Monday, 22 December 2008

Opposition joins forces

SRP Deputy Secretary General Mu Sochua speaks at the HRP-SRP press conference last week.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Meas Sokchea
Monday, 22 December 2008

The Kingdom's two main opposition parties have again announced serious plans to merge and contest the next election in 2012 under one banner

THE long-awaited union of Cambodia's opposition Human Rights Party and Sam Rainsy Party, announced formally in a joint press conference on Thursday, confirms a political relationship that had already begun to coalesce over the two parties' legal efforts to challenge the results of July's national polls.

"On behalf of the HRP, and as president, I would like to declare publicly that we have accepted the request of local Cambodian citizens and nationals living overseas to combine as one political alliance between the HRP and the SRP for future elections," Kem Sokha said in a statement Thursday.

He said the alliance has been struck at an opportune moment for rallying the growing number of people who reject the Cambodian People's Party mandate as a threat to democracy and who seek political representatives devoted to the public good rather than to individual gain. However, he cautioned that the merger would be neither immediate nor comprehensive.

"We are individual parties, and we have individual identities and seats in Parliament. But we have a deeper alliance that can be established now or in the future," he said.

The alliance will not eliminate each party's representation in Parliament, he said, referring to a clause in the Assembly's rules that obliges parties that merge mid-mandate to sacrifice seats. Rather, it would strengthen their present position by uniting them in spirit until the two parties can formally contest elections under one name.

"The opposition parties' positions have been effectively eliminated in Parliament, while the ruling party has the pretext of a mandate. This is contrary to democracy," Kem Sokha said.

Details unclear, SRP cautious

SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua did not mention specifics about the alliance but told reporters following the joint press conference that she accepted the proposal and would present it to party President Sam Rainsy and the SRP's members.

"Our stance is that we wish to unite with other democrats who are impartial. An alliance with the HRP would give us a combined 29 seats [in Parliament]," she said.

Despite having similar platforms and a shared history of cooperation with the workers and union movements, the two parties - possibly because of the personalities involved - have always had a tumultuous relationship. Soon after Kem Sokha founded his party in 2007, Sam Rainsy told the Post: "I am not interested and I am not concerned" about the new contender.

As Kem Sokha's HRP proved itself to be a viable candidate in the run-up to the July polls, many observers expected a last-minute merger so as not to split the opposition vote. Such a merger failed to materialise.

For some, such as Puthea Hang, executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, the new alliance may be too little, too late.

"They cannot win against the CPP because they would be starting all over as a new party," he said.

Govt stays silent

Despite the announcement of a future merger, government spokesman Khieu Kanharith refused to be drawn on the proposed union, telling the Post the opposition parties were free to do what they wanted.

"It is their right. They can combine however they see fit," he said.

Some civil society groups have responded with scepticism, saying that any coalition was doomed to fail in future elections because the parties lack the ability to lead.

Heang Rithy, president of the Cambodian National Research Organisation, said the opposition will never depose the ruling CPP because it has failed to understand the law.

"Leaders of the SRP and HRP have never demanded that the National Election Committee maintain free and fair elections. Instead, they simply complain when they don't win," he said.

Police raid ends suspected kidnapping

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Vong Sokheng
Monday, 22 December 2008

A CHINESE national has been arrested in Phnom Penh on charges of kidnapping and terrorism after a police raid on his house ended violently on Sunday.

Hour Ming, 33, was suspected of kidnapping Seang Yuohour, a 34-year-old Chinese woman, who was believed to be held hostage for 13 hours in his house in Tuol Kork district before police broke into the property, Mork Hong, chief of the Tuol Kork District Police, told the Post Sunday.

After a standoff with police in which Hour Ming threatened to set off fake explosives, the kidnapper slashed the victim's right cheek and stabbed himself in the chest.

"We don't have all the information yet because the case is still under investigation," Mork Hong said, adding that both the suspect and the victim were currently being treated for wounds in Kosmak Hospital.

Mork Hong said that the Phnom Penh Municipal Police and Anti-Terrorist police of the Ministry of Interior now had control over the case, but Khieu Sopheak, spokesman of the Ministry of Interior, told the Post that he had not received any information about the case as of Sunday.

According to local officials, police had surrounded the house since 6pm Saturday night and arrested the kidnapper early Sunday morning, enabling them to rescue the victim.

