Crossing Continents

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A series focussing on foreign affairs issues.

Cambodia: Country For Sale20110114

Cambodia is selling vast swathes of its land to global investors - but at what price?

The paddy fields of impoverished Cambodia have suddenly become a prime slice of global real estate.

But will the rural poor pay the price?

This tiny Asian nation has just begun to recover after dictator Pol Pot's reign of terror, in which around two million Cambodians died, and the brutal civil war that followed.

But now a very different story is unfolding in the agricultural heartland which once became notorious as the "killing fields."

In a world plagued by food shortages, Cambodia is suddenly awash with global investors keen to snap up its cheap fertile land.

The global financial elite see it as a recession-proof investment, and the government is desperate to invite in money and development.

But it's driving a surreal land boom in the poorest villages: an estimated 15% of the country is now leased to private developers and stories are filtering in from the country's most impoverished farmers who tell of fear, violence and intimidation as private companies team up with armed police to force them from their land.

In this week's Crossing Continents, Mukul Devichand samples the heady atmosphere of Cambodia's business elite, uncovers a lawless reality and investigates the claims of corruption and violence visited on the poor.

He tells the stories of three very different men, Cambodian and foreign, who have very different plans for Cambodia's land: and asks what's really happening as one of rising Asia's poorest nations struggles to catch up.

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A series focussing on foreign affairs issues.

Georgian Fir Cones2010120220101203

Angus Crawford travels to Georgia to find poverty at the heart of the Christmas tree trade

The Christmas tree industry is worth almost a billion pounds a year in Europe alone.

Most of the ones around us now, covered in baubles and tinsel didn't start life in the UK or even Scandinavia, but in one small village, in the mountains of Georgia close to the border with Russia.

Angus Crawford travels to the small town of Ambrolauri in the shadow of the Caucasus mountains.

There men risk their lives climbing the big firs to harvest the seeds of Abies Nordmanniana, the Nordman pine.

More than forty million are sold in Europe every year.

The harvesters are paid little and many are given no safety equipment.

If they fall they may be injured or killed.

The pine cones they gather are sold abroad and it's foreign companies that make profits from growing and selling the crop.

Meanwhile Georgia's villages are dying.

Families can't make enough money from farming and move away.

Most of those who remain have to live on less than three pounds a day.

But things are changing.

One Danish firm is working with local people to put more of the profits from the business back into their hands.

They pay their workers above the market rate, process the seed locally and for every tree sold abroad money is sent back for development projects.

There's talk of starting nurseries near Ambrolauri to feed growing markets in Eastern Europe and bring more foreign capital into the country.

Money that Georgia desperately needs.

Its economy is still only 60% of what it was in Soviet times, and it now imports eighty per cent of its food.

The rusting hulks of abandoned factories litter the countryside.

But now some Georgians are asking if the pine cone trade can provide a model of how to breathe new life into their country's crumbling economy.

More than 40 million are sold in Europe every year.

Most of those who remain have to live on less than £3 a day.

Its economy is still only 60% of what it was in Soviet times, and it now imports 80% of its food.

Mongolia's Deep Freeze2010040820100409

Linda Pressly witnesses Mongolia's deep freeze" which has devastated much of the country.

Mongolia is in the grip of the deadliest winter for a decade.

People have died because they can't reach doctors or hospitals and malnutrition is increasing fast.

Most significantly for a nation where tending livestock is central to its culture, untold millions of animals have died.

Frozen carcasses of sheep and goats litter parts of the country.

Linda Pressly travels to the remote far west of the country to report on this developing emergency.

She asks what it means for Mongolia as rural refugees from the deep freeze have flooded to the capital, Ulan Bator.

And she asks about the prospects of a brighter future with recent discovery of what may be the world's largest deposits of gold."

Nichi Vendola20101210

A profile of Nichi Vendola, the new hope of the left in Italy.

Rosie Goldsmith profiles Nichi Vendola, the governor of Puglia and the hope for the Italian left.

Can this gay, Catholic poet and environmentalist challenge Silvio Berlusconi?

Producer: Helen Grady

Operation Virgin2010123020101231

Najlaa Abou Merhi investigates the taboos surrounding virginity across the Arab world.

Across the Arab world, whether the woman is Christian or Muslim, virginity before marriage is the most coveted gift on the wedding list.

It signifies the honour of the bride's family and reflects the integrity of the groom and his family.

Now women who have lost their virginity before their wedding night have discovered a face-saving solution to this controversial and sometimes life-threatening dilemma - under cover of the burgeoning fashion for plastic surgery, women are undergoing hymen repair surgery to artificially restore the appearance of "virginity", and so bridging this cultural and sexual divide.

Lebanese journalist Najlaa Abou Merhi from BBC Arabic meets "Nada," "Mouna" and "Sonia" - Arab women spanning three generations who lost their virginity while teenagers but felt compelled to regain it through the medical procedure called hymenoplasty.

While they wish to remain anonymous, they hope by sharing their stories that other women in their situation will feel they are not alone and that there is a way to cross what Nada describes as an unbreachable wall.

But is this an act of liberation or repression for women? How will this cycle of cultural expectation versus the reality of sexual liberation be broken?

Operation Virgin20110107
Pentecostalists In Central America20100415

Steve O'Hagan reports on the explosive growth of Pentecostalism across Latin America.

