Friday, 4 December 2009

Vietnam, Cambodia Tighten Anti-Human Trafficking Ties


(Posted by CAAI News Media)

PHNOM PENH, Dec 4 (Bernama) -- Concrete measures to combat human trafficking and provide aid to its victims topped the agenda of a workshop between Vietnam and Cambodia, which held in Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh on December 2 to 3.

According to the Vietnam news agency's report, the move is part of joint efforts to implement a cooperation agreement signed in October, 2005, to repel the trafficking of women and children as well as provide them with assistance.

The Vietnamese delegation to the workshop was led by Vice Minister of Public Security Le The Tiem, and the Cambodian delegation was led by Secretary of State of the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation Hav Bunse.

On the sidelines of the workshop, Vietnam and Cambodia also signed another cooperative agreement on confirming and repatriating the victims of human trafficking.

Speaking at the signing ceremony, Secretary of State Hav Bunse praised the workshop's success, regarding it as new evidence of tight bilateral cooperation and determination to combat against trans-border crimes for the sake of the safety of their peoples.

A Village Chief Shot and Killed a Sam Rainsy Party Activist, and Police Gave the Victim’s Family US$900 so that They Do Not Sue – Thursday, 3.12.2009

http://cambodiamirror.wordpress.com/

Posted on 4 December 2009
The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 641

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

“An activist of the Sam Rainsy Party was shot dead by a village chief who lives in a different village, while the victim and his nephew were fishing at a canal; and police gave the victim’s wife US$900 so that she would not inform civil society and sue him at the court. This is according to the deputy director of the Sam Rainsy Party in Prey Veng, Mr. Pim Samnang, who received the information from the victim’s family.

“But the police chief of Sithor Kandal denied that he negotiated anything with the victim’s wife to stop suing him.

“Mr. Pim Samnang told Khmer Machas Srok in the morning of 2 December 2009 at the Sam Rainsy Headquarters in Phnom Penh, that the victim is Buo Boun, 28. He lived in Prasat village, Chrey Khmum commune, Sithor Kandal, Prey Veng. He added that at 7:00 p.m. on 28 November 2009, Buo Boun together with an 11-year-old boy was shot by Voeun, the chief of the Ta Nal village which is in the same commune, killing him immediately at the site while he and his nephew were fishing at the Anhchanh canal in his village.

“The perpetrator shot the victim three times, and once hit him in the back in the shoulder-blade.

“The Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian from Prey Veng, Mr. Chea Pouch said, ‘I cannot assume that it is political, but we let police investigate it first with participation from civil society.’

“He added, ‘I condemn the murderer who was already known as a village chief from the Cambodian People’s Party.” Therefore, police must capture the murderer as the target is clearly identified already.’

“According to this report, at about 2:00 p.m. on 29 November 2009, his wife Din Then knew her husband died. The victim is a farmer and has a six-year-old daughter. His wife is now eight months pregnant.

“The report went on to say that on 1 December 2009, police officials of Sithor Kandal went to negotiate with the victim’s wife and family by offering US$900 to Buo Boun’s wife so there would be no complaint to the court and to civil society.

“The Sithor Kandal district police chief, Mr. Net, told Khmer Machas Srok via telephone yesterday evening [2 December 2009] that indeed there was a killing which resulted from an electric fishing shock. When asked whether police helped to negotiate to pay US$900 to stop any complaint, Mr. Net denied it and claimed that his role is to make a report and to send it to higher levels, and to try to arrest the perpetrator for prosecution.

“He added that the police has not yet arrested the perpetrator, but they know who he is.

“Though Mr. Net denied negotiating with the victim’s family, Ms. Din Then, villagers and the victim’s relatives claimed that the district police did negotiate to pay US$900 to the victims’ wife in order to stop her going to sue at the court.

“Buo Boun was an orphan and an outstanding activist of the Sam Rainsy Party. He used to be an agent of the Sam Rainsy Party at his village and also the one who was able to find most support for the Sam Rainsy Party for the national elections in 2008. His murder is considered as political, as he never had disputes with anyone.

“Mr. Pim Samnang called police to arrest the perpetrator, Voeun, the village chief, to be convicted according to the law.

“Yesterday evening, it was reported that the secretary-general of the Sam Rainsy Party, Ms. Ke Sovannarath, wrote a letter to the Minister of Interior, Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng, requesting him to arrest the perpetrator to be prosecuted according to the law.

“It should be noted that last month, an activist of the Sam Rainsy Party was attacked and killed while the victim and his wife were sleeping in their cottage to guard their paddy rice in Basedth district, Kompong Speu.”

Khmer Machas Srok, Vol.3, #545, 3.12.2009
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Thursday, 3 December 2009

Cambodia Wants Peace: PM


Friday, 04 December 2009 06:53 DAP-NEWS

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday again confirmed that Cambodia is willing to see the Khmer Rouge Tribunal (KRT) fail, but does not want to see war again.

The confirmation comes after a KRT Co-Prosecutor asked for charges to be filed against more KR leaders. The KR regime resulted in the deaths of nearly 2 million Cambodians cruel torture, starvation, disease and execution.

“I am not interfering with the court. But it is not the court that stopped the war. Be careful—the court will create war, causing division of society again,” Hun Sen said in a speech the capital Phnom Penh. ”Again and again, I see they want to question. Be careful, this is the issue of death,” Hun Sen said during a ceremony to bring attention to the plight of disabled people.

He went on to repeat warnings that he would rather see the court fail than to expand prosecutions beyond the 5 former KR leaders currently detained for their roles in the KR regime.

Final arguments in the court’s first trial, that of S21 prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, concluded last week. The court plans to prosecute former Khmer Rouge ideologue Nuon Chea, head of state Khieu Samphan, foreign minister Ieng Sary and his wife, minister of social affairs Ieng Thirith sometime in 2011.

Australian Company Drills for Minerals in Cambodia


Friday, 04 December 2009 06:53 DAP-NEWS

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Southern Gold Limited, an Australia-based company, has commenced diamond core drilling at its 100 percent-owned Snoul gold in Kratie province and base metals tenements in Cambodia, the company said on Thursday.

“The 2,500m program is testing the continuity of gold mineralization intersected at the Anchor Prospect including … and at the nearby O’Pok prospect areas and will also test several other prospects identified from soil and trenching results,” Southern Gold said.

According to Southern Gold, this will be the first diamond core and drilling that will be completed on its Cambodian projects.

It is planned that the drilling operations will involve utilizing two to three man portable diamond core drill rigs, and two RC multi-purpose drill rigs.

Southern Gold said it expects continuous six month flows of drilling results from Cambodia. Cambodia is becoming a fresh country for mien exploration companies and investment.

Keat Chhon, deputy prime minister and minister of economy and finance, said on Tuesday at the national assembly that mine exploration is also conducting at area between Oddar Meanchey province and Banteay Meanchey province. “We have to attract investors to develop mine land that we could gain benefit to develop the country,” Keat Chhon said, as mines will provide huge benefits for the economy.

Cambodia Denies Thai Spy’s Mother Met Sok An


Friday, 04 December 2009 06:52 DAP-NEWS

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

The Cambodian Government on Thursday rejected a report published by the Nation Thai newspaper on December 3 that the mother of detained spy met with Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, Minister in Charge of the Office of the Council of Ministers, according to a Thursday press release.

“The Spokesman’s office of the Council of Ministers whishes to make the clarification following an article posted on December 3, 2009 in The Nation said mother of the detained Thai engineer was received by Sok An,” the press release said. The accused’s mother was met at airport by Sok An, the Cambodian deputy premier, thanks to Noppadon’s connections in Phnom Penh, the Nation apparently erroneously published on Thursday.

