Monday, 28 July 2008

Ruling Cambodian party thrashes opposition at polls (Roundup)

M&G Asia-Pacific News
Jul 28, 2008,

Phnom Penh - The dominant Cambodian People's Party (CPP) extended its lead Monday after weekend national elections, claiming at least 90 of the 123 seats in the National Assembly - 64 more than its nearest rival, the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP).

At a press conference in the capital, the National Election Committee (NEC) issued preliminary vote counts in several provinces, which showed the SRP averaging around 25 per cent of the vote but the CPP commanding between 50 and 74 per cent.

Thousands of local and international election monitors attended, and the Russian delegation became the first to declare the elections free and fair Monday. Final results may take up to 10 days.

Some opposition parties have cried foul due to the high number of voters who were unable to find their names on the rolls and have demanded a re-vote in some seats, especially around the capital, but their demands do not seem to carry much weight with the NEC.

'This is a common request from losing parties after an election. It has never happened yet,' NEC official Im Soursdey said.

NEC figures showed that 75 per cent of eligible voters turned out to vote - up from 68 per cent for the 2007 commune elections - and analysts credited strong nationalist sentiment over alleged Thai military incursions around the northern temple of Preah Vihear.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said counting was ongoing but the CPP had good preliminary figures on which to base its estimate.

'At this stage, the CPP has 90 seats, the Sam Rainsy Party has 26, then Funcinpec has two, the Norodom Ranariddh Party two and the Human Rights Party three, but these are not final figures,' he said Monday.

The biggest loser was the royalist Funcinpec Party, the 1993 election winner which has since been in a tailspin despite sacking its disgraced former leader, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, last year.

Ranariddh, in exile in Kuala Lumpur after being found guilty of the private sale of Funcinpec's multimillion-dollar headquarters and sentenced to 18 months in jail in absentia, set up his own eponymous party.

Funcinpec spokesman Ork Socheat declined comment on the royalists' dismal showing, saying he was out of town.

Before Sunday's polls, the CPP held 73 seats, Funcinpec 26 and the Sam Rainsy Party 24.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has vowed to keep coalition partner Funcinpec and swore never to form an alliance with the Sam Rainsy Party although with such a resounding victory, his party has no need to collaborate with any party.

The monolithic CPP, led by Hun Sen and structured on a communist model, was always expected by analysts and the party's own pollsters to win handsomely, but the results surpassed expectations.

An estimated 8 million people were registered to vote in the first national elections in five years in the country of more than 14 million people. The CPP claims 5 million members.

Hun Sen has ruled for 23 years but is enjoying a new surge in popularity because of Cambodia's rapid economic growth, which the International Monetary Fund placed at around 10.5 per cent in 2007.

Thai-Cambodian border talks bog down

Monday, July 28, 2008
Associated Press Writer

Cambodia and Thailand struggled Monday to settle a standoff over disputed border territory near an ancient Hindu temple that prompted both countries to deploy thousands of troops to the area.

Foreign ministers from the two Southeast Asian nations expressed optimism that their talks would produce a breakthrough in the dispute.

But midway through the talks Monday in Siem Reap, the mood was tense and progress remained elusive, officials said.

"We have discussed many points but we have not reached a solution yet," Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told reporters.

A first round of talks on July 21 foundered over what maps should be used to demarcate the border. It prompted Cambodia to request a meeting of the United Nations Security Council before agreeing to the second round of talks with Thailand.

The dispute over 1.8 square miles of land near the 11th century Preah Vihear temple escalated earlier this month when UNESCO approved Cambodia's application to have the complex named a World Heritage Site.

Thailand sent troops to the border July 15 after anti-government demonstrators criticized Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej's government for supporting Cambodia's application to UNESCO. Cambodia responded with its own deployment.

Hor Namhong said Friday he was hopeful the new talks would end the impasse, but also warned his government would pursue the case at the U.N. if negotiations failed again.

A French map demarcating the border generally favors Cambodia, and Thailand rejects it, saying it was drawn up by a colonial power to its own advantage.

Thailand relies on a map drawn up later with American technical assistance, but accepts a ruling by the International Court of Justice that awarded the disputed temple to Cambodia in 1962.

Cambodia's ruling party tapped into growing nationalism over the border dispute to attract voters ahead of Sunday's parliamentary elections. Political analysts in Thailand say Cambodia may be more willing to negotiate a compromise after the strong election showing by Prime Minister Hun Sen's Cambodia People's Party - something Cambodian authorities have dismissed.

On Monday, a spokesman for the party said it was well on its way to forming a new government. The party estimated it won 91 seats in the 123-seat National Assembly, spokesman Khieu Kanharith said.

We can go it alone. We can claim a landslide victory. It is certain," he said.

Hun Sen rivals reject Cambodia election win

Xinhua Newsfeed

PHNOM PENH (Thomson Financial) - Cambodia's main opposition parties Mondayrejected Prime Minister Hun Sen's sweeping victory in weekend elections, sayingirregularities in the voter rolls prevented many people from casting ballots.

Hun Sen's ruling party claims to have won 90 of the 123 seats in parliament.

Election authorities have yet to confirm his victory but say that his CambodianPeople's Party (CPP) has won nearly 60 percent of the ballots counted so far.

Four smaller parties who divided the remaining seats refused to accept theresult, and have demanded a re-run of the election.

"We have decided to join forces to struggle with the Cambodian people to demanda re-run of the election in Cambodia," said main opposition leader Sam Rainsy,whose party was running second with about 23 percent.

"We call on the international community not to recognise the results becausethere were a lot of irregularities," longtime government critic Kem Sokha,leader of the upstart Human Rights Party, told reporters.

The royalist Funcinpec and Norodom Ranariddh Party also signed a statement accusing the government of deleting voters' names from the rolls.

"The main illegal and fraudulent practises are related to the deletion ofcountless voters' names and an artificial increase in the CPP votes," thestatement said.

Kem Sokha said the four parties would consider forming a coalition party tochallenge the CPP.

Election observers have said the problem of missing names on voter rolls wasreal, but they have cast doubt on whether the problem is as widespread as theopposition claims.

Hun Sen had been widely tipped to win due to a booming economy that has help edimprove the quality of life in one of the world's poorest nations, and due tonationalist sentiment sparked by a border feud with Thailand.

He was so confident of victory that his government on Monday began a new roundof border talks with Thailand, even before his re-election has been confirmed.

Thai-Cambodian border talks resume

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, on Friday, July 18, 2008. 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

SIEM REAP, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia and Thailand attempted to settle Monday an armed standoff over disputed border territory near a historic Hindu temple that prompted both countries to deploy thousands of troops to the area.

Foreign ministers from both Southeast Asian nations expressed optimism that a second round of talks would produce a breakthrough over the dispute, after several thousand soldiers were sent two weeks ago to the 11th century Preah Vihear temple.

"I hope that the result of the talks will be positive," said Thai Foreign Minister Tej Bunnag before flying off to the Cambodian city of Siem Reap. "On the issue of withdrawing troops, they should be pulled back in equal numbers."

The first meeting on July 21 between the two sides foundered over what maps should be used to demarcate the border. It prompted Cambodia to request an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council before agreeing to the second meeting with Thailand.

The dispute over 1.8 square miles of land near Preah Vihear escalated this month when UNESCO approved Cambodia's application to have the complex named a World Heritage Site.

Thailand sent troops to the border July 15 after anti-government demonstrators targeted Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej's government for supporting Cambodia's application to UNESCO. Cambodia responded with its own deployment.

Cambodia's Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said Friday he was hopeful the new talks would end the impasse, but also warned his government would pursue the case at the U.N. if negotiations failed again.

A French map demarcating the border generally favors Cambodia, and Thailand rejects it saying it was drawn up by a colonial power to its own advantage.

Thailand relies on a different map drawn up later with American technical assistance, but accepts a ruling by the International Court of Justice that awarded the disputed temple to Cambodia in 1962.

Cambodia's ruling party tapped into growing nationalism over the border dispute to win over voters ahead of Sunday's parliamentary elections. Political analysts in Thailand have predicted Phnom Penh may be more willing to negotiate a compromise after the strong election showing by Prime Minister Hun Sen's Cambodia People's Party — something Cambodian authorities have dismissed.

On Monday, a spokesman for the party said it was well on its way to forming a new government.

The party estimated it won 91 seats in the 123-seat National Assembly, spokesman Khieu Kanharith said.

"We can go it alone. We can claim a landslide victory. It is certain," he said.

CPP claims 88 to 91 seats at National Assembly of Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, July 27 (Xinhua) -- The major ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) has claimed 88 to 91 out of the 123 seats at the National Assembly, after the ballots were basically counted for Sunday's fourth general election of the country, said senior CPP officials.

CPP secured 88 seats and the major opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) 30, while the newly established Human Rights Party (HRP) and Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP) respectively 3 and 2, source at the CPP headquarters told Xinhua.

The co-ruling Funcinpec Party had none seat, the source added.

Meanwhile, source close to Prime Minister Hun Sen's advisory body told Xinhua that CPP had 91 seats, SRP 26, HRP 3, NRP 2 and Funcinpec 1.

