Uighur restaurants.

When the government lifts its block on text messages and the Internet from Xinjiang, those images are likely to spread.

"The viral dissemination of this conflict suggests that global communications not only foster greater awareness of this region, but may even exacerbate its underlying problems," Dru Gladney, an expert on China's Uighurs at Pomona College in California, wrote in a recent commentary.

(Editing by Dean Yates)

PM defends Afghanistan strategy

Gordon Brown: ''We must persist with our operations in Afghanistan''

Gordon Brown has insisted Britain has the resources "to do the job" in Afghanistan, amid claims troops serving there are under-equipped.

The prime minister told MPs helicopter numbers had increased 60% since 2006 and UK forces were the best equipped they had been in 40 years.

Tory leader David Cameron attacked the "scandal" of helicopter shortages.

UK forces in Afghanistan will also hold a memorial service later for eight men who died in a single 24-hour period.

Tributes will be paid at Camp Bastion, a day after it emerged that three of those killed on Friday were just 18.

'Very difficult'

Five of those who died on Friday were members of the County Down-based 2nd Battalion The Rifles. They were: Cpl Jonathan Horne, and Riflemen Joseph Murphy, Daniel Simpson, William Aldridge and James Backhouse.

The sixth was Cpl Lee Scott, of the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment.

In the same 24 hours - the bloodiest since the start of operations in Afghanistan in 2001 - Rifleman Daniel Hume, of 4th Battalion The Rifles, and Pte John Brackpool, 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, also die
In a Commons statement Mr Brown told MPs: "It has been a very difficult summer and it is not over yet but if we are to deny Helmand to the Taliban in the long term, if we are to defeat this vicious insurgency, and by doing so make Britain and the world a safer place, then we must persist with our operations in Afghanistan."

But he added: "I am confident that we are right to be in Afghanistan, that we have the strongest possible plan and we have the resources needed to do the job."


The Tories have accused the government of the "ultimate dereliction of duty" in under-equipping the armed forces.

In his statement, Mr Brown said troop levels were kept under review but he had been assured by commanders on the ground, and top level military chiefs, that they had the manpower needed "for the current operations".

He said he had urged Afghanistan's president Hamid Karzai to make more Afghan personnel available, to help hold ground secured by forces in Helmand.
Funding for operations in Afghanistan had increased from £700m in 2006-7 to more than £3bn this year and all "operational requirements" would be met, he said.

Helicopter numbers had increased by 60% in the past two years and, by increasing crews and equipment their capability - or flying hours - had increased by 84%.

More equipment, including Merlin helicopters and Ridgeback armoured vehicles, were being brought in and eight Chinooks used in Iraq were being converted to cope with Afghanistan's weather and terrain.

"As the chief of the defence staff has said, the British armed forces are better equipped today than they have been at any time in 40 years but we are not complacent," he said.

'Realistic' strategy

"We are striving daily to have the best equipment available for our troops in Afghanistan."

He said the government would "continue to give safety the highest priority" and said he had been assured Operation Panther's Claw was having a "major impact on the Taliban".

All party leaders paid tribute to those killed in recent days - Mr Brown said Britain owed them a "huge debt of gratitude".

Conservative leader David Cameron said more needed to be done to set out a "tightly defined, hard headed and realistic" strategy.

He pressed the prime minister on whether he had turned down a military request for an extra 2,000 troops. And he said while Mr Brown had said helicopter capacity had increased since 2006 the "real point" was that the number of troops had doubled since then.

"So proportionately there hasn't really been an increase in helicopter capacity at all," he said.

"Do you regret the £1.4bn cut in the helicopter programme that you as the chancellor of the exchequer pushed through in 2004?"

Mr Brown quoted the spokesman for the task force in Helmand, Lieutenant Colonel Nick Richardson, as saying they had the "proper equipment", that it was "first rate" and had pointed out it was a "sad fact that helicopters would not have saved the lives" of the soldiers killed last week.

At a press conference earlier Mr Cameron said it was a "scandal" that troops "still lack enough helicopters to move around in Afghanistan".

He said other Nato countries should fulfil their commitments, arguing that the government needed to "really hold their feet to the fire" and "beg, borrow or frankly steal the helicopters that are necessary".

'Very grateful'

In the Commons Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg criticised British strategy in Afghanistan as "over-ambitious in aim and under-resourced in practice".

He said Britain must not overreach itself "by trying to import overnight a Western-style democracy in a country that has never had a functional government" and instead aim to stabilise Afghanistan "to provide a space for the state to grow".

He also urged Mr Brown to send "desperately needed" helicopteBritish troops.

Nick Clegg called for ''a reasonable goal'' in Afghanistan

A poll carried out for the BBC and the Guardian suggests public opinion is split over the UK's mission in Afghanistan.

