Saturday, 26 July 2008

Peoples leaving Phnom Penh city to their hometown for the election tomorrow: 27 July 2008

People look for their names on an electoral roll at a polling station in Phnom Penh July 26, 2008. Cambodia is due to hold a general election on July 27.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

A man looks for his name on an electoral roll with his granddaughter at a polling station in Phnom Penh July 26, 2008. Cambodia is due to hold a general election on July 27.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Cambodians leave Phnom Penh city for their hometown July 26, 2008 for voting day tomorrow. Cambodia is due to hold a general election on July 27.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Cambodians ride on a van leaving Phnom Penh city for their hometown, at a bus station July 26, 2008 for voting day tomorrow. Cambodia is due to hold a general election on July 27.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Cambodian ride on a van leaving Phnom Penh city for their hometown, at a bus station July 26, 2008 for voting day tomorrow. Cambodia is due to hold a general election on July 27.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

A woman waits in line to board a bus in Siem Reap on July 26, 2008. Thousands of Cambodians on Saturday departed for their home provinces to take part in the country's general elections scheduled for July 27.REUTERS/Adrees Latif (CAMBODIA)

Cambodians leave Phnom Penh city for their hometown July 26, 2008 for voting day tomorrow. Cambodia is due to hold a general election on July 27.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Pictures From Preah Vihear Temple

Cambodian Buddhist monks pray at Cekakiri Svarak pagoda near the Preah Vihear temple, about 245 km (152 miles) north of Phnom Penh, July 25, 2008.REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang (THAILAND)

Cambodian soldiers wash up near the Cekakiri Svarak pagoda of the Preah Vihear temple, about 245 km (152 miles) north of Phnom Penh, July 25, 2008.REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang (THAILAND)

A Cambodian soldier carrying food walks past soldiers from Thailand (back) as they stand guard near the Cekakiri Svarak pagoda of the Preah Vihear temple, about 245 km (152 miles) north of Phnom Penh, July 25, 2008.REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang (THAILAND)

Thai soldiers (in black) enjoy coffee with Cambodian soldiers near the Cekakiri Svarak pagoda of the Preah Vihear temple, about 245 km (152 miles) north of Phnom Penh, July 25, 2008.REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang (THAILAND)

Thai and Cambodian soldiers guard near the Cekakiri Svarak pagoda of the Preah Vihear temple, about 245 km (152 miles) north of Phnom Penh, July 25, 2008.REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang (THAILAND)

A Cambodian man rides past Thai soldiers standing guard near the Cekakiri Svarak pagoda of the Preah Vihear temple, about 245 km (152 miles) north of Phnom Penh, July 25, 2008.REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang (THAILAND)

A Cambodian soldier stands guard at an entrance gate of Preah Vihear temple, on the Cambodian-Thai- border in Preah Vihear province, Cambodia, about 245 kilometers (152 miles) north of Phnom Penh. Cambodia will pursue U.N. intervention to avoid a military confrontation with Thailand if talks between the two countries fail to produce a breakthrough, the Cambodian foreign minister said Friday, July 25, 2008.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Thai soldiers (in black) patrol with Cambodia soldiers near the Cekakiri Svarak pagoda of the Preah Vihear temple, about 245 km (152 miles) north of Phnom Penh, July 25, 2008.REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang (THAILAND)

A Thai anti-mine worker demonstrates to journalists how to demine in a Thai village bordering Cambodia's Preah Vihear Temple July 26, 2008. Thai and Cambodian foreign ministers are due to meet on Monday to ease tensions over the temple land dispute.REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang (THAILAND)

A Thai anti-mine worker demonstrates to journalists how to demine in a Thai village bordering Cambodia's Preah Vihear Temple July 26, 2008. Thai and Cambodian foreign ministers are due to meet on Monday to ease tensions over the temple land dispute.REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang (THAILAND)

A Thai soldier stands guard in a Thai village bordering Cambodia's Preah Vihear Temple July 26, 2008. Thai and Cambodian foreign ministers are due to meet on Monday to ease tensions over the temple land dispute.REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang (THAILAND)

Thai soldiers guard in a Thai village bordering Cambodia's Preah Vihear Temple July 26, 2008. Thai and Cambodian foreign ministers are due to meet on Monday to ease tensions over the temple land dispute.REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang (THAILAND)

Cambodia rallies behind its strongman

Saturday, July 26, 2008

A surge of patriotism has swept through Cambodia, bolstering the popularity of Prime Minister Hun Sen as the nation heads into a parliamentary...

By SETH MYDANS
The New York Times

Supporters of opposition leader Sam Rainsy's party rally in Phnom Penh on Friday, heading into Sunday's parliamentary election.

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — A surge of patriotism has swept through Cambodia, bolstering the popularity of Prime Minister Hun Sen as the nation heads into a parliamentary election on Sunday.

The country has rallied around its leader as its troops face off for a second week against Thai soldiers at a disputed 900-year-old temple on the Thai-Cambodian border.

Hun Sen is expected to win overwhelmingly on Sunday, extending a 23-year rule that is already the longest of any elected leader in Southeast Asia, although that victory will owe as much to other factors, reflecting the country's move beyond the traumatized past of its Khmer Rouge years to something approaching normalcy.

Under Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party, the economy has been growing in recent months, though steep inflation has brought new pain. Its political structure is more stable than ever, though it is the stability of autocratic rule.

The prime minister has mostly neutralized his opponents — by violence in the past, and by political pressure as the challenges have become less threatening.

"The country has never been so stable and it's never had sustained economic growth like this before," said Roderick Brazier, the Asia Foundation's representative for Cambodia.

"For a great part of the population, life is now similar to the lives of people in neighboring countries," he said. "It feels like a normal country in that respect."

The confrontation over the temple seems almost anachronistic as the country tries to move past its bitter history.

A few miles outside town, in a sort of bubble of irrelevance, five aging leaders of the Khmer Rouge are in holding cells awaiting trials that have been delayed so long that they have lost their meaning for most Cambodians.

From 1975 to 1979, the fanatically communist Khmer Rouge caused the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people though torture, execution, starvation and overwork, leaving behind a country psychologically paralyzed.

The Khmer Rouge tribunal has hardly been mentioned in the election campaign. Although many older Cambodians still carry with them the damage of those years, half the population of 14 million is under 20 years of age. An even higher number has no memory of the Khmer Rouge regime, which ended almost 30 years ago.

The retired king, Norodom Sihanouk, 85, who had been at the center of his country's history since the 1950s, at least as a figurehead, has virtually disappeared from sight. His heir, King Norodom Sihamoni, has made little impression on the public.

The power lies with Hun Sen, 57, who has ruled Cambodia, alone or with others, since 1985. His party will benefit from a constitutional amendment requiring only a simple majority, rather than two-thirds of the 123 seats in parliament, to form a government. His party now holds 73 seats and expects to win still more.

Eleven parties are competing in the election, but most are expected to win no seats.

Hun Sen said in May that he was tired of doling out bits of power to placate coalition partners.

"In the past there was a stalemate, so I had to facilitate this party or that party and enter into a coalition government," he said. "Now the winner will get 100 percent. If there is an A, there will be no B. If there is a B, there will be no A. It is me or him."

He makes no secret of his very long-term ambitions.

"If I am still alive, I will continue to stand as a candidate until I am 90," he said last year.

He is benefiting now from an economy that has been growing about 10 percent a year, mostly based on income from garment manufacturing and tourism, as well as by a real estate boom that is bringing in foreign investors.

But that growth is fragile, some economists say. Jobs in the garment industry are moving to China. The high cost of fuel may begin to squeeze the tourism industry.

Like its neighbors, Cambodia is suffering from rising food prices and a slowing economy.

Inflation, which had not passed 10 percent before this year, may be approaching 20 percent, by some estimates.

The small middle class with money to spend in the capital's new malls could shrink. And Cambodia remains one of the poorest nations in the world, with one of the widest gaps between rich and poor.

Nationalism triggered by border row with Thailand aids Cambodia's PM in election: analysts

By KER MUNTHIT,Associated Press Writer AP
Saturday, July 26

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - Nationalist pride sweeping through Cambodia triggered by a border dispute with Thailand appeared to strengthen the popularity of longtime Prime Minister Hun Sen ahead of parliamentary elections Sunday.

The election has been upstaged by a military confrontation with Thailand over contested land near a historic Hindu temple, which the Cambodian government says has triggered "an imminent state of war" between the two Southeast Asian neighbors.

Hun Sen, Cambodia's prime minister for the past 23 years, was already expected to win re-election before the dispute erupted July 15. But inflamed passions over the 11th century Preah Vihear temple and Hun Sen's firm stance against Thailand have galvanized undecided voters in his favor, analysts say.