Mork Hong said the kidnapper had told police he would set off a bomb with his mobile phone if police tried to break into the house, but it was revealed later that the explosives were really milk cans.

An official at the Chinese embassy in Phnom Penh told the Post Sunday that he had no information about the incident.

Gambling centres to be closed

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chhay Channyda
Monday, 22 December 2008

Hun Sen targets 15 unlicensed slots halls, underscoring ban

PRIME Minister Hun Sen ordered the closure of 15 unlicensed slot machine centres during a Council of Ministers' meeting on Friday, underscoring the fact that many gambling operators ignored his December 5 directive.

According to a statement from the Council of Ministers' meeting, the prime minister asked the National Police chief and the National Military Police commander to close 12 slot machine centres in Phnom Penh, two in Sihanoukville and one in Kandal province.

Sao Sokha, National Military Police commander, said Sunday that all the slot machine venues on Hun Sen's list were closed "immediately" after the order.

"Those slot machine parlours were operating without licenses, violating the December 5 government directive," he said.

Hun Sen also asked the Ministry of Economy and Finance to search for hotels with registered slot machines that allow local Cambodians to gamble. These, too, would be shut down.

"We are still monitoring the licensed slot machine parlours. If they allow Khmers to play, we will shut them down, too," Sao Sokha said.

Son Chhay, a Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker, said that in Cambodia, there are 50 licensed casinos and more than 200 gambling centres.

But, he said, the government ban of local, Cambodian gambling has been ineffective and revealing.

"I still see luxury cars carrying government number plates parked outside [slot machine] clubs. The cars clearly belong to senior officials," Son Chhay said.

Chea Vannath, an independent analyst, said that she welcomed the government crackdown but questioned whether it would be successful.

The difficulties manifest in enforcing Hun Sen's recent order, she said, showed a surprising "weakness in his authority".

In 2008, according to Son Chhay, the government collected about US$10 million from casinos.

Thank you for the blue berets


The Phnom Penh Post

Monday, 22 December 2008

A woman prays at a ceremony on Sunday to mark the 53rd anniversary of Cambodia joining the United Nations. UN officials and civil society leaders at the event drew attention to the help the UN has given Cambodia over the decades, and 192 monks - representing the 192 member organisations of the UN - walked through Phnom Penh's Hun Sen park in a peace parade.

Language wars at the KRT

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Elena Lesley
Sunday, 21 December 2008

Former New York Times journalist Barbara Crossette was in Phnom Penh recently leading a seminar for Cambodian journalists covering the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. I stopped by one of the sessions and chatted with Crossette and several students; I will post more about this initiative soon.

But in the meantime, read this article Crossette wrote after her trip about the French-English language wars at the ECCC. It is an issue I have thought a good deal about given Jacques Verges' repeated demands for French translations, and Crossette does a great job of explaining some of the debate's broader implications.

* Pictured: Crossette instructs journalists during a recent seminar in Phnom Penh.

Chinese man arrested in Cambodia on terrorism charges

Asia-Pacific News
Dec 22, 2008

Phnom Penh - A Chinese national was arrested and charged with kidnapping and terrorism offences in Cambodia, national media reported Monday.

Police on Sunday arrested Hour Ming, 33, after he allegedly held hostage Seang Youhour, 34, for 13 hours in his house in the capital Phnom Penh and threatened to set off a bomb if officers tried to raid the building, The Phnom Penh Post reported.

The man slashed the victim's face with a knife and stabbed himself in the chest as police raided the house early Sunday morning, officials said.

Police said the suspect and the victim were being treated in a Phnom Penh hospital.

Thailand’s new government endorsed by king

More than 10,000 Thai Buddhist monks gather near Lopburi, Thailand, Saturday, Dec. 20, to pray for peace. Thailand is still experiencing violence in the south while political tensions have eased with the formation of a new government. (AP)
The China Post
Sunday, December 21, 2008

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Thailand's new prime minister unveiled his Cabinet Saturday, with top jobs going to unseasoned politicians and a diplomat who supported the blockade of Bangkok's airports last month, undermining hopes that two years of political strife were coming to an end.

The announcement came after King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the country's revered monarch, endorsed Abhisit Vejjajiva, whom lawmakers voted in as prime minister on Dec. 15. The Cabinet was announced on national television and will be sworn in Monday.