Monday afternoon, the National Election Committee (NEC) will make public preliminary overall official results of the polling. Final official results can be known about one month later.

Altogether 11 political parties ran for the 123 seats at the Cambodian National Assembly. A total of 8,125,529 voters were registered to vote at 15,255 polling stations nationwide and 17,000 local and international observers watched the polling process, according to NEC figures.

Editor: Du Guodong

Strongman tightens grip on Cambodia

Asia Times Online
Jul 29, 2008

By Geoffrey Cain

PHNOM PENH - With surging double-digit economic growth and a territorial dispute with Thailand whipping up Khmer nationalism, Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Cambodia's People's Party (CPP) rode both to a landslide election victory on Sunday, securing another five years in power for one of Asia's longest serving political leaders.

The CPP has claimed to have secured between 88 and 91 of the National Assembly's 123 seats, up from the 73 seats it won at the 2003 polls and likely cinching the party's ability to form a one-party government. A recently amended law previously required a two-thirds majority to form a government, which led to unwieldy coalitions and intense political infighting. (See From chaos to order in Cambodia, Asia Times Online, January 4, 2007).

Now, a party needs only 50% plus one of parliament's seats to form a government. Unlike previous Cambodian polls, including the 1998 elections which were marred with political violence and intimidation, local and international election monitors viewed Sunday's polls as in the main free and fair. There were over 13,000 election monitors on watch and most maintained the polls were the most democratic since the United Nations-brokered 1993 polls. Official results will be released later this week.

That assessment overlooked the CPP's dominance of the broadcast media, from where many rural Cambodians receive their news, as well as the unresolved shooting murder of an opposition-aligned journalist, who had reported favorably on the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) and hyper-critically of Hun Sen's government in the run-up to the polls. The Ministry of Information also shut down on questionable legal grounds a SRP-supportive radio station and the SRP has alleged that thousands of names were mysteriously deleted from voter lists in the capital, where the SRP outpaced the CPP in 2003.

Hun Sen, 56, was so confident in his party's success that he took a leave from the campaign trail in the weeks before the polls, saying he did not want to give the opposition any opportunities to slander him. More controversially, his government recently stopped releasing official monthly inflation figures after consumer prices rose 18.7% year on year in January, with prices of staples such as rice up as much as 80%.

With the CPP's sweeping win, the previous coalition between the CPP and royalist Funcinpec party is likely finished. The CPP's co-ruling party from 1993 until today, and the victim of a bloody Hun Sen-led coup in 1997, the internally fractured party secured only one seat at the polls compared to the 26 it won at the last election. The liberal and outspoken SRP, now the CPP's main political opponent, is believed to have won around 40 seats, considerably more than the 24 it notched in 2003.

The CPP's political consolidation was in evidence even before the polls, including a sweeping win at last year's commune elections. Only 10 opposition parties contested the general elections, a substantial drop-off from the 22 that part in 2003. A new era of one-party rule is now in the offing, despite Hun Sen's already consecutive 23 years in power, first as Vietnam-backed premier, now as a capitalist reformer.

Many now wonder whether Hun Sen will attempt to leverage his power monopoly to the same authoritarian ends witnessed until recently in Malaysia and still in Singapore. With a strong and internationally recognized electoral mandate, Hun Sen can now pursue his reform agenda almost unopposed.

The CPP has benefited enormously from the country's recent economic growth surge, which hit 10.5% last year. Foreign investment, including huge outlays from China, is flooding into the country, in part due to the CPP-led government's recent liberalization and promotion efforts, including plans to open a stock market by next year. The World Bank in April commended his government on various reform measures, specifically moves to decentralize more administrative power from the center to the periphery.

Resurgent nationalism

Some of those gains could be lost to a resurgent nationalism, some fear. It's yet to be seen if Hun Sen's new government will abandon its nationalistic response to the recent controversy surrounding the Preah Vihear temple, which this month was awarded United Nations World Heritage status but also brought Cambodia into a war of words with Thailand over unresolved territorial issues around the shrine.

On the campaign trail, Hun Sen and CPP leaders played the temple's listing as a victory over Thailand, including through chest-thumping, nationalistic speeches and fireworks displays for cheering crowds at the national stadium in Phnom Penh. The issue was strategically deployed by the CPP to divert attention from tougher electoral issues, including rising inflation, alleged CPP-ordered land grabs and charges of corruption.

However, the recent build-up of troops and military equipment in the contested border areas has threatened to spill over into a wider conflict, one that would undoubtedly hurt the Cambodian economy. Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej has predicted the issue would cool after the Cambodian elections, though anti-government forces in Bangkok have also escalated it to undermine his beleaguered administration.

Another big test will be Hun Sen's handling of growing land disputes, an issue which has pitted rich versus poor, and to a lesser degree, foreign versus national, in the rapidly developing country. That's particularly true in the capital Phnom Penh, where the SRP notably fared best at the polls and the issue has most visibility. In one campaign speech, the premier derided activists critical of the CPP's handling of land issues, saying if the government takes land from the rich they will only get angry and initiate conflict. Therefore, the best action is no action, he said.

On other occasions, he dispensed of a seemingly contradictory line, claiming the government actively enforces land laws against corrupt land grabbers. That particular comment was in response to a reporter's question about a 2007 Global Witness Report on illegal logging in Cambodia, which alleged the premier and his close accomplices were personally involved in illegal land concessions.

The government's land management policies are crucial to foreign investment, which has been the main engine behind recent growth rates and led the way in the building spree now underway in Phnom Penh and other areas of the country. The Cambodian Investment Board has recently predicted foreign investment will double to US$2.7 billion year on year. In particular, deep-pocketed Chinese investors have eyed Cambodia's untapped natural resources and have initiated various major development projects in the power-starved countryside.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wen Jiabao recently pledged $1 billion in energy aid which has now materialized into two major dam projects but which also will displace thousands of rural residents. South Korean investment in building up Phnom Penh's skyline, including the construction of Gold Tower 42 and the International Finance Complex, is another major political push for the CPP but has also entailed the forced removal of hundreds of urban slum dwellers.

The CPP has also granted lucrative foreign concessions for tourism development at Sihanoukville, including resort concessions to Russian, Chinese and Australian interests. How Hun Sen uses his new democratic mandate to balance foreign and local interests will not only decide how his CPP fares at the next polls, but also will go a long way in determining his final legacy as a strongman leader.

Cambodia won't agree to turn back clock

The Bangkok Post
Monday July 28, 2008

It is incredibly naive of Cha-am Jamal to assume that Cambodia would be willing to let Thailand dictate the basis for bilateral negotiations over Preah Vihear (''Do without the ICJ'', Postbag, July 26).

It is simply unthinkable that the Cambodian side would agree to disregard the 1962 International Court of Justice ruling just because Thai officials wish to turn back the clock and get a second chance.

Cambodian negotiators have already dismissed a map introduced by their Thai counterparts, and they would surely do so again, as they have absolutely no incentive or reason to do otherwise.

This conflict is unlikely to be solved through bilateral negotiations, and the sooner the UN accepts its responsibility to step in and take proactive steps to protect the Preah Vihear temple, the better


Hun Sen's party wins 73pc of Cambodian parliament seats

(07-28 15:39)

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, a former communist who has ruled for two decades, expanded his majority in yesterday's election, winning 73 percent of parliamentary seats according to unofficial results.

Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party won 90 of 123 seats, up from 73 in the previous election five years ago, said Khan Keo Mono, a spokesman for the National Election Committee.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy's party, named after himself, won 26 seats, two more than he won in 2003. Three parties split the remaining seven seats.


Many land mines are gone, but must work remains

Many deadly land mines destroyed in Cambodia, but much work remains

By Chris Kenning
July 28, 2008

PAILIN, Cambodia -- Sitting on weathered steps of his thatched-roof house, Sim Ry gazes at a bony cow grazing in a scrubby field and rubs the brown stump where his right hand used to be.

he former Khmer Rouge guerrilla lost his hand to a land mine in 2005 while clearing trees to plant corn outside his village near the Thai border -- an area so thick with mines that it has been called one of the most dangerous places on Earth.

"I worry each time my children leave the house that they will not come back," Ry, 53, said through an interpreter.

Nearly 63,000 Cambodians, mostly villagers, have been killed or maimed by mines since 1970, a lasting reminder of nearly three decades of violence fueled by the Khmer Rouge regime of Pol Pot that left Cambodia among the world's most heavily mined countries.

The scars from those mines have followed Cambodian immigrants who arrive in the United States, including Kentucky.

Sovanna Chhan, a 51-year-old metal worker working in Louisville, said he still feels the pain from land-mine wounds he suffered nearly three decades ago. "I was lucky to survive."

And while progress has been made to clear Cambodia and other nations of land mines by such international groups as the United Kingdom-based Mines Advisory Group and HALO International, experts say much more needs to be done.

Since the early 1990s those groups have helped destroy 433,000 mines and millions of pieces of unexploded ordnance.

Today there are an estimated 177 square miles of heavily mined land, down from 1,724 square miles in 2002, according to a report by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

The casualty rate has also dropped dramatically since the 1990s, when 2,700 Cambodians were killed or injured each year by mines and unexploded ordnance, falling to 450 in 2006.

