Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Thai anti-government protesters leave the stage area after leaders called off their rally outside the government house in Bangkok

Thai anti-government protesters leave the stage area after leaders called off their rally outside the government house in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, April 14, 2009. Leaders of demonstrations that plunged the Thai capital into chaos Tuesday called off their protests following rioting and clashes that left two dead and more than 120 injured across Bangkok. Several were then taken into police custody.(AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

A Thai anti-government protester walks with a Thai national flag, after leaders called off their rally outside the government house in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, April 14, 2009. Leaders of demonstrations that plunged the Thai capital into chaos Tuesday called off their protests following rioting and clashes that left two dead and more than 120 injured across Bangkok. Several were then taken into police custody.(AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

A Thai anti-government protester poses a picture with his ID card before walking through a line of soldiers outside the government house in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, April 14, 2009. Authorities required each protester to pose for a picture holding up his ID card when protesters leave the area. Leaders of demonstrations that plunged the Thai capital into chaos Tuesday called off their protests following rioting and clashes that left two dead and more than 120 injured across Bangkok. Several were then taken into police custody.(AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

A supporter of ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra kneels in front of soldiers near Government house, in Bangkok. Thai anti-government protesters threatened with a military offensive abandoned a three-week rally at the premier's office, pulling the kingdom back from a potentially bloody showdown in the streets(AFP/Christophe Archambault)

Supporters of ousted Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra leave the Government House area as soldiers watch in Bangkok April 14, 2009. Thai anti-government protesters ended a three-week siege of the prime minister's office on Tuesday, stepping back from a confrontation that had raised fears that renewed instability would further damage the economy.REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang (THAILAND POLITICS CONFLICT MILITARY)

A supporter of ousted Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra raises his arms in front of soldiers before leaving the Government House area in Bangkok April 14, 2009. Thai anti-government protesters ended a three-week siege of the prime minister's office on Tuesday, stepping back from a confrontation that had raised fears that renewed instability would further damage the economy.REUTERS/Kerek Wongsa (THAILAND CONFLICT MILITARY POLITICS)

Supporters of ousted Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra raise a white cloth and their arms before leaving the Government House area in Bangkok April 14, 2009. Thai anti-government protesters ended a three-week siege of the prime minister's office on Tuesday, stepping back from a confrontation that had raised fears that renewed instability would further damage the economy.REUTERS/Kerek Wongsa (THAILAND CONFLICT MILITARY POLITICS)

Cambodian Buddhist followers clean a Buddha statue during a merit making ceremony Tuesday, April 14, 2009, in Phnom Penh

Cambodian Buddhist followers clean a Buddha statue during a merit making ceremony Tuesday, April 14, 2009, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The ceremony was held in advance of Cambodian New Year's celebration which lasts for three days, from April 14 through 16 this year.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Cambodians clean a statue Buddha during a merit making ceremony Tuesday, April 14, 2009, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The ceremony was held in advance of Cambodian New Year's celebration which lasts for three days, from April 14 through 16 this year.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Cambodian Buddhist monks bless the holy water as followers make donations during a merit making ceremony Tuesday, April 14, 2009, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The ceremony was held in advance of Cambodian New Year's celebration which lasts for three days, from April 14 through 16 this year.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

A battle won in Thailand's 'war'

Asia Times Online

Southeast Asia
Apr 15, 2009

By Shawn W Crispin

BANGKOK - While red-shirted protesters manhandled a government security official they had handcuffed and temporarily taken hostage, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra placed a call from exile to his trusted United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) leader, Jakrapob Penkair, who reported back on events from an air-conditioned bus at the back of the UDD's main rally site.

The two shared a laugh over the UDD's siege of the Ministry of Interior earlier that Sunday and briefly discussed international media strategies. Jakrapob was the reputed brains behind the brinksmanship of Thailand's escalated political chaos, which in

recent days developed into scenes of street violence not seen since the breakdown in law and order that eventuated in the fateful military crackdown of May 1992.

The United States-educated former government spokesman Jakrapob was the self-professed chief strategist for prosecuting the "people's revolution" the exiled Thaksin called for during his recent video phone-ins, which on April 8 drew over 100,000 red-shirted supporters. Thaksin's rally cry for insurrection sparked wild scenes of unrest in Bangkok and acts of disobedience targeting symbols of central authority in several provincial capitals.

Jakrapob told Asia Times Online on Sunday that any military crackdown against UDD protesters would be met with a "vigorous self-defense" that could result in "civil war". That dire scenario was averted on Tuesday when troops surrounded the group's main protest stage outside Government House and forced UDD leaders to disperse their remaining few thousand loyal supporters and surrender to police authorities.

Thailand's security situation deteriorated rapidly after the UDD abandoned its earlier claims to non-violence and ramped up the intensity of its protests. UDD supporters left a chaotic mark by blockading major roadways in Bangkok, breaking up an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Pattaya where several world leaders were scheduled to attend and violently confronting security forces after Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva declared a state of emergency on Sunday.

Government and military officials claimed there were no casualties during a pre-dawn operation on Monday to clear protesters from a main Bangkok road intersection. An estimated over 80 protestors were injured in the clash, with over a score severely hurt, according to local news reports. Thaksin rebuked those accounts to international news outlets, claiming that the local press was complicit in a government cover-up and that "some" red-shirted protestors were killed in the melee.

In an SMS text message to international media late on Monday, Jakrapob characterized the government's version of events as "all bullshit" and that the UDD claimed there were "a lot of dead people". In a follow-up message on Monday morning, just before the UDD's surrender, Jakrapob said that "the local media is incorporated with [the government and] trying to make the whole country blindly believe that nothing serious is happening".

The implications of recent events are serious for Thailand's battered and bruised democracy, as the UDD effectively portrayed and pilloried Abhisit's government as propped up by the military and other anti-democratic forces. Despite his frantic last gasps, the 41-year-old, English-speaking Jakrapob distinguished himself throughout the chaos from the UDD's less-polished stage orators and some say he could emerge as the Thaksin-aligned opposition Peua Thai party's next prime ministerial candidate.

Competitive histories
That assumes that Thailand holds future elections and that the military under army commander General Anupong Paochinda stays in the barracks. With the rally's dispersal and its co-leaders' arrests, the history and interpretation of the UDD's escalation and the state's response will be hotly debated in the days and weeks ahead. So, too, will the reason and timing behind Thaksin's surprise lurch towards full-blown confrontation, including his public broadsides against members of King Bhumibol Adulyadej's advisory Privy Council.

One UDD insider says Jakrapob was instrumental in pushing the former premier in that controversial direction and that Thaksin's willingness to publicly criticize royal advisors was crucial to the movement's ability to mobilize the masses that gathered in front of Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda's private residence on April 8 to demand his and other royal advisors' resignations.

Many royalists interpreted Thaksin's and the UDD's revolutionary rally calls - which were made within earshot of the royal family's Bangkok palace - as a veiled threat to the monarchy and a harbinger of the challenge both Thaksin and Jakrapob could mount to the institution's role in Thai society after the highly revered 81-year-old Bhumibol eventually passes from the scene. Significantly, the military positioned its largest contingent around the palace when it deployed troops to restore order on Sunday.

Thaksin's recent bombshell allegations that Prem and his close associate General Surayud Chulanont were among the masterminds behind the 2006 coup mirror those first made by Jakrapob, who broke local taboos during the military-appointed administration by publicly accusing the royal advisory body of acting outside of its legal mandate.

Prem has consistently denied the charges and Jakrapob was briefly imprisoned for leading what was then a less potent anti-government protest movement that in July 2007 demonstrated raucously in front of Prem's private residence. It wasn't readily apparent then that Thaksin supported that short-lived protest movement, but Jakrapob successfully shifted Thailand's political debate by directly implicating privy councilors in the coup.