Abhisit is Thailand's third leader in four months -- and the first opponent of ex-Premier Thaksin Shinawatra to lead a civilian government in seven years. His selection raised hopes that he would stop the revolving door of prime ministers, many of whom were forced from office by months of demonstrations aimed at ridding the government of Thaksin's allies.

But his 35-member Cabinet includes picks that critics have already said will make it harder to unite the deeply divided nation -- largely split between the middle class that is his base and the rural poor who backed Thaksin.

Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 coup but was at the center of a country's political crisis, which was led by protesters determined to rid Thai government of his political allies. Thaksin fled into exile to avoid corruption charges.

The selection that drew the most criticism was Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, 64, a career diplomat who was a prominent supporter of the protesters who occupied the prime minister's office compound for three months and then blockaded Bangkok's two airports in late November.

Kasit appeared several times as a guest speaker at the protests led by the People's Alliance for Democracy movement and hailed the Nov 29- Dec. 3 airport blockade as a "new innovation for public protests."

Kasit comes with solid professional credentials: He is a Georgetown University graduate and former ambassador to the U.S., Japan, Germany, Indonesia and the former Soviet Union.

But pundits and critics say Abhisit's selection of Kasit as foreign minister is unlikely to heal the political rifts between Thaksin's supporters and opponents that have divided the country.

The political turmoil has further dogged Thailand's economy -- heavily dependent on tourism -- in the midst of a global slowdown. Abhisit who holds a degree in economics will lead the government's economic team with his Oxford classmate, Korn Chatikavanij, as finance minister.

The 44-year-old Korn is a respected economist and former investment banker who headed Thailand's office of JP Morgan Chase & Co. from 1999-2004. He is also known for his good looks, which have earned him a nickname from the Thai media that translates as "Tall, Handsome."

Another pick has been linked to corruption. The Democrat Party's secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban, 59, was appointed deputy prime minister to oversee security matters.

Suthep was accused in 1995 of distributing plots of land allotted for agricultural use by the poor to his cronies. The scandal brought down the administration of then Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai, a Democrat.

Meanwhile, Chavarat Charnvirakul, 72, a former Thaksin supporter who jumped fence to the Democrats, was rewarded with the Interior Minister's portfolio. Chavarat was a deputy prime minister in the previous administration led by Thaksin's brother-in-law Somchai Wongsawat.

Chavarat is a former businessman who founded one of Thailand's biggest construction companies, Sino-Thai Engineering and Construction Plc, which was commissioned to build several government projects, including Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi international airport.

Women held with forged passports

The Statesman

KOLKATA, Dec. 21: They spent Rs 18.5 lakh with a hope to get a better life in the UK but but ended up being arrested in the NSC Bose Airport early today. Ms T Kaur (31), Ms H Kaur (29) and Ms B Kaur (28), residents of Punjab paid Rs 18.5 lakh to an agent in Delhi who promised to get them sales job in the UK.

Mr Basab Talukdar, DC (security control) said that they left Delhi on 24 October and went to Cambodia via Bangkok. After reaching Cambodia the agent took away their Indian passports and gave them the UK passports which were forged.

Just when they were about to leave for the UK, the forgery was detected and they were detained at the airport. They contacted Indian Embassy in Cambodia and were able to collect emergency landing certificates with the help of which they could return to India. They came to Kolkata by a Thai International flight early this morning and were again detained by immigration officials at NSC Bose Airport.


Insecurity drives farm purchases abroad

Wealthy countries seek land in Cambodia, Madagascar, and Brazil.

By David Montero

Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
from the December 22, 2008

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - The farm fields of this country once fed the legendary civilization of Angkor, the world's largest empire in the 9th century. Tomorrow they may feed the megacities of the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Qatar.

Reeling from food prices that have doubled on average from a year ago, several Gulf countries are pursuing land deals worth billions of dollars in Cambodia, according to recent statements by Cambodia's government. Those countries would lease land, grow rice and corn, and then ship it home – potentially saving millions by bypassing world markets.

The race for farmland in Cambodia underscores how countries desperate to boost farming amid an ongoing food crisis are turning to global outsourcing, hoping to grow their own food on land abroad. Japan has bought up plots in Brazil, South Korea large tracts in Madagascar, in a trend poised to change global land ownership and agricultural production.