"Now everybody is behind the government because it's the only institution that can deal with the Thai government. That means more votes for (Hun Sen)," said Kek Galabru, a prominent Cambodian human rights activist and election monitor.

More than 8 million of Cambodia's 14 million people are eligible to vote in Sunday's election. Eleven parties are vying for seats in the 123-seat National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, with the winner forming a new government to run the country for the next five years.

"The border issue near Preah Vihear temple is a sensitive one that has aroused nationalist feelings of the people. So, they have been lately paying more attention to it than to the election," said Thun Saray, president of the Cambodian election monitoring group Comfrel.

Internationally, Hun Sen has faced criticism for alleged corruption and human rights abuses. But he argues that his tenure has ushered in peace and stability after the Khmer Rouge's genocidal reign from 1975-1979, which killed an estimated 1.7 million people.

Under his free-market policies, Cambodia's economy has been one of the fastest growing in Asia, expanding at 11 percent in each of the past three years.

Voters say their top concern for this election has been the Preah Vihear temple, which sits high on a cliff along Cambodia's northern border with Thailand. It has fueled nationalist sentiment in both countries on-and-off for decades.

"The election is necessary but has become a secondary concern for me now," 27-year-old Sy Buntheng, a university student in the capital Phnom Penh, said ahead of the vote. "The encroachment by Thai troops on our land is the greatest national concern for me."

The controversy revolves around 1.8 square miles (4.6 kilometers) of land that has been in dispute since French colonialists withdrew from Cambodia in the 1950s.

The International Court of Justice awarded the temple site to Cambodia in 1962, but anger flared in Thailand last month after Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej backed Cambodia's successful bid for the temple to be listed as a U.N. World Heritage Site.

Thailand sent troops to the border July 15 after Thai anti-government demonstrators assembled near the temple. Cambodia responded by sending its own troops to the border.

Negotiations between the two countries on the border row are scheduled to resume Monday, and if talks fail Cambodia says it will renew a call for the U.N. Security Council to take up the issue.

Rumors on Cambodian traders refuse to accept Thai baht, sluggish trade at border

SA KAEO, July 26 (TNA) - Trade in the key Thai district of Aranyaprathet bordering Cambodia remained sluggish Saturday amid rumours that Cambodian traders were refusing to accept the Thai currency, the baht, due to fears that tensions along the border over regarding a disputed zone adjacent to an ancient temple could escalate.

Fewer than half the normal number of Cambodian traders crossed into Thailand's normally lively Aranyaprathet market in an atmosphere or inactivity, while the volume of Thai tourists visiting Cambodia's 12th-century Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom tumbled to less than 100 from about 1,000 persons during prior weekends.

Cambodian traders with a sense of nationalism refused to accept the baht at all, saying they preferred the Cambodian currency, the riel, after selling their wares at the Aranyaprathet market.

A Cambodian market vendor, a woman who crosses the border every day, said Cambodian traders were being searched by motorcycle-taxi drivers upon returning to Cambodia's Poi Pet town, at the other end of the short bridge, were scolded and told that they did not love the nation if Thai currency was found inside their wallets.

Thailand's Burapha Task Force stationed along in the border area said Cambodian traders still used the Thai baht in daily trade, except for small vendors who preferred the riel out of concerns that Thailand would close the border.

Security at Thai government offices near the border has been tightened, also on fears that fighting between both sides could break out. (TNA)

Soldiers’ remains come home from Cambodia

Nhan Dan
July 26, 2008

Nhan Dan/VNA The central province of Binh Phuoc held a solemn ceremony at its martyr cemetery on July 25 to rebury remains of 113 Vietnamese volunteer soldiers and experts who laid down their lives during the war in Cambodia.

These sets of remains were found in the neighbouring country by the provincial search team K72 in the second phase of 2008.

Since 2002, Binh Phuoc province has repatriated almost 1,640 sets of remains of Vietnamese volunteer soldiers and experts and laid them to rest at the provincial martyr cemetery.

The same day, southern Tay Ninh province held a burial ceremony at the Tan Bien district’s martyr cemetery for 101 sets of remains of Vietnamese volunteer soldiers who fell down in Cambodia during wars.

Since 2001, with the assistance of the Cambodian Royal Army, authorities and people, Tay Ninh provincial search teams K 70 and K71 have excavated and repatriated 2,226 sets of remains of Vietnamese soldiers from the neighbouring country.

New Thai foreign minister will seek to end border row with Cambodia

The Earth Times
Sat, 26 Jul 2008
Author : DPA

Bangkok - A retired career diplomat was appointed Thai foreign minister Saturday in time to lead fresh talks with Cambodia over a bitter border dispute. Tej Bunnag is widely considered a "professional choice" following the resignation of his successor Noppadon Pattama earlier this month, according to local reports.

Noppadon, the former lawyer for controversial former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, became tripped up by appearing to give ground to Cambodia in exchange, it is rumoured, favours for his old boss.

The countries are holding urgent talks Monday in Siem Reap in a bid to defuse a row over joint claims to land adjoining an ancient Hindu temple on their border that threatens to escalate out of control.

Opposition activists have used the temple dispute as a stick beat the government with in a country where nationalist claims lie near the surface of political life. Cambodian reaction has been equally stubborn as a general election nears.

Tej Bunnag, 65, educated at Malvern College and Cambridge University in Britain, has served as ambassador to China, France, the United Nations and the United States.

Preah Vihear, an 11th-century Hindu temple built on a 525-metre- high cliff on the Dongrak mountain range that defines the Thai- Cambodian border, has been the cause of a border conflict between Thailand and Cambodia for decades.

In 1962, the two countries agreed to settle joint claims to the temple at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Cambodia won, but the court stopped short of defining the border in the area.

Thailand claims that a 4.6-square-kilometre plot of land adjoining the temple is still disputed.

The ancient spat got a fresh start earlier this month when UNESCO agreed to list Preah Vihear as a World Heritage Site. The inscription excluded the 4.6 square kilometres of disputed territory, and Thailand protested the listing.

Noppadon, who first backed the Cambodian proposal and then reversed his position, was forced to resign after failing to block the listing of Preah Vihear.

The spat escalated from a diplomatic row to a potential military conflict last week, when three Thais were detained for entering the disputed temple territory.

Although the threesome were quickly released, troops were called in from both sides to protect their border.

While Cambodia first appealed to the Association of South-East Asian Nations and then the UN Security Council to get involved in the border standoff, both bodies have urged the two countries to settle the matter bilaterally.

A bilateral meeting Monday between Cambodian Defence Minister Teah Banh and General Boonsrang Niempradit, supreme commander of the Thai Army, in Sa Kaeo province, Thailand, 270 kilometres east of Bangkok, failed to find a quick fix to the joint claims on the temple's surrounding area.

The temple sits on the border between Si Sa Khet and Phrea Vihear provinces in Thailand and Cambodia, respectively, and is about 400 kilometres north-east of Bangkok.

The border spat has come at a sensitive time politically for both Cambodia and Thailand.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen faces a parliamentary election Sunday, and Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej is under mounting pressure to resign, in part over his government's alleged mishandling of the Preah Vihear affair.

Cambodians "cool off" for general election

Cambodians leave Phnom Penh city for their hometown July 26, 2008 for voting day tomorrow. Thousands of migrant workers left the Cambodian capital on Saturday for their home towns and villages to cast their votes in a general election overshadowed by a dispute with Thailand over a 900-year-old temple. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea

Sat Jul 26, 2008
By Ek Madra

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Thousands of migrant workers left the Cambodian capital on Saturday for their home towns and villages to cast their votes in a general election overshadowed by a dispute with Thailand over a 900-year-old temple.

Buses and pick-up trucks leaving Phnom Penh were packed as the Southeast Asian nation enjoyed a "cooling off" day on the eve of voting in a poll almost certain to give another five-year term to Hun Sen, Prime Minister of the past 23 years.

All alcohol sales were banned for 48 hours from midnight on Friday, as was campaigning, to let voters get home and calm down after a month of often vitriolic electioneering.

"This shows people's strong enthusiasm to vote," Tep Nitha, Secretary-General of the National Election Committee, told a news conference.

Campaigning was more orderly than Cambodia's previous exercises in a democracy created by the United Nations in the early 1990s to bring an end to more than two decades of war and upheaval, including the Khmer Rouge "Killing Fields".

However, all parties quickly became embroiled in the row over the Preah Vihear temple, which has led to build-ups of troops and artillery on both sides of the border, and raised fears of a border war.

The temple, which sits on a jungle-clad escarpment separating the two countries, is claimed by both sides but was awarded to Cambodia in 1962 by the International Court of Justice, a ruling that has rankled in Thailand ever since.

Cambodia's successful bid to have the ruins listed as a World Heritage site this month inflamed nationalist passions in Bangkok, where street campaigners are trying to overthrow the government. Thailand's foreign minister was forced to resign.