Thaksin's previous reluctance to confront royally affiliated figures was underscored when Jakrapob was knocked from his ministerial position in a democratically elected, Thaksin-aligned government in 2008 after a senior police official filed lese majeste charges against him. According to a well-placed source, Thaksin moved publicly to distance himself from his trusted aide in light of the royally-tinged allegations, but remained in close private contact.

That was when Thaksin was still bidding through behind-the-scenes negotiation for an elite settlement that would allow him to recover US$2.2 billion in family-owned assets now frozen in Thai banks in exchange for a vow to permanently stay out of politics, according to sources familiar with the situation.

Thaksin had been engaged in a secret mediation process with the palace and military led by a European interlocutor to find a compromise solution to the country's political impasse, according to Jakrapob. He told Asia Times Online that the foreign-led mediation process was a non-starter and that any negotiations should be held directly between Thais.

Those negotiations reportedly stalled because of the military's unwillingness to negotiate and the government's invigorated efforts to have Thaksin extradited to serve a two-year prison sentence for criminal conflict of interest charges handed down by a Thai court in 2008.

Muddied motivations
It's still unclear whether those stalled talks drove Thaksin to embrace Jakrapob's more radical vision for the country's political future. Thaksin's recent rally cries for a national uprising against aristocracy and the need for "true democracy" have echoed Jakrapob's long-held views that certain royal bodies should have a diminished future role in the country's democracy.

Nor is it clear that the UDD's provocative calls and tilt towards brinksmanship will enhance or undermine Thaksin's future negotiating position vis-a-vis his now publicly identified establishment adversaries. One UDD organizer, who requested anonymity, suggested that Thaksin's calls for a national uprising were no idle threat and that the protest group could in the weeks ahead stir more trouble at the provincial level.

He claimed that Thaksin operatives had for the past two years clandestinely funneled small arms through Cambodia to his supporters in various northeastern provinces, where Thaksin's grassroots support runs deep. The well-placed source also said the arms had been moved and distributed with the help of former Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) contacts, an ideologically driven insurgent group active in the 1960s and 1970s that frequently criticized the royal family during its years of armed resistance.

The group was disbanded in the 1980s, but some of its former student leaders were among Thaksin's top aides while he was in government. There are no indications Thaksin would support an armed insurgency to push his supposedly democratic agenda, but his vow to return to the country if the military cracked down on his supporters has raised new security questions. Abhisit vaguely acknowledged at the height of the recent unrest that the UDD had stockpiled weapons, but he failed to elaborate if that was only in Bangkok or more broadly across the country.

Those claims cast ominous new light on Prem's recent publicly stated support for the establishment of a new army command to oversee the northeastern region's internal security, which the 88-year-old former army commander characterized as his "last dream", according to news reports. The 2nd Army Region, based in Nakorn Ratchasima around two hours by road from Bangkok, is currently responsible for the expansive and decidedly pro-Thaksin rural region, which in the 1960s and 1970s was home to several pockets of CPT armed resistance.

One seasoned observer saw shades of the CPT's revolutionary rhetoric in Jakrapob's on-stage broadsides against aristocracy and calls for a diminished royal role in the country's political future. During an April 8 speech, Jakrapob said on stage that "privy councilors see the country as their treasure and the people as their flowers" - while asserting that none of the royal advisors, comprised mainly of former high-ranking soldiers, had done as much for the country as the democratically elected Thaksin.

Yet Jakrapob's preferred analogy would likely be with former Thai premier and statesman Pridi Banomyang, the civilian revolutionary who orchestrated the overthrow of Thailand's absolute monarchy in 1932 and a man Jakrapob frequently upheld as a democratic role model during several of his on-stage soliloquies and poetry readings.

Pridi later fled into exile, where he eventually died, after he was accused by military leaders of assassinating King Ananda Mahidol, the reining King Bhumibol's elder brother. In the chaotic aftermath of the UDD's self-proclaimed "final showdown" with the forces of aristocracy, and with those establishment forces so far still standing, it's a political fate some believe Jakrapob and Thaksin are destined to share.

Shawn W Crispin is Asia Times Online's Southeast Asia Editor. He may be reached at swcrispin@atimes.com

Left behind but not forgotten

Jacksonville Daily News

April 13, 2009

Lance Cpl. Joseph Hargrove spent his 24th birthday on the island of Koh Tang in Cambodia. He also spent his final day there.

Hargrove was one of three Marines left behind and later executed following an assault launched by the U.S. to rescue sailors of the merchant ship the S.S. Mayaguez who were taken hostage by the Khmer Rouge in 1975.

Thirty-four years later, military officials say Hargrove's remains have not been discovered.

A local politician believes otherwise.

Duplin County Commissioner Cary Turner decided to take up the cause in 2007 of having Hargrove's remains found, identified and returned.

Turner is Hargrove's cousin. He said after seeing the faraway look in the eyes of his aunt - Hargrove's mother - he knew he had to do something.

"Even if it turns out that we never get him, I want to be able to say I've done everything I can," Turner said. "And if we do bring him home, then I can say I did one good thing in my life."

After it was discovered that American hostages had been released, Hargrove, along with two other Marines, Pfc. Gary Hall and Pfc. Danny Marshall, was assigned to protect the retreating force's right flank. Due to miscommunication on the battlefield, the three were left behind and troops did not return to retrieve them as there was no evidence they had survived and the mission was considered too dangerous, according to documents from Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command.

Em Son, commander of the Khmer Rouge forces, ordered Hargrove's execution. In 2000, Son returned to Koh Tang with members of JPAC and identified the site where Hargrove was executed. JPAC, however, did not return to the site to recover remains, according to the book "The Last Battle," by Ralph Wetterhahn and published news reports.

In April 2007, Turner started the journey to "bring Joseph home." He presented a resolution to his fellow commissioners seeking support in recovering Hargrove's remains. After hearing Turner's story, Rep. Russell Tucker, D-Duplin, jumped on board and drafted a similar resolution that eventually went before the N.C. General Assembly. It passed unanimously.

"In the first place, we want to bring our folks back home. We feel sure that he was killed and we'd like to bring his remains back home so that his family can have some final closure," Tucker said. "Anytime a bill comes before the General Assembly, the House in particular, about the military and those that are defending us ... we try to do everything we can to support the military, who defend us daily."

In February 2008, Turner headed to Koh Tang as JPAC returned to the island to search for the remains of Hargrove and others. JPAC excavated the site identified by Son, but found no remains. Turner along with several others conducted excavations of their own to no avail.

Turner returned to Koh Tang in February of this year to continue his search for Hargrove's remains. While he did not unearth anything, the trip was not in vain.

In October, JPAC reportedly discovered four sets of remains on Koh Tang, about 30 yards from where Son initially indicated that Hargrove was executed, Turner said.

Turner believes some of the remains are Hargrove's.

"When they dug up those remains last year, there were four sets of remains - three were identified as Asian, one was identified as American," Turner said.

Turner said the remains reportedly indicate the American was injured above the knee with damage to the bone, the wrists showed evidence of being bound and there was a bullet wound to the head, all of which are consistent with accounts Turner has heard surrounding Hargrove's capture and execution.

"Based on what Em Son said, this matches. The similarities are there," he said.

Turner has two Cambodian sources, whom he wishes to keep anonymous, who confirmed on Turner's most recent trip to Cambodia that JPAC had not only discovered four sets of remains, but that one was American. One of the sources, a member of the Cambodian military, said he heard the remains were that of the "executed American."

Another source, a "high-ranking Cambodian officer," who accompanies JPAC when they conduct excavations, also confirmed Turner's suspicions.

"He confirmed it, and they have no reason to lie," Turner said.

At the end of March, Turner met with representatives from JPAC and expressed his concerns. A high-ranking official within JPAC, who Turner also wishes to keep anonymous, promised Turner he would do what he could for him, Turner said.

"I hope he's a man of his word," he said.

Turner believes JPAC may not want to admit to finding Hargrove's remains because he was one of three "left behind."