”The mother of the detained Thai engineer received a warm welcome in Phnom Penh, with Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An waiting for her at the airport,” the Nation claimed.

“In this regard, the Spokesman´s office wishes to clarify that the publication of this article is incorrect since on December 02, 2009, Sok An, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister in charge of the office of the Council of Ministers, was not at the Phnom Penh International Airport to meet Mrs. Simarak na Nakhon who was on the trip to visit her son Sivarak Chutipong,” the Cambodian MFA press release confirmed.

Speaking via telephone from Phnom Penh, Simarak said she wanted to thank Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen for allowing her to visit her son, as well as Sok An for meeting her at the airport and escorting her to the prison. She said the visit had been made very easy and had come as a surprise to Sivarak.

She also thanked Pheu Thai Party for facilitating her visit—according the Nation newspaper, former Thai foreign minister Noppadon Pattama used his connections in Phnom Penh to help.

When asked about her reliance on the opposition party, Simarak said she did not care that it had caused a political conflict because she was willing to do anything to save her son. “I have no hidden agenda, no politics, but will use every channel I can to see my son,” she was quoted as saying by the Nation.

Sivarak’s arrest is just one facet of the conflict between Thailand and Cambodia. He was arrested in connection with Thaksin, who was appointed by Hun Sen as an economic adviser.

Angered by Thaksin’s appointment, Thailand downgraded diplomatic relations with Cambodia and Cambodia has cancelled many Thai cooperation projects. The Thai government has also blamed Thaksin for manipulating conflicts between the two countries.

Noppadon, meanwhile, said the Thai government’s moves against Cambodia could end up costing the country, adding that Thaksin should not be blamed for the slump in foreign relations because he had suggested several times that Thailand reconcile with Cambodia.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya should also make clear whether the government wants to revoke the maritime deal with Cambodia, he was quoted by the Nation as saying.

HIV/AIDS Authority Rejects Rumor


Friday, 04 December 2009 06:50 DAP-NEWS

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Relevant Cambodian authorities on Thursday rejected rumors of charging for HIV/AIDS treatment.

Teng Kunthy said that “Many treatment drugs will reach Cambodia by all supporters.”

Seth Ya, 30, an AIDS patient said that she feared hospital charges. “Both I and my husband are infected with HIV, but my children are not. Although my children are OK, we are very poor, so we do not have enough money to support them and take care of ourselves.”

Recently, Cambodian authorities have been supporting the family with money, rice, and zinc roofing, she added.

Others also denied that patients were charged.

Executive Director of the Urban Poor Women Development (UPWD) Sum Samon said that “The rumors will be the subject of a meeting.”

PM Hun Sen Urges Stop to Disabled Discrimination


Friday, 04 December 2009 06:46 DAP-NEWS

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

The Cambodian government on Thursday celebrated the 27th international day of disabled people under theme of “we all join to implement the law on protection and promotion of disabled people” with the presence of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

“We must stop discriminating with disabled people so disabled people do not commit bad behaviors in society, and especially they should not be beggars for life,” Prime Minister Hun Sen said at the National Institution of Education in Phnom Penh. The premier also highligh- ted the activities of the government and partners that have helped disabled people. The government always pays great attention to the disabled because Hun Sen “knows their situation better than others,” as he also is disabled after losing an eye in the civil war in the mid-1970s.

“I contributed about US$1 million to build a disabled community in Kampot province for former soldiers, and this without talking about sharing land for them.” This is the 11th year Cambodia has marked the annual day to recognize the disabled. Hun Sen said that in 2008, 1.4 percent of Cambodia’s 14 million people were disabled, down from 2 percent in 1998.

He added that disabilities people in Cambodia are caused by the previous civil war, landmines, traffic accidents, and polio disease. Mines and UXO are still a threat and therefore Cambdoai has concentrated on a mine clearance program in the millennium development goals, he said, adding that so far this year, 199 people have been killed and injured by mines and UXO, down from last year’s 269. Cambodian has committed to following the international convention of banning mines.

Traffic accidents are also a key factor, and “we are strengthening law enforcement of the traffic law, and urge local people to wear helmet, he added. Before mines and aids are our threat but road accident is a key data that we need to continue for our people’s health.”

The government has actively taken part with all partners to provide vocational training to support families and shared land for their families for planting agricultural crops and households, the PM added. Over 15,880 disabled people have clear skills and jobs and we have 11 centers for vocational training and teach brail, youth rehabilitation,

Mother of Thai jailed in Cambodia cancels bail request bid



(Posted by CAAI News Media)

BANGKOK, Dec 4 (TNA) - Mother of a Thai engineer detained in a Cambodian prison on espionage charges Friday cancelled her bail request plan as her son's new lawyer advised that the request will delay the case.

Opposition Puea Thai Party spokesman Prompong Nopparit said that Simarak Na Nakhon Panom, mother of Siwarak Chutipong, an employee of Cambodia Air Traffic Services (CATS) arrested by Cambodian police November 12 on charges of passing information on the flight details of fugitive ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to Thai diplomats agreed with the counsel of the newly-appointed lawyer of her son.

Mr Siwarak has been detained at Preysar prison. The Cambodian court will give its verdict on the case on December 8.

Mr Siwarak's Cambodian lawyer Kao Sopha, provided by the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs, earlier said he will submit the bail request Friday at 2pm.

Mrs Simarak however said Thursday on returning from Phnom Penh on her second visit to see her son that she would change her son's lawyer as she believes the new lawyer, recommended by Mr Siwarak's friends, will perform better than the current one.

"The new lawyer thinks that if Mr Siwarak is released on bail, this will delay the case," explained Mr Prompong. "The Cambodian court will give its verdict December 8. The new lawyer is now coordinating with the ex-premier Thaksin, Puea Thai Party chairman Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh and the Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry to prepare for the royal pardon request if the court rules that Mr Siwarak is found guilty." (TNA)

Uighurs who fled China in Cambodia seeking asylum


By ISOLDA MORILLO and CARA ANNA, Associated Press Writers

 Fri Dec 4, 2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

BEIJING – A group of 22 Uighurs who fled after ethnic rioting in western China are seeking asylum in Cambodia after using an underground network of missionaries in China that has helped North Korean refugees in the past.

It is the first time the Christian interfaith network has helped a group of the largely Muslim Uighurs, and it might not be the last. People who work with the network say overseas-based Uighur groups have been asking if they could use the underground "railway" through China to reach the U.N. refugee office in Cambodia.

Tension in China's remote northwest has increased since the July rioting between the Turkic Uighurs and the majority Han Chinese. It was China's worst ethnic violence in decades.

The Chinese government says the rioting left nearly 200 people dead. A Chinese court sentenced five Uighurs to death Thursday for murder and other crimes during the rioting, and China announced last month that nine Uighurs had been executed for taking part in the violence.

Overseas Uighur groups reject China's accusations that they helped cause the violence in the long-tense region and say Uighurs have been rounded up in mass detentions since the riots.

The 22 Uighurs, who have been described by Uighur exile groups as witnesses to the rioting, made their way through China and Vietnam before arriving in the Cambodian capital, where they have made contact with the UN refugee office and applied for political asylum.

However, they live in fear of being picked up and returned to China, which has close ties with Cambodia, according to Uighur groups.

"China has a very big influence in Cambodia. So their life is in risk, I would say," said Ilshat Hassan, the U.S.-based director of interior affairs for the World Uyghur Congress.

A spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry asked that questions about the case be sent in a fax, and offered no immediate response.

Hassan said the group is the first large one to leave China after the riots. He said they witnessed the violence in the Xinjiang region and took photos. Two other Uighurs were arrested in Vietnam, he said, and he lost contact with another group of four.

A spokesman for Cambodia's Ministry of the Interior, Pol. Lt. Gen. Khieu Sopheak, said Friday that at least 16 Uighurs are now staying at the office of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the capital, Phnom Penh.

He said the Cambodian government can do nothing with the Uighurs as they are under the UNHCR's protection. He said he doesn't know when and how they arrived in Cambodia, or whether the government will deport them to China.

"It is too early to talk about this," the general said.

UNHCR's spokeswoman for Asia, Kitty McKinsey, said she could not discuss the case. "It's our policy everywhere in the world never to speak about individual asylum seekers or refugees," she said. The Phnom Penh office is the closest UNHCR office to China in Southeast Asia.

Cambodian government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said the government will consider carefully any repatriation request from China. He said Cambodia has the right to deny such a request if the people are considered political asylum seekers.

"But if they are purely criminal people and there is a request, we may deport them back," he said.

Missionary groups have been getting more and more requests from overseas Uighur groups hoping to use the North Korean "railway," the Rev. Marcus Ramsey with the Macau Interfaith Network told AP Television News.

The "railway" is a network of sympathetic locals who agree to shelter and guide people as they cross China.

Ramsey's group collaborates with other missionary groups and helped the 22 Uighurs leave China.

The requests come because some Uighurs fear the Chinese government is targeting them after the July rioting, he added.

Hassan did not want to talk about any involvement with the missionary network, saying only "some locals from the China side helped."

Now, however, China has tightened border controls and the way into Vietnam is no longer possible, he said.
___

Associated Press Writer Sopheng Cheang in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, contributed to this report.

Cambodia, Thailand veer closer to collision course



Long-standing dispute escalates dramatically as Phnom Penh hires fugitive former Thai PM as government adviser

MARK MacKINNON

PHNOM PENH — From Friday's Globe and Mail
Published on Friday, Dec. 04, 2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

The armies of Cambodia and Thailand declared last week that they have no intention of fighting a war with each other. That's the good news.

The bad news is that the escalating dispute between the Southeast Asian neighbours has become so dangerous that such a statement was required. The past 12 months have seen ambassadors expelled, trade disrupted, accusations of espionage and a series of deadly border clashes around an ancient temple in a contested frontier area.

Tensions have risen dramatically in the past two weeks after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen waded into Thailand's internal political battle by inviting Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand's fugitive former prime minister, to visit Cambodia and gave him a job as a government adviser.

Mr. Hun Sen could scarcely have made a more provocative gesture. Mr. Thaksin, who was ousted from office in a 2006 military coup and is wanted on corruption charges, called his supporters into the streets earlier this year in an effort to topple the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. The uprising was quelled by the military after street fighting between pro-Thaksin and pro-government groups left two people dead and more than 100 injured.

Though Mr. Thaksin has since left Cambodia to resume his exile in Dubai, Thailand responded to his appointment by recalling its ambassador to Phnom Penh, a move Cambodia quickly matched. Shortly afterwards, Cambodian police seized the offices of the Thai company that handles air-traffic control at Phnom Penh airport. The company's Thai employees were locked out and replaced with Cambodian staff, and one Thai national was charged with espionage for allegedly passing on the details of Mr. Thaksin's flights to the Thai embassy.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan poured more kerosene on the fire, calling Thailand a failed state and comparing Mr. Abhisit to Benito Mussolini.

"Thailand has initiated everything. We have just responded to their decisions," Mr. Phay said, speaking shortly after the Thai and Cambodian defence ministers emerged from a meeting to pledge that they wouldn't allow the political battle between the two governments to degenerate into a shooting war.

In a sign the dispute may nonetheless continue to worsen, an aide handed Mr. Phay a memo during the interview informing him Thailand had withdrawn from an aid project to upgrade a highway used by tourists travelling between the two countries. "We don't care. We can find other money to finance this project. We don't need money from Thailand," Mr. Phay steamed after reading it.

The root of much of the trouble is a long-standing argument over ownership of the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple, a popular tourist destination near the border that the International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 to be on Cambodian soil but which Thailand still claims. The dispute was resurrected last year when Cambodia succeeded, at a meeting held in Quebec City, in getting Preah Vihear named to the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites. Since then, the Thai army has regularly moved its soldiers into the area to assert its claim, drawing occasional Cambodian fire.

In April, at least two Thai soldiers were killed in a prolonged exchange of fire in the area that saw the two sides use machine guns and rocket launchers.

The economic impacts of the dispute have been far-reaching. Trade between the two neighbours has declined sharply and construction has been delayed on a rail line that was to link the two countries as part of a planned regional rail network running from Singapore to southern China via Malaysia, Laos and Vietnam.

But analysts say the dispute may be helping both Mr. Abhisit and Mr. Hun Sen politically. Mr. Abhisit's popularity ratings have received a boost since taking a hard line toward Cambodia, while Mr. Hun Sen is seen as benefiting from having the Preah Vihear dispute on the front pages of newspapers instead of the global recession and the layoffs and factory closings that have hit this already poor country's garment industry.

The future of Thai-Cambodian relations may now depend on how the political struggle in Bangkok plays out. In effect, Mr. Hun Sen is betting that Mr. Thaksin, who is still widely popular among the country's rural poor, or one of his allies will return to office after elections that are expected some time next year.

"As long as [Mr. Abhisit's] Democrat Party remains in power, bilateral relations will be tense and bumpy. If Thaksin's supporters regain power, relations are likely to be more workable," said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a Thai political analyst. "Hun Sen has placed his bet and played his Thaksin card. Whether it pays off will depend on how Thai politics pans out."

Sivarak's bail request withdrawn



Published: 4/12/2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Sivarak Chutipong, who has been arrested and detained in Cambodia on spy charges, has withdrawn the bail request submitted earlier by his former lawyer as advised by his newly-appointed attorney, Puea Thai Party member and former foreign minister Noppadon Pattama said on Friday.

Mr Noppadon said the new lawyer advised Mr Sivarak to do so, reasoning that this would expedite the court's consideration of the case.

Because of the bail withdrawal, the court's schedule to decide whether to grant bail today has been cancelled. However, the court will deliver its verdict in the case on Dec 8, he said.

Mr Noppadon said the Puea Thai Party had nothing to do with Mr Sivarak's decision to withdraw the bail request.

According to Mr Noppadon, if the court finds Mr Sivarak guilty, his lawyer would submit a request for a royal pardon. After that both former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and Puea Thai chairman Chavalit Yongchaiyudh would coordinate with the Cambodian government to push for the royal pardon, he added.

Puea Thai Party spokesman Prompong Nopparit said Simarak na Nakhom Phanom, Mr Sivarak's mother, accompanied by Foreign Ministry officials, will leave for Phnom Penh on Dec 7 to hear the court's verdict on Dec 8.

Kao Soupha, the lawyer appointed by the Foreign Ministry for Mr Sivarak, said he was informed by the Cambodian court yesterday evening that he had been replaced at Mr Sivarak's request.

The lawyer said he did not mind being replaced, saying it was his client's right to do so.

Mr Sivarak, an employee of Thai-owned Cambodia Air Traffic Services, was arrested on November 12 on a charge of spying on former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's flight information and handing it to Kamrob Palawatwichai, first secretary at the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh, who was later expelled from Cambodia.