While it may bring succor to countries squeezed by high prices, it may also incite conflict and poverty, some experts warn. In August, Jacques Diouf, director-general of the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization, warned against creating a kind of food "neocolonialism," with rich countries securing food supplies at the expense of poor farmers.

From his office in Dubai, Mohammed Raouf can see the global food crisis closing in on the Gulf states. Growing food at home is not viable – in Saudi Arabia, Mr. Raouf points out, farmers have tried for 15 years, unsuccessfully, to grow wheat in the desert.

As a result, Gulf nations must import about 80 percent of staple foods. And the price of those imports has ballooned from $16 billion in 2006 to $20 billion in 2007, according to the Arab Organization for Agricultural Development.

Land acquisitions abroad are the only viable response, Raouf and others say. "For the Gulf countries ... under current technology, it is impossible to guarantee their food security internally, because they lack water resources and arable lands," Raouf, program manager of environment research at the Gulf Research Center, a Dubai think tank, writes in an e-mail. "So this [is] the best policy option now to follow…"

In recent months, Cambodia has positioned itself as a solution: of 6 million hectares (about 15 million acres) available for cultivation, only 2.5 million are currently used, the government says. It's been wooing the Gulf, hosting delegations of Arab leaders, and hopes to finalize concessions worth up to $3 billion with Kuwait and Qatar. As Prime Minister Hun Sen said in a recent radio address, "Those countries have oil but no rice. I think the Gulf can become our rice market."

The marriage of rich countries seeking land and poor countries seeking cash has accelerated since 2007, goaded by troubling statistics: as populations rise globally by 1 to 2 percent, agricultural production is not keeping pace. Investment has slumped, and farmland is disappearing as nations transform countrysides into urban centers.

The result has been a quiet but dramatic redrawing of the world's land ownership. China may have a lot of land mass, but much of the arable land it has is rapidly being turned over to industrial use, and tens of millions of its former farmers have moved to the cities for work. So it now is negotiating deals to buy more than 2 million hectares of land in countries as far flung as Mexico, Tanzania, and Australia. The United Arab Emirates is seeking some 800,000 hectares in Pakistan alone, while Saudi Arabia is negotiating for 1.6 million hectares in Indonesia, according to statistics compiled by Grain, an environmental organization based in Spain.

Such deals may look good on paper, bringing cash and possibly technology transfers. But many in Cambodia – as elsewhere – are concerned. They worry that poor countries could undercut their ability to feed themselves by selling land, especially in times of food crisis.

"We still need to develop our agricultural technology on our own land,," says Meas Nee, country director of Village Focus International, a nongovernmental organization that focuses on farmers' livelihoods. "If this kind of investment is not carefully planned, all the investment will be done at the expense of the rural poor and farmers."

Another concern is that land may be unfairly taken away from farmers. Cambodia is already reeling from extensive land disputes, and local newspapers daily report on cases of poor farmers being kicked off their land. In many cases, local police and government officials are said to be responsible, making way for private businesses to set up agricultural projects.

No one knows for certain how many people have been dispossessed in recent years, but it is estimated to be in the tens of thousands, according to several local and international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International.

In Laos, farmers are accusing Chinese of kicking them off their land. When it was announced that Egypt hoped to buy 840,000 acres of land in Uganda, a public uproar ensued, resulting in the Ugandan government denying the transaction. It remains unclear if that deal will go through.

"The land deal could trigger a conflict over land and also raise other political issues. We could see a reversal of our socioeconomic progress," says Arthur Bainomugisha, director of research at ACODE, a think tank headquartered in Kampala, Uganda.

Here in Cambodia, critics worry that land deals could be made without local consultation and could result in more people being kicked off their land.

Cambodian farmers would still be able to work on the land that foreign countries buy, but critics worry that companies would not be able to provide as many jobs as they might potentially take away. "The companies can make jobs, but in our observation, they cannot make the jobs enough," says Thun Saray, the executive direction of Adhoc, a local human rights organization.

"If the government permits land sales to foreign countries, where will Cambodians who need land go? How can they survive?"

Australian prefers Thai jail to home

The Sydney Morning Herald

Lindsay Murdoch and Jim Pollard
December 22, 2008

A MELBOURNE man who has been living in shocking conditions in a crowded Bangkok immigration jail cell for more than four years is refusing to accept Australian Government help to return home.