"All I'm saying is, ‘Do the right thing, let him come home,'" he said. "We're not looking to point fingers."

U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones, R-N.C., got involved in Turner's quest, offering support early on. Most recently, he sent a letter to JPAC requesting notification about whether the remains of an American service member recovered in Koh Tang in 2008 had been identified.

"To me, when there's a service person, in this case a Marine, whose family never, ever, had been able to recover the remains to bring the final chapter to the family, I'm going to always extend the help of the office and also my help," Jones said.

Jones received a response on March 20 from JPAC confirming that in October, four samples from recovered remains were sent to the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory for analysis, but those results are pending.

"We've worked with them before regarding Mr. Turner's interest ... and I've found them to be very forthright and up front and I anticipate that they will respond in the next few weeks," Jones said. "I have no question about the integrity of JPAC. They certainly want to return remains. I know that it is important to the families and I think it is important to the country, quite frankly."

Jones also said he has heard that JPAC is understaffed and under funded, which may contribute to the amount of time it takes to process and identify remains.

Turner said he's giving the organization a month before he takes any further action.

"It's in JPAC's lap, I'm waiting for them to make the move. Hopefully they'll do the right thing and fess up and say it's Joseph and send him home," he said. "I'm not going to give up, I'm about 99.9 percent sure they've got him."

Contact Jacksonville/Onslow government reporter Molly DeWitt at 910-219-8455 or mdewitt@freedomenc.com.

Savann Mey meditating

Columbia Missourian

By Zachary Siebert
April 14, 2009

Cambodian buddhist monk, Savann Mey, meditates during Cambodian New Year ceremonies, or Chol Chnam Thmey, at the monastic temple, or wat, off Highway 63 in northern Boone County. Cambodian Buddhists from all over Missouri and beyond gathered for three days of festivities marking the beginning of a new year according to the Cambodian calendar. Savann Mey has been living in Boone County for four years and is the only Cambodian Buddhist monk in the state.

Viettel installs 1,100 base transmission stations in Cambodia


Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Viettel Cambodia, a subsidiary of Vietnam’s military-run telecoms service provider Viettel, has increased mobile coverage in Cambodia through the installation of 1,100 base transmission stations (BTSs), VietNamNet has reported. The cellco, which launched commercial services in Cambodia under the name Metfone in February 2009, said it would increase the number of BTSs in the country to more than 3,000 by the end of the year with the aim of providing coverage to the whole of the country. Metfone claims to be the only operator in Cambodia to charge for calls on a per-second basis and according to VietNamNet signed up 500,000 subscribers during a three-month trial period, which began in late 2008.

Thai PM cancels visit to Cambodia: official


PHNOM PENH, April 14 (Xinhua) -- Due to the current instability in his country, Thai Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva has canceled his visit to Cambodia originally scheduled on April 18, national media on Tuesday quoted official source as saying.

"I received official notification that (Abhisit) has canceled his trip to Phnom Penh because of the political chaos in Thailand," Koy Kuong, spokesman of the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, told English-language daily newspaper the Phnom Penh Post.

Abhist was scheduled to arrive here on Saturday for talks with his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen and meeting with King Norodom Sihamoni and other senior officials.

Sry Thamrong, Hun Sen's personal advisor, told reporters last week that at least 7 out of 24 pieces of ancient Khmer artifacts will be returned to Cambodia, during Abhisit's expected visit to Cambodia.

These Khmer artifacts were stolen and trafficked out of Cambodia, but finally arrested by the Thai authorities.

Local media also reported that Hun Sen and Abhisit are expected to discuss the border disputes between the two countries during the Thai premier's visit here.

Editor: Yao

Tense stand-off in Thailand after deadly violence


After a day of violence in which two people died, all was calm at Government House in Bangkok early this morning.

But a tense stand-off is continuing in the capital between Thai troops and protesters loyal to exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The state of emergency declared by the man currently in the job did nothing to prevent unrest earlier, which raised fears of fresh violence. But, during the night, security forces encircled demonstrators, including women, children and a few Buddhist monks, who are calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Refusing to negotiate with Thaksin, the protesters’ figurehead, Abhisit has said this is a “do-or-die” moment for the rule of law.

Thailand has been mired in turmoil since the military toppled Thaksin in a coup in 2006. The unrest confronts British-born Abhisit with his biggest challenge since he took office in December.

As well as claiming two lives, Monday’s clashes also left at least 113 people injured.

Thailand declares two-day holiday after protests

Published: April 14, 2009

Bangkok: Thailand's government said on Tuesday it would extend a three-day local New Year holiday for two more days after protesters abandoned violent demonstrations.

Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said banks and other institutions could decide whether to apply the holidays on Thursday and Friday, which give Thais 10 days off in a row over the Songkran festival.

Authorities had already declared last Friday a holiday because of protests which eventually shut down a major Asian summit.

"The prime minister held discussions with ministers and in order to ensure public security and clean up places affected by the protests, the cabinet declares April 16 and 17 as government holidays," Panitan said.

"State enterprises, commercial banks, financial institutions and the private sector can decide on suitability," he said, reading from an official statement.

Protesters calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva ended a three-week siege of his offices on Tuesday, a day after clashes in Bangkok left two dead.

Thailand in State of Emergency, travellers warned away

Travel Blackboard
Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Clashes between red-shirted anti-government protestors and government troops in Thailand’s capital have already left more than a hundred injured, and resulted in the government once again imposing a “state of emergency” on Bangkok.

Australian travellers already in Bangkok are being warned to stay away from protestors and protest hotspots, and Australians thinking of travelling there are being advised to “reconsider” their plans.

“The Australian Government is deeply concerned at developments in Thailand,” said Stephen Smith, Australian Foreign Affairs Minister, in a press conference yesterday.

“At this stage... we have no evidence of any Australians being caught up in these demonstrations or in the violence.”

“We urge Australians not in Bangkok to reconsider their need to travel to Bangkok,” he adds. “Those Australians who are in Bangkok, we urge them to stay within their homes or their hotels, to certainly avoid demonstrations, and to certainly avoid large gatherings of people.”

This time round, to avoid a takeover at the airports, the government has already sent troops to reinforce security at the nation’s major transport hubs. Despite these actions most airlines are allowing travellers to postpone or cancel plans without cancellation fees, even though services are operating as per normal.

Late last year, the two major airports in Bangkok were closed for a week after anti-government protestors overwhelmed security forces and set up camp inside the terminals.

In what is another hit to the local tourism industry, the clashes coincide with the close of the peak travel period in Thailand, as well as the nation’s New Year festivities.

Early estimates have predicted that the resonating effects from these protests, combined with the shutdown of airports late last year, will slash a third of the country’s tourism income for 2009.

After imposing the state of emergency on Sunday, scuffles between the police and protestors escalated to high levels of violence on Monday, with numerous attacks around the city in places like Government House.

Anti-government protestors, or the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, believe that the current Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, rose to power illegitimately, and are supporters of the previously ousted Thaksin Shinawatra.

Pro-Thaksin red shirts battle troops in Bangkok

Photo by: AFP
A Thai soldier is hit by a Molotov cocktail as he charges supporters of exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra and fire rounds in the air Monday in Bangkok.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Anusak Konglang
Tuesday, 14 April 2009


Demonstrators in Bangkok burn buses, throw stones and Molotov cocktails at soldiers as armed forcesfire back in street battles that have injured 74.

BANGKOK - Thai soldiers fired volleys of shots in the air to disperse protesters blocking key roads Monday in Bangkok, as the first show of force by the government since declaring emergency rule left 74 wounded.

Demonstrators sent hijacked buses and Molotov cocktails hurtling towards military lines in a chaotic battle at one intersection, where soldiers fired assault rifles and tear gas shells as they advanced, AFP reporters said.

The supreme military commander vowed to restore order using "all possible means", a day after embattled Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva announced a state of emergency to curb protesters who had disrupted a key Asian summit.

