Celebrations of the Khmer New Year emptied Phnom Penh's streets as families traveled to the provinces to commemorate the holiday in their homelands. But students in the capital city worked hard to paint the town for the celebration with an eclectic array of artwork. Students of the Faculty of Fine Arts showed off watercolor and oil paintings, sculptures, photography and architectural works for the yearly exhibit at their school, reminding the public that the Khmer art culture is alive and well.
Cambodian border officials are still making efforts to stop the illegal trade of ancient artifacts between Cambodia and Thailand. Poipet border guards seized almost 150 kg of artifacts, including a Buddha statue and two temple carvings, from a man pushing the goods hidden inside a cart last month. The Ministry of Culture has made great efforts to quell the flow of ancient artifacts and accepted more than 956 pieces of confiscated artifacts in March. They will be kept in a museum to be built in Banteay Meanchey province.
Efforts to curb the illegal sale of pirated movies also are being made by the Culture Ministry, which held a meeting last month with more than 50 government officials and film industry representatives. Officials discussed the implementation of the copyright law passed early this year by the National Assembly. A representative from the interministerial Committee Against Illegal Movies and Videos urged the movie industry to report acts of piracy. But movie productions companies said they were worried that it would take too long and cost too much to order non-pirated movies from overseas.
The Ministry of Culture also has signed a renovation contract with the Sambo Vuthy company, a local construction firm that will execute the repairs of the National Library. The library, which was built in 1920, will be given a new roof and a fresh paint job as part of the renovation project. Once the project commences- it is waiting for funds from the Ministry of Finance- it should be completed within six months.
Cambodia has been made a global pioneer in the fight to assist victims of humanitarian crises. The UN's World Food Program chose Cambodia to be one of "four points" on a global compass, where a warehouse of emergency relief supplies will be built. The Cambodian government and World Food Program officials signed an agreement in April permitting the UN to use warehouses 6 km outside of Phnom Penh to serve as a holding ground from which computer equipment, fuel pumps, generators, and small vehicles can be shipped and received. From the Cambodian center, aid agencies will be able to respond to humanitarian crises anywhere in the Asian region within hours of their outbreak. Three other warehouses will be built in Latin America, Europe and the Middle East, and Africa.
Another fight, this one against land mines, is progressing with success, according to findings from an international land mine conference held in Phnom Penh last month. The conference reviewed the progress several land mine-affected countries have made in achieving goals set by the 1997 Ottawa Treaty to Ban Land Mines. Officials said that Cambodia had cleared the country of stockpiled land mines, reaching a goal set by the Ottawa convention. Now anti-land mine organizations- including the HALO Trust, the Mine Advisory Group and the Cambodian Mine Action Center- are working hard to clear mines from high-impact areas by 2010. If donors continue to support Cambodia's efforts, officials believe they can meet this goal.
The worldwide outbreak of the potentially deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome has not terrorized the Cambodian people, but it has threatened the country's tourism industry. Tourism Minister Veng Sereyvuth assured hoteliers and airline officials in April that the Cambodian tourism sector was working as smooth as ever and that visitors could be confident in the preventative measures being taken by the Ministry of Health to protect the country from a potential outbreak of the disease. He said the SARS war is worse than the war in Iraq, since people are afraid to fly. The numbers of visitors to Cambodia has dropped 40 percent compared to last year's figures, and the country, like neighboring countries, could see an even greater decline. Now it is up to the global community to prove its strength in the face of adversity. A World of Treasure is waiting to be discovered here in Cambodia. Staying at home is certainly no way to discover anything. Welcome to Cambodia.