Better mine-danger education, an economic upswing that cut down on risky farming and a growing number of aging, inoperable mines may have helped cut those casualties, experts say.

The problem of leftover mines from war isn't confined to Cambodia.

Although more than 150 countries have signed a treaty banning anti-personnel mines, tens of millions of land mines remain buried in more than 70 nations from Mozambique to Afghanistan, killing thousands each year, taking limbs and stealing livelihoods.

Scars follow immigrants

It's a Sunday afternoon in Simpsonville, Ky., and inside a neat house in a subdivision, Chhan's six children play video games as he and his wife cook a meal of rice and fish he caught in Taylorsville Lake.

The gregarious metal-press operator said he still feels pain from the land mine that ripped into his thighs and legs in 1979.

"It hurts when I stand up all day at work," Chhan said, pulling up his pants to show the scars on his legs.

Chhan was a young man in Battambang when the Khmer Rouge began emptying cities to fill rural communes. He said his family was moved to the country to live in crude and starved conditions. Two of his sisters died from malnutrition and sickness. By the time Vietnam invaded in 1979, Chhan had fled to an unofficial refugee camp along the Thai border.

There he earned money for rice and cooking oil by removing land mines along trails. He was attempting to remove a tripwire mine with only a piece of straightened wire fencing as a tool when a second mine connected to the wire blew up a few feet away.

"I thought I would die," he recalled. "I shook for months."

Eventually he healed, and when the camp was closed in 1991, he immigrated to the United States, spending time in California before coming to Louisville in 1994 to join relatives.

He has two brothers who are still in Cambodia -- one runs a motorcycle taxi, and the other sells home-cooked food along the road.

"I worry about them because there are still a lot of mines," he said.

Tom Hess, a former Louisville Catholic Charities refugee-services official who worked closely with Cambodian immigrants, said most Cambodians in the Louisville area know a friend or relative harmed by a land mine.

Thearith Eng, who runs a nail salon in Crestwood, said that four years ago his extended family sent money to Sap Sung, a relative in Cambodia, to buy a tiller so he could plow fields. It wasn't long before Sung hit a land mine and was killed.

"It blew him into pieces," Eng said.

Pol Pot called mines 'perfect soldiers'

In the noon-day heat of Siem Reap, a Cambodian town near the ruins of Angkor Wat, 42-year-old Teng Dara uses hand pedals on a makeshift bicycle to creep past tourists.

His camouflage jacket hints at his past as a Khmer Rouge soldier, when he lost both legs to a land mine in 1990. Today he gets $30 a month in aid, and makes a living selling photocopied travel books to backpackers on their way to Angkor Wat.

"It is enough to eat one meal a day," he said of his income.

He's among the 43,000 Cambodians who survived a land mine only to face a new struggle in the impoverished nation. Prosthetic limbs are available to some, but social services are scarce.

"There is not much in terms of disability awareness and certainly not much in terms of equal opportunity or discrimination" protection, said Martha Hathaway, director of Vermont-based Clear Path International, which provides prosthetics and adapted houses for the disabled in Cambodia.

Many of Cambodia's mines were planted during the 1979-1989 Vietnamese occupation, although some date to the '60s. The Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese laid them haphazardly as they battled over the countryside.

Pol Pot, the leader of the Communist Khmer Rouge, once described land mines as "perfect soldiers." In the 1990s, Cambodian government troops and Khmer Rouge guerrillas were battling in a civil war, both using land mines to defend villages and roads or make land unusable by their enemies.

By 1999, much of the fighting subsided as Khmer Rouge were captured, gave up or sought amnesty. But the mines remained.

Enter agencies such as the Mines Advisory Group, which are engaged in a slow, dangerous battle to remove those mines.

The Mines Advisory Group, along with humanitarian partners, also helps beyond simply removing the mines -- partly by working with other aid groups in such places as Ta Krouk, a few hours' drive from Battambang.

Not long ago, the village was ringed by minefields. But after the Mines Advisory Group cleared the land in the 1990s, it worked with the global charity World Vision to pay for a school to be built.

A water pump also was built, so that villagers no longer had to go great distances for water. Poverty is still endemic, but life has returned to a modicum of normalcy.

"This has a big impact for the people," said Say Sameth, a Mines Advisory Group officer, standing among the children at the school.

Dangerous work to improve safety

The whistle blasts come first: Three long, three short.

Then a moment of quiet -- only the sound of buzzing insects over the orange earth of remote western Cambodia -- before the explosion bangs a mini-mushroom cloud into the sky.
One more land mine has been destroyed.

The work of removing land mines is difficult, slow and expensive, especially in remote areas such as Ban Hoy, outside the longtime Khmer Rouge stronghold of Pailin.

In a stand of brush and trees that runs between tilled fields are hundreds of mines -- most just a few centimeters below the dirt. Made of ceramic, metal or plastic, they may range from antipersonnel mines that pop up and explode, trip-wire mines, directional-spray mines set alongside trails and larger antitank mines. Unexploded mortars and grenades also are there.

On this day, a demining team from the Mines Advisory Group -- trained locals dress in Kevlar jackets and blast helmets -- work slowly and deliberately with metal detectors, picks and hand tools. Colored wooden stakes mark safe and dangerous areas and mines that will later be detonated with dynamite.

The Mines Advisory Group, which works in 35 countries, has 476 people working in seven Cambodian provinces. Along with groups such as HALO and the government army's efforts, about 4,000 people are working to remove mines.

After the day's work ends at Ban Hoy, mine clearer Pham Bunsont, 43, pulls off his boot to reveal a prosthesis where his leg was blown off by a mine while on patrol with government troops near Siem Reap in 1988.

He said he took the job because he couldn't find other work and to help avert injuries.

"It's a dangerous job," Bunsont said. "But I don't want mines to hurt others like they hurt me."
The Mine Advisory Group is in the area because Ouch Ouy, 40, a villager who was a Khmer Rouge medic, requested that it be cleared. Residents recounted how one villager died when his tractor ran over an antitank mine, while another was killed using a shovel to try to remove mines that were killing his pigs and cows.

Fourteen villagers have been killed by land mines, and 18 have been injured, often left with stumps after trying to till land to plant corn or other crops.

"We can't farm the land that we own," Ouy said.

Mine-removal hopes remain; aid needed

Earlier this year, an acting assistant secretary of state noted in a report that worldwide estimated casualties from land mines and explosive remains of war have dropped from the 26,000 four years ago to perhaps under 10,000.

Although estimates are difficult to verify, he said, it shows that mine-removal efforts "have made the land-mine problem surmountable in our lifetime." The United States banned the export of anti-personnel mines in 1992.

But much work remains in Cambodia.

Nearly half of Cambodia's 13,908 villages remain plagued by land mines, and reaching the national goal of removing them by 2015 isn't likely, said Chea Sarim, a regional Mines Advisory Group manager.

And since international donor countries and groups funded about $30 million worth of mine clearing in 2007, compared with the Cambodian investment of $1.5 million, there is a critical need for more funding to speed removal, he said.

Some experts say that public awareness of the problem spiked in the 1990s with the involvement of Princess Diana and the signing of the 1997 land-mine ban but has waned somewhat since.

"You get donor fatigues and loss of attention," said Suzanne Fiederleine, a researcher at the Mine Action Information Center at James Madison University in Virginia. She noted that the United States has given $1.2 billion to land-mine removal worldwide since 1993.

In 2006, Cambodian deputy prime minister Sok An said that removing mines was crucial to lifting affected residents out of poverty, including those such as Sim Ry, who said he hopes that the Mine Advisory Group's efforts will help his family's financial standing.

"I am happy they are clearing the land, because I want to plant more corn," he said.

Reporter Chris Kenning can be reached at (502) 582-4697.

Thailand and Cambodia try again to defuse temple row

Monday 28 July 2008
By Ek Madra

SIEM REAP, Cambodia (Reuters) - Thailand's new foreign minister started talks with his Cambodian counterpart on Monday to defuse a row over a 900-year-old temple that has raised fears of a military clash between the southeast Asian neighbors.

Career diplomat Tej Bunnag, who was appointed at the weekend after the resignation of his predecessor over the Preah Vihear spat, declined to talk to reporters as he entered the meeting with Cambodia's Hor Namhong in the tourist town of Siem Reap.

The Cambodian side was also keeping quiet before the talks, which are not expected to yield any major breakthrough in the dispute over 1.8 square miles of scrubland near the temple.

The ancient Hindu temple sits on a jungle-clad escarpment that forms the natural boundary between the two countries. The International Court of Justice awarded the ruins to Cambodia in a 1962 ruling that has rankled in Thailand ever since.

The Hague court did not rule on the disputed bits of land next to the temple.

With troops and artillery building up on both sides of the border, Cambodia has threatened to take the spat to the United Nations Security Council. Thailand wants all talks with its smaller neighbor to remain strictly two-way.

"Attempts to bring the bilateral issue to broader frameworks at this stage could complicate the situation and in turn, produce undesirable repercussions on the good relations and goodwill," Tej said in a statement on Sunday.