In a televised address on Monday, Abhisit accused the red-shirted supporters of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra of stockpiling weapons and warned peaceful demonstrators calling for his resignation to disperse.

"Those who want to help the government restore normality can return home," Abhisit said. "The government has carefully mapped out a plan to implement the law."

The government has carefully mapped out a plan to implement the law

Thailand has endured years of political turmoil, but this is the biggest crisis that Abhisit has faced since he came to power in December, following a controversial court ruling that drove Thaksin's allies out of office.

Troops first moved before dawn to secure Bangkok's busy Din Daeng intersection, with soldiers firing hundreds of rounds into the air after protesters pelted them with rocks and Molotov cocktails, AFP reporters said.

The government announced it had secured the area, but demonstrators played cat-and-mouse with soldiers throughout the morning, before a second round of clashes erupted at lunchtime at the nearby Victory Monument landmark.

Protesters set fire to hijacked buses, but as soldiers advanced with water cannons, the demonstrators weighted down the pedals of at least three buses with water bottles which then careered towards the lines of military.

Soldiers unleashed deafening bursts of automatic gunfire for several minutes in a number of locations after the bus attacks.

"We reserve the right to use weapons in self-defence," the military's Supreme Commander, Songkitti Jaggabatara, said in a television address.

It is the first time the army has taken action since Abhisit ordered tanks and soldiers onto the streets of Bangkok on Sunday.

Abhisit said 70 people were wounded, 23 of them soldiers, but rejected claims on a protesters' radio station that four demonstrators were killed. Police later said another four were hurt and that there were 10 gunshot wounds in total.

The government said it would move to protect airports and ports, while soldiers were deployed at train stations and at strategic locations including the electricity authority.

But authorities made no effort to clear the main body of some 10,000 so far peaceful protesters who defied the state of emergency and remained camped out at Government House.

"Abhisit, are you still a human being? This is a most inhuman act, to crack down on unarmed protesters," protest leader Jatuporn Prompan told the crowd there.

Demonstrations also reportedly spread to northern Thailand, Thaksin's stronghold, where he is popular among the rural poor.

PM visit off over chaos in Thailand

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Vong Sokheng
Tuesday, 14 April 2009

THAI Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has cancelled his upcoming visit to Cambodia because of the deteriorating political situation in Bangkok, Cambodian Foreign Ministry officials said Monday.

Abhisit was scheduled to arrive Saturday in Phnom Penh for talks with Prime Minister Hun Sen, King Norodom Sihamoni and other senior officials, but backed out after escalating protests by anti-government demonstrators forced him to declare a state of emergency and deploy troops in the Thai capital.

"I received official notification that [Abhisit] has cancelled his trip to Phnom Penh because of the political chaos in Thailand," Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said.

Talks on the dispute over the two countries' shared border were expected to be on the agenda at the weekend meeting, following discussions between the two leaders Friday on the sidelines of the aborted ASEAN summit in Thailand. Three Thai soldiers were killed in border clashes earlier this month.

Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann said recent border fighting would hobble negotiations and that the standoff was unlikely to be resolved through bilateral talks.

"Thailand has violated the sovereignty of Cambodia, and I think they have no political will to resolve the issue," he said Monday.

Reordained, monk Tim Sakhorn flees: NGO

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Meas Sokchea
Tuesday, 14 April 2009

KHMER Krom activist Tim Sakhorn was ordained again as a monk at a pagoda in Battambang on Friday and has now fled to Thailand where he is seeking refugee status, according to Sann Sang, the deputy director of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Community.

"Now, it is up to the UNHCR [the UN High Commissioner for Refugees] to determine if he has the right to stay in Thailand," he said.

He added that Tim Sakhorn would be willing to leave for another country if necessary.

The 41-year-old monk was arrested in June 2007 by Cambodian police and defrocked before being extradited to Vietnam.

But after imprisoning Tim Sakhorn for a year and then keeping him under house arrest, Vietnam allowed him to visit Cambodia, which issued him a visa until April 17.

Even though Tim Sakhorn has said he just wants to live with his family and tend his farm in Cambodia, he did not feel the Cambodian authorities were protecting him, according to Ang Chanrith, the executive director of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Human Rights Organisation.

"When he was arrested, the [Cambodian] government did not take action to protect him, so he has lost confidence in the government," Ang Chanrith said last week.

Christophe Peschoux, the country representative of the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, could not confirm that the monk had fled to Thailand.

"If he went to Thailand, it's because he feels unsafe in his own country," Peschoux said.


Residents afraid to leave city

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Khun Malay, one of the residents living near the Lycee Francais Rene Descartes who is facing eviction, prepares food on Monday.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chhay Channyda and May Titthara
Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Families near the Lycee Francais Rene Descartes say they will celebrate the New Year in Phnom Penh for fear of being evicted.

FAMILIES living near the Lycee Francais Rene Descartes say they are afraid to leave their homes for Khmer New Year for fear of being evicted in their absence.

Cambodian media Saturday quoted Daun Penh district Deputy Governor Sok Penh Vuth as saying that the families will be evicted on April 20, just after the New Year.

Now, 37 families living next to the French international school near Wat Phnom say they are worried something could happen even sooner.

"This year, I decided not to celebrate the New Year in my hometown, Kampong Cham province, because I fear that an eviction will take place," resident San Lim Sreang, 60, said Monday.

"Other neighbours are also gathering their families and celebrating the New Year in Phnom Penh," he added.

San Lim Sreang's family is one of four families offered of US$10,000 and a plot of land from the municipality in return for moving out of his current home.

But he said the compensation for his 167-square-metre house should be more in the vicinity of $40,000.

"I have lived here since 1979 and the government claims it is state land and that I cannot get a land title. I do not want to go against City Hall or the government, but the compensation must be acceptable so that we can have enough money to build new homes on the relocation site," he said.

Residents have been divided into three compensation categories depending on how many years they have lived there - $10,000, $7,000 and $5,000, all with a block of land.

San Lim Sreang said, however, that the plot of land offered to him, at only 32 square
metres, was also much smaller than his current house.

"Waiting for the order"
Sok Penh Vuth could not confirm Monday when the residents near Lycee Descartes would be moved out from the area, but said he will "wait for the order from [City Hall] if there is a plan to clear people".

"Fifty percent of residents have been happy with their compensation deal," he added.

When asked about the eviction by reporters in an unrelated press conference Monday at City Hall, Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun said that the city has succeeded so far in relocating people to the outskirts of the city as it continues following its development master plan.

He added that City Hall has never moved people out of the city without making sure their living standards continued to be met.

"We have relocated 43 communities to relocation sites, all of which have good infrastructure," he said.

Foreigners arrested for child sex

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Mom Kunthear and Khuon Leakhana
Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Western pair arrested, await charges in court.

TWO foreigners have been arrested on suspicion of soliciting sex from a 16-year-old girl outside Wat Phnom last week, police said.

A Greek national and a French national, both friends in their 40s, were arrested over the weekend after police suspected them of for sex with sex from the underage girl on separate nights at guesthouses on Boeung Kak lake, said Keo Thea, head of Phnom Penh's Anti-Human Trafficking police.

"We are now compiling our report to send to the prosecutor to make an inquiry and formally charge the individuals in court," he said.

Keo Thea said the two men were also suspected of taking pornographic photos of the girl.

"As police officers, we have a duty to implement the law, and in the case of minors with foreigners like this, it goes against the human-trafficking law," he said.

Samleang Seila, country director of the anti-paedophile NGO Action Pour Les Enfants, told the Post on Monday that the girl's family had alerted the group, who then alerted police.

"So far in 2009, there have been over nine foreigners arrested, which is an increase from the same period last year. This is what we are worried about because it shows that the law is still weak," he said.

Number of arrests to rise
Samleang Seila said that he expected the number of foreigners arrested over child sex abuse to increase in 2009.

"Authorities on all levels are working hard day and night to investigate and search for sex tourists," Keo Thea said.