Colin Hansch, 61, has told Thai authorities he would rather stay in jail than return to Australia, even though he has only a mat to sleep on and receives a small daily serve of rice and soup.

"I've not been back to Australia for 30 years. I don't want to go back, I've got nothing to go back to," he said.

Mr Hansch, a computer engineer who left Melbourne in 1967, is worried he will not be able to obtain a passport to travel overseas again if he accepts the offer. It is believed he wants to be able to visit Malaysia or Cambodia.

"I think they [Australia] don't want to give me a passport … they don't want to set a precedent giving a passport to somebody while they are in custody," he said.

#A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs in Canberra said Mr Hansch had repeatedly rejected an offer from the embassy in Bangkok to issue a limited-validity document to let him return home immediately.

Mr Hansch has been held at the immigration centre in Bangkok, just around the corner from the Australian embassy, since September 2004. He was transferred there, supposedly pending deportation, after serving two years in a Bangkok jail for assault causing serious bodily harm, which related to a dispute with a bar girl in the beach resort of Pattaya.

He shares a large cell on the immigration centre's second floor with up to 100 illegal immigrants.
Fights often erupt. He spends much of his time listening to FM radio and reading books.

The department spokesman said Australian consular officers have provided assistance to Mr Hansch while he was in jail and now at the immigration centre.

For 12 years Mr Hansch worked as a computer engineer for a US firm in Thailand. He has also worked as a computer engineer in the US and at the former Woomera defence site in South Australia.

"Thai authorities have informed the embassy that Mr Hansch is subject to deportation following completion of his criminal sentence and must travel directly to Australia," the foreign affairs spokesman said.

"The embassy is not able to issue Mr Hansch with a full-validity passport as he has been unable to satisfy documentation requirements to enable the issue of a full-validity passport."

There are about two dozen Australians among thousands of foreigners in Thai jails, most of them for drug-related offences.

There is an agreement with Thailand under which prisoners can transfer to Australian jails, but the process is very bureaucratic.

A Melbourne man, Harry Nicolaides, 41, has been in prison in Bangkok since August 31 on charges of lese majeste, which can carry up to 15 years' jail. He is scheduled to appear in court on January 19.

Refugee parties after deportation scare

HAPPY RETURN: friends welcome Cambodian Sokhom Pich back home after his last-minute reprieve from deportation.

Monday, 22 December 2008

A Cambodian refugee has escaped deportation after an 11th-hour government reprieve.

Friends of Sokhom Pich celebrated his return to Christchurch with a party on Saturday night.

Former associate immigration minister Shane Jones decided to release Pich and allow him to apply for permanent residency just one hour before he was to be deported on November 4.
Members of Christchurch's Cambodian community had appealed to the then Labour government to allow Pich to stay in the country after he was arrested as an overstayer in September.

After living in New Zealand for 11 years, the 47-year-old had exhausted every legal avenue in his bid to remain in the country as a political refugee despite fears he would be imprisoned and possibly killed if he was sent back to Cambodia.

Just an hour before boarding a plane in Auckland, he received the news that he could stay.

"I was really, really, really happy. I was just jumping and it was just amazing," he said.

"I was surprised because in Auckland I was feeling everything was over. For 20 seconds I couldn't say anything."

Pich said he was a member of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party in his home country which criticised the government for corruption and cracking down on political dissent.

"If the government is not good, people live without houses and food and that's not good for the people," he said.

Pich said a number of his fellow party members had disappeared or been killed and he feared a similar fate. "I felt scared and quite nervous about being sent home, but after it came closer and closer I wasn't scared, I wasn't anything."

Cambodian community adviser Bill Noordanus said Cambodian law meant Pich would have been imprisoned for more than three years if he was sent home as he had left the country illegally.

"He's a very fine man. He's an idealist and like all idealists they sometimes clash with the authorities."

International Organization Condemns Hun Sen’s Government for Serious Human Rights Abuses - Saturday, 20.12.2008

Posted on 21 December 2008.
The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 591

“An international human rights organization, the Asian Human Rights Commission, condemned Hun Sen’s government for seriously violating human rights in Cambodia, and it considered that 2008 is a year of serious human rights abuses; the Kingdom of Cambodia is now falling into a worse human rights situation than during the years after the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia – UNTAC – had left Cambodia in 1993.