The talks -- the second attempt to resolve the dispute through dialogue -- are expected to run until around 4.30 pm


Negotiations a week ago between top military officials quickly descended into an argument over which of several maps drawn up in the last 100 years should be used to settle ownership of the temple and surrounding area.

General Chea Mon, a Cambodian commander at the temple, said both he and Thai officers had ordered a halt to the digging of trenches and bunkers for the duration of the talks, but made clear that any pull-back was out of the question.

"We are still in a military stand-off," he told Reuters.

The dispute flared up when street protesters in Bangkok trying to oust the Thai government seized on its approval of Phnom Penh's bid to list the ruins as a World Heritage site.

A general election campaign in Cambodia ensured the row quickly escalated, although Prime Minister Hun Sen's landslide victory in Sunday's poll gives him scope to tone down the rhetoric and move towards some understanding with Thailand.

However, there is still a risk of the row taking on a life of its own, with ordinary Cambodians organizing collections of cash, food and clothing in the capital to send to troops on the border.

In 2003, a Cambodian nationalist mob torched the Thai embassy and several Thai-owned businesses in Phnom Penh after erroneous reports of comments from a Thai soap opera star suggesting Cambodia's famed Angkor Wat temples really belonged to Thailand.

(Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Alan Raybould)

Early returns confirm strong lead for Hun Sen in Cambodia vote

A smiling Hun Sen casts his vote in Phnom Penh

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen took nearly 60 percent of the vote in weekend elections, according to early returns, but observers said they could not yet declare the election free and fair.

Initial returns from 18 of the nation's 24 provinces showed that the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) had won 58.3 percent of the 3.2 million votes counted so far.

The main opposition Sam Rainsy Party took 21.9 percent of the ballots counted by mid-day Monday, the National Election Committee said. The rest of the votes were divided among a slate of smaller parties.

Election authorities did not release results by constituency, and gave no estimate of turnout or of how many seats each party had won in parliament.

But CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith, who claimed victory for the party just hours after polls closed Sunday, said the latest tally by their supporters showed they would scoop 90 of the 123 seats in parliament.

"This is a new victory for the CPP and for CPP's policies for the past five years," he told AFP.

The main opposition Sam Rainsy Party was tipped to receive 26 seats, he said.

Hun Sen 's coalition partner in the outgoing government, the royalist Funcinpec, took two seats, Khieu Kanharith said.
The once influential Funcinpec has splintered under the weight of internal scandals, with its leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh fleeing to exile in Kuala Lumpur to escape corruption charges.
He formed a new party, named for himself, and tried to campaign from exile.

The new Human Rights Party, led by longtime government critic Kem Sokha, won three seats, the CPP said.

If the official results confirm the party's tally, the opposition would have little room to manoeuvre against Hun Sen, who at 55 has ruled Cambodia for 23 years.

He has vowed to remain in power until he is 90 years old, and has relentlessly undercut his political rivals, with a history of using street violence to respond to political challenges.

The Human Rights Party and Sam Rainsy have already cried foul over voters left off registration lists.

Sam Rainsy is demanding a re-vote in Phnom Penh, where he claimed 200,000 of the city's 722,000 voters had not been able to cast ballots because their names had disappeared from the electoral lists.
Election observers say the problem of missing names was real, but have cast doubt on whether the problem is as widespread as Sam Rainsy claims.

The Comfrel group of election observers said they could not pronounce the vote free and fair until his claims were investigated.

"It is too early to say this was a free and fair election. We need to have more information, especially on the voter's lists which is a very big problem," Comfrel board of directors president, Thun Saray, told reporters.

A Comfrel exit poll put turnout at about 70 percent, down from 83 percent during the last general election in 2003.

Thun Saray blamed the drop on a lack of confidence in the political parties, problems with the voter rolls, and rising fuel costs that made transportation too costly for voters to return to their hometowns to cast ballots.

He also warned that if the CPP's large victory is confirmed, the result could undermine Cambodia's fledgling democracy.

"There will be no more checks and balances in the national assembly," he said. "That is our big challenge."

Hun Sen had been widely tipped to win due to a booming economy that has helped improve the quality of life in one of the world's poorest nations, and due to nationalist sentiment sparked by a border feud with Thailand.

He was so confident of victory that his government on Monday began a new round of border talks with Thailand, even before his re-election has been confirmed.

No slowdown in trade with Cambodia

The Bangkok Post

Deputy Commerce Minister Wiroon Techapaiboon on Monday affirmed that the Thai government has no policy to slow investment and trade in Cambodia despite continued border tension from the military standoff related to the Preah Vihear temple dispute.

Although there is some misunderstanding between Thailand and Cambodia over the issue, Mr. Wiroon said, the overall relations between both neighbours remains sound.

Nevertheless he said he believes the dispute will last only for the short run, and that it could be settled within one month.

At present, bilateral trade value has increased by up to 70 per cent with Thailand's importation of Cambodian products doubling, showing that normal trading activities are continuing smoothly.

He said that some Cambodians had reduced their purchase orders to import Thai goods, but believed the situation would improve after the talks between Cambodian and Thai foreign ministers are held, and the new Cambodian government is installed.

Mr. Wiroon reiterated that the Thai government had no policy to slow investment or shift production bases from Cambodia because the government sees bilateral trade cooperation as remaining good. (TNA)

Poll position

Heng Chivoan; A relaxed Prime Minister Hun Sen raises an ink-stained finger after voting Sunday in general elections that are widely expected to see his Cambodian People's Party take total control of government.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Post Staff
Sunday, 27 July 2008

P rime Minister Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party appears set to sweep national elections held Sunday, party officials said at the close of polls.

The CPP has unofficially gained seven additional parliamentary positions, government spokesman Khieu Kanharith told the Post, giving it claim to 80 of the National Assembly's 123 seats.

Ballots are still being counted, "but the number of CPP seats is expected to go up," he said.

Official results are not expected for a least a week in a vote that was largely overshadowed by the Kingdom's escalating border dispute with Thailand at Preah Vihear.

The military buildup on the border over disputed territory around the temple has brought Cambodia and Thailand to its worst diplomatic crisis since rioters looted and burned the Thai embassy in 2003.

While opposition political parties have accused the ruling CPP of trying to mine the standoff for votes, many at polling stations in Phnom Penh said the situation highlighted the need for Cambodian leaders who would protect the country's sovereignty.

"I'm voting for a different reason this time – my choice is for a government that can protect Preah Vihear temple," said 76 year-old Hok Hour in Phnom Penh's Chamkarmon district.

"Whoever can make the Thai troops withdraw from our land, we will choose him," he added.

Another voter, Ky Seak Tang, also said that Preah Vihear was the main motivation for her going to the polls. "I vote for a government that can forever protect Preah Vihear," she said.

Despite a surge of nationalism over the temple row, however, voter turnout in several key polling places appeared lower than normal, while complaints have begun to emerge that thousands of names have been mysteriously eliminated from voter registration lists.

In Phnom Penh's Mohosrop polling station about 50 percent of the names were erased from the voter lists, said Bun Rado, who name was also missing.

"We all voted in the 2007 [commune elections] but we turned up today and our names were not on the list. Many people are angry and are driving from station to station to try and find their names," he told the Post.

Election monitors acknowledged that there had been problems with voter rolls, but pointed towards bureaucratic mix-ups rather than political conspiracies as the reason for people not appearing on registration lists.

"As expected, there has been a problem of people not having the right information and thus not being able to vote," said one monitor from the Cambodian election watchdog Comfrel.

The monitor added that hundreds of names appeared to be missing from some lists.

"People should not blame themselves for this – it is not the voter's responsibility to make sure 100 percent that they can vote. It is fair enough to assume that if you voted in the previous commune election, that your name should be on the list," the monitor said.

National Election Committee officials said many people who could not vote had either incorrectly listed their names on voter rolls or had moved to another area and failed to inform the authorities.

"They had two months to complain or to verify their names on the lists but they didn't do this," said NEC member Mao Sophearith. "Maybe they missed the information, but the NEC cannot do anything about this.

"The election, the fourth since Cambodia's UN-brokered vote in 1993, is expected to see the CPP – buoyed by a strong economy and surging national sentiment – win total control of government after more than a decade of sharing power under various coalition agreements.

One CPP official who did not want to be named said the ruling party wants to increase its number of parliamentary seats to 93. Ten other parties are contesting the elections.

Leaders with two of Cambodia's main opposition parties have already cried foul, saying the CPP was manipulating the voter lists to ensure that only its supporters went to the polls.

"Several thousands of people have lost their names from the lists," Sam Rainsy told a crowd of supporters at his party headquarters in Phnom Penh.

"The election is only held to support the CPP ... the CPP and the commune chiefs have conspired together," he added.

Kem Sokha, whose Human Rights Party is one of the newest additions to Cambodia's political arena, also complained about incomplete voter rolls, saying that turnout had been unusually low.

"The National Election Committee says there are more than eight million voters but some of those people are listed two or three times each ... there are fewer voters turning out," he said.

Despite problems over voter lists, election observers say there has been little of the violence or intimidation that has marred past polls, however they admit that there are not enough monitors to cover every voting booth.

"If you want to know about manipulations, I have not seen anything," said one European Union election monitor who did not want to be named.