Mr Sivarak admitted to Cambodia's court that he passed Thaksin's flight plan to the diplomat, as he considered the information was no secret. He said he did not know at the beginning that Thaksin was a passenger of the flight, which landed in Phnom Penh November 10.

His arrest was a big blow to the Thai government, which was apparently upset by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's appointment of Thaksin as an economic adviser.

Sour relations between the two governments opened a chance for the opposition Puea Thai Party to steal the show. The party arranged for Mrs Simarak to visit her son for the second time on Dec 2.

On her return from Phnom Penh on Dec 3, Mrs Simarak said she obtained VIP treatment from Cambodian authorities, particularly Deputy Prime Minister Sok An. She then visited Gen Chavalit at the Puea Thai Party office where she revealed her intention to get the lawyer, provided by the Foreign Ministry, replaced.

Cambodia, Vietnam vow to strengthen cooperation


2009-12-04

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

PHNOM PENH, Dec. 4 (Xinhua)-- Cambodia and Vietnam vowed Friday to strengthen their cooperation in many fields of common interests for both nations, a government official said.

Koy Kuong, spokesman of foreign ministry said that at the end of the two-day meeting of the 11th joint commission between foreign ministers of Cambodia and Vietnam that concluded Friday, the two ministers had signed an agreed minute covering many fields of cooperation for common interests of the two nations.

He said, among those fields of cooperation are education, agriculture, environment, hydropower, trading and investment as well as border issue.

The foreign ministerial meeting of the Cambodia-Vietnam Joint Commission for Economic, Cultural, Scientific and Technological Cooperation was held in Cambodia's southwestern province of Preah Sihanouk from Dec. 3-4, 2009.

The meeting was co-chaired by Hor Namhong, Cambodia's deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, and his Vietnamese counterpart Pham Gia Khiem.

According to Koy Kuong, the two ministers also agreed to expand duration of stay for both nationals traveling to either country for normal passport from 14 days to 30 days and reiterated their desires to end the border demarcation by 2012.

During his stay in Cambodia, Pham Gia Khiem had paid a courtesy call on Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The 12th meeting of Cambodia-Vietnam Joint Commission will be held next year in Vietnam.

Editor: Han Jingjing

Demining deadline extended by decade



Photo by: Photo Supplied
The winner of the online Miss Landmine contest, Miss Battambang, Dos Sopheap, was announced Thursday on the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities. She received 2,315 online votes.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
This does not disguise the fact that there is a large problem that has [an impact on] development.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Friday, 04 December 2009 15:05 Robbie Corey-Boulet and Sam Rith

New goal might be out of reach without more donor funds, govt says.

PARTIES to the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty have formally approved Cambodia’s request to push back the deadline for clearing all antipersonnel mines by 10 years, though the government’s formal extension request asserts that “current productivity levels will not be sufficient” to meet the revised goal.

Leng Sochea, deputy secretary of the Cambodia Mine Action Authority [CMAA], on Thursday confirmed that the request had been approved Wednesday at the Summit on a Mine-Free World, which is being held this week in Cartagena, Colombia.

“Whether we completely clear all land mines in the country or not, it will depend on the money that we receive from the donor countries and other donors,” he said.

A Cambodian delegation attending the summit said clearance efforts for the next 10 years will cost approximately US$330 million.

Cambodia became a signatory to the Ottawa Treaty, formally the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction, in 1999, thereby committing to clear all antipersonnel mines by the end of this year.

But after officials deemed that deadline unrealistic, they set about preparing the extension request, which includes a plan to facilitate clearance by accurately surveying areas affected by mines, as well as accrediting the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces to assist in demining projects.

The delegation presented the request on Monday, and Thailand, Australia, Canada and Austria all made interventions expressing their support. “What we were really surprised about was that Thailand supported us,” Leng Sochea said.

The request notes the considerable progress that has been made in lowering landmine casualties and clearing land. From a high of 4,320 in 1996, total casualties fell to 271 in 2008. “However, this does not disguise the fact that there is a large problem that has a significant impact on both national and local development priorities,” the request states.

A formal survey completed in 2002 that was designed to quantify the scope of Cambodia’s land-mine problem identified 4,544 square kilometres of contaminated land affecting 46.1 percent of all villages. The government now estimates that 648.8 square kilometers still need to be cleared, although this figure has not been backed up by technical research.

A baseline survey launched this past August will map all remaining contaminated areas in the 122 mine-affected districts recorded in the 2002 survey. The new survey is expected to be complete by the end of 2012.

The request also notes that the $330 million the government plans to spend on clearance will only be enough for the three demining operators – the Cambodian Mine Action Centre [CMAC], the Mines Advisory Group and the HALO Trust – to clear 470 square kilometres by the new deadline.

“This demonstrates that current productivity levels will not be sufficient to [clear all antipersonnel mines] within the next 10 years,” the request states. “However, with a 38 percent increase of financial resources made available to the sector and a greater involvement of RCAF in addressing the remaining challenge, productivity rates can be increased, which may make completion of clearance of all known minefields within the extension period possible.”

RCAF is expected to be accredited by the end of the year.

A report released Monday by the UN found that Cambodia’s land-mine problem was “too large and complex for the country to manage alone”, and that expert estimates indicate that it will take “another 10 to 20 years to get the job done if the current level of funding is maintained”. The same report highlighted a 74 percent budget shortfall for the mine action community for 2010.

The “Portfolio of Mine Action Projects” also noted that the total amount of funding requested for mine action projects for 2010 was 75 percent higher than the $17.7 million requested last year.

Khem Sophoan, chairman of the CMAC governing council, said he expected Wednesday’s extension request to facilitate donations to mine action projects, a point seconded by CMAA Deputy Secretary General Chan Rotha.

“It can be viewed in terms of the credibility of Cambodia internationally, because the approval is a sign that we’ve done a very good job and have been granted what we requested,” Chan Rotha said.

“But we are not ambitious. We are just trying to maintain whatever the development partners gave us in the last 10 years.”

Uighurs in Cambodia to seek asylum



(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Friday, 04 December 2009 15:05 Sebastian Strangio and Sam Rith

Rights activists fear group faces punishment by Chinese officials.

ETHNIC Uighurs who participated in violent demonstrations against the Chinese government earlier this year have travelled to Cambodia in a bid to seek political asylum, rights advocates said Thursday, sparking concerns that the government will ignore their requests and deport them to China.

A group of Muslim Uighurs from China’s restive northwest Xinjiang province, arrived in Cambodia at various points last week, according to Dolkun Isa, secretary general of the World Uighur Congress (WUC), an international organisation of Uighur exile groups.

He said the refugees feared retaliation from Chinese authorities after taking part in violent anti-Beijing demonstrations in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital, on July 5.

“These are Uighurs who faced persecution and had no choice. They have just tried to find a way to leave China,” he said by phone from Germany.

“They came to Cambodia because there is a UN [High Commissioner for Refugees] office and they want to seek asylum.”

Isa said the refugees did not possess passports, and could not divulge their exact number – nor how they managed to enter Cambodia – for fear that they could be deported. The Washington Post has reported that 22 Uighurs are in Cambodia.

“Cambodia has good cooperation with neighbouring countries such as China, and these people’s plight is important to us,” he said. “We are very worried about the lives of these people who have escaped from China.”

WUC Vice President Omar Kanat said that two additional Uighurs have been detained in neighbouring Vietnam, and that five others, who were known to have fled China into Vietnam, have disappeared.