A quiet New Year on the front lines

A Cambodian soldier stands at the Cambodian market destroyed by border fighting earlier this month.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Thet Sambath and Michael Fox
Tuesday, 14 April 2009


Few furloughs as border troops to remain on alert during holiday following deadly fire fights.

AS CAMBODIANS flock to their home provinces for the Khmer New Year, soldiers stationed along the contested border with Thailand say they will sacrifice the traditional family activities to maintain a watchful eye over the front lines.

"I'm very sorry I can't attend the New Year but I think that defending Cambodian territory is more important. When we have land, our children and wives will be able to enjoy life," said Sann Sokhom, a Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) officer stationed at Preah Vihear temple.

"If I leave [the border], who will defend the nation?"

Major Kang Saray of RCAF's Brigade 8 also said that his professional responsibilities - after deadly gunbattles left three Thai soldiers dead earlier this month - would outweigh any New Year's considerations.

"I have not been given permission to go home to spend the Khmer New Year with my family because the situation is fragile at the front line following the clash between the Thai and Cambodian armed forces," he said at his base at Preah Vihear temple, but added that some families would be allowed to return home if the situation eases up.

Brigade 8 commander Yim Phim confirmed the army is arranging for some soldiers to have time off with their relatives in the next week, but that a number had to stay on to watch over the border.

Home for the holiday
In Pheap, a soldier based at Preah Vihear temple, is one of the lucky ones to have been given leave to return to his home province.

"I am leaving the temple to spend the New Year with my wife and children in Banteay Meanchey province," he said Sunday.

"Some soldiers are allowed to go to the provinces to join in the New Year celebrations, but most of them are staying at the base."

But those who remain at the border will be treated to in-house celebrations, care of the Defence Ministry, according to Yim Phim, who said his brigade had been given money to throw a party at its base.

"We have 22 million riels (about US$5,370) from Minister Tea Banh to buy beef for our soldiers' party to welcome in the New Year," he said. But soldiers will be allowed only limited beer rations, he said, given the tense situation on the frontier.

Neak Vong, deputy commander of Brigade 42, said Monday that his brigade had also received more than 20 million riels from Tea Banh when he paid a visit to soldiers at Ta Moan Thom temple Sunday.

"We have bought 20 cows for our soldiers' party, [which] is being done at different places along the front line," he said. He added that 20,000 Cambodians had arrived at Ta Moan Thom temple by Sunday and would be joining in celebrations with Thai visitors at the site.

No meat but a little music for New Year's in the slammer

Cambodia's prison population increased by 7 percent in 2008. Heng Hak said he has requested additional funds to deal with the population growth by asking for an increase in funding per prisoner from 1,500 riels a day to 2,800 riels, but has yet to receive more money.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by May Titthara
Tuesday, 14 April 2009

With little funding, New Year's at Prey Sar prison this year will be a spartan celebration without beef or pork, but there will be dancing.

EVERY year the Correctional Centre Two (CC2), the women's dorm at Prey Sar prison, holds a New Year's celebration for its inmates. But this year, due to a lack of funds, the party will be even more of a no-frills affair.

"This year there is no budget, so we will not celebrate a big party as in previous years. We will just invite three monks to bless prisoners ... and allow them to collect alms," said Chat Sineang, Prey Sar's prison chief.

"Last year, we bought two cows and one pig to make food for them during the three days, but this year we won't have [any beef or pork to eat]," he said.

But despite lacking the usual banquet, Chat Sineang said he would provide opportunities for the prisoners to celebrate.

When I listen to Khmer music about ...New year, i feel as if I'm home.

"We will allow them to use the loudspeaker for dancing ... and we will organise a dance with males and females," he said, adding that only the low- and medium-level security prisoners will be allowed to join in.

Despite attempts by the prison chief to make the holiday enjoyable, many prisoners aren't looking forward to spending Khmer New Year in jail.

"I miss my homeland with the New Year arriving soon because during that time in the past I was happy with my family," said Keo Reaksmey, 39, who is serving an 8-year sentence for human trafficking.

Chheav Hourlay, a Licadho prison researcher, said that another source of sadness for the prisoners was watching their guards celebrate the holiday freely.

No money for monks
The director general at the Ministry of Interior's Prison Department, Heng Hak, said he hoped that all the inmates would have the opportunity to be blessed by monks. But Cambodia's jails simply do not have the money to ensure that the monks show up.

"All the prisons in Cambodia will invite monks to bless the prisoners, but we haven't any budget to support them," he said.

But Mi Srey Phal, who is serving a seven-year sentence for trafficking drugs, said that although the New Year is a difficult time to be away from home, even the small efforts of the prison make the holiday a bit better.

"I feel so sad during the New Year, because I miss my family ... [but] at night when I listen to music about the New Year, I feel as if I'm home," she said.

Police Blotter: 14 Apr 2009

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Lim Phalla
Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Banon district police arrested one of two thieves on Wednesday for allegedly stealing two motorbikes in Battambang province. Police arrested Sol Heab, 22, while a man known only as Touch evaded capture on the motorbike stolen from the victim, Mao Sameth.

Meas An, 25, and Chea Danith, 20, were arrested by Tuol Kork police on Friday after allegedly stealing Pen Socheat Ratanak's cell phone. The two men are accused of snatching the victim's phone while he was making a call on his motorbike.

A suspected police spy was shot dead on Saturday at K2 Karaoke and Guesthouse in Phnom Penh. The victim, who is said to have been working for police, was shot dead by two men suspected of being drug traffickers. Both perpetrators were known to K2 security, and police say they are pursuing several leads.

Mong Russei police arrested two reported gangsters on Wednesday after a fight broke out in Anlung Tamok village, Battambang province. Chhay Samnang and Noeun Vannak were apprehended while another man, Sy Ro, accused of stabbing Norn Kim Suor during the scuffle, managed to evade authorities. Witnesses say the fight is part of an ongoing feud between rival gangs.

Some 18 Camko City construction workers were arrested by Svay Pak police after the group, armed with various weapons, attacked two men in revenge for a previous assault on one of their workers. Workers accuse Ngvean Yaing Chan and Kim Em of attacking Saing Makara while walking home from work alone. Both victims were left seriously wounded by the mob.

Four armed men stole a motorbike, 160,000 riels (US$39) and a cell phone from Leuk Chany, 19, while she and her mother were riding home last Tuesday. The robbers remain at large.

Looking out for one another

Thearith, 30, delivers bananas and banana saplings to O'Russey Market on Monday from his farm in Kandal province. Thearith, who only sells his products in Phnom Penh during New Year, says sales are down this year due to increasing competition.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Ross Dunkley
Tuesday, 14 April 2009

FOR many, the anticipation of seeing a difficult year end and a successful one begin can be hard to sustain amid the apprehension - both economic and social - that is spreading throughout our world.

People are anxious - from Paris to New York, Sydney to Shanghai - and in our own backyards. No one is immune. People are fearful about whether they will be able to ride out the rough times that will inevitably lie ahead, preserve their savings, maintain their businesses, educate their children, keep a roof over their heads and even feed themselves. Who will look after them?

The arrival of a new year, of course, should be a time of excitement and expectation as we prepare to unwind for a few days, see friends and family, and exchange greetings or gifts. Some among us may also resolve to be better people in the coming year.

So, how do we resolve the disparity between our apprehension and our expectation of better things in the days ahead?

Part of the answer lies in looking beyond current challenges to consider that our crucial focus must be the desire for extended peace, economic prosperity and hope for a better future together.

May this Year of the Ox ease apprehensions and restore our confidence ...

But in the midst of our New Year's celebrations - a time of devotion, sacrifice and spiritual renewal - let us also work for something more.

In Cambodia, and among our brothers and sisters in Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Sri Lanka, let us spread a message this new year of our commitment to the fundamental equality of all and freedom for all.

It is a failure to respect others that engenders so much of our social and personal disquiet.

This holds true, as well, in matters of commerce.