Despite the depth of feeling in both countries, many of Cambodia's 8.1 million voters said they were concentrating on more practical matters, such as choosing a government to oversee a booming economy now threatened by soaring inflation.

"This is a very important day. We have to choose a good leader to create more jobs for us," Svay Sokha, a 24-year-old garment worker, told Reuters as she and her friends waited for a bus to the eastern province of Kampong Thom.

Many of the 300,000 young men and women working in Phnom Penh's garment export sector favour opposition leader Sam Rainsy, a French-educated former finance minister.

However, Hun Sen's former communist but now firmly free-market Cambodian People's Party (CPP) is virtually assured victory, thanks in large part to near double-digit annual economic growth in the past five years.

In the countryside, most voters also favour the CPP as the force that finally put paid to the Khmer Rouge, responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people during Pol Pot's time in power from 1975-79.

Most analysts expect the CPP to win an outright majority in the 123-seat parliament.

Human rights groups say six party activists were killed in the month before polling day -- four from the CPP and two from the Sam Rainsy Party. The numbers are lower than the run-up to the 1998 and 2003 elections.

However, New York-based Human Rights Watch said the CPP's dominance of the broadcast media, as well as harassment of opposition party members, ensured that "conditions are not in place for free and fair elections".

Trauma and tall tales from around the world

Cambodian's fourth wedding ruled a sham

National Post
Published: Saturday, July 26, 2008

Saquanh Thach is a Cambodian-born Canadian man who met a woman in January 2003 while on a return visit to his homeland. Their relationship quickly became an intimate one, he said, and after he returned to Canada he proposed marriage. That July he flew to Cambodia for their wedding and then sought to have his wife join him in Canada.

The process of sponsoring a wife to come to Canada was not new to Mr. Thach. It was, in fact, his fourth marriage and his fourth attempt to bring a spouse here, court documents say.

He first married in Vietnam in 1974 and had three children with the woman in Canada. They separated in 1980 without obtaining a divorce. The year of his separation, he married his cousin in Cambodia and came to Canada with her in 1988. They divorced in 1996. He married again in 1999 and twice tried to get that woman to Canada. His first attempt was scuttled because he had never divorced his first wife. He finally obtained that divorce and tried again. This time he was refused because the marriage came before the divorce.

He said he went back to Cambodia to remarry his wife but when he got there he found she had married someone else. It was on this visit to Cambodia he met his next wife.

After he married her, he was arrested in Cambodia, apparently because of a lawsuit filed by his third wife. He settled that matter by paying her $13,000, a sum that included compensation for not getting her into Canada, according to court documents.

Finally back in Canada, Mr. Thach sponsored his new wife for permanent residence status in August 2003. Over the years, they spoke on the phone and wrote letters, he said. He visited her twice.

Meanwhile, a Canadian visa official interviewed her and ruled that she failed to demonstrate a genuine relationship with Mr. Thach. The officer found inconsistencies and contradictions and evidence of false documents. There was also concern over a statement she made about paying Mr. Thach $100,000 once he got her into Canada.

Officials deemed it to be a sham marriage and he appealed to the Federal Court. Deputy Judge Maurice E. Legace dismissed his appeal.

NEC: Cambodia ends election campaign with smooth, free process

www.chinaview.cn
2008-07-26

PHNOM PENH, July 26 (Xinhua) -- Cambodia has ended the election campaign with smooth, free and fair process, a senior official of Cambodia's National Election Committee (NEC) said here on Saturday.

The overall situation of this parliamentary election campaign is smooth, free and fair, and the campaign had been conducted for a month and ended Friday according to election schedule, Tep Nytha, General Secretary of NEC, told reporters at a press conference.

The process of the election campaign is better than previous elections, he said.

He added that although 11 criminal cases occurred during the election campaign, they were not involved with "political crimes".

Some cases are being investigated by the police, he said, adding that others were road accidents and family violence.

"We had 191 complaints from political parties and the number decreased three times comparing with the previous election," he said.

In addition, Tep Nytha said that Cambodia is ready for this parliamentary election although "we still have border tension with Thailand".

"People still pay attention to the election," he said, adding that NEC decided to set two polling stations for soldiers deployed near the Preah Vihear Temple.

Saturday is a silent day for the election with no election campaign.

More than 10 million ballot papers have been printed for the nation's 8.1 million eligible voters, with around 32,000 bottles of indelible ink supplied to 15,255 polling stations nationwide, according to NEC figures.

Polling date of the fourth ever general polls of the kingdom falls on Sunday. Altogether 11 political parties are running for the 123 seats at the Cambodian National Assembly.

The preliminary results will be announced on July 28, a statement from NEC said.

Editor: Sun Yunlong

Cambodia prepares for election

Sam Rainsy, left, an opposition leader and Hun Sen, right, the prime minister [AFP]

Al Jazeera
Saturday, July 26, 2008

Allegations of voter intimidation are being made a day ahead of parliamentary elections in Cambodia.

Eleven parties are competing in Sunday's national poll, the fourth since the end of the civil war.
Voters are expected to back the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) for another five-year term and return Hun Sen, the prime minister, who has been in power for 23 years.

Campaigning has been marred by accusations of intimidation and vote buying amid a heightened nationalist sentiment over a border dispute with Thailand.

Few believe Sam Rainsy, the former finance minister and main opposition leader, will beat Hun Sen.

Sam Rainsy Party is expected to maintain its strength in the capital, but not in rural Cambodia, where most voters live.
Unfair electionPung Chiv Kek, president of the human rights group Licadho, said that the election campaign did not bode well for the vote.

"We still have 13 activists killed, including the journalist of the opposition newspaper, so this sends a very negative message to the voter."

"We can hardly say that this election is free because there is still intimidation and physical abuse - this is the stick. The carrot is buying votes, building roads and schools.

"By using sticks and carrots, we are sure the ruling party will win a large majority."

Pung Chiv Kek told Al Jazeera that the CPP is expected to win because opposition parties have also not presented a significantly attractive vision to the Cambodian people.

"The opposition divide didn't manage to unify before the election, so their seats in parliament will be less."

She also denied that the ruling party was popular due to the country's economic success in recent years.

"The GDP [gross domestic product] seems to have increased, but look at the gap between the rich and the poor, more than 40 per cent of the poor live below the level of international standards."

In the absence of a credible opposition Pung Chiv Kek said Cambodia will have more problems "of land grabbing, evictions, corruption, impunity, no independence of the judiciary".

'CPP will win'

Talks between Thailand and Cambodia on Monday have failed to end a military stand-off over the disputed Preah Vihear temple on their border, lrecently isted by Unesco as a World Heritage Site.

Hang Puthea, head of the election monitoring group Nicfec, said campaigning had been largely overshadowed by concerns over the temple.

"People are more focused on the border issue at Preah Vihear temple than on the election," he told AFP.

Boonsrang Niumpradit, Thailand's supreme commander, the result of the talks was to allow soldiers to stay in their current positions at the temple, but avoid any confrontation.
Hun Sen has accused Thailand of ignoring international law and threatening regional peace by sending troops into the disputed zone around the temple.

Poor track record

Chea Vannath, an independent political analyst, said: "There is no doubt that CPP will win the election."

At least 8.1m people are registered to vote at 15,000 polling stations, under the supervision of more than 13,000 domestic and international observers.

Previous polls held in Cambodia, have been hit by violence. Scores of people - mainly opposition supporters and activists - were killed or beaten in the run-up to elections in 1998.

Election monitors say political violence has diminished greatly compared to past polls, however, unequal access to the media is being criticised.

The main government controls almost all of Cambodia's broadcast media, while the CPP maintains a vast network in rural Cambodia, inherited from the party's communist days.

At least 35 per cent of Cambodia's 14m people live on less than 50 US cents a day.

However, economic growth has averaged about 11 per cent over the past three years, creating a sense of optimism in a country that recently emerged from decades of civil war in 1998.

Analysts say the main question going into the polls is whether CPP will be able to increase the 71 seats it already holds in the 23-member parliament.

Boonsang calls on leaders to talk on Preah Vihear

(BangkokPost.com) - Supreme Commander Boonsang Niampradit called on leaders of Thailand and Cambodia to engage in a talk in order to solve conflicts over Preah Vihear matter.

Gen Boonsang, speaking before joining meeting in Indonesia, said he would use this opportunity to explain to the matter to leaders of this country.

Asked what Thailand should do if Cambodia raised the matter to the International Court, he replied that Thai leaders should be extra careful about this as there were lessons learned in the past.

He said Thailand has the right to decide whether to go to the court.

In 1962, the international court ruled that Thailand should hand the temple to Cambodia based on a map drawn in 1908.

