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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 November 2005, 09:42 GMT
Cambodian festival highlights HIV
By Guy De Launey
BBC News, Phnom Penh

Cambodians rowers assemble before competing in the annual boat races on the Tonle Sap River in Phnom Penh Tuesday November 15, 2005.
The rowers in white are HIV-positive
Cambodia is celebrating its annual water festival, and for the first time, one of the boats is crewed by people living with the HIV virus.

Millions of people have gathered in the capital, Phnom Penh, for three days of festivities and boat racing.

HIV/Aids awareness campaigns have played a highly visible role in recent water festivals.

But at the same time, the government has banned HIV/Aids awareness adverts from TV during the racing.

The number of visitors makes it one of the busiest times of the year for the capital's sex workers. Several organisations have stalls along the river-front promoting safe sex and handing out free condoms.

There is a slightly different message from the HIV-positive racers. Their boat is called "Fighting HIV/Aids" and their uniforms bear the inscription "Turn discrimination into action."

The 45 HIV-positive men and women in the 55-strong crew hope to reduce the stigma of HIV/Aids by showing their capabilities.

They are competing alongside about 400 boats from all over Cambodia.

There are several heats over the three days of racing and King Sihamoni decides the ultimate winners from his pavilion at the finish line.

But the HIV-positive racers will provide the only message about the disease for viewers following the events on TV.

The government has asked TV networks not to broadcast HIV/Aids awareness adverts during the racing.

The organising committee said they thought such adverts would give the wrong impression of Cambodia to foreign tourists.

Damp end to Cambodia river race
25 Nov 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Cambodia
29 Oct 04 |  Country profiles

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