"But even though we are right here you cannot guarantee that there will be no manipulations.... You can always manipulate something if you want. We are not so organized that we can see every polling station in the whole of Cambodia."

International rights groups maintain that the CPP has waged an intimidation campaign ahead of the polls that has deterred many voters from opposing it. On the night before the vote an SRP radio station was closed by the police, while Sam Rainsy has claimed that several party members have been arrested.

"At the polling station where I am, security is good," he told voters in Kampong Cham province. "The places where there are observers are working fine. But anywhere without an international observer, we are worried about."

Countdown to victory?

Vandy Rattana ; Ballots are counted at Chaktamok High School in Phnom Penh.
The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Post Staff
Monday, 28 July 2008

Minister Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party has claimed victory in national elections that will allow the Kingdom's dominant political machine to govern alone, ending 15 years of coalition agreements.

CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith said the party had won 91 of the National Assembly's 123 seats, an increase of 18 seats.

"It is a victory for the CPP because the people have believed in us," he told the Post on Monday as votes continued to be counted.

"We hope that the number of seats will continue to increase," he said, adding that the CPP would still consider a coalition government with one of the opposition parties.

Khieu Kanharith said the CPP's nearest competitor, the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, had claimed 26 seats up from 24. The CPP's former coalition government partner, the royalist Funcinpec, lost power dramatically, according to Khieu Kanharith's unofficial tally, dropping from 26 seats to one.

Two other minor parties, the Human Rights Party and the Norodom Ranariddh Party – headed by Funcinpec's ousted president Prince Norodom Ranariddh – won three and two seats, respectively, Khieu Kanharith said.

Kay Kimsong ; Voters check for their names on registration lists in Phnom Penh.

Early returns from 11 of Cambodia's 24 provinces show the CPP with just under 60 percent of the vote.

Official results are not expected for a least a week in an election that, while more peaceful than past elections, was marred by complaints that thousands of names had been mysteriously eliminated from voter registration lists.

Sam Rainsy demanded a re-vote in Phnom Penh, a traditional power base for the opposition, saying that the deletion of voter names had made the election in the capital unfair.

"We will not accept the results, the election has not been free and fair," he said at his party headquarters following the vote, adding: "We want to cancel the results of more than 2,000 polling stations in Phnom Penh ... the CPP is cheating.

"Kem Sokha, whose Human Rights Party is one of the newest additions to Cambodia's political arena, also complained Sunday about incomplete voter rolls, saying that turnout had been unusually low.

Despite problems over voter lists, election observers say there has been little of the violence or intimidation that has marred past polls, however they admit that there are not enough monitors to cover every voting booth.

International rights groups maintain that the CPP had waged an intimidation campaign ahead of the polls that has deterred many voters from opposing it. On the night before the vote an SRP radio station was closed by the police, while Sam Rainsy has claimed that several party members have been arrested.

At least 12 SRP supporters in Battambang province were hurt in clashes with CPP party members on Saturday as campaigning wrapped up, party officials said. Police blamed the SRP for starting the fight.

PM: Foreign Ministry in charge of Preah Vihear dispute

( - Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej said he assigned the Foreign Ministry to be in charge of dispute concerning Preah Vihear.

"Foreign Ministry will be in charge of the matter and declare Thailand stance," he said.

He refused to comment on Cambodia asking for Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean)'s help to end the dispute.

He was also tight-lipped when asked about Supreme Commander Boonsang Niampradit's suggestion that leaders of both Thailand and Cambodia engage in a talk to solve the issue.

Outmanoeuvred at every turn

The Bangkok Post
By Achara Ashayagachat

The government has been caught on its back foot over the Preah Vihear temple. The international community has neither sympathy nor pity, and a change of mindset may now be necessary.

Today's election in Cambodia will surely end peacefully with a landslide triumph for Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen. With a 23 year tenure, the 56-year-old Hun Sen will maintain the status of the second longest-serving leader in Southeast Asia, just one year less than the Sultan of Brunei.

The senior regional leader has agreed to a request from the six-month premier from Thailand, Samak Sundaravej, to allow a ministerial-level talk to diffuse the tensions over the Preah Vihear temple controversy, and to temporarily withdraw a request that the UN Security Council (UNSC) hold an urgent meeting on the military standoff with Thailand over the matter.

The frenzy over the Preah Vihear temple conflict might be frozen for a while, but Thai domestic politics will probably not cool down accordingly.

As noted by a veteran Thai diplomat with experience in boundary negotiations, "This is not a military battle, but psychological warfare that will not be easily soothed."

But another diplomat was optimistic that the meeting tomorrow between Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Nam Hong and new Thai Foreign Minister Tej Bunnag in Siem Reap would help deflate the tensions along the Thai-Cambodian border.

A historian by education and a seasoned career diplomat, Tej is His Majesty the King's deputy principal private secretary and former permanent secretary for foreign affairs.

He is also chairman of the Thai-Cambodian Friendship Association, which was set up in 2003.

According to the Phnom Penh-based Thai diplomat, tomorrow's meeting may not solve the complicated boundary controversy, but the face-to-face talks should dust off some political tensions and show the world that Thailand is always ready for talks and has never meant to resort to the use of force.

What he didn't say is that no one wants to see a replay of the 2003 torching of the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh by angry Cambodian mobs stirred into a nationalistic frenzy.

Sane and mindful persons know very well that if the Thai-Cambodian conflict over the Preah Vihear issue is not well-contained, the spill-over might be protracted and undermine social, economic and cultural cooperation between the two countries.

Ultra-nationalistic rhetoric, sometimes blossoming into action, is already being seen on both sides.

For example, some Thais are now calling for the entire temple complex to be handed over to Thailand despite a lack of legal grounds for such a move, while their Khmer counterparts are currently calling for a boycott of all Thai products and urging overseas Cambodians around the globe to engage in anti-Thai actions wherever possible.

The longstanding dispute between Cambodia and Thailand over the ownership of the temple grounds at Preah Vihear has continued to gain momentum since the World Heritage Committee endorsed, two weeks ago in Quebec, the listing of the 11th century Hindu temple as a Cambodian World Heritage Site.

Thailand tried to object to Cambodia's unilateral move on the grounds that the area submitted for the site included areas claimed by Thailand.

On May 22, the two sides agreed that Cambodia could submit its application as long as it only included the temple site itself and not any of the surrounding area. This was later stated in the controversial joint communique between then Thai foreign minister Noppadon Pattama and Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, which was later annulled by the Thai Constitutional Court and caused the resignation of Mr Noppadon.

On July 15, three Thai protesters entered the temple site. Later that day, Cambodia claimed that some 40 Thai troops had passed briefly into their territory. On July 16, Thailand confirmed that it had deployed some 150 soldiers within the disputed area, but denied that any were situated within Cambodian territory. Thailand also accused Cambodia of having allowed some of its citizens to establish a permanent village within the temple complex.

All this seems to have brought about a true sense of fear in Cambodia. It is believed in Phnom Penh that the anger in Bangkok over what many see as a surrender of Thai territory is so strong that the Thai government might be forced into some unusual action. That's why the Cambodian leadership has been seeking multilateral assistance in resolving the issue, said the Phnom Penh-based diplomat.

Phnom Penh has successfully portrayed the deployment of Thai troops as an imminent threat to Cambodia, evoking the image of a bigger nation trying to bully a small nation after it lost fair and square in the WHC's decision in Quebec. This is perhaps the natural perception for the international community to adopt.

While it is a diplomatic triumph for Phnom Penh , it is a failure for Bangkok, around the world, as well as closer to home at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

Cambodia has charged Thailand with aggression of its sovereign space in as many available forums as possible. For example, besides requesting the intervention of the UNSC, Phnom Penh-based Chinese and Vietnamese officials were flown to the disputed area on July 19, together with local media.

Thailand countered by inviting Bangkok-based UNSC members for an explanation of the deployment of some 150 soldiers following the sit-in protest by the three Thai protesters, and reiterated the claim that Cambodia had allowed some of its people to establish a permanent village within the temple complex.

Bangkok succeeded last Tuesday, at least temporarily, in blocking Phnom Penh's effort to ask for Asean intervention, saying that bilateral diplomatic efforts have yet to be exhausted.
Yet, the Thai-Cambodian stand-off was discussed during last Thursday's meeting in Singapore of the 27-member security group at the 41st Asean Ministerial Meeting (AMM), along with Burma.

Weak Internal Politics

It is clear that Thailand's reputation cannot afford a launch of military force over the Preah Vihear issue, and diplomatic options are limited as well because Bangkok's list of friends in the international arena has diminished in recent years.

The loss of diplomatic clout is not merely derived from the September 2006 coup, but stems from an adamant and aggressive foreign policy during the Thaksin I and II administrations, aggravated by the off-guard Samak government.

Thai stature in the international arena has also been staggering because of non-directional domestic politics.

We are now in a crucial period of soul-searching - a defining moment that badly needs the earliest possible conclusion.

Outspoken Democrat party member Kasit Piromya, also a former ambassador to the US, recently said Thailand should not lose faith in the midst of diplomatic failure since the country has done nothing wrong. In his opinion the root cause of all the unrest is former prime minister Thaksin's alleged collusion with the Cambodian leadership - a trade of economic interests for Thai sovereignty, through the hand of the Samak government.