Parties seize on border crisis in bid to win votes

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Khouth Sophakchakrya
Friday, 25 July 2008

With national elections only a few days away, Cambodians are more interested in the Preah Vihear border crisis than the campaign, leading some parties to try to exploit the situation to attract votes, said election monitor Koul Panha.

Preah Vihear has become the central issue in the campaign, outstripping corruption, inflation, land grabs and social justice, Panha told the Post.

He accused the ruling Cambodian People’s Party in particular of co-opting political credit for UNESCO’s recent designation of Preah Vihear as a World Heritage Site.

“The CPP has been telling voters that the listing of Preah Vihear as a World Heritage Site was solely a victory of the CPP,” said Koul Panha, who is executive director of the election watchdog Comfrel.

Once Thai troops made their incursion into Cambodian territory, it became an issue for the opposition parties as well, with all of them trying to take advantage of the situation to pull votes, Koul Panha said.

“I suspect that the ruling party might be conspiring with the Thai government to distract voters from inflation and from their illegal acts of corruption and land grabbing,” said Human Rights Party (HRP) vice president Keat Sukun.

HRP leader Kem Sokha has stepped in, urging that the Cambodian and Thai kings resolve the matter.

Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay has used the crisis to accuse the government of failing to protect Cambodia’s territorial integrity.

“The ruling party organized the Preah Vihear celebration to win votes,” added Son Chhay, who also said the ruling party and its coalition partners were using the Preah Vihear issue to obstruct the election process.

______
I suspect that the ruling party might be conspiring with the Thai government to distract voters from inflation and from their illegal acts of corruption and land grabbing.
______

Government spokesman and CPP member Khieu Kanharith said that the government has tried to hard to keep the peace by not allowing Thai troops to do whatever they want in Cambodia, and was not using the situation to gain political capital.

“We do not want to gain votes by pouring fuel on the fire,” Khieu Kanharith said. “The government will solve the issue of Preah Vihear by lawful and peaceful diplomatic means.”

Hang Puthea, executive director of the election monitor NICFEC, also echoed the opinion that some political parties had encouraged the border dispute to manipulate voters.

Cambodia's leader likely shoo-in for 4th term


SFGate - San Francisco Chronicle
Susan Postlewaite, Chronicle Foreign Service
Saturday, July 26, 2008

Phnom Penh, Cambodia -- Cambodian strongman Hun Sen should easily retain his position as Southeast Asia's longest ruling elected leader in Sunday's national election, most analysts say.

With this nation of 14 million inhabitants benefiting from a revved-up economy, Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party will easily dominate the parliamentary election, polls show.

"Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party represents stability," said University of Cambodia President Kao Kim Hourn.

The nation's major party candidates have campaigned hard in cities and provinces, but even Sam Rainsy, the leader of the strongest of 10 opposition parties, concedes that his party will win no more than 31 of 123 parliamentary seats up for election.

"The other parties don't know how to stay together," said Ahmad Yahya, a former opposition politician who referred to opposition party divisions and is now a member of the Cambodian People's Party.

Although the election appears to be a one-horse race, interest remains high. Eighty-seven percent of eligible voters are registered and voter turnout is expected to be as high as 75 percent, according to a poll by the U.S. funded International Republican Institute. The poll shows that 77 percent say that "Cambodia is moving in the right direction."

In recent years, the economy has averaged double-digit growth, driven largely by an expansion in the garment and tourist industries. Foreign investment is rising and economic growth reached 9.5 percent in 2007. The unemployment rate is 2.5 percent, according to CIA data. Moreover, the nation's first stock exchange is expected to open next year and offshore oil revenues should begin flowing by 2011.

The re-election of Hun Sen to another five-year term will also mean a continuation of Cambodia's increasingly tight relationship with China, some analysts say. China is building a new $30 million government building in the capital, Phnom Penh. A Western diplomat calls it "a symbol of China's putative influence."

Nevertheless, the economic boom has largely failed to reach rural areas and Cambodia is still one of the world's poorest countries with an annual per capita income of $1,800 and 35 percent of the population living below the poverty line, according to CIA data.

Those grim statistics could vastly improve with better governance, most analysts agree. In its annual 2007 report on corruption, Transparency International, a private monitoring group based in Berlin, Cambodia ranked 162 of 179 countries - with 1 being the least corrupt.

The Cambodian People's Party has ruled Cambodia since 1979, after Hun Sen defected from the Khmer Rouge to help Vietnamese forces oust the Maoist regime that had sealed off the country in 1975 and killed an estimated 1.5 million people in an attempt to create a utopian society.

In the past four years, the Cambodian People's Party has strengthened its grip on power with the defection of dozens of opposition lawmakers to its side and internal divisions by its opposition, most notably the United National Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful and Cooperative Cambodia, or FUNCINPEC.

In recent months, the 57-year-old prime minister has campaigned continuously over state-controlled national television, which airs daily footage of him inaugurating new schools and health clinics, doling out rice and traditional checkered scarves known as kramas to woo the nation's 8.1 million registered voters.

The media saturation of Hun Sen's speeches and activities on Cambodian People's Party-controlled television and limited negative coverage has sparked much criticism.

"The pre-election period is not fair," said Jerome Cheung, director of the U.S.-funded National Democratic Institute.

And just this month, opposition journalist Khim Sambo and his 21-year-old son, Khath Sarin Pheata, were gunned down while driving home from a campaign event - the first killing of a reporter since 2003. Although the government has pledged to find the assassins, Human Rights Watch said the murder "appears to be intended as a message not to engage in opposition politics."

But election campaigning has been less violent than in other years, the information ministry for the first time has allowed national assembly candidates to debate on government-controlled television, and Cambodia enjoys greater press freedom than several of its neighbors, most observers say.

The Sam Rainsy Party, the strongest opposition, has promoted an anti-corruption platform and courted the youth vote. "The new generation expects more," said party leader Sam Rainsy. "They want change."

The royalist party, FUNCINPEC, which had been a minority partner with the Cambodian People's Party for a decade, could come up with no seats Sunday and dissolve, some analysts predict, due to internal divisions.

FUNCINPEC spokesman Ok Socheat predicts the once-powerful party will win at least one seat because Cambodians, whose government is structured as a constitutional monarchy, still favor the royal family. But he warned: "If FUNCINPEC collapses, then maybe the monarchy will collapse."

The Human Rights Party, barely a year old, is expected to win a few seats for its criticism of the nation's virtual one-party state. "We cannot live with the ruling party. It has been 30 years already," said party President Kem Sokha, who has been jailed for past political activities and protected by the U.S. Embassy.

Meanwhile, Hun Sen, who has ruled for 23 years and sometimes refers to himself in the third person, appears confident that he will trounce his opposition Sunday.

"If Hun Sen does anything it is to win. I do everything to win, not to lose," he said during a recent campaign stop.

Hun Sen profile

Hun Sen was born in 1951 to a peasant family along the Mekong River in Kompong Cham province.

He is married to Bun Rany, a former nurse and head of the Cambodian Red Cross. In 1976, they married in a group ceremony organized by the Khmer Rouge.

Hun Sen proved his mettle in strategic warfare by forging an alliance with Vietnam to push the genocidal Khmer Rouge into the jungle in 1979, freeing Cambodia from a regime that had killed an estimated 1.5 million people from starvation, executions, overwork and torture. That same year, Hun Sen became foreign minister of a Vietnamese-installed regime.

In 1985, Hun Sen became prime minister. Between 1993 and 1998, he shared the position with Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

Hun Sen rarely travels to the United States, but made an exception when his oldest son, Hun Manet, graduated from West Point in 1999.

At 57, he often adjusts his glasses during speeches to accommodate his one good eye. The other is made of glass, the result of a wound received while fighting the Khmer Rouge.

Although critics cite his failure to tackle endemic corruption, Hun Sen is widely credited with allowing Cambodia to evolve more quickly than such neighbors as Burma and Laos.

- Susan Postlewaite


Cambodia at the ballot box

1975: The Maoist Khmer Rouge overthrow the Lon Nol government beginning the era of the "Killing Fields."

1979: Vietnamese troops overthrow Khmer Rouge

1980s: Cambodian People's Party (CCP) headed by Hun Sen takes power.

1993: Multi-party democracy is restored. The royal party FUNCINPEC wins a plurality in an election organized by the United Nations. Prince Norodom Ranariddh, son of King Norodom Sihanouk, becomes prime minister.

1997: Hun Sen ousts the prince in a bloody coup to become prime minister.

1998: CPP wins elections; Hun Sen remains as prime minister.

2003: CPP wins elections; Hun Sen begins his third term.

2008: On Sunday, Hun Sen seeks a fourth term as prime minister. More than 13,000 domestic and international observers will monitor 15,000 polling stations. There are 8.1 million registered voters.

Cambodia's major political parties

Cambodian People's Party (CPP) - The CPP has ruled since the fall of the Khmer Rouge. It is expected to win more than two-thirds of the 123 parliamentary seats Sunday.