Qian Hai, spokesman of the Chinese embassy in Phnom Penh, said he had no information about the Uighurs, but a spokesman for the embassy in Washington, said Beijing wants the Uighurs returned to China.

Sara Colm, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said the group is “extremely concerned” about the safety of any Uighurs who may have fled to Cambodia to seek asylum. “If repatriated to China, Uighurs face the very real risk of detention, torture and even execution,” she said by email. “It’s crucial that Cambodia honour its international obligations and protect Uighur asylum seekers, not send them back to China.”

In its formal submission to Cambodia’s current rights review at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, however, HRW noted that Cambodia has often violated its obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention by forcibly deporting Vietnamese Montagnards before they were able to apply for refugee status.

The submission also criticised a 2008 UNHCR announcement that Cambodian immigration police, rather than UNHCR itself, would begin screening all asylum seekers in Cambodia besides Vietnamese Montagnards.

“Cambodia has not, to date, provided sufficient protection for registered asylum seekers and recognised refugees, especially from Vietnam and China,” the report stated.

It cited the May 2007 disappearance of Le Tri Tue, a labour union activist from Vietnam, and the August 2002 arrest and assumed deportation of two Chinese asylum seekers as worrying precedents.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong and Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers both said they knew nothing about the Uighur refugees and could not say whether the government would bend to extradition demands from Beijing.

But past government statements lend credence to activists’ fears. On July 11, the Foreign Ministry released a statement supporting China’s actions in suppressing the July violence in Xinjiang, which China says left nearly 200 dead and 1,600 injured.

“The government of China is taking appropriate measures to address the problem and restore social order,” the statement said.

The arrival of the Uighurs in Cambodia comes as a court in Urumqi sentenced five people to death on Thursday for murder and other crimes committed during July’s clashes.

UNHCR officials in Phnom Penh and Bangkok could not be reached on Thursday.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY THE WASHINGTON POST AND AFP

PM denies KRT interference, warns of possible civil unrest



(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Friday, 04 December 2009 15:05 Cheang Sokha

KR VICTIMS SURVEYED


Nearly two-thirds of direct victims of the Khmer Rouge regime are not ready to reconcile with former cadres, according to an unpublished study presented Thursday in Phnom Penh by the Berlin-based Treatment Centre for Torture Victims. The study, conducted between October 2008 and May 2009 in cooperation with the Transcultural Psychosocial Organisation, had a sample size of 1,079, of which 22 percent were civil party applicants.


KHOUTH SOPHAK CHAKRYA

PRIME Minister Hun Sen on Thursday repeated his claim that more prosecutions at the Khmer Rouge tribunal could plunge the country into civil strife, and also disputed allegations that he was interfering in the UN-backed court’s operations.

“Sorry, no more [prosecutions]. I would rather see the court fail than let the country fall into war,” Hun Sen said during remarks at the 11th annual national day for the disabled.

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I would rather see the court fail than let the country fall into war.
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Acting international co-prosecutor William Smith in September requested the investigation of five more suspects after a legal technicality allowed additional introductory submissions to go forward over the objections of national co-prosecutor Chea Leang. The same day Smith submitted the request, Hun Sen warned that more indictments would lead to civil unrest that could claim hundreds of thousands of lives.

He reiterated that claim Thursday, saying: “I am not interfering with the court, but it is not the court that stopped the war. Be careful. The court will create war, causing more divisions in society.”

He added: “Again and again, I see they want to question [more suspects]. Be careful, this is the issue of death.”

The premier has repeatedly been accused of trying to interfere with the work of the tribunal. A report released last month by the Open Society Justice Initiative stated that political interference “poses a serious challenge to both the credibility of the court and its ability to meet international fair trial standards”.

UN court spokesman Lars Olsen said Thursday that there was no chance the court’s independence would be compromised.

“The court will follow the law and make its decisions independently, according to the law,” he said.

“We do not seek advice from the executive branch or anyone else.”

Hearings continue in Tiger Head terror trial



Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Members of the Tiger Head Movement arrive at the Phnom Penh Municipal court Thursday.

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Friday, 04 December 2009 15:05 Chrann Chamroeun

THE trial of five men accused of belonging to a terrorist organisation that allegedly attempted to place bombs in the capital in 2007 and earlier this year resumed in Phnom Penh Municipal Court Thursday.

The defendants – Sok Ek, Loeuk Bunhean, Phy Savoeung, Pov Vannara and Chea Kimyan – are charged with delivering, placing, discharging or detonating an explosive or lethal device in a public place, and recruiting and training terrorists. They face up to 30 years in prison if convicted.

Government officials say they are part of a group called the Khmer National Unity Front (KNUF), also known as the Tiger Liberation Movement or the Tiger Head Movement.

Tieng Sarath, deputy police chief of the Ministry of Interior’s Anti-Terrorism Department, appeared as a witness, telling the court that Som Ek was the mastermind of the group, and that police had seized bomb plans and explosives from his house in Banteay Meanchey province.

“The explosive substances and manuals for explosive production were to help me produce fireworks to earn money, not to concoct plots against the government,” Som Ek said, denying the allegations.

The other four men present denied having any relationship with the KNUF or plots against the government. Judge Chhay Kong said the court would hold its next hearing in the case on December 15, but did not specify a date for the verdict.

Battambang student crowned Miss Landmine in online vote



Photo by: Photos Supplied
Runners-up in the Miss Landmine online vote: Left, Miss Phnom Penh, Song Kosal, and right, Miss Takeo, Thou Chorn.

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Friday, 04 December 2009 15:05 James O'Toole

DOS Sopheap, an 18-year-old student from Battambang province, was crowned winner of a controversial beauty pageant for Cambodian land mine victims in an international online vote on Thursday.

Miss Landmine Cambodia 2009 organiser Morten Traavik had planned to stage the event in Cambodia earlier this year, but it was banned by a July 31 government decree, which also forbade the 20 contestants to leave their hometowns to participate

After returning home to Norway, Traavik posted images of the 20 women on the Miss Landmine Web site and held an online vote in which more than 2,300 voters from 30 countries participated. He hosted a function in the town of Kristiansand, Norway, on November 14 in which photos of the contestants were displayed for judges, an event Dos Sopheap also won.

As winner of both Miss Landmine competitions, Dos Sopheap is slated to receive $1,000 and a custom-made prosthetic limb worth US$15,000. Other contestants will receive cash prizes.

“Due to the Cambodian government’s unexpected and inexplicable ban on Miss Landmine Cambodia ... the prizes will be handed over at a date to be announced later and as soon as the government guarantees that the participants will suffer no negative consequences for accepting their prizes,” Traavik said in a statement on Thursday.

Dos Sopheap, who lost her leg in 1996 when she was 6 years old, said last month that participating in the pageant had been a wholly worthwhile experience.

“I was glad to participate in the contest because I want people to know that disabled women are not discouraged,” she said.

Villagers petition authorities to prevent land loss to Vietnam



(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Friday, 04 December 2009 15:04 Meas Sokchea

A GROUP of villagers from Chantrea district in Svay Rieng province has lodged a complaint with provincial authorities on Monday, calling on them to intervene in blocking Vietnamese officials from planting border markers that encroach on their land.

Meas Srey, a villager in Chantrea district’s Samrong commune, said Thursday that she had lost a hectare of rice field to Vietnamese incursions, and that 35 villagers have already filed complaints to Svay Rieng provincial Governor Cheang Am to help prevent what villagers claim is a gradual Vietnamese encroachment onto their land.