In the past few decades, Central America has been in the grip of what has been described as the largest mass conversion in history - the explosive growth of Pentecostalism across Latin America.

The take-up of this new faith in both Guatemala and El Salvador is now estimated at over 40%.

Film maker Steve O'Hagan travelled through those countries to ask why the people there are reaching out to this new religion, after 400 years of rule from the Vatican.

Forty years ago, a radical new Catholic offshoot known as Liberation Theology looked set to transform Central American society as the theological wing of the socialist-inspired revolutions that were erupting across the region.

In a conservative backlash, Pentecostalism became the faith of those who opposed these revolutions and wanted to keep the status quo.

The two movements found themselves on opposite sides in the brutal civil wars of the 1980s and 90s.

From the space-age opulence of the biggest church in all of Latin America on the outskirts of Guatemala City, to the rapidly mushrooming micro-churches operating out of back rooms and alleyways of the working class suburbs of San Salvador, Steve O'Hagan searches for the reasons why Pentecostalism - a faith associated with wealth, televangelists, and the North American Right - has proven so successful here.

Increasingly from the margins of the society, the Catholics of Liberation Theology continue to dedicate themselves to their work.

In the mountainous former rebel strongholds of El Salvador, Steve meets a Belgian priest who ministered to the guerrillas throughout the 12-year civil war and today is still tending his flock.

But in a surprising coda, we discover that perhaps the spirit of Liberation Theology will live on in its theological 'conqueror'.

Some Pentecostal groups in El Salvador are beginning to cast off the right-wing tendencies of their past, and pick up the torch of liberation first lit by the Catholics decades earlier.

Pentecostalists In Central America20100416

Steve O'Hagan reports on the explosive growth of Pentecostalism across Latin America.


David Goldblatt examines Senegalese wrestling - Africa's sporting spectacular.

It is called "Laamb" or "La Lutte Sénégalaise".

Originating in the countryside as a test of strength for farmers and fishermen, Senegalese wresting moved to the city with the migrants.

It took on punching to become "La Lutte avec frappe".

It involves special charms, singers, drummers and excited crowds, with the champions now earning huge amounts of money.

In Crossing Continents David Goldblatt examines how wrestling has become Senegal's most popular sport, deposing even football.

Producer: John Murphy.


Andrew Brown sees if the rural essential heart of Sweden lives on in the modern age.

Few people know Sweden better than the writer Andrew Brown, who lived there for many years.

This summer, for Crossing Continents he travelled the length of the country, searching for its essential rural heartland.

He discovered a country full of rebels and iconoclasts, resisting the lure of European integration and instead enjoying their own rituals of hunting, fishing and joyfully chucking eggs at each other.

There were a surprising number of immigrants, who are rapidly transforming the country's blonde, blue-eyed image.

And he found that wolves are returning, moving south towards the cities.

Will Swedes be able to resist the urge to shoot them?


Andrew Brown sees if the rural essential heart of Sweden lives on in the modern age.

The Primorsky Partisans20101126

Lucy Ash asks why six young men in Russia's Far East waged a guerrilla war on the police

Russia's police are out of control.

They are often referred to as "werewolves in epaulettes" because so many officers prey on the public rather than protect them.

Even Prime Minister Vladimir Putin complains about the lawlessness of the country's law enforcers.

He once said upstanding citizens cross to the other side of the street as soon as they see a man in uniform.

The crimes police commit range from bribe taking to kidnapping, drug trafficking, torture and murder.

This brutality is accompanied by corruption.

Illegal raids of businesses by police are commonplace as well as the subsequent jailing of their owners on false charges.

Victims of police abuse are often helpless in a system of cover-ups long established in the law enforcement forces.

Earlier this year, a group of six young men in Primorye, the remote Maritime region of Russia's Far East, decided to fight back.

They declared a guerrilla war against the police with the sole purpose of killing as many cops as they could.

Their attacks have included shooting of traffic policemen on roads, raiding a village police station and stabbing to death the officer on duty.

Bare-chested and brandishing pistols, the 'Primorsky Partisans' posted videos on the internet to explain the motives behind their actions.

This summer the gang's exploits gripped the Russian public's imagination.

Many people in the Far East and beyond supported them: a poll on Ekho Moskvy radio indicated that 60-75% of listeners sympathised with the "young Robin Hoods" and would offer them help.

In June the authorities launched a manhunt with tanks and helicopters.

Eventually two members of the group died in a shoot-out with police, while the rest were captured and are now behind bars awaiting trial.

The local government of the Maritime Region is jittery about the case and is reluctant to comment.

Local police and the prosecutor's office dismiss them as gangsters.

Lucy Ash visits Kirovskiy, the home village of the young men, to investigate what drove the men to act in such an extreme way.

The Two Faces Of Bahrain2010121620101217

Bahrain says it's modern and progressive - but political opponents face jail and torture.

Bahrain projects itself towards the world as an Arab state that is open to investment, progressive about change and moving confidently toward democracy.

But there is another Bahrain where dissent is suppressed and critics jailed.

It is a country where allegations are rife that political prisoners are routinely tortured.

Bill Law investigates both sides of the Bahrain story and asks what lies behind the apparently heavy-handed repression of those who criticize the ruling al Khalifa family

Producer: Caroline Pare

The BBC's Bill Law investigates both sides of the Bahrain story and asks what lies behind the apparently heavy-handed repression of those who criticize the ruling al Khalifa family