United National Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful and Cooperative Cambodia.
(referred to by its French acronym FUNCINPEC) - The royal party received 20.8 percent of the vote in the 2003 elections, but its voter base has eroded due to internal problems, including the ouster of its leader, Prince Norodom Ranariddh. It may dissolve after a poor showing in Sunday's election, some analysts say.

Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP) - The NRP was founded in 2006 by Prince Norodom Ranariddh, son of retired King Sihanouk, after he was ousted from FUNCINPEC. He runs the party from Malaysia and may win several seats Sunday.

Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) - The SRP was founded by French-educated Sam Rainsy, who returned to Cambodia in 1992. It is largely funded by Cambodian expatriates in the United States and France and is the leading opposition party. It surpassed FUNCINPEC in the last elections with 22 percent of the vote.

Human Rights Party (HRP) - The HRP was founded last year by human rights activist Kem Sam Sokha. It is expected to win several parliamentary seats.

- Susan Postlewaite

E-mail Susan Postlewaite at foreign@sfchronicle.com

Cambodians go to polls amid border row

Supporters of Prime Minister Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party stand on a truck during the last day of national elections campaign in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, July 25, 2008. Cambodia is scheduled to hold its election on July 27. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

By Ker Munthit
Associated Press Writer / July 26, 2008

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia—Nationalist pride sweeping through Cambodia triggered by a border dispute with Thailand appeared to strengthen the popularity of longtime Prime Minister Hun Sen ahead of parliamentary elections Sunday.

The election has been upstaged by a military confrontation with Thailand over contested land near a historic Hindu temple, which the Cambodian government says has triggered "an imminent state of war" between the two Southeast Asian neighbors.

Hun Sen, Cambodia's prime minister for the past 23 years, was already expected to win re-election before the dispute erupted July 15. But inflamed passions over the 11th century Preah Vihear temple and Hun Sen's firm stance against Thailand have galvanized undecided voters in his favor, analysts say.

"Now everybody is behind the government because it's the only institution that can deal with the Thai government. That means more votes for (Hun Sen)," said Kek Galabru, a prominent Cambodian human rights activist and election monitor.

More than 8 million of Cambodia's 14 million people are eligible to vote in Sunday's election. Eleven parties are vying for seats in the 123-seat National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, with the winner forming a new government to run the country for the next five years.

"The border issue near Preah Vihear temple is a sensitive one that has aroused nationalist feelings of the people. So, they have been lately paying more attention to it than to the election," said Thun Saray, president of the Cambodian election monitoring group Comfrel.

Internationally, Hun Sen has faced criticism for alleged corruption and human rights abuses. But he argues that his tenure has ushered in peace and stability after the Khmer Rouge's genocidal reign from 1975-1979, which killed an estimated 1.7 million people.

Under his free-market policies, Cambodia's economy has been one of the fastest growing in Asia, expanding at 11 percent in each of the past three years.

Voters say their top concern for this election has been the Preah Vihear temple, which sits high on a cliff along Cambodia's northern border with Thailand. It has fueled nationalist sentiment in both countries on-and-off for decades.

"The election is necessary but has become a secondary concern for me now," 27-year-old Sy Buntheng, a university student in the capital Phnom Penh, said ahead of the vote. "The encroachment by Thai troops on our land is the greatest national concern for me."

The controversy revolves around 1.8 square miles of land that has been in dispute since French colonialists withdrew from Cambodia in the 1950s.

The International Court of Justice awarded the temple site to Cambodia in 1962, but anger flared in Thailand last month after Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej backed Cambodia's successful bid for the temple to be listed as a U.N. World Heritage Site.

Thailand sent troops to the border July 15 after Thai anti-government demonstrators assembled near the temple. Cambodia responded by sending its own troops to the border.

Negotiations between the two countries on the border row are scheduled to resume Monday, and if talks fail Cambodia says it will renew a call for the U.N. Security Council to take up the issue.

Phnom Penh's one-horse election race

The Bangkok Post
Saturday July 26, 2008

LARRY JAGAN

Cambodia's political parties are in their last day of campaigning before the electors go to the polls tomorrow to elect a new government. Although 11 parties have fielded candidates, the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) led by the longest-serving leader in Asia, Hun Sen, is expected to win a landslide victory. This has also further fuelled fears that Cambodia is effectively becoming a one-party state.

This is the fourth election since the UN-sponsored elections in 1993. Hun Sen _ Cambodia 's prime minister since 1985 _ has emerged as the prime minister after all the previous elections. In the past he has ruled with the royalist party, the Funcinpec, forming a coalition government.

But after two months of problems forming a government after the last elections in 2003, the constitution was changed so that the party with more than 123 seats in the National Assembly can automatically form the next government, which will rule for five years.

So far the election campaigning has been carnival-like, with colourful campaign convoys clogging up Phnom Penh's streets with clashing cymbals and rolling drum beats promoting the various parties.

But the good-natured appearance of the processions masked the reality that this is a one-horse race.

Few people have come out to hear what the candidates and the party representatives have had to say. Even the canvassers have been less then enthusiastic. A group of women marching behind a truck with a blaring megaphone promoting the leading party, the CPP, admitted being thoroughly bored. The bystanders were even less interested and many declined to take the party's propaganda.

''Why should I care, we know who's going to win,'' said Thy Thi Kaeng, a Chinese cab driver. ''I voted Funcinpec [the royalist party] the first time, then they joined Hun Sen in government, so I voted for Sam Rainsy after that, but this time there is no point, it's a wasted vote,'' he said.

The Election Commission, though, is confident of a strong turnout at the polls. There has been a very heavy media campaign over the last few weeks, urging Cambodians to exercise their right to vote. ''I expect more than 70% of the registered voters to cast their ballots at next week's polls,'' the EC chairman said.

But many people are likely to abstain this time, according to most diplomats based in Cambodia _ or they will vote for the ruling party because they do not want to have unnecessary problems as a result in the future.

''There is certainly a growing apathy amongst voters. Firstly, they are more preoccupied with economic issues. Secondly, they have seen the same party in power since 1993. This has led many voters to believe that there is no alternative, and they have become increasingly disinterested in politics as a result,'' UNDP's Strengthening Democracy and Electoral Procedures project manager Aamir Arain said.

The parties' political platforms are almost indistinguishable _ with the opposition parties stressing the need to strengthen the rule of law and liberalise the economy. Most seem to be targeting the rural constituencies, with the two main opposition parties _ the Khmer Human Rights Party and the Sam Rainsy Party concentrating their campaign in the countryside, especially in the west of the country, in the provinces near Thailand.

The dispute between Cambodia and Thailand over the Preah Vihear temple situated on the border has generated a renewed nationalist fervour, which is further strengthening Hun Sen's hand.

Already there is a major underground anti-Thai campaign under way. Mobile phone text messages are circulating in the capital city: ''Khmer love Khmer and should boycott anything Thai or with Thai writing on it,'' the SMS say.

Since the World Heritage Committee awarded the Hindu temple World Heritage status earlier this month, there have been huge public celebrations. The decision was announced live on the national channel, with Hun Sen's image amid revolving stars in the middle of the broadcast.
All last week, most Cambodian TV channels have been running mammoth telethons every day raising money for the temple restorations.

It has been hailed as an enormous national victory.

''The CPP will clearly benefit from the nationalist sentiment around the temple issue,'' said an Asian diplomat in Phnom Penh.

But this will only strengthen what was already the only possible result. But many fear that this will also be the final death knell for the last vestiges of Cambodian democracy.

''If there is no opposition party, the party in power can do whatever they want,'' warned Hang Puthea, executive director of the local election monitoring group, the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC).

Others fear that the election is going to effectively make Cambodia a one-party state.

''We're concerned that the balance of power will be lost, and we worry that the CPP will control every level of administration from the top government posts down to the village,'' said Koul Panha, executive director of the election monitor, Comfrel.

Tensions are rising as Cambodia's political parties complete their boisterous campaigns before tomorrow's polls. So far there has been less violence than during previous campaigns, but ordinary Cambodians are getting increasingly nervous as Election Day nears.

Many Cambodians living in the capital have taken extended vacations and plan to stay indoors during polling day _ there is an unofficial three-day holiday to allow voters to travel back to their villages to cast their ballots.

Residents in Phnom Penh are hoarding food, petrol and candles in advance of the polls, according to eyewitnesses. Some have even sold their mobile phones to stock up, because payday is still a week away and they have run out of money, said one Cambodian female student.

''People always fear the worst, but there is little evidence that this election will be marred by the violence and vote-rigging of the previous two elections,'' said Chhaya Hang, executive director of the Khmer Institute of Democracy. ''Each successive election since 1993 has been more transparent than the previous one,'' he said.

During the first three weeks since the campaigns started, there have only been a handful of complaints of electoral abuse, all of which have been dismissed by the electoral body overseeing the polls.