“According to The State of Human Rights in Eleven Asian Countries [here is a brief overview over the whole report; a reference to the full report - 314 pages, PDF 4.5 MB - is given in the overview], published by the Asian Human Rights Commission, an organization which assessed the human rights situation in eleven countries in Asia for 2008, considered that the human rights situation in Cambodia is returning to a worse level than before, after the Cambodian People’s Party of Prime Minister Hun Sen accumulated more power.

“The report added, ‘Hun Sen’s ruling party is a former communist party and has control over the institutions for parliamentary democracy and for the rule of law and the media since the communist days.’ The ruling Cambodian People’s Party has been able to squeeze out opposition parties, which challenge it, and it tries to destroys the rest the opposition that has remained.

“The report about the human rights in Cambodia which is published on the Internet by the Asian Human Rights Commission, pointed out that the human rights situation in Cambodia is not different from that in Burma [and the other countries: 'In all the countries mentioned above, there were serious human rights abuses'] and serious threats to the human security of inhabitants]. The executive director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, is Mr. Basil Fernando. Their report asks, ‘Human Rights in Cambodia: A Turning Point for the Worse?’ - that Cambodia is a country with the worst history of human rights in Asia, because this country does not proceed has made little progress in its human rights protecting systemsl.

“The report continued to criticize Hun Sen’s government, saying that the court system is corrupt, it is not just and neutral, while the police is staffed by trusted members of the party of the current government. Therefore, there is no way for normal people to make complaints to courts; the result of the complaints is that they loose against the rich and the powerful. Citizens have, in general, no power to protect their rights; in Cambodia at present, the ways to control the society by the executive worsens the human situation, because the control is concentrated in the hands of one person.

“The report pointed out that the planned creation of a new law by the Hun Sen government to monitor non-government organizations in Cambodia, the reduced the role of the United Nations in Cambodia, and the failure to reform the legal systems are major factors which conditioned the Cambodian human rights situation towards getting worse. The human rights situation in Cambodia might go down the road from where the elections organized by the Untied Nations in 1993 had helped to be pulled out. The hope of Khmer citizens is totally lost in 2008, because there is no place countrywide where human rights institution becomes better. It is added that the reduction of the role of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights in Cambodia after the resignation of Mr. Yash Ghai as the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Human Rights in Cambodia, [to be replaced only by a 'Special Rapporteur'] makes Cambodia more isolated from international monitoring of human rights in Cambodia.

“A parliamentarian of the Sam Rainsy Party from Kampot, Ms. Mu Sochua, said that the plan to draft a law in 2009 to control non-government organizations is a concern that it might lead to more serious human rights abuses. She added that space for democracy is now getting tougher, and it is very bad that the government wants to control this narrow space further by creating a law to control non-government organizations.

“She continued to say, ‘Things will become worse in 2009, if a law to control non-government organizations, initiated by the government, is adopted.’

“Human rights observers in Cambodia acknowledged that the assessment of the Asian Human Rights Commission, which said that the human rights situation in Cambodia may be at a turning point to become, is right, because during recent years, the government, led by Prime Minister Hun Sen, the vice-president of the Cambodian People’s Party, has not taken actions to improve the respect for human rights according to the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the nation. On the contrary, Hun Sen’s government lets human rights abuses move towards a more serious situation, particularity by using of court system to jail citizens over land disputes.”
Moneaksekar Khmer, Vol.15, #3644, 20-21.12.2008
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Saturday, 20 December 2008

Fighting for international justice

Kaing Guek Eav - alias Duch – is one of the main accused in the Khmer Rouge trials (Keystone)
December 21, 2008

Swiss lawyer Alain Werner, an expert of international justice, is set to join other legal experts defending victims of Khmer Rouge dictatorship in Cambodia.

Geneva-born Werner's taste for international affairs was last tested as he served this year as assistant prosecutor at the trial of the former Liberian president, Charles Taylor, in The Hague.

In January, the Swiss lawyer will go to Cambodia where the United Nations and the government have set up a special court in the capital Phnom Penh to judge the remaining Khmer Rouge leaders.

And for the first time, victims can counterattack in a UN-backed court. Werner will be representing some of these plaintiffs on a pro-bono basis, because, he says, "I owe the victims."

His clients are former detainees of the Tuol Seng camp, run by the man known as Duch who is on trial in the Cambodian capital. The camp held up to 12,000 prisoners, many of whom were tortured.