She said the coming and going of Vietnamese and Cambodian border officials had raised villagers’ concerns.

“I saw them come to take measurements a few days ago. They come often: One day a Khmer comes, one day a Vietnamese comes,” Meas Srey said. “I have concern about losing my land, so we filed a complaint.”

She said the government did not think about the threat from the eastern border, despite recent tension on the western border with Thailand.

Pov Pheap, deputy chief of Samrong commune, said that since opposition leader Sam Rainsy joined villagers and other Sam Rainsy Party officials in uprooting six poles close to the Vietnamese frontier on October 25, Cambodian and Vietnamese authorities had both made trips to the area to calm villagers’ fears that the posts were official border markers.

“The border committee went to take measurements recently and said that those poles, which are used for border demarcation, are just temporary markers,” he said. “That’s why the people filed complaint beforehand, in case they plant official poles that cause them to lose their land.”

Svay Rieng provincial Governor Cheang Am could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Tonnes of reptiles seized at border



(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Friday, 04 December 2009 15:04 Kim Yuthana and Mom Kunthear

POLICE have seized nearly 2 tonnes of wild tortoises and snakes they believe were destined to have been smuggled into Vietnam, Kandal authorities said on Thursday.

The animals were seized on Wednesday near the Chhrey Thom border checkpoint, said Kandal province Police Chief Eav Chamroeun, who called the find the biggest single case of animal smuggling provincial officials had ever seen.

It is believed the alleged smugglers brought the reptiles from around the Tonle Sap River and intended to ship them by boat to the neighbouring country. Eav Chamroeun said police have arrested two men caught driving the boat.

The catch included a shipment of elongated tortoises, which are listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list of threatened species, according to Lesley Perlman, programme manager for the group Wildlife Alliance.

Former prosecutor Huot Hy said that being convicted of smuggling endangered animals is punishable by five to 10 years in prison.

The seized animals have since been released at a “secret location”, said Prum Nol, an official with the Forestry Administration’s Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team.

Famed patron of Angkor dies



Photo by: AFP
Ikuo Hirayama, the recently deceased Japanese painter and campaigner for the preservation of world cultural heritage, in particular Angkor Wat, attends a meeting in Tokyo last year.

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Hirayama was one of the people who initiated the response to the cambodian appeal.
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(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Friday, 04 December 2009 15:04 Jacob Gold

JAPANESE painter Ikuo Hirayama, who campaigned for the preservation of Angkor Wat and other cultural icons and was known for his works on the Silk Road and Buddhism, died on Wednesday at the age of 79.

Hirayama died of a stroke at a Tokyo hospital, according to his art museum in western Hiroshima. He is known for his efforts to preserve global cultural treasures such as the Angkor Wat temples, China’s Mogao Caves and Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Buddhist monuments, which were dynamited in 2001 by the Taliban.

His goal was “to make people of all races and religions aware of the value of these human treasures, thus leading to mutual understanding and the promotion of world peace”, said UNESCO, which made him a goodwill ambassador in 1988.

Teruo Jinnai, representative for UNESCO in Cambodia, described the role played by Hirayama in making the rescue of the Angkor temples an international priority: “Immediately after the 1991 peace accords, King Sihanouk made an appeal to the international community to save Angkor. For UNESCO, this was an opportunity to assist Cambodia through the aspect of culture. Culture unites people … because it is shared by everyone.

“Hirayama was one of the people who initiated the response to the Cambodian appeal.
When Japan wanted to extend assistance and needed an expert, Hirayama was one of the few in Japan who could start to make suggestions,” Jinnai said.

This was in part because Hirayama’s own artistic legacy was born in the aftermath of terrible destruction. At the age of 15, Hirayama survived the atomic blast in Hiroshima. Not only was he a witness to the destruction it caused – Hirayama would struggle with radiation-related illness for decades.

At the Tokyo Conference in 1993, the contributions of Hirayama, alongside Angkor specialist Yoshiaki Ishizawa and others, were instrumental in the formation of the International Coordination Committee (ICC) Angkor, said Jinnai. This body would eventually give way to Apsara, the authority that currently manages the Angkor temple sites.

Hirayama’s 1959 Bukkyo Denrai (The Transmission of Buddhism to Japan), his first widely recognised work, would characterise the artist’s unique style: A modern take on the traditional nihonga tableau, imbuing Buddhist themes with an air of twilit, spectral mystery.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP

Looted Statue: Artefact to return to Cambodia



(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Friday, 04 December 2009 15:04 Chhay Channyda

Looted Statue

Cambodia’s National Museum is slated to receive an artefact on Saturday that has been sought since its disappearance sometime in the 1970s. “This body of a four-armed deity, whose head has been lost, dates back to the 11th century. It was originally a part of the Ta Dong temple in the Angkor temple region,” said Chea Socheat, deputy chief of conservation at the National Museum. The statue is being donated by Wolfgang Felten, who encountered the object at the sale of a private collector in his native Germany. Felten recognised the statue from a UNESCO book about objects that had been looted from Cambodian temples and decided to purchase it on the Kingdom’s behalf, museum public relations officer Nguon Sophal said.

Guesthouses closed after drug bust arrests



(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Friday, 04 December 2009 15:04 Tep Nimol and Chhay Channyda

AUTHORITIES have shut down three Phnom Penh guesthouses after finding more than 100 people had rented rooms there to consume drugs, police said Thursday.

Tieng Chansa, the deputy chief of the Minor Crimes Office with the Phnom Penh police, said officers executed a court warrant Wednesday on three Russey Keo guesthouses.

“We searched for criminal suspects who always hide themselves,” he said.

Officers found 103 people they have labelled “gangsters” at three guesthouses: Mohaleap, Sary Thom and Rik Reay. The people, all aged between 14 and 30, were sent to the municipal police office for “re-education”. Half have since been sent home, police said.

The three guesthouses have been ordered close for the time being as the investigation continues, Tieng Chansa said.

A receptionist at Sary Thom guesthouse, who declined to give her name said when contacted Thursday, “They are clients. We have to welcome them, but we do not know what they do inside the room.”

Licadho denies claims it inflamed land row



(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Friday, 04 December 2009 15:04 Rann Reuy

SIEM REAP PROVINCE

LOCAL rights group Licadho has sent a letter to the Siem Reap provincial government responding to Siem Reap Deputy Governor Bun Tharith’s statement that the group had incited villagers to construct shelters on disputed land in the province’s Chi Kraeng commune.

The letter, dated Tuesday, follows a Radio Free Asia interview with Bun Tharith during which the deputy governor aired the accusations.

“We’re just clarifying our role and denying that we incite, lead, or do any criminal acts with villagers,” Licadho director Naly Pilorge said.

A total of 11 Chi Kraeng villagers are currently detained on charges relating to the land dispute with neighbouring Anlong Samnor commune, which turned violent in March when police officers opened fire on 80 Chi Kraeng villagers harvesting crops on the land.

Kraya villagers brace for fight; deadline nears



(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Friday, 04 December 2009 15:04 Rann Reuy

SIEM REAP PROVINCE

VILLAGERS at the heart of a bitter land dispute that has been festering since 2007 braced for a fresh clash with authorities today, as their eviction deadline was set to pass after several delays.

Representatives of Kraya commune in Kampong Thom were granted a 48-hour extension during a crunch meeting on Wednesday to give them time to relay details of their options to villagers who have been living in a virtual state of siege for weeks.