Sunait Chutintaranond, director of Chulalongkorn University's Institute of East Asian Studies remarked that the nationalism provoked around the Preah Vihear incident was in fact predictable.

Elaborating, he said Thai people from all walks of life felt rage and loss at the way things had turned out, due partly to a sense of superiority over their Khmer neighbours, and also an emotional response that Cambodia had treated the Thai nation badly after Thailand had done quite a lot for Cambodia over the years. People are thinking, "Why are they doing this to us?"

"It's a similar sentiment as when long-time ally the US did not come to Thailand's rescue after the 1997 financial crisis," said the historian.

He remarked that the international community is not poised to sympathise or extend pity to Thailand. He suggested a change of mindset and launching counter movements.

Former Thai ambassador to the UN Asda Jayanama said Thailand should not take any aggressive actions, but employ only mature measures in a situation like this, and respond step by step to Cambodia's tactical moves.

Kasit urged the Thai public not to lose sight of the goal, and change the current leadership of the country so that a new administration could revoke or annul the June 18 joint communique and refresh the finesse of Thai diplomacy, which he believes has lost substantial ground under the two Thaksin administrations, as well as the current administration. He suggested a focus on trade-offs and economic-oriented diplomacy.

A Third Way

But is echoing the rhetoric used by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) really going to do anything to solve the bitter bilateral dispute? Or, asks historian Charnvit Kasetsiri, would the Preah Vihear saga be the last act before calamity descends in Thai domestic politics?

Mr Charnvit, along with many colleagues from Thammasat University's Southeast Asian Studies Programme, Faculty of Liberal Arts, has sent an open letter in Thai, English and Khmer to people in both nations expressing support of the ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on June 15, 1962 at The Hague, Netherlands which said sovereignty over the Preah Vihear belongs to Cambodia.

The academics wrote that the recent border dispute has led to a series of highly emotional protests, and these tensions are fostering the domestic manipulation of Thailand's already precarious political situation, leading to a situation of unwarranted hostility among various interest groups in the country.

The letter said this border dispute is related to issues rooted in the historical and cultural legacies of Thailand and Cambodia . Any claims made or interpretations put forth about this issue should be grounded in the historical evidence, for the sake of good bilateral relations.

Vigorous debate over the contentious issues should also be commended, but competing opinions should not be used as a means to exploit political interests which may cause prejudice and antagonism between neighbouring countries, and may even lead to open warfare.

The academics also called for recognition from both peoples of the historical and cultural communalities to serve as the foundation of international cooperation and fraternity, particularly in the face of increasing challenges to all countries in the region posed by globalisation.

Another working diplomat noted that Thailand should not act unreasonably in this dispute by calling for a return of the World Heritage-listed Preah Vihear Temple to the Thai ownership.

Meanwhile, Sunait was not ready to throw in the towel. He suggested that in spite of the reeling within the Foreign Ministry after Mr Noppadon resigned, Thailand has to stand up and try to gather local and foreign experts to undertake massive counter-measures.

"Cambodia is a good strategist and it has shown unity in launching its international moves to list the Preah Vihear temple, without even having to argue its archaeological and artistic merits.

Their steps have been clear, and they were patient until their goal was achieved," said the associate professor of history at Chulalongkorn University s Faculty of Arts.

He urged the Thai government to show the same wisdom in its Preah Vihear strategy.

"We can do the same, and must act now," Sunait said. He suggested that a government-sponsored English-language watchdog website managed by academics and media strategists should be set up as soon as possible to provide necessary information to the world on the 1962 ICJ interpretation, the debate of the World Heritage status given to Preah Vihear, boundary negotiations, etc. Sunait added that a Thai-language version should also be initiated.

He also saw a desperate need for coordination among concerned agencies here and abroad, together with strong political support.

But whether the embattled Samak government is prepared to abandon its current unfathomable approach and take advice from either Charnvit or Sunait is far from clear.

CPP declares victory in fourth general election of Cambodia

By Xia Lin, Liu Lu, Long Heng

PHNOM PENH, July 27 (Xinhua) -- The major ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) has declared that it took the lead in the polling of the fourth general election of Cambodia Sunday, wining at least two thirds of the 123 seats at the National Assembly, senior CPP officials said.

CPP could take 80 to 89 seats, CPP officials said. Its spokesman Khieu Kanharith also confirmed the ratio.

"We are leading in most of the provinces," said the spokesman.

The major opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) could win around 30seats, CPP sources quoted initial vote count as saying.

However, NGOs and supervising bodies estimated that CPP had over 70 seats and SRP some 50.

Meanwhile, SRP leader Sam Rainsy called for a re-vote in Phnom Penh, saying that 200,000 people there could not vote Sunday after their names were lost from registration lists.

"Neither party won more than two-thirds of the seats," he insisted.

CPP senior member told Xinhua that his party won majority of the votes in Phnom Penh, but he didn't know how many seats were harvested yet.

The national television station TVK, authorized by the National Election Committee (NEC), Sunday night started to broadcast preliminary official results province by province.

At most polling stations in Kaoh Kong province, Pailin municipality and Pursat province, CPP basically shared over 70 percent of the ballots, SRP 15 to 20 percent, and the co-ruling Funcinpec Party and the newly established Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP) single digits, according to TVK.

Monday afternoon, NEC will make public overall preliminary official results and final official results will be known about one month later.

CPP victory means that Prime Minister Hun Sen will stay for another five-year term, after being government leader for 23 years.

Sunday morning, Hun Sen and his wife cast their votes at the polling station in the provincial Teacher Training Center near his residence in Takhmao town of Kandal province.

"So far, the atmosphere is good and I hope that today, until the end of the voting and the counting of ballots, the election will go smoothly across the country," the 57-year-old premier told reporters.

He didn't comment anything further inside the polling station, because it was against the election law.

Nget Sovandary, a 39-year-old school teacher, said that she voted for a leader that could make her living standard better.

"The election is very important for me because it provides me with citizen rights to choose a leader that we love," she said.

Chea Savuth, a 43-year-old civil servant, said that he was so happy with voting because "we will choose a leader that will bring the country with peace and economic development."

Official records showed that Cambodian had 11 percent of economic growth on average in the past three years, the highest among Southeast Asian countries. The per capita GDP rose from 448 U.S. dollars in 2005 to 594 U.S. dollars in 2007 and the foreign reserves from 890 million U.S. dollars in 2005 to 1.1 billion U.S. dollars in 2007.

While campaigning during the past month, Hun Sen and his CPP repeatedly cited these positive economic figures and development of infrastructure as the major achievements of his government in order to boost the electoral results.

NEC held a press conference Sunday afternoon, saying that the polling was conducted nationwide smoothly and successfully, as scheduled from 7:00 a.m. local time (0000 GMT) to 3:00 p.m. (0800 GMT).

Some voters went to the polling stations only to find that they were not registered by NEC, which has been the major problem so far in the polling day, said NEC, while not telling their number.

In addition, it rained in Kaoh Kong province and Sihanoukville municipality Sunday, but the weather didn't affect the people who cast their ballots there, NEC officials added.

Altogether 11 political parties are running for the 123 seats at the Cambodian National Assembly. A total of 8,125,529 voters were registered and 17,000 local and international observers watched the polling process, according to NEC figures.

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, NEC added.

Editor: Yan Liang

Low Turnout, Faulty Lists Sully Election

Many voters were unable to find their names on registries at local ballot stations Sunday, election monitors say.

By Reporters, VOA Khmer
Original reports from Cambodia
27 July 2008

Khmer audio aired 27 July 2008 (8.13 MB) - Download (MP3) Khmer audio aired 27 July 2008 (8.13 MB) - Listen (MP3)

Low voter turnout and the absence of many names from registries darkened a quiet day of voting Sunday, as millions of Cambodians sought to elect members of the National Assembly and a government that will rule for the next five years.

Unofficial results showed the ruling Cambodian People's Party with enough seats to form a government by itself, as well as pass constitutional amendments and quorum without cooperation from other parties.

As polling wrapped up Sunday, unofficial results showed the CPP leading with an estimated 91 seats, followed by the Sam Rainsy Party with 26, Human Rights Party with three, and Norodom Ranariddh Party with two. Only one seat was reported late Sunday for the government's coalition partner, Funcinpec.

These results would mean the National Assembly would have five parties for the first time since the 1993 Untac election. Official results for the election are not expected for at least a month.

A new law this election requires the holding of 50-percent-plus-one seats, or 63 seats, to form a ruling government. It also requires a two-thirds majority, or 82 seats, for constitutional amendment and quorum.

In Phnom Penh, many shops were shuttered and the normally bustling boulevards were relatively still, while on neighborhood side streets, Cambodians in ones and twos strolled to and from polling sites.

Across the country, voters reported an inability to cast their ballots, as names of individuals or entire families were missing from local registries at polling places.

More than 8.1 million voters had registered for the national election, but monitors feared only around 70 percent participated, following similarly low turnout in the 2007 commune election.
More than 83 percent of registered voters took part in 2003's general election.