The values of trust, honour and reliability have simply buckled under the weight of our collective greed and led to a reluctance to belong and to contribute to our communities.

Rampant and unregulated commercialism has rocked our global trust and must be replaced by a more responsible capitalism and a closer relationship between the creation of wealth and its stewardship for the common good.

The advent of Khmer New Year gives us all an opportunity to reflect on the kind of society we want for ourselves and our children, and a motivation to work together to achieve it.

In that spirit, The Phnom Penh Post extends its best wishes to every household for a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year. May this Year of the Ox ease apprehensions and restore our confidence in others and in ourselves.

New Year tourist slump predicted for Preah Vihear

Photo by: AFP
Tourists visit Preah Vihear temple in this file photo taken last year.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Nguon Sovan
Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Forecasts of low visitor turnout at peak holiday time come as province reports arrivals down 30 percent in first quarter due to temple dispute.

PREAH Vihear province's tourism sector has been hit hard by a long-simmering dispute with Thailand over ownership of land surrounding an ancient cliff-top temple and the local tourism authority is bracing itself for a quiet New Year after fighting broke out again earlier this month.

"This New Year, there are likely to be fewer tourists to Preah Vihear temple than last New Year due to fears of artillery fire from Thailand but, in fact, security in the province is strong and stable," Preah Vihear provincial tourism chief Kong Vibol said Monday.

Ownership of land around the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple near the Thai border has long been in dispute, despite the World Court awarding the temple to Cambodia in 1962. Tensions flared last July when UNESCO, the UN cultural agency, approved Cambodia's bid to have the Preah Vihear temple named a World Heritage site, leading to several outbreaks of fighting between Cambodian and Thai troops over the last nine months.

The latest flare-up was on April 3 when Cambodian and Thai troops traded fire with guns, rockets and artillery. Each side blamed the other for reigniting the conflict.

Kong Vibol said the ongoing dispute had resulted in a 30.1 percent year-on-year decline in tourist arrivals in the first quarter of the year from 23,898 to 16,700. "The main drop was at Preah Vihear temple due to the border conflict," he said.

The main drop was at Preah Vihear temple due to the border conflict.

He predicted that tourist numbers for the full year would fall sharply from the 120,000 received last year, most of whom, he said, visited the Preah Vihear temple. "Based on the first-quarter report, it is predicted that the number of tourists to Preah Vihear will drop sharply," Kong Vibol said. Koh Ker temple and Preah Khan Kampong Svay temple were also popular tourist destinations in the province, he added.

Statistics from the Ministry of Tourism show that 65,182 domestic tourists visited the province in 2008, up from 37,530 visitors the year before, while the province hosted 62,258 foreign visitors, well down on the 90,693 that visited in 2007.

A month-by-month breakdown was not available Monday, but anecdotal reports last year showed that domestic visitors to the temple surged surrounding UNESCO's decision to list the temple as a World Heritage site but fell away as the standoff continued. Foreign arrivals also plummeted at that point.

Ho Vandy, a board member of the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents and managing director of World Express Tours & Travel, said Monday that the border conflict and the ongoing global financial crisis had combined to limit visitor arrivals at the site. "Since the start of the border conflict last July, we have sold very few tour packages to Preah Vihear temple," Ho Vandy said.

Preah Vihear province has only seven guesthouses with 120 rooms, Kong Vibol added.

Over 3,000 ancient temples remain in Cambodia, but so far just two have been listed as World Heritage sites: Angkor Wat in 1992 and Preah Vihear temple in 2008. Cambodia is preparing other temples throughout the country for nomination to UNESCO, including Sambo Preykub and Banteay Chhmar.

Taxi and bus prices up as City Hall's pleas ignored

Travellers take a taxi out of Phnom Penh on Sunday.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kay Kimsong and Hor Hab
Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Transport operators take advantage of demand-side pressure for New Year holiday as 70pc of capital expected to travel.

DESPITE officials' efforts to discourage taxi drivers and bus companies from inflating fees during Khmer New Year, several interviewed by the Post said they had no intention of passing on the opportunity to make extra dollars.

Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun said Governor Kep Chuktema met with taxi and bus companies last week to urge them to charge standard fares in the holiday. But he said City Hall would not punish those who raise prices.

"This is not a legal directive," he said. "City Hall has to inform taxi owners every year. I think there is no reason for increasing transport prices, because the price of gasoline didn't increase."

Minister of Tourism Thong Khon said at a press conference Thursday that he expected 70 percent of Phnom Penh residents to head to their home provinces.

Chhay Veth, who drives a taxi between Phnom Penh and Battambang province, said he believed fares would increase by 10 to 20 percent during the holiday, adding that customers expected fee inflation because it happened every year.

"Once a year, it is ... a seasonal price," he said. "We like to ask for higher fees if passengers are available to pay more."

This view was echoed by Sam Vuth, who drives a taxi between Phnom Penh and Kampong Cham province. He said most drivers on that route would increase prices from 17,000 riels (US$4.09) to 25,000 riels.

"I think officials may not be able to stop drivers from increasing fees because people are used to it already, and the New Year is a good time to earn more profits," he said.

Chhay Veth said the fees would be even steeper for taxi passengers travelling at night.

Phan Na, general manager of Phnom Penh Sorya Transport, said his company would charge one extra dollar for all tickets during the holiday and one or two days after, when travellers make their return trips.

From Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville, the cost would rise from 19,000 riels to 23,000 riels. These fees went into effect Saturday.

Motorbike market crashed, say dealers

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Nguon Sovan and May Kunmakara
Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Usually high-sales season sees few buyers despite price markdowns, vendors report.

MOTORCYCLE dealers said this week that demand has plummeted and that they fear that if the situation did not change, their businesses could fail.

"In the first three months of last year, I sold about 300 motorcycles, but during the first quarter of this year, only 80 motorcycles have been sold," Hang Heng, a motorcycle dealer in Chamkarmon district, said.

So far, April has not brought any relief for motorcycle businesses, they said - the influx of customers that normally buy before the Khmer New Year have not appeared.

"Ahead of last New Year, there was a flood of customers queuing to buy motorcycles," he said, adding that he blamed the real estate downturn for the decline in sales.

Kim Hout of Chhay Honda said: "This time last year I could sell 40 to 50 motorcycles per day, because most of them were bought for travel during the New Year, even though they cost a lot."

But this year, not even discounted prices have brought in customers during what is normally the busy season, Kim Hout said.

"Last year a Honda Dream cost between US$1,700 to $1,800, and now it is just $1,630 per motorcycle," he said.

Lay Piseth, another motorcycle dealer in Phnom Penh's Chamkarmon district, said that since the sharp drop in motorcycle sales, he has been in the red every month.

"Last year, around 10 motorcycles were sold per day, but now one motorcycle sells every three days," he said.

Hang Heng was worried that if the tough times continue, he would have to close his business.

"I have lost money every month since the start of the year. If the situation has not recovered in six months, I will shut down my business."

Matoba Michifumi, managing director of Yamaha Motor Cambodia Co, told the Post that Yamaha sales had dropped 25 percent in the first quarter of 2009 compared with the same period last year, and that the outlook did not look good for the rest of 2009.

"Prior to the crisis, we estimated that motorcycle demand was around 140,000 a year, but now we have re-estimated the number to be 100,000 a year, mainly due to the real-estate crisis," he said.

Khmer New Year in Phnom Penh need not be boring

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
Kids play with powder during Khmer New Year celebrations.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Tom Hunter
Tuesday, 14 April 2009

As Phnom Penh empties for Khmer New Year, a few restaurants and bars are to remain open, offering provide entertainment throughout the holiday.

THE mass exodus of capital residents from Phnom Penh to their home provinces or various waterside retreats for Khmer New Year has left the city with only a scattering of residents wondering what to do with their precious time off work.

It's hard to imagine the capital lying dormant in the heat for three days and, thankfully, this will not be the case, with live music and a range of restaurants and bars remaining open over the festive period.