Aged 36, Werner has already had plenty of experience for this latest trial. His work for the Taylor case, a trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone has certainly steeled him.

Since last January, 84 witnesses – including many of his former associates - have given their account of events in west Africa. These insiders have left little doubt about Taylor's responsibility.

Around 150,000 people died, thousands of others suffer from amputations and Sierra Leone is still struggling to overcome the damage that was inflicted on it.

"The insiders are former ministers, revolutionaries, people who went to Cuba to train as revolutionaries," Werner told swissinfo. "They aren't all killers, but sometimes amazing characters."

The Swiss lawyer has been dealing with the case since 2002. He joined the prosecutor's team at the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Freetown.
Alain Werner (private collection)

Another direction

After four years, he decided to take another direction and went to Cairo University to learn Arabic. But Taylor's arrest in Nigeria upset his plans, with Werner again joining forces with the special prosecutor for the trial.

The case was heard in The Hague at the demand of the Liberian government, which feared further unrest in the region if the trial was heard there.

Although the case began in January, the prosecutor has not yet finished his work and the defence lawyers have yet to begin theirs. Sentencing is not expected before the end of 2009.

But for Werner, his work is over. "We have almost finished presenting all the proof, and even if the trial isn't over, it's a different situation," he said.

"It's like when you are in love. It's time to move on when cracks appear in a relationship so you can keep something intact."

His next task, Phnom Penh, will help repay what he calls his "debt."

No defence

"The witnesses for the Sierra Leone trials were asked to come to tell of the horror, the amputations, the massacres. But they weren't defended by anyone," said Werner.

"If I can go to Phnom Penh, hold a victim's hand and go with that person to the trial, I think I will be able find out why we are going through this process."

Werner is certainly a restless character. During breaks in the Taylor trial, he travelled to Chad to work as an expert in the case being built up against the former dictator Hissen Habré, accused of crimes against humanity.

The lawyer doesn't want to stop at dictators. He wants to target those he says are higher up, those who work "in the background, pay for wars, the weapons dealers."

Werner is not planning to return to Switzerland to work anytime soon.

"What I am looking for is idealism and adventure," he added. "I could have worked in Geneva, but today I prefer judicial warfare."

swissinfo, Stéphanie Maupas in The Hague

New Foreign Minister readies for ASEAN Summit, Cambodia disputes

BANGKOK, Dec 21 (TNA) - Newly appointed Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said he is ready to work on two urgent priorities, preparation for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations leader meeting (ASEAN Summit) that Thailand will host early next year and the talks to provide a sustainable settlement of the border disputes with Cambodia.

During the ASEAN Foreign Minister's Meeting at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta, Indonesia, last Monday, the ministers tentatively agreed that the Summit would be held in Thailand by the end of February.

The meeting fixed the new dates of the 14th ASEAN Summit and Related Summits on February 24-26, 2008.

However, Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo reportedly said the delayed summit may need to be rescheduled as some leaders are unable to make it. He did not mention which leaders would be unable to attend, but said alternative dates being considered include late January and early February.

Thailand, which currently holds the rotating chairmanship of the 10-member bloc, was forced to delay the ASEAN summit from mid-December to March because of political circumstances, including the blockade of Bangkok's main airports -- Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang -- by anti-government protesters, which left hundreds of thousands of travellers stranded.

ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Mr. Kasit said apart from the ASEAN Summit preparation, the highest priority issue was the talks to solve the border disputes with Cambodia.

He said he believed the issue was likely to be solved as Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen was the first leader who sent congratulation message to Abhisit Vejjajeva after His Majesty the King had given his royal endorsement to the new Thai prime minister, which could be considered a good sign of the warm friendship between the two neighbouring countries.

As for the extradition of fugitive ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinwatra, Mr. Kasit said he would ask for more details from the ministry's officials when he starts working at the ministry on December 23.

As far as he knew, Mr. Kasit said, Mr. Thaksin's diplomatic passport had already been revoked and the procedure to revoke his normal passport was underway.

Mr. Thaksin jumped bail and fled into exile in August as corruption cases piled up against him, and he was sentenced on October 21 to two years in jail for breaching graft laws by helping his wife, Khunying Pojaman to buy state-owned land.

Mr. Kasit said he would like to see the details first and would decide how to bring ex-premier Thaksin back to be prosecuted in Thailand. (TNA)