''So far there is no real evidence of election violence or fraud,'' the Election Commission chairman, Im Soudsey, said. ''But all cases referred to the commission will be thoroughly investigated.''

In the worst incident so far, an opposition journalist, Khim Sambo, and his son were shot dead by unidentified assailants outside their home nearly two weeks ago.

The police are still investigating the incident and have yet to release their findings.

''This election is proving to be the most peaceful since Cambodia's first real democratic elections 15 years ago,'' according to the Cambodian political analyst, Ok Serei. ''The electoral process is maturing with every election,'' he added.

The opposition, though, still believes the elections are being rigged. ''Even though there is less violence, less deaths, the ruling party is using more subtle means to achieve the same results,'' the leading opposition leader Sam Rainsy _ whose party bears his name _ said during one of his election rallies last week. He alleged that the government is using intimidation and bribes to entice voters to support the governing party.

''Village chiefs remain a problem and frequently violate the laws,'' according to Chhaya Hang. ''But people know the importance of the elections and understand the rules and regulations.''

Kem Sohka, head of the other main opposition party, the newly formed Khmer Human Rights Party, was even more blunt, accusing the ruling CPP of harassment, intimidation and vote buying.

''They cannot win the election except by cheating,'' he said. ''And if they lose the election they won't hand over power, they'll hang onto it just like in Zimbabwe.''

Standoff mired in history

The Star Online
Saturday July 26, 2008

Thai Takes
By PHILIP GOLINGAI

Ownership of the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple has been in dispute between Thailand and Cambodia since the French withdrew from Indochina in the 1950s.

PERCHED on the edge of a 525m-high cliff that divides Thailand and Cambodia is the ancient Hindu temple of Preah Vihear, which has become the setting of a border confrontation between the two countries.

Days after Unesco designated Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage Site on July 8, Bangkok and Phnom Penh deployed hundreds of heavily-armed soldiers around the contentious temple that the Thais call Pra Viharn.

Ownership of the 900-year-old temple has been in dispute since the French withdrew from Indochina in the 1950s. In 1962, the International Court of Justice awarded the disputed temple, easily accessible only from the Thai side, to Cambodia.

At the centre of the military build-up is a 4.6-square-kilometre overlapping area around the temple that is claimed by both countries.

The build-up began on July 15 when three Thais protesters (who Thai prime minister Samak Sundaravej described as “crazy guys”) jumped over a barbed-wire fence to cross into the area, vowing to reclaim the temple that they say belong to Thailand.

Cambodian guards detained the protesters and Thailand sent its troops to retrieve them.
The military standoff between the two neighbouring Asean countries, according to Panitan Wattanayagorn, a military analyst at Chulalongkorn University, centres on three key issues:

- The listing of Preah Vihear as a World Heritage Site;

- Domestic instability spurring nationalism fervour in both countries (in Thailand, the Samak government is facing a concerted campaign by the People’s Alliance for Democracy to bring it down, and, in Cambodia, Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party is seeking a fresh mandate in national elections tomorrow); and,

- The weakening of Thailand’s national unity and the strengthening of Cambodia’s national unity and economy giving Phnom Penh the confidence to push for territories over which it has long-standing disputes with Bangkok.

The number of soldiers currently amassed in the vicinity of Preah Vihear Temple varies with which government spokesman you talk to.

Cambodia says it has deployed 800 soldiers against 3,000 Thai soldiers while Thailand claims to have 400 men facing 1,700 Cambodian soldiers.

And depending on which day you read the newspapers, the situation on the ground fluctuates from “an imminent state of war” (to quote Cambodian foreign minister Hor Namhong) to a picnic.

On July 18, AFP reported that Cambodian and Thai soldiers pointed their weapons at each other for the first time over a tense land dispute on their border.

Four days later, Thai foreign ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat told Reuters: “It is a peaceful military stand-off. It is like a picnic. They chat together and lunch together.”

Will this military standoff lead to war?

Unlikely, says Panitan. “(Thailand's and Cambodia’s) top commanders have agreed to solve the situation without using any force,” he notes.

However, he acknowledges that, “on the ground, it is not easy to control the troops”.

“Hopefully,” he adds, “there will be no untoward incident such as an unknown militia attacking (the other side).”

Or, a careless statement, which can escalate tensions between Thailand and Cambodia.

In 2003, a false report in a Khmer newspaper quoting a Thai actress as saying that Angkor Wat belonged to her country sparked anti-Thai riots in Phnom Penh. The Thai embassy and Thai businesses were torched.

One cool cat in the armed standoff is Samak. On Wednesday, the Thai prime minister predicted that tensions would ease after Cambodia’s general election tomorrow.

“After the election they will soften their stance, and talks will be easier,” Samak said.

“Everything is being done with an eye on the July 27 polls, and I need to keep quiet so as not to discredit prime minister Hun Sen.”

The next day, Thailand and Cambodia agreed to send their foreign ministers to Siem Reap next Monday to discuss a resolution to the border conflict.

Interestingly, Thailand is without a foreign minister as Noppadon Pattama was recently forced to resign for mishandling the Preah Vihear temple issue.

Panitan, the military analyst, warns that finding a resolution is not going to be an easy task, because Bangkok still does not have a real plan for an exit strategy.

“Who will withdraw their troops first?” he asks.

“Will it be a bilateral withdrawal? If it is a unilateral withdrawal, the other side can claim they are victorious.”

Tej tipped to be new foreign minister


Tej: First mission to end border row

The Bangkok Post
Saturday July 26, 2008

Former permanent secretary for foreign affairs Tej Bunnag has been nominated to be the new foreign minister with his first mission to end the border row with Cambodia, sources said yesterday.

Mr Tej accepted the invitation on Thursday after being approached by Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, a source said.

The source considered Mr Tej a ''wise choice'' given his credentials in handling diplomatic pressure, and expected tough negotiations with Cambodia centred on the overlapping zone at the border between Kantharalak district in Si Sa Ket and Preah Vihear, the Cambodian province where the 900-year-old temple is located.

The retired career diplomat is not in the country at present.Mr Samak is expected to announce the new foreign minister this weekend.

The selection of the new minister came one day after Mr Samak and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen agreed to a meeting chaired by their foreign ministers in a renewed effort to end the military stand-off in the disputed area.

After Noppadon Pattama resigned from the post early this month for his handling of the temple issue, the name of former ambassador to the United Kingdom, Vikrom Khumpairoj, was mentioned as a strong candidate to succeed the former lawyer to ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

But a source said Mr Vikrom ruled himself out of contention.

Mr Tej's first job is to lead Thai negotiators to the Siem Reap meeting Monday.

Thailand and Cambodia were optimistic about the Monday meeting, which came one week after talks between the two countries led by Supreme Commander Gen Saprang Niempradit and Cambodian Defence Minister Tea Banh to settle on the contested area and withdrawal of their troops collapsed.

''My hardest lesson so far has been the Preah Vihear problem but I think we can defuse it somehow,'' Mr Samak said.

Cambodia: Threats, Intimidation Mar Campaign

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH

(New York, July 26, 2008) – As Cambodians head to the polls on July 27, 2008, conditions are not in place for free and fair elections, Human Rights Watch said today. The near-monopoly on broadcast media for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party’s (CPP), bias within the electoral apparatus, and harassment, intimidation, and coerced defections of opposition party members undermines the credibility of the national elections.

“Elections in Cambodia under existing conditions devalue the process and put a free and fair vote further out of reach of the Cambodian people,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Election observers from genuine democracies would never accept at home the CPP’s grip on the media or the fear and intimidation faced by voters and opposition parties.”

In violation of Cambodia’s election campaign rules, the 11 political parties competing in the election for the national parliament have not had equal access to radio and television, by far the most important source of information for most Cambodians. Information broadcast on television and radio is almost exclusively favorable publicity for the incumbent CPP. Positive coverage of Prime Minister Hun Sen and other party leaders dominates. When the stations cover the opposition, much of the coverage is negative. On July 10, the National Election Commission (NEC) issued a warning to 13 television and radio stations for broadcasting biased coverage of the elections. Ten of those stations are dominated by pro-CPP coverage, according to the NEC.

“The lack of fair access to the broadcast media alone is enough to delegitimize the election,” said Adams. “If voters can’t get accurate information and their choices are determined by fear, an election loses much of its meaning.”

The July 11 murder of opposition journalist Khim Sambo inserted violence into the campaign. Sambo had been a reporter for more than 10 years for Moneaksekar Khmer (Khmer Conscience), a newspaper affiliated with the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) and one of the few newspapers in Cambodia that is not dominated by the government or the CPP. He was known for his hard-hitting articles about government corruption, political affairs, and land grabbing. No one has been arrested for the killing.