The Committee for Free and Fair Elections said late Sunday the day had "serious problems," including the loss of names to voter lists and confusion over polling station locations.

Some parties had transported voters in vehicles on Saturday and distributed gifts to voters, violations of election regulations, Comfrel said.

Military police were seen using vehicles to transport voters in Battambang province, where disputes between opposition and ruling party activists erupted.

In Svay Rieng province, voters lined up inside CPP headquarters in order to receive receipts from a party official. Voters said later they would be reimbursed with gifts for the receipts, an allegation the CPP denied. Svay Rieng results showed nearly 100 percent of seats going to the CPP.

Cambodia's triumph of stability

Hun Sen's CPP is likely to benefit from five years of economic growth

By Guy De Launey
BBC News, Phnom Penh
Sunday, 27 July 2008

"Is the glass half-full or half-empty?" asks Tom Andrews, as he sips an iced coffee in Phnom Penh's Hotel Le Royal.

He is not referring to the cool drink in his hand, but rather about how far Cambodia has come since this colonial landmark served as a ramshackle base for the international press corps in the chaotic days before the city fell to the Khmer Rouge in 1975.

The former United States congressman has been a regular visitor since the mid-1990s, and it is not just the standard of accommodation which has changed.
"The infrastructure, the bridges, the roads, the buildings, the schools, the hospitals are what we need - so people feel very satisfied about that "
Chea Vannath, political analyst

United Nations assistance made possible the first democratic election in 1993, and despite several hiccups in the intervening years the fourth national poll has been largely trouble-free.

“That's all to the good,” says Mr Andrews. “But is there an independent judiciary? No. Do broadcast media feel the need for self-censorship in their coverage? Yes. Is the state being used as a way to silence the opposition, in some cases to detain the opposition? Yes. But there is still discernible progress.”
That, in a nutshell, is the quandary facing those who hope to nudge Cambodia down the path of democracy and human rights.

It already does better than most of its South Sast Asian neighbours in those departments, and it has come an awfully long way since that first poll 15 years ago.

Yet there are dozens of foreign and domestic organisations which have marked Cambodia's report card “could do better.”

Looking at the country's recent history, it is tempting to label that stance impatient.

The Khmer Rouge presided over the deaths of almost two million Cambodians when they held power in the late 1970s, and that was just a short period of a three-decade long civil war which only came to an end 10 years ago.

'Systematic corruption'

Thousands of troops fought battles in the streets of Phnom Penh in 1997, as the first coalition government between the Cambodian People's Party and the royalist Funcinpec movement fell apart.

Rioters set fire to the Thai embassy and destroyed dozens of businesses in 2003, and a year without a government followed as the parties quibbled over forming a coalition.

The picture now is quite different. Successive years of double-digit growth have made the Cambodian economy one of the world's star performers.

Millions of tourists are discovering the country's heritage and charm every year, providing jobs for an ever-increasing population. The Khmer Rouge is no more, and a UN-backed tribunal has charged its surviving leaders with crimes against humanity.

The CPP and Prime Minister Hun Sen have been quick to take the credit for Cambodia's new-found stability.

Election campaign billboards across the country featured the faces of the party leaders alongside pictures of new roads, bridges and schools. The message was simple - stick with us, and you will get more of the same.

Independent political analyst Chea Vannath acknowledges that achievement.

“Of course the infrastructure, the bridges, the roads, the buildings, the schools, the hospitals are what we need - so people feel very satisfied about that,” she says.

“But if you ask another question - how about democracy, how about the respect for human rights, then the answer will be different."

The opposition Sam Rainsy Party made that point loudly in the run-up to the poll. Its leader, a former finance minister who named the party after himself, has been on the receiving end of several defamation and disinformation suits from high-ranking CPP members.

He has accused the government of presiding over systematic corruption and manipulating the judiciary.

Other concerns include a widening gap between the rich and poor, and regular cases of forced evictions and land grabs.

The dispossessed often take their complaints directly to Hun Sen's private residence, illustrating that many Cambodians view the prime minister as the 'strongman' holding the country together.

Now it seems his party will have the chance to govern on its own for the first time. As Tom Andrews puts it: “This is where the rubber meets the road. We're going to see whether there's genuine progress or not. Let's take advantage of this opportunity - but let's keep the pressure on.”

Hun Sen set to extend Cambodia rule

Al Jazeera
News Asia-Pacific
Sunday, July 27, 2008

Hun Sen, the Cambodian prime minister, is widely expected to extend his 23-year control of the country after his party claimed a large lead early in counting after parliamentary elections.

A spokesman for Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP) said that early results on Sunday showed that they would win 80 of the 123 seats in parliament.

"The early results from all polling stations show that the CPP is leading," Khieu Kanharith, a spokesman for the party and the government, said.

However, Sam Rainsy, the main opposition leader, dismissed the claims and called for a re-run of the polls in districts around the capital Phnom Penh.

"Neither party won more than two-thirds of the seats," he told reporters, estimating that no party received more than 70 seats, according to a tally by his supporters.

Names missing

He also said that 200,000 of Phnom Penh's 722,000 voters had not been able to cast ballots because their names were missing from the electoral lists.

"We don't accept the result in Phnom Penh," Sam Rainsy, whose party held 24 seats in the last parliament, said. "I demand a re-run of the election in Phnom Penh to bring justice to voters."

"I call for a demonstration in Phnom Penh. I appeal to all people whose names were unfairly deleted - please hold a huge protest in Phnom Penh.

"Election observers reported a number of cases of voters' names being removed from the lists, but they said they doubted the problem was as widespread as Sam Rainsy claimed."

The atmosphere for the election day is better than past elections. But the most prominent point is that the turnout was low and a lot of names disappeared" Hang Puthea, head of the Nicfec group of election monitors, said.

"I can't believe that as many as 200,000 names went missing. I could believe the number is maybe 20,000."

About 17,000 domestic and international observers monitored the voting at more than 15,000 polling stations. More than eight million people were registered to vote.

Eleven parties were competing in Sunday's national poll, the fourth since the end of the civil war.

Border dispute

Voters in the capital Phnom Penh started lining up at dawn to cast ballots, with many saying their overriding concern was the territorial dispute with Thailand, centred on the ancient Preah Vihear temple.

"I will vote for those who can solve the issue of Preah Vihear temple immediately after they take power," Lam Chanvanda, a 56-year-old businessman, said as he stood in a long queue of voters.

"Before I was never interested in the border, but now it is in my heart."

Thousands of soldiers from both sides are facing off near the 11th-century Khmer temple. Foreign ministers from the two nations are set to meet on Monday in hopes of resolving the deal.

Hun Sen has accused Thailand of ignoring international law and threatening regional peace by sending troops into the disputed zone around the temple.

"Everybody now supports the government because this is a national issue," Kek Galabru, a prominent Cambodian human rights activist and election monitor, said.

Hun Sen has ruled Cambodia since 1985, when he became prime minister of a Vietnamese-installed communist government after the Khmer Rouge were forced from power.

Previous polls held in Cambodia have been marred 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, but unequal access to the media is still a problem.

Cambodian ruling party claims election victory

ABC News

The ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) has claimed an expected victory in the country's general election, giving another five years in power to ex-Khmer Rouge guerrilla Hun Sen, prime minister for the last 23 years.

Party spokesman Khieu Kanharith said the one-time communist but now firmly free-market CPP was on course to win 80 of the 123 seats in parliament.

A member of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) said early results suggested it was on course for at least 40 seats, although party chief Sam Rainsy, a French-educated former finance minister, put his projected tally much higher.

Full results from Sunday's poll (local time), which passed off largely without incident in a country where democratic politics have frequently been marred by violence, are not expected until late on Monday.

Although he had been widely expected to win thanks to near double-digit economic growth in the last five years, Hun Sen gained extra support from a nationalist spat with Thailand over a 900-year-old temple on their border.

Both Bangkok and Phnom Penh have sent troops to the Preah Vihear ruins, which sit on a jungle-clad escarpment separating the two south-east Asian countries, although so far the only clashes have been verbal and diplomatic, not military.

Hun Sen, a wily chess-playing 57-year-old who lost an eye in Pol Pot's assault on Phnom Penh in 1975, orchestrated the final surrender of the Khmer Rouge in the late 1990s to usher in an unprecedented decade of peace and stability.

Falling political violence is another sign the lot of Cambodia's 14 million people is improving, although human rights groups say four CPP and two SRP activists, including a journalist, were murdered in the month before polling.

Temple talks

So confident was the CPP of victory that it had already scheduled talks over Preah Vihear with Thailand's foreign minister on Monday in the tourist town of Siem Reap, home to Cambodia's famed Angkor Wat temple complex.

The meeting is not expected to make major headway in resolving the dispute, which is mainly over 4.6 square kilometres of scrubland near the temple.

The ruins themselves are claimed by both countries but were awarded to Cambodia in 1962 by the International Court of Justice, a ruling that has rankled in Thailand ever since.

Analysts say Thai domestic politics are mainly to blame for the row, which flared up after Cambodia's successful bid to have the ruins listed as a World Heritage site.

Bangkok's initial support for the heritage listing was seized on by anti-government groups in their long-running attempt to unseat the Government of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej. His foreign minister was forced to resign over the issue.