Speaking on Thursday, Khun Sokea, chief of the Kraya Disabled Veterans’ Development Community, said he and the remaining villagers would not be moved. “We cannot accept the solution offered at the provincial and district level because this problem has reached the hands of Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Council of Ministers office,” he said.

Tham Ol, 55, attended the four-hour negotiations in Siem Reap on Wednesday. Again, she was sent back to Kraya to offer alternative 20-by-40-metre plots of land. Again, the villagers refused. “We will strive to face the authorities using what we have to defend our land,” she said.

Santuk district Governor Pich Sophea was equally steadfast: “We offered them two days to respond, and we will find other ways if they do not respond in time,” he said. “Using force is unavoidable if they refuse again and again. Eviction is the last choice.”

The use of force would not be without precedent: On November 16, military police attacked villagers who torched vehicles belonging to the Vietnamese rubber firm awarded the disputed plot in a land concession in 2007.

PM calls for rights for the disabled



Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Activists make their way through the streets to raise awareness of discrimination against disabled people during the 11th Cambodian Handicap Day on Sihanouk Boulevard on Thursday.

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Friday, 04 December 2009 15:03 Cheang Sokha

PRIME Minister Hun Sen on Thursday promoted the rights of disabled persons and said that they should have equal access to education and other vital services.

“The discrimination against disabled people should be eradicated. People may be disabled physically, but they are not disabled mentally,” said Hun Sen during the celebration of the 11th Cambodian Handicap Day held at the National Institute of Education. The celebrations coincided with the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

He added that in July the government issued a directive providing land concessions as a social safety net for retirees, disabled persons and veterans of war. Hun Sen said land was provided to more than 300 families that consisted of disabled persons in Kampong Speu province’s Phnom Srouch district. A further US$1 million was given to Siem Reap’s Kulen district for construction of houses.

“We have many people who became disabled because of land mines, and we should never ignore them,” Hun Sen said.

Prak Chanthoeun, director general at the Ministry of Social Affairs, said that 1.9 percent of Cambodia’s citizens are disabled.

MEDIA LAUNCH: New station Wat Phnom targets youth



(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Friday, 04 December 2009 15:03 Khouth Sophakchakrya

MEDIA LAUNCH

The Ministry of Information’s National Radio Department on Thursday formally launched a new state-owned radio station aimed at younger audiences that government officials said would help to promote democracy. Wat Phnom FM 105.75, a sister channel of the existing National Radio channel AM 918, will be geared towards young listeners and will feature educational programmes and news features. With support from AusAID, the Australian government’s development agency, and the World Bank, Wat Phnom FM 105.75 began airing on November 1 as a pilot project. “We hope that the new station will benefit the public and reinforce democracy in the Kingdom of Cambodia,” said Sorm Sarun, deputy general director of the National Radio Department, at Thursday’s opening ceremony, which was also attended by Information Minister Khieu Kanharith. Sorm Sarun added that the new station will also cover topics such as good governance, politics, economics and social issues.

VN to send migrants back to Cambodia



(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Friday, 04 December 2009 15:03 Tep Nimol and Chhay Channyda

MORE than 100 impoverished migrants who moved to Vietnam to beg are expected to be transported back to Cambodia today, NGO and government officials said Thursday.

The move is part of an ongoing exchange of illegal workers and victims of human trafficking. The neighbouring nations have agreed to collaborate on eliminating the trafficking of women and children, but human rights observers say that so far, it has been a one-way deal, with an influx of migrants returning to Cambodia and few Vietnamese going the other way.

“We receive illegal Cambodians, but there are no illegal Vietnamese being sent [today],” said Nget Dara, the Svay Rieng provincial monitor for the local rights group Adhoc.

Sao Sitha, deputy chief of children’s welfare at Svay Rieng’s Department of Social Affairs, agreed it was “rare” for Cambodia to send illegal Vietnamese migrants home, but said local NGOs often help.

She said her officials will return the migrants to their hometowns.

This year, 773 illegal Cambodian workers and victims of trafficking have been returned from Vietnam. Only 11 Vietnamese have been sent home by Cambodia over the same period, according to the Ministry of Social Affairs.

Charting an uncertain path



Photo by: AFP
SRP President Sam Rainsy leads a protest against rising food prices along a street in Phnom Penh on April 6, 2008.

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Friday, 04 December 2009 15:03 Sebastian Strangio

After a tumultuous year, the Sam Rainsy Party finds itself at a crossroads, but observers are divided on its future prospects in a shifting political climate.

STRIPPED of his parliamentary immunity for the second time this year, opposition leader Sam Rainsy has, once again, found himself at the centre of the debate over Cambodia’s democratic reform. But the lifting of his parliamentary immunity and the actions that led to it – the uprooting of several wooden border markers in a rice field at the Vietnamese border – have raised questions of another kind, about the relevance of Sam Rainsy and his eponymous party in a shifting political landscape.

Though the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) remains the Kingdom’s biggest proponent of Western-style democracy, some observers fear that the party, and its president, have reached the outer limits of their influence and have turned away from the grassroots campaigning that marked the SRP’s heyday in favour of politically charged but somewhat hollow political gestures.

This has been a tumultuous year for the SRP. Sam Rainsy and SRP lawmakers Mu Sochua and Ho Vann have each lost parliamentary immunity at one point or another in tense legal tussles with senior government officials.

Despite the international media coverage of its recent theatrics, and attention in the chambers of the US congress and the European parliament in Brussels, it is unclear whether the opposition’s strategies have maximised its chances of leveraging demographic changes into long-term political gains.

Some observers say the party has declined since its peak in the mid-2000s, a trend illustrated by its failure to capture the tens of thousands of Funcinpec voters who withdrew their support from the party after the royalist split in 2006.

“All those votes should have gone to the SRP, and they didn’t,” said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights. He said the SRP’s lack of a concrete policy platform causes its political spats with the government to become quickly personalised and drags the party into unwinnable battles with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). “There’s no proper analysis or real policy,” he added. “If you’re going to oppose something, are you in a position to offer anything that’s different?”

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If it was a one-man show, the show would have stopped a long time ago, given all the problems we've been facing.
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Another observer, who declined to be named, said that despite having won the SRP international attention, the recent strategy of waging legal battles with government officials had “steered the party way off message”.

“They talk about party leaders being persecuted on the basis of esoteric rights that many Cambodian people have very little ownership of. They’ve adapted to appeal to outside constituencies rather than Cambodian voters,” he said, describing the loss of the Funcinpec vote as a “huge missed opportunity”.

Sorpong Peou, a professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo, said that as the country’s main opposition leader, Sam Rainsy must maintain a degree of assertiveness, but that appeals to distant international organisations have achieved little for the party.

“At the end of the day, the opposition is at the mercy of the CPP, which is willing to allow a degree of opposition in order to legitimise its domination and uses this type of legitimacy to gain international support,” she said. “In this sense, the opposition’s appeals have little real impact on domestic politics.”

The ‘donors’ darling’
Sam Rainsy returned to Cambodia from France in 1992, he was a rising star in the royalist political firmament. A founding member of then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk’s Funcinpec party in 1981, Rainsy had advanced through the ranks to become an elected parliamentarian during Funcinpec’s stunning win in the UN-backed elections of May 1993 and was appointed minister of finance in the CPP-Funcinpec coalition government in July.

But his ascent was short lived, and the fall that followed set the tone for a political career marked by bitter clashes with the government.

In October 1994 – just over a year after his appointment – Sam Rainsy was dismissed from his post in a major cabinet reshuffle, following his clear criticism of the corruption and nepotism that plagued the coalition. The following May, he was dumped from the party altogether and lost his National Assembly seat a month later.