“Sambo’s killing appears to have been timed just before the election to have the maximum chilling effect on journalists, opposition party supporters, and human rights monitors,” said Adams.

In June, military police arrested Moneaksekar Khmer editor Dam Sith, who is also running as a SRP candidate in the election, after the paper reported allegations about Foreign Minister Hor Namhong’s role during the Khmer Rouge regime. Sith was released after several days in detention, but criminal charges related to the article are still pending.

The buildup to the July elections has also been marked by calculated efforts by the CPP to pressure opposition party members, particularly the SRP, to defect to the CPP. Lucrative offers of high-paying government positions and threats of reprisals, including arrest or violence against those who refuse, have led hundreds of opposition party members to join the CPP.

“There’s been a welcome decrease in violence compared to past elections,” said Adams. “Cambodian politicians and party activists know the CPP will use violence if necessary – which means the ruling party doesn’t need to do so.”

Human Rights Watch said the Cambodian election is taking place against a backdrop of massive violence in previous elections, with no one ever held to account for political killings. In the 1993 UN-administered election, more than 100 opposition party members were killed in a campaign orchestrated by the CPP. In the 1998 election, pre-election violence again dominated, amid well-publicized pictures of brutal murders of opposition activists. This followed Hun Sen’s July 1997 coup, in which more than 100 opposition party members, particularly members of the royalist FUNCINPEC party, were systematically murdered.

The lead-up to the most recent National Assembly election in 2003 began on a grim note with the murders in February 2003 of Om Radsady, senior advisor to Prince Norodom Ranariddh, and Buddhist monk Sam Bun Thoeun, an opponent of the ban on monks voting imposed by the CPP. A judge and a court clerk were killed and another judge was attacked and beaten. During the campaign, overt political violence was often supplanted by more sophisticated forms of intimidation and coerced party membership. Village and commune chiefs, most members of the CPP, threatened opposition party supporters with violence, expulsion from their villages, and denial of access to community resources such as village rice distributions. Thirteen political party activists were killed between the February 2002 commune council elections and the national poll in July 2003.

In the five years since, the government has arrested many opposition party members, journalists, and human rights defenders. Three trade union leaders and an opposition journalist have been murdered. Basic freedoms of assembly and expression have been particularly hard hit, with public demonstrations severely restricted by the government, and opposition-affiliated media intimidated by legal threats and criminal charges.

Politically motivated criminal charges have also long been used as a tactic by the CPP against its political foes. This includes the imprisonment of SRP parliamentarian Cheam Channy, convicted in a show trial in 2005 on baseless charges of creating a rebel army, the arrest of human rights activist Kem Sokha, and the conviction of party leader Sam Rainsy the same year for allegedly defaming government leaders. Royalist party leader Norodom Ranariddh currently faces arrest and 18 months of imprisonment on politically motivated fraud charges if he returns to Cambodia.

Human Rights Watch said that opposition parties, particularly the SRP, have operated in an almost continuous environment of threats, harassment, and intimidation. This has severely impaired the ability of opposition parties to organize, recruit party members and candidates, and reach voters.

Throughout, Hun Sen has made it clear that he would not leave office even if defeated. Though he and his party lost the 1993 election, Hun Sen and the CPP refused to give up power and forced themselves into a power-sharing coalition on equal terms. This has led to widespread cynicism about the value of elections, with many Cambodian concluding that the risks of participating in the political process outweigh the possible benefits.

“When making their judgments about this election, observers must take into account the entire context of the elections,” said Adams. “They must not fall into the trap of using lower standards for Cambodia. Sadly, Cambodia is still not a democracy, or even on the path to democracy.”

Khmer polls a prelude to calm

The Bangkok Post
Saturday July 26, 2008

The thousands of Thai villagers living in Si Sa Ket province near the Preah Vihear temple know there is a general election tomorrow in Cambodia. Few, though, care about which political party will win. The only outcome that excites them is that it might provide a chance for all the fuss to die down and allow them to be left in peace and able to get on with their lives.

Their hope is that with the polls out of the way, the ultra-nationalistic fervour so popular at election time will also fade away as the focus in Phnom Penh shifts to the traditional bickering over the make-up of the new administration. No more hiding in bunkers or huddling for protection in large concrete pipes in case a war of words suddenly turns hot. Instead, they look forward to a gradual racheting down of tension on both sides of the border with Monday's meeting in Siem Reap smoothing the way.

The temple area's resurgence as a political and military flashpoint was the last thing the long-suffering villagers of Kantharalak district wanted. It all brought back terrible memories of the civil war in Cambodia which saw the bloody rise to power of the Khmer Rouge in 1975 and then the Vietnamese invade the country three years later. Older villagers recall how this prompted a huge outpouring of refugees, many of whom scrambled up the escarpment and sought shelter.
There were so many that thousands had to be forced back into Cambodia where they were caught in exchanges of gunfire amid driving rain or snared in minefields. The exact number of those who died will never be known.

What followed was a further two decades of guerrilla fighting, which made the temple a hazardous place to visit on the occasions it was open. With the arrival of a new millennium, Preah Vihear was expected to become an international tourist destination and a sacred place of peace.

So peaceful, in fact, that a spat over the two-tier pricing applied to foreign and local visitors had been the only issue to surface in the months prior to the temple's recent closure. The days of political posturing and military stand-offs were supposed to be at an end.

Given some restraint from our own firebrands, there is every reason to believe that tomorrow's election in Cambodia will take the heat off. But it will not solve the problem of the disputed territory around the temple. That will take much time, goodwill and patience.

Equally noteworthy is the fact that the only casualty so far has been an unfortunate Thai army captain who lost his leg in a landmine explosion. Resolution of the dispute must set in motion the clearance of nearly 500sqkm of mines and unexploded ordnance scattered throughout the Preah Vihear region and the border.

There is speculation that tomorrow's elections might bring radical initiatives in their wake? That is unlikely because the political status quo is firmly rooted in conservatism and Cambodia remains relatively stable and economically sound. Mr Hun Sen has been prime minister since 1985 and voters are likely to return him to power once again. Sam Rainsy has been mired in the opposition for so long it is hard to imagine him posing any credible challenge, and Prince Norodom Ranariddh has been reduced to mounting a token campaign from a cramped condo in Kuala Lumpur.

Back at the border, Thai villagers are again practising evacuation and weapons drills and renovating old bomb shelters. But no more blood must be shed. The ruling by the World Court in 1962 is irreversible but the devil, as always, lies in the details. The most vital detail is the 4.6sqkm disputed area and resolving that issue in a fair and peaceful manner is a task that is long overdue.

Opposition makes headway in Cambodia

Prime Minister of Cambodia Samdech Hun Sen (r) is facing a strong opposition in the country's election. (AAP Image: Alan Porritt)
ABC News

Cambodia's long-ruling Prime Minister Hun Sen looks set to notch up another election victory tomorrow.

He is expected to take more seats in the national parliament.

Hun Sen is still popular even after 23 years in power. But the main opposition party is making headway.

The Cambodian People's Party (CPP) boasts that it has five million signed up members.
That is impressive when there are only eight million registered voters.

With so much flag waving and patriotic music, electioneering in Cambodia can feel like a big street party, but for many, campaigning is dangerous.

Sam Rainsy is the leader of the main Opposition party that bears his name.

At a campaign stop in Sang Ke District in the western province of Battambang, he finds himself literally unable to go on.

"They are deliberately blocking our way," he said.

Mr Rainsy says the CPP are trying to block change in the country it has ruled for 23 years.
"They don't want us to spread our message," he said.

"They are afraid of our message. They don't want the Cambodian people to hear the message of change from the Opposition."

Election violence

At least 12 people have been killed in this election campaign, including an Opposition journalist.

The president of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), Thun Saray, worries about a general rise in lawlessness at this time, because government officials, the military, and police are engaged in campaigning.

"We observed in the recent week there were also the increasing robbery, the ordinary crime, killings, something that is happened," he said.

"We worry about people who be frightened by this atmosphere."

While his supporters have been out in force, Prime Minister Hun Sen has done little in the way of campaigning.

His Government is being criticised for the huge spike in fuel and food prices and cannot shake corruption allegations relating to misuse and abuse of public land and forests.

But foreign investment is strong and the Government is benefiting from a wave of nationalistic pride because of its tough stance in the Preah Vihear Temple dispute with Thailand.

The ABC was denied an interview with the Prime Minister, but Cheam Yeap from the Central Committee of the Cambodian People's Party did speak to us.

Mr Cheam says that Sam Rainsy's push for change is a trick on the people.

Based on a report by Karen Percy for AM

Thailand and Cambodia vie for the high ground in temple standoff

A Thai soldier stands guard near the Preah Vihear temple. Photograph: Sukree Sukplang/Reuters


Ian MacKinnon in Ban Phumsaral
guardian.co.uk
Saturday July 26 2008

In the capital cities of Thailand and Cambodia, the military standoff that has seen hundreds of troops line up along their border over the past two weeks is widely believed to threaten war. At the heart of the dispute is a 900-year-old temple to which both sides lay claim - and with a Thai government mired in political crisis and its Cambodian counterpart facing elections tomorrow, neither side has been willing to stand down.

