About the Author: Tom Weinz is the dedicated Foreign Service Liaison Officer for Pacific Partnership 2010.
Pacific Partnership 2010 arrived off the coast of Sihanoukville, Cambodia, early in the morning on June 15. As always, a flurry of activity began the moment we could see the port and continued well into the evening. On June 16, U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia Carol Rodley joined PP10 Commodore Lisa Franchetti, Japanese Ambassador Masafumi Kuroki, Captain Sasaki of the JDS KUNISAKI, and Cambodian Ministry of National Defense Secretary of State H.E. Neang Phat in brief welcoming remarks at the PP10 opening ceremony. This is PP10's first visit to Cambodia, and each speaker expressed great appreciation for the exemplary international cooperation which led to this gathering.
Cambodia is a young country -- 70 percent of its people are under 30 years of age and 43 percent are under 18 years of age. There is a strong emphasis on education and rebuilding institutions that suffered in the 1970s and 1980s. Cambodia has also been hit especially hard by the HIV/AIDS virus, but is making great progress in both treatment and prevention.
One of Pacific Partnership's primary objectives is to undertake projects that will enhance international disaster response capabilities. During emergencies caused by tsunamis, eruptions, or earthquakes, overland routes are often completely impassable for days, if not longer, and helicopters become the only vehicles capable of getting water, food and medical supplies into an area, and evacuating the wounded. We have used our two helicopters constantly here in Cambodia, especially to reach the remote province of Ratanakiri in the northeast. A small medical team flew to Ratanakiri on June 17, and will stay in the province four days, before traveling overland to nearby sites. These teams treat as many as 500 people a day, many of whom have traveled long distances to take advantage of the opportunity to see a doctor or a dentist.
One of the most moving ceremonies I have witnessed took place on June 17 here in Sihanoukville. With the cooperation of U.S. Customs and Immigration authorities, Mercy was able to take possession of some Cambodian antiquities that had been seized while being illegally imported into Los Angeles. Those antiquities were turned over to Cambodian authorities at a small ceremony attended by several Buddhist monks. One elderly monk was deeply emotional following the ceremony, and expressed his joy and gratitude to the press. Returning these artifacts was a small act of kindness, but very significant as Cambodia tries to rebuild its culture and reclaim its heritage.