Of 1,000 people questioned, 47% said they opposed the British operation, while 46% said they supported it.

However in 2006 only 31% of those polled gave their support.

An offensive designed to increase security ahead of Afghan elections next month has seen a big increase in UK casualties, with 15 servicemen killed in the first 10 days of the month.

It means 184 service personnel have now died in Afghanistan since 2001, more than the 179 who were killed during the war in Iraq.

Jul 12, 2009

Iraq military chief predicts years of attacks

BAGHDAD (AP) — The Iraqi military on Sunday predicted that insurgent attacks, though declining, could continue for a few years, raising the prospect of militant violence after the scheduled withdrawal of all U.S. troops by the end of 2011.

The comments by Gen. Babaker B. Shawkat Zebari, the army chief of staff, came several hours after gunmen fatally shot a government financial officer in northern Iraq and one day after bombs in Baghdad and a village near Mosul killed 10 people.

Violence is sharply down in the war that began with the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, but militants still carry out lethal attacks on a regular basis. The U.S. military completed a withdrawal of combat forces from Iraqi cities to outlying bases last month as part of a plan to let Iraq take the lead on ensuring its own security.

Zebari said insurgents once held sway in cities and provinces, but had been whittled down to a few highly dangerous cells that he expected would continue attacks for "a year or two or three." He said the Iraqi military would get help from American forces if needed, but would also rely on assistance from its own citizens.

"To face terrorism, the Iraqi army does not need tanks or armored vehicles, but needs intelligence, fast communication and people's support," he said "The government has to coordinate with the population to get information about the terrorist cells."

The army chief spoke after meeting Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in the holy Shiite city of Najaf, south of Baghdad. Al-Sistani enjoys massive support among Iraq's majority Shiites, and the Iraqi military sees the backing of religious leaders as vital to its legitimacy and success.

While violence has diminished since 2007, insurgents exact a steady toll with bombs and targeted killings that would amount to a crisis in most other countries.

In the northern city of Kirkuk, gunmen with silencers in a car waited outside the house of Aziz Rizqo Nisan, head of the provincial audit department, and shot him as he drove to work on Sunday morning. His death was confirmed by local police and the national government's media office in Baghdad.

The motive for the killing of Nisan, a Christian, was unclear. Insurgents commonly target Iraqi government officials and security forces. Ethnic and sectarian tension is high in Kirkuk, a disputed city that Kurds want to annex into their northern region despite Arab opposition.

South of Baghdad, a member of a Sunni militia that is overseen by the Shiite-led government, was found dead with gunshot wounds in his chest in Jurf al-Sakhar town, a police officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The militia, known as the Awakening Councils, includes many former insurgents who joined forces with the Americans and promised to fight al-Qaida in Iraq. The movement was considered a key factor in a drop in violence over the past two years, and has complained about missed payments and crackdowns on its leaders since the Iraqi government took control late last year.

In the capital, three bombs exploded around 4:30 p.m. near churches, injuring eight civilians, police said. Two bombs that were planted in a church in western Baghdad exploded at midnight Saturday, causing some damage but no injuries, police said. Iraqi Christians have often been attacked by Islamic extremists, and many have fled the country.

Half a dozen lawmakers demanded that a general census planned later this year be postponed until after parliamentary elections in January. They argued that the upheaval of war had caused radical change in the ethnic and sectarian makeup of many areas and the results could ignite fresh tension.

Lawmaker Osama al-Nujaifi, a Sunni Arab from the northern city of Mosul, noted that large numbers of Kurds had moved into the oil-rich Kirkuk area amid Arab concerns that they seek to take control. In Baghdad, sectarian violence between Sunni and Shiite Arabs altered the face of neighborhoods as people fled their homes or quit the city altogether.

"The form for the census has an item about the ethnicity of the person, and that would lead to shocking results," al-Nujaifi said at a news conference.

Associated Press writer Bushra Juhi contributed to this report

Four NATO Soldiers Killed in Southern Afghanistan

British forces have been betrayed in Afghanistan Photo: PA

By VOA News

Officials with the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan say improvised bomb explosions killed four NATO soldiers in the southern part of the country Saturday.

NATO did not release the nationalities of the soldiers nor specify whether the explosions were roadside bombs or suicide attacks.

The alliance also says an additional NATO soldier died Friday from wounds received last month.

Meanwhile, Afghan officials say coalition forces and local police killed 12 suspected militants during overnight operations in southern Uruzgan province Saturday.

Officials say the clashes took place hours after fighting in the area left some 19 militants dead.

Elsewhere, four police officers were killed by a roadside bomb in the Charkh district of Logar province. Two Afghan police officers also were killed by a roadside bomb in southern Helmand province.

The deaths come as British and U.S. troops continue an offensive in Helmand aimed at rooting out Taliban insurgents from their traditional strongholds in the area.