But for opposing soldiers patrolling the border just feet apart from each other, the mood was a little lighter as Cambodian troopers joke about their inferior equipment. Over swapped cigarettes, ageing hand-grenades take particular stick. The pins have a lethal habit of falling out, and the soldiers point mockingly at rubber bands that serve as a fail-safe.

In nearby Ban Phumsaral, on the Thai side of the border however, the two-week build-up is no laughing matter. Frightened villagers just a few miles from the Thai exclusion zone that has sealed off the Preah Vihear temple site gather around radios for the latest word, hopeful that Monday's ministerial meeting will offer hope of an end to the dispute.

Nothing is being left to chance, though. As the still of night envelops the village of 520 families, vigilantes armed with crude rifles handed out by district authorities begin their first patrols of dusty roads flanked by rice paddies.

Earlier they were informed of the Thai army's emergency plans to evacuate to another village 10 miles away, along with the safest route to take if the artillery and tanks newly dug in on both sides of the disputed border open up.

"This whole thing is a big political game," said a 46-year-old former soldier who now runs a meat stall. "All we can do is prepare ourselves. When the first shell lands I'll put wife and three children in the car and drive. Then I'll come back to mind my business."

Both sides hope it will not come to that. The Cambodian prime minister, Hun Sen, and his Thai counterpart, Samak Sundaravej, agreed that their foreign ministers should meet in Siem Reap - home of the fabled Angor Wat temple complex - to try again to resolve the escalating dispute.

Hun Sen said Cambodia had asked to the UN security council to postpone any review of the dispute to allow them to work out their differences, as Thailand had requested. This followed Phnom Penh's plea to the UN to intervene, arguing that "Thai behaviour gravely threatens the peace and stability of the region".

Once tomorrow's elections in Cambodia are out of the way, the hope is that some of the heat may go out of the row. The poll served as a catalyst that stoked nationalist sentiments over the long-running Preah Vihear border dispute and fuelled the latest tensions.

The broken pillars and sweeping roofs of the ornately-carved temple, built between the 9th and 11th centuries, are dramatically sited high on a bluff. Originally consecrated as Hindu, it became Buddhist during the Angor dynasty and is a reminder for Cambodians of the last flowering of Khmer greatness, ended by a 15th century Thai invasion.

Cambodia's French colonial masters claimed the temple using a disputed 1907 map that marked the frontier. But when the French left in 1954, Thai troops seized the ruin. They only grudgingly left after the international court of justice in The Hague awarded it to Cambodia in 1962, but they held onto an adjacent 1.8 square mile (4.6 square kilometre) patch of disputed scrub.

The court's ruling has rankled with Thai nationalists since. So when on June 17 the UN granted Preah Vihear "world heritage site" status it once again became a flashpoint.

Vociferous opponents of the Thai government feared it would undermine any claim to the adjacent disputed territory. They claimed the scalp of the foreign minister Noppodol Pattama, who was accused of overstepping the constitution when he supported Cambodia's application without seeking parliamentary approval.

The accusation was that Pattama, the ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's one-time lawyer, had let the bid slip through as a backroom deal related to his former boss's financial and business interests in Cambodia.

Thai demonstrators were arrested after invading the site, which in turn prompted Thai troops to enter the site to secure their freedoml, leading to an escalation that saw opposing soldiers level their weapons at one another.

Both armies are, however, at pains to demonstrate their good relations at all levels. Many of the Thai soldiers hail from the border area and speak the Khmer language of their Cambodian counterparts.

"Many of the Cambodian soldiers were stallholders in the village near the temple before this happened, so the Thai troops know them well," said the Thai army regional deputy commander, Weewalit Jonsumrit. "They speak the same language, so there little chance of a misunderstanding."

The same is true for the villagers of Ban Phumsaral, who resent the anti-government activists who came to stir up trouble for their own cynical ends, leaving emotional turmoil and suspicion in their wake.

"My ancestors were here, my family lives here," said Bonkend Tactong, 45, a villager preparing for night patrol. "The outsiders came with their propaganda and left the gullible paranoid. We're patrolling as a precaution, but more to restore confidence."

Six years' jail for HIV paedophile who molested Cambodia boys

The Earth Times
Fri, 25 Jul 2008 16:41:00 GMT
Author : DPA

Kiel, Germany - A 49-year-old HIV-positive musician who sexually molested boys in Cambodia was jailed Friday for six and a half years, with the German court ruling that he must be detained afterwards till he was no longer a risk to anyone else. Judge Stefan Becker said in Kiel the accused was perverted, incorrigible and unwilling to accept any behavioural therapy.

"He can't alter the fact that he is paedophile, but if he had wanted, he could have changed the way he copes with his paedophilia," said the judge in the northern city of Kiel. The defendant has a long criminal record for similar offences.

A Cambodian boy, 8, who was flown to Germany with his mother, had credibly testified about the sex acts with boys in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. The victim was only 6 at the time. The public was barred from the German court while the evidence was taken.

Other boys also flew to Germany as witnesses, but their evidence was ruled inadmissible because child-welfare workers in Cambodia might have suggested to them what they should say.

Defence lawyers said they would appeal the verdict, but judges ordered the accused kept in jail as long as it takes to appeal.

The German is currently serving a sentence for using a forged Danish passport to travel to Cambodia. His German passport had been taken away from him because of earlier offences.

The public-safety part of his sentence means he must stay detained beyond his sentence and can only be released if judges decide he has reformed. The man is infected with the virus that causes AIDS.

European Union Delegation Comes to Study Combating Sex Tourism in Cambodia

Posted on 26 July 2008
The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 570

“Phnom Penh: To increase the understanding of common problems and to contribute to combat sex tourists in Cambodia efficiently is the goal of a European Union delegation, led by Mr. Jules Maaten and Ms. Sarah Ludford, that came to Cambodia.

“In the afternoon of 23 July 2008, the European Union delegation discussed and studied some problems regarding combating sex tourism in Cambodia with senior officials of Acting for Women in Distressing Situations [AFESIP] in Phnom Penh, as well as with some national and international journalists.

“Ms. Mam Somaly, director of AFESIP and of the Somaly Mam Foundation, said that governments of western countries should open their eyes to see the activities of their citizens who have committed crimes outside of their own countries. Frequently, they pretend to be tourists, or sometimes to be staff of humanitarian organizations in Cambodia, to find opportunities to rape children. There are more children being abused sexually by these crimes than the number of cases that come under the crack-down by the authorities.

“Ms. Mam Somaly said, ‘In Cambodia, the Royal Government has improved the situation markedly to curb down trafficking by creating legislation against trafficking, and by creating national structures of cooperation against trafficking.’ However, the Royal Government has to do more, especially to strengthen procedures against trafficking and legislation beyond what has already been achieved.

“It should be remembered that Ms. Mam Somaly has saved 4,000 children from sexual slavery during the last decades. She created AFESIP to provide consultation and rehabilitation for victims in several centers in Cambodia, in Thailand, in Laos, and in Vietnam. Recently, she has been supported by friends who are famous stars, business people, lawyers, and other generous people, to create the Somaly Mam Foundation, which aims to eliminate the root causes of human trafficking by launching broad public campaigns, to struggle with public opinion about issues relating to human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children in the country, in the region, and internationally.

“Mr. Jules Maaten, the European Union delegation leader and a member of the European parliament from the Netherlands, said that Cambodia has become an important location for criminals to rape children; since some years, many children have been used as sex slaves for tourists from western countries, and for the staff of some humanitarian organizations. ‘Now, we have to open our eyes to see this situation and to take actions against this modern form of slavery.’

“Ms. Sarah Ludford, a member of the European Parliament from London, pointed to the fact that criminals have often escaped from detention and from punishment, because of incompetent police to bring those criminals to court for punishment. Arrested suspects often bribe their way out of the country and flee to their home countries. Only one out of five cases leads to a conviction, and only 3% of the suspects have been convicted after being accused of raping children.

“After the discussion, Ms. Mam Somaly and the European Union delegation agreed with three requests: 1. Members of the member states of the European Union should work towards a stronger role for the police of the European Union to be authorized and to receive the means to train police officials, prosecutors, and judges about child sex trafficking and exploitation. 2. The European Union should pay more attention and exchange information with third countries, to exchange data to help identify suspects for prosecution. 3. The European Union should include information about sentences of sex tourists as well as of criminals who are not citizens of the European Union into the [European] Schengen data information system.”

Kampuchea Thmey, Vol.7, #1702, 25.7.2008
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:Friday, 25 July 2008