At the time of its founding in 1995, the Khmer Nation Party (KNP) – the SRP’s predecessor – was a new feature on the Cambodian political landscape. Unlike the CPP – which secured its support through a patronage system established in the 1980s – and Funcinpec, which traded heavily on the prestige of the monarchy, Sam Rainsy’s new party put liberal democratic principles front and centre. At the time, Sam Rainsy said his expulsion from Funcinpec would give him the opportunity “to mobilise millions of people” sharing the same ideals.

In spite of the SRP’s idealistic bent, however, the party’s constituency remains overwhelmingly urban: In 2008, it won six of its 26 seats in Phnom Penh and five in Kampong Cham, as well as three each in heavily populated Kandal and Prey Veng provinces, both close to the capital. In 12 of Cambodia’s 24 provinces and municipalities – among them the most remote and least populated – the party did not score a single seat.

Caroline Hughes, an associate professor of governance studies at Murdoch University in Perth, said the SRP was not to blame for its difficulties in rural areas, in large part because of political intimidation by the CPP and the presence of its well-oiled machinery of patronage. Sam Rainsy – a “donors’ darling” in the early 1990s – has gradually become a more “marginal” figure as a result of waning international support, a rift with the Cambodian union movement and a concerted campaign of violence and intimidation that reached its apotheosis in a bloody grenade attack on a KNP protest in March 1997, she said. “Sam Rainsy did attempt to organise his supporters around a whole range of more concrete issues, but he was consistently blocked,” she said. “He organised a demonstration against corruption, and a grenade was thrown at it. He organised strikes in pursuit of a minimum-wage raise and was criticised by international organisations who said he shouldn’t interfere with unions.”

She added: “I don’t think we can blame the SRP for the weakness of the Cambodian political opposition when the government has worked consistently to reduce the political space for any kind of organised activism on any issue.”

A one-man show?
Others, however, said the party’s apparent difficulties stem from the erosion of its own internal democratic processes under the constant threat of defections and government intimidation.

The SRP organisation, Ou Virak said, is “like a scared child – the more things happen to them, the more they start to pull back. They refrain from meeting people and they refrain from opening up because of bad experiences”.

“There are some good people in the party that I know that cannot move up in the ranks,” he said. “There are some very good people who were left out.”

Ken Virak was a member of the SRP’s Steering Committee who left to form his own party – the People’s Power Party – in 2007, after becoming disillusioned with the SRP’s internal workings. He said the party had given up its role as a democratic opposition party “step by step”, and that the Steering Committee – nominally in charge of party decision-making – no longer had any real power.

“There is no democracy inside the party. Most of the decisions are made only by a minority of members who are powerful in the party and associated with Sam Rainsy,” he said.

Political decisions, originally made by a two-thirds majority vote of the Steering Committee, were watered down to a simple 50-percent-plus-one majority system and then to a system where the party president can in effect make every decision himself.

“I found that before every election, members of the party always broke away because of the political decision-making and partisanship,” he said.

Ou Virak said major decisions are now made by the party’s eight-member Permanent Committee, over which Sam Rainsy has final veto power.

Ken Virak still has faith in the opposition – refusing to run his new party in any elections in order not to cannibalise opposition votes – but said that all opposition groups, including the Human Rights Party and NRP, must unite if they want to have any chance at eating into the CPP’s majority in the 2013 polls.

Anti-communist roots
Born in Phnom Penh in 1949, Sam Rainsy grew up at a time of change and regeneration. His father, Sam Sary, was a key member of Sihanouk’s Sangkum Reastr Niyum government, but fell victim to the Prince’s security police after he was implicated in the so-called Bangkok Plot, an attempt to topple the government with the support of Thailand’s right-wing Marshal Sarit Thanarat. Sam Sary disappeared in 1962 and was presumed killed, possibly by the government. Shortly afterwards, Sam Rainsy’s mother, In Em, took the remaining family members to live in France, where he remained for the next three decades.

In a recent interview with the Post, Sam Rainsy described his father’s death as a “traumatising” experience, but said that Sam Sary’s political views permeated the family and set the trajectory of his own political development.

Certain pivotal events in Europe – notably, the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 – were daily topics of conversation in the Sam household and went some way to forming the ideals that would grow into the SRP’s own brand of nationalism.

“When it came to Southeast Asia, my father was in favour of a strict neutrality – that Cambodia should not move closer to the communist world,” he said. “This has marked my background and my conviction that communism is oppressive – that freedom is essential and that we have to fight for [it],”

Sam Rainsy said that despite having been founded largely on his initiative in 1995, the KNP – renamed the SRP in 1998 because of legal disputes over the KNP name – had grown into an “organisation of its own”, linking Cambodia with Khmer communities abroad. He also downplayed his role as the party’s figurehead, referring to it as an “anachronistic” notion.

“If it was a one-man show, the show would have stopped a long time ago, given all the problems that we’ve been facing,” he said.

Speeding forward
Sam Rainsy said the SRP was the only party in Cambodia that holds organised elections from the grassroots, a system that is “just the opposite” of the CPP’s centrally controlled networks.

“They appoint their cadres – their apparatchiks – at the grassroots, but we are the only party that has organised elections,” he said.

Kimsour Phirith, a member of the SRP’s Permanent Committee, acknowledged that “internal disputes and misunderstandings”, as well as “competition at the leadership level”, had hurt the party at recent elections, but said the party is well aware of the problem and has worked to resolve it.

Similarly, the “loss” of the former Funcinpec vote was largely “due to intimidation and vote-buying in non-transparent elections”, Sam Rainsy said – a claim the opposition has made consistently since the July 2008 poll. “All of the over 13,000 powerful village chiefs are appointed by the ruling CPP, which is a heavily oppressive factor in a rural country like Cambodia. In the face of such pressure, virtually all Funcinpec leaders have sold out to the CPP,” he said.



When asked how the party might hope to erode the CPP’s entrenched network of patronage and make headway in rural areas, Sam Rainsy said current and future demographic changes were swinging the SRP’s way, a factor reflected in the party’s recent formation of a youth congress.

“In a typical family, you have the grandfather, who votes for Funcinpec; you have the father, who votes for the CPP; and you have the children, who when they reach voting age will vote for the SRP,” he said. “It will take less time than one might imagine now, because of the progress of technology, information, communication and education. History is accelerating.”

Sam Rainsy said that unlike CPP support – “bought” with party patronage benefits – each SRP ballot was a “politically conscious vote”, bringing with it a host of risks.

“The progressive concept of social justice is eroding the leniency towards the regressive patronage system. The younger generations will be the spearhead for this democratic trend moving Cambodia out of the Middle Ages,” he said.

Koul Panha, executive director of election monitor Comfrel, said Sam Rainsy retains a lot of political capital for taking such a principled stance against corruption in the 1990s and maintaining it consistently over the years since, but that fresh challenges are on the horizon.

“I think he still has that credibility. He resigned from a key position in government and showed he is that kind of politician,” he said. “The problem is how to communicate that credibility to the people.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY VONG SOKHENG AND SAM RITH


Photo by: AFP

Then-Second Prime Minister Hun Sen shakes hands with Sam Rainsy after a three-hour meeting at Hun Sen’s residence on December 8, 1997.


Photo by: AFP
Sam Rainsy is carried away in state of shock after a grenade attack on a KNP demonstration outside the National Assembly building on March 30, 1997. The attack, which marked a turning point in Sam Rainsy’s role as opposition leader, left at least 16 people dead and 119 injured.