It's business as usual at the FCC, Comme a la Maison, the Magic Sponge, Tamarind, Metro and Chow, to name only a handful.

Some of the city's hotels are offering special deals for the New Year, with Raffles celebrating the holiday period with a special Khmer New Year dinner available every night of the holiday at the Restaurant Le Royal.

Prices start at US$35 for three courses, with one person dining free of charge at a table of four.

For those looking for something more casual, the Magic Sponge on the lakeside will be playing the Champions League Football each night with food and drink specials available during Liverpool games.

And for punters who want to let their hair down in a more traditional sense, well, Phnom Penh is still the place to be.

Traditional games
City Hall is throwing a party each night at Wat Phnom.

Traditional games such as chol chhuong will be played in the early evening between 3pm and 6pm, followed by live music late into the night.

Chol chhoung is a traditional Khmer New Year game played on the first night of the holiday between groups of boys and girls.

The game simply involves throwing the chhoung at your opposing team to wither down the opposition's integrity, with Khmer songs thrown in for fun. It's the Khmer version of dodge-ball, minus Vince Vaughn.

At Wat Botum, the party will begin with a comedy show from 7pm to 12am, and with a popular dance concert to follow.

On the downside, an array of places will shut for extended periods over the Khmer New Year.

The Shop, Fresco, Gasolina, Java, Meta House, Talkin' to a Stranger, Vans, Gym Bar and Green Vespa are just a few of the places that will be closed.

Contemporary Cambodian Artist Sopheap Pich’s Rattan Sculptures

Source: psfk.com
April 13, 2009

Armed with simple tools and local materials, Sopheap Pich creates rattan sculptures and other works of art that reflect his Cambodian roots. Fleeing the country in 1979, Sopheap studied art in the US before moving back to Cambodia in 2002. Much of Pich’s work focuses on the current changes in Cambodia society as well as the serious health problems, embodied in his human organ shaped rattan sculptures.

Pich describes his work:

my main materials are rattan, bamboo, and metal wire – the stuff that is common and cheap in cambodia. my tools are simple: razorblades, knives, axes, pliers, a blowtorch. the manual labor allows me the time to contemplate on the forms and my relationship to it. this relationship between the viewer and the form is what matters most to me, and each pieces are open to interpretations by the viewer.

Pich’s work is currently showing at the 10 Chancery Lane Gallery in Hong Kong.

Self-sufficiency program almost ready to launch

Mission Network News
14 April, 2009

Cambodia (MNN) ― The FARMS International self-sufficiency program in Cambodia is almost ready to launch as final details are underway.

FARMS has been present in Cambodia for years and has long been formulating a program that will steer Cambodians away from dependence. After a great deal of planning and preparation, a program providing aid such as micro-financing and lessons in technical skills will launch through local churches.

"We have seen really a real glimmer of hope in the eyes especially of the Christian community," says FARMS Executive Director, Joseph Richter. "I believe Cambodians are looking for a much better future and have hope for that."

Christians are especially excited about the program and will be the ones to really get the program going. As other Cambodians see the progress Christians are making toward self-sufficiency, they will hopefully come to the church for help as well. In a previous interview, Richter explained, "FARMS really accomplishes evangelism through the changed lives of the people involved in the churches."

This program will undoubtedly spur on the already-growing church. "The church is growing very quickly, especially among the younger segment of the population (which is the majority of Cambodians anyway)," says Richter. More leadership will soon be needed in the church. In the meantime, FARMS is working with the current leadership to guide churches to financial stability as well.

The program should officially launch within the next month, provided all goes according to plan. Richter assures us "the need is very urgent" in Cambodia. "To effectively provide enough to make a real impact is our prayer. We're hoping people will come behind this project because it's an open door."

Pray for the leadership to catch a vision for the self-supported church. Pray also that FARMS would successfully be able to launch the program and that it would transform many lives for the glory of God.

If you would like to be a part of the project, click here.

Cambodian gov't accuses media cartoon of affecting ties with Thailand


PHNOM PENH, April 14 (Xinhua) -- A recently-printed media cartoon depicting Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra playing golf together could seriously affect the Cambodian-Thai relations, said a press release of the Cambodian Information Ministry received here on Tuesday.

In the hand-drawn picture published by English-language daily newspaper the Phnom Penh Post on April 10, Thaksin shot a mine instead of a ball with his golf pole into the territory of Thailand, saying that "YES, IT'S MINE!!! THEREFORE I CAN DO WHATEVER I WANTN WITH IT..."

Hun Sen, together with Thaksin on the land of Cambodia, said that "BUT... WHAT ARE YOU DOING? IT IS YOUR COUNTRY..."

This cartoon was politically-oriented and would make readers misunderstand the political stance of Cambodia, said the ministry in its press release.

Cambodia already spiked the rumor that Thaksin was hidden here, but the cartoon obviously told readers that he was temporarily living in Cambodia, Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said in the release.

The Phnom Penh Post should submit its evidence for Thaksin's stay in Cambodia, he said.

By publishing the cartoon, the newspaper had violated the relevant law of Cambodia, he said, adding that any media should be objective and neutral in its reporting.

In early April, spokesman of the Cambodian Council of Ministers Phay Siphan told reporters that "Thaksin actually didn't have any presence in our country."

For anything that he did, Thaksin could observe his own country's law and the international law, he added.

Demonstrations by the opposition force have led to serious instability in Thailand. Thaksin used to relay supportive messages to the protesters from his overseas location.

Editor: Yao

Cambodian gov't agrees to contain temple vandalism with int'l intervention


PHNOM PENH, April 14 (Xinhua) -- The Cambodian government has agreed to ask for international intervention to help contain vandalism of the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple at the border area with Thailand, national media said on Tuesday.

The government agrees with the proposals submitted by some NGOs(non-government organization) to guarantee the security of the temple with international law, and sue any ruiner for vandalism at the international community, spokesman of the Cambodian Council of Ministers Phay Siphan told Chinese-language daily newspaper the Commercial News.

The temple was awarded with the title of World Heritage Site inJuly 2008 by UNESCO (the United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization), and it deserves Cambodian as well as international management and protection, he said.

It is a pity that UNESCO is only a cultural organization and can't handle lawsuits, he said, adding that the government is collecting evidence of Thai vandalism of the temple in order to help terminate such acts and seek for compensation.

Two armed confrontations between Cambodian and Thai troops at the border area in early April, together two others last year, have left a number of bullet pits and other ruins on the temple.

The damages have prompted NGOs to protest for the sake of the intactness of the historical site. They also urged the Cambodian side to take legal actions against the Thai side.

Cambodia and Thailand have never fully demarcated their over 800-km-long land border, but the International Court in Hague ruled in 1962 that the Preah Vihear temple and its surrounding area should belong to Cambodia.

Editor: Yao

Ongoing political turmoil in Thailand affects Songkran Festival

A boy looks at kites for sale at Sanam Luang in Thailand's capital Bangkok on April 13, 2009. The Songkran Festival - the country's traditional new year festival - kicked off on Monday but there were less celebrations this year than previous years due to the ongoing political turmoil. (Xinhua/Zhang Fengguo)
A Buddhist monk walks past Sanam Luang in Thailand's capital Bangkok on April 13, 2009. The Songkran Festival - the country's traditional new year festival - kicked off on Monday but there were less celebrations this year than previous years due to the ongoing political turmoil. (Xinhua/Zhang Fengguo)

A few floats rest at Sanam Luang in Thailand's capital Bangkok on April 13, 2009. The Songkran Festival - the country's traditional new year festival - kicked off on Monday but there were less celebrations this year than previous years due to the ongoing political turmoil. (Xinhua/Zhang Fengguo)


Thailand's Darkening Days

Tina Wang

Thailand's economic fundamentals aren't bad. But that's little comfort amid the ongoing political chaos.