- Reuters

Cambodian polls close; temple dominates election

The Bangkok Post

Phnom Penh (dpa) - Polls closed in Cambodia at 3 pm on Sunday in national elections with no immediate reports of violence, but an immediate complaint of irregularities by the opposition.

"There were a lot of problems with voters unable to find their names. We were expecting a landslide victory but now we are going to complain," a spokesman for the Sam Rainsy Party said.

However the monolithic Cambodian People's Party (CPP), led by Prime Minister Hun Sen and structured on a Communist model, was expected by analysts and the party's own pollsters to win handsomely - a result that looked affirmed in early counts.

An estimated 8 million voters were registered to vote in the first national elections in five years.

The National Election Committee (NEC) said Saturday these elections were the most peaceful and least violent since democratic polls recommenced after the Khmer Rouge era in 1993.
Cambodian elections have previously been marred by violence.

A tense border stand-off with Thailand which has seen troops mobilized is not expected to unduly influence the outcome, although analysts predicted it may increase voter turnout.

The lack of impact of the border dispute over an ancient temple and surrounding land is because despite nationalistic sentiment running high, Cambodian political parties typically register partisan supporters months or even years in advance.

"If you are Khmer, you love your country no matter what party you support, so people are not going to change their vote because of the border dispute," NEC spokesman Em Sopath said Saturday.

Prime Minister Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party is expected to further increase its dominance, with the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, the royalist Funcinpec party, the Human Rights Party and the Norodom Ranariddh Party expected to vie for the remaining seats.

The Cambodian People's Party, boasting 5 million members, currently holds 73 of the 123 parliamentary seats and conservatively predicted it could snare 80 seats Sunday.

Funcinpec currently holds 26 seats, and the Sam Rainsy Party 24.

Hun Sen has ruled for 23 years, but is enjoying a new surge in popularity due to Cambodia's rapid economic growth, which the International Monetary Fund placed at around 10.5 per cent in 2007.

On Saturday, New York-based Human Rights Watch slammed the election campaign, accusing the ruling party of monopolizing media and using intimidation - accusations the CPP countered were "politically motivated, laughable and predictable."

Khmer Rouge veterans 'ready to fight Thailand'

The Bangkok Post
By Bronwyn Sloan

Anlong Veng, Cambodia (dpa) - Former Khmer Rouge fighters don't care too much about the upcoming trials of their former leaders - but they do care about alleged Thai incursions into Cambodian territory, they said Sunday.

Once fiercely loyal to former Khmer Rouge military commander Ta Mok, who died in 2006 after seven years in jail awaiting trial for genocide, now they say they have embraced democracy.

They are not, however, afraid of war - especially when it comes to Cambodian territory they believe has been violated by hundreds of Thai troops in nearby Preah Vihear, and these northern mountains of Cambodia are almost completely populated by former Khmer Rouge.

Cambodia went to the polls Sunday in five-yearly national elections, but amongst these former fighters, the talk was all about coming out of retirement to serve the government if talks over the disputed Preah Vihear temple, just an hour's drive away, fail.

Cambodia and Thailand are scheduled to hold talks over the temple Monday, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site earlier this month and since the focus of troop buildup on both sides.

Former fighters say they would be at war already if Prime Minister Hun Sen had just said the word, but instead he and the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP), expected to be handsomely returned to office after the elections, have urged restraint. Some are frustrated.

"I only have one leg, and I am old, but my former troops are still in Preah Vihear, and I am willing to give military advice or any other assistance I can to protect Cambodian sovereignty," said former Khmer Rouge fighter Try Nin, 56.

"We are former Khmer Rouge. We are not scared of foreign aggressors. We respect the government's decision to meet the Thais with diplomacy, but if that fails, everyone here is ready to fight."

Former photographer at the Khmer Rouge's infamous Toul Sleng torture centre turned CPP commune leader, Nhem En, 47, who claims Anlong Veng's several thousand voters are 99 percent CPP, agreed.

"I am ready to fight the Thais. All we wait for is an order from Prime Minister Hun Sen," he said. "We don't want war - we want peace and development. But we need tourists, and while the Thais do this, the tourists do not come.

"Thais already have their own problems in their south," he said, referring to Muslim insurgency. "Why do they want an extra problem?"

En's son, Meas Bunlo, aged 20, said that like almost three quarters of the Cambodian population today, he was too young to remember the Khmer Rouge and it's 1975-79 regime and has only ever known the 23-year reign of Hun Sen.

"I went to Ta Mok's funeral, but I don't feel close to the history because I am too young," he said. "However I am Cambodian, so I care about our border and foreign invaders."

Hun Sen, himself a former Khmer Rouge fighter who defected before returning to overthrow the regime, has stressed Cambodia will strive to solve the border dispute by diplomatic, not military, means.

All the same, Anlong Veng's former fighters said, they are now his loyal servants and are ready if called upon to fight again.

Prime minister appears headed for victory in Cambodia election

International Herald Tribune
By Seth Mydans
Published: July 27, 2008

CHBAR MORN, Cambodia: Prime Minister Hun Sen appeared headed for an expected election victory Sunday after what experts said was the least violent campaign in Cambodia's recent history.

His overpowering control of the country's political machinery was buoyed by economic growth and a sense of stability as well as by a surge of patriotism as Cambodia faces off against Thailand for sovereignty over a disputed border temple.

"Although the counting is not yet over, preliminary results show that the CPP is leading, and we expect to win the election," said Khieu Kanharith, the spokesman for the governing party, the Cambodian People's Party. Official results will be announced later in the week.

The expected victory for the governing party will extend for five more years the 23-year rule of Hun Sen, who at the age of 57 is already one of Asia's longest-serving leaders.

The country's fourth democratic election since 1993 had a practiced feel, with lines of voters trooping through polling places around the country to slip their ballots into big metal boxes.

At the little schoolhouse in this village surrounded by green rice fields and sugar palms, voters filled the courtyard as soon as the polls opened at 7 a.m., emerging with black ink on their fingertips to show that they had voted.

"I voted for the party I like, but I don't want to say which one," said May Buntha, a barber, who charges 50 cents for a haircut in his open-fronted shack by a dirt path through the rice fields here, 70 kilometers, or 45 miles, southwest of Phnom Penh.

"If you look at it closely, life is much better than before," he said, and he listed the improvements the government had brought: roads, wells, irrigation, schools, clinics.

"I've just bought a new motorbike, better than the one I had before," he said.

At a Buddhist temple on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, monks in their bright orange robes lined up to vote among the local residents.

Their abbot, Men Chan Punleu, 45, said they were free to vote their consciences. But, he said, "In Cambodia children follow their parents. If their parents take good care of them, if they make sure they have food and shelter, the children are grateful."

The casualty in this stable, predictable process is a vibrant, competitive democracy. Hun Sen's opponents say they are betting on a rising young generation without memories of past hardships to push for change in the next election five years from now.

"This election has been much quieter than in the past," said Ly Rattanak, 26, a junior government official, after casting his vote. "There's less tension. Things are less challenging and I love challenges. It looks O.K. It looks calm. But it's not really fair. It's a one-man show.

"I believe in having a stronger opposition to challenge the ruling party and shape the way the ruling party performs."

Criticism of the campaign from the watchdog group Human Rights Watch amounted to an outline of Hun Sen's political style - "the near-monopoly on broadcast media for the ruling Cambodian Peoples Party (CPP), bias within the electoral apparatus, and harassment, intimidation, and coerced defections of opposition party members."

Hun Sen's chief opponent in the 11-party field, Sam Rainsy, claimed that some 200,000 registered voters had been left off the electoral lists in the capital, Phnom Penh, where he enjoys some of his strongest support.

"Scrap the election and do it again," he said, asserting that Hun Sen's party is "full of tricks."
More than 8 million of Cambodia's 14 million people were eligible to vote for delegates to the 123-seat Parliament. Hun Sen's party now holds 73 seats and needs only a simple majority to form a government on its own.

Before the passage of a constitutional amendment, a two-thirds majority was needed, and Hun Sen, who describes himself as a strongman, was nevertheless forced to bargain with other parties to form a government.

On the wall outside the schoolhouse here, an illustrated poster urged voters to resist threats, intimidation or vote buying. A series of illustrations portrayed familiar scenes, each marked out with a large red X.

In the first illustration, a man with a gun addresses villagers, saying, "Everyone has to vote for one party, otherwise there will be problems." The villagers respond, "Yes, sir."

In the second, a smiling woman talks to a group of villagers. "Please take this money to help you out in your daily lives," she says. "But please don't forget to vote for my party."

The villagers respond: "Yes, thank you, we won't forget."

In the third, a tough-looking man tells the villagers, "Please remember, when election day comes, I'll know who you vote for. Think about it." In one voice, the villagers respond, "Yes, yes, yes, yes."

There is little doubt that threats, vote buying and intimidation were widespread throughout the country, whether to a greater or lesser extent than before.

But whatever methods were used, legal or illegal, Hun Sen summarized the situation neatly earlier this year.

"I wish to state it very clearly this way," he said: "No one can defeat Hun Sen."