HONG KONG -- Economically speaking, Thailand could have been ASEAN's strongest link. It entered the global economic crisis with the least vulnerability: it isn't as addicted to leverage, exposed to the global trade slump, or too poor for a stimulus splurge. Instead, it descended into chaos, as leaders like Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao found themselves fleeing by helicopter from rooftops rather than working on healing battered economies this weekend, after mobs stormed the ASEAN summit in Thailand.

Escalating clashes between protestors and government forces continued to rattle foreign investors on Monday, as the country faces recession and an exodus of tourists. Some observers think the tolerance of the urban middle class for political chaos will shrink as the economic toll mounts and jobs weigh in the balance. But the military, police and Thai society remain too divided for any political stability to last. Meanwhile, the man at the center of it all, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, is waiting on the sidelines to see if, or when, the four-month old administration will topple so that he can return.

"If the government cracks down more violently, the middle class in the city will agree, said Kitti Prasirtsuk, an associate dean on the political science faculty at Thammasat University, Bangkok. "That is my feeling. The middle class is now more and more impatient with the Reds' violence."

The hundred thousand protestors on the streets this past weekend and on Monday are "red shirts," or pro-Thaksin groups who want current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to step down and another round of elections to be held. "Yellow shirts," or anti-Thaksin groups occupied government offices and the international airport last year, forcing out previous pro-Thaksin administrations.

With the country's transportation disrupted, foreign companies are now wondering how exports of electronics and pick-up trucks will get out, and will likely reduce orders until they're more assured of delivery. Then again, political instability should be no surprise for them, said one major investment banking analyst, who said there is no clear sign yet that foreign investors are abandoning their investments. "Nobody hoped for a quick recovery in the political situation. It's not good news, but it's not shattering news," he said.

Thailand has had four political turnovers and brief military rule since Thaksin, who still faces an outstanding prison term for corruption, was ousted in a peaceful coup in 2006. UBS forecasts Thailand's economy to contract by 5% this year. January exports fell 25.3%, from a year earlier. A fifth of Thai exports go to the U.S.

At the heart of the protests is not just an urban-rural or rich-poor divide but a battle of ideas -- between economic efficacy and democratic participation, Kitti said. Thaksin garners support from the poorer, rural areas in the country's north, as well as the slice of the middle class that thinks he could spawn higher economic growth and manage the country better. But a strong segment of society criticizes Thaksin and his governance for a lack of democratic integrity, Kitti said.

The military and police remain hesitant to use stronger force due to internal division. The head of the military is anti-Thaksin, though there is a pro-Thaksin group in the army, and the police is mainly pro-Thaksin. Government forces have thus far fired tear gas into the crowd and bullets above the crowd, though over 70 people have been reported injured.

Bangkok turns into warzone


Violence is escalating in the Thai capital Bangkok, as the army clashes with anti-government protestors.

Thailand: The restitution of cross-border smuggled artifacts from the Government of Thailand to the Government of Cambodia


H.E. Mr. Abhisit Vejjajiva, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand, handed over one of the seven cross- border smuggled artifacts, seized by the Thai authorities, to Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia.

On 10 April 2009, H.E. Mr. Abhisit Vejjajiva, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand, handed over one of the seven cross- border smuggled artifacts, seized by the Thai authorities, to Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia.

Also witnessed the hand-over ceremony were H.E. Mr. Kasit Priomya, Minister of Foreign Affairs, H.E. Mr. Theera Slukpetch, Minister of Culture, H.E. Mr. Hor Namhong, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Cambodia and H.E. Mrs. You Ay, Ambassador of Cambodia to Thailand, who attended the 14th ASEAN Summit and Related Summits at the Royal Cliff Beach Hotel, Pattaya.

The seven artifacts are among the fifty pieces intercepted by Thai customs officials in early 2000 as they were being smuggled from Cambodia across the border into Thailand. Since then the authorities of both countries have closely coordinated on this matter, taking into account the internal legal procedures of both countries, particularly in the verification of evidence which required detailed work from both sides. Finally, on 24 February 2009, the Thai Cabinet adopted a resolution to restitute the seven artifacts to the Government of Cambodia in accordance with the Agreement between the Thai and Cambodian governments to combat illicit trafficking and cross-border smuggling of moveable cultural property and to restitute it to the Country of Origin which both countries signed in 2000.

Cambodia, Laos open new border gate to boost trade, tourism


PHNOM PENH, April 13 (Xinhua) -- Cambodia and Laos have opened a new border gate to improve trade and tourism, at the eve of the Khmer New Year which falls on April 14-16, said national television TVK on Monday.

"This new gate will provide more chances for trade exchange and tourism growth, and eventually benefit the two countries," Tram Iev Tek, Cambodia Minister of Public Works and Transportation, was quoted by the state-run Television Kampuchea (TVK) as telling the inauguration ceremony last week.

It will also help promote the economic cooperation within the Great Mekong Sub-region, he added.

The border gate is situated between the Trapaing Kreal area in Stung Treng province of Cambodia and the Nong Nokkhien area in Champasak province of Laos.

Also last week, Cambodia and Laos agreed to open some of their provinces for mutual transportation in order to facilitate trade and economic development.

According to the agreement, all Laotian vehicles can travel to Siem Reap province and capital city of Phnom Penh of Cambodia, and all Cambodian vehicles to Pakse province and capital city of Vientiane of Laos.

Editor: Deng Shasha

Red Cross cancels plans to send team to help girl in Cambodia

Lisa Gatt (left) and her sister Lia.
Times of Malta
Monday, 13th April 2009

The Malta Red Cross has been forced to cancel plans to send a team to Cambodia to assist a Maltese girl, Lisa Gatt, who was seriously injured in a traffic accident last week.

"Due to an impossibility to contact the national Red Cross society in Cambodia to arrange logistical assistance, the Malta Red Cross shall be unable to send the paramedic team to repatriate Lisa Gatt. Unfortunately, without the cooperation of our counterpart in Cambodia we are not in a position to undertake this repatriation operation safely," the society said.

It earlier announced that it had launching an appeal for funds to assist in the repatriation and medical expenses of Ms Gatt.

She is currently being cared for in a small clinic in a rural village in Cambodia where she underwent surgery. Although she is still in need of medical care, she will be dismissed in only a couple of days, the society said.

Donations can be made directly at the Red Cross offices at 104, Saint Ursula Street, Valletta, at Room 6,University of Malta, Xewkija, Gozo or in Bank of Valletta Account number 10206374012.

Police Prepare for New Year Security

By Heng Reaksmey, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
13 April 2009

National police are preparing to widen their presence at traditional Buddhist New Year sites, strengthening security as a three-day holiday begins Tuesday.

Police in Phnom Penh and across the country will be deployed at pagodas, gardens and any other place where revelers tend to gather, to prevent theft and gambling, police officials said Monday.

“We take action to protect people’s security every year,” said a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, Lt. Gen. Khieu Sopheak. “Many police are deployed in areas where festivities are held.”

During the three days of the New Year festival, “police have no holiday,” he said.

Police and traffic police will be spread out from Tuesday to Thursday, which marks the beginning of the Buddhist year 2533, the Year of the Ox.

The New Year is a time for people to return to their homes, be with families, pray for the dead at pagodas, and, for the young, play traditional games and dance in the streets. But it can also be a time of negligence and danger.

Phnom Penh firefighters, for example, will also be on alert, working 24-hour shifts, in case of fires in the homes of the myriad people who will leave town this week, possibly leaving on their gas stoves, lights or appliances, Deputy Phnom Penh Governor Man Chhoeun said Monday.

Last year, two large fires within Phnom Penh started just ahead of the new year, one in Tuol Kork district, of 40 homes, and one in Stung Meanchey, which destroyed hundreds of homes.

Phnom Penh Police Chief Brig. Gen. Touch Naroth said Monday he had already met with city officials about “tightening security” in the capital.

“Now police have received orders already from the Ministry of Interior to go to the places where villagers gather,” he said.