Monday, 9 November 2009

Cambodia's Hun Sen provokes new diplomatic row with Thailand

Development and climate change: People row a boat across the Mekong River in Kandal province, in the outskirts of Phnom Penh. A jostle for influence in Southeast Asia's emerging Mekong River region moved up a notch over the weekend when Japan hosted leaders from five countries in a two-day event in Tokyo that focused on sustainable development and climate change. The region that includes Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.Photograph by: Chor Sokunthea, Reuters, Vancouver Sun
By Jonathan Manthorpe, Vancouver SunNovember 9

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Little milk of human kindness flows through the veins of Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen.

If an opportunity presents itself to add insult to injury or injury to insult, Hun Sen is not a man to miss the chance.

His sparkling new friendship with Thailand's deposed and exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra is a fine example of Hun Sen's instinct for the kidney punch.

It was announced in Phnom Penh on Wednesday that Thaksin has been appointed special economic adviser to Hun Sen and the Cambodian government.

This will, of course, give Thaksin immunity from extradition to Thailand where he has been sentenced in absentia to two years in prison for corruption.

And in any case, Hun Sen has already scoffed that those charges were politically motivated to justify the 2006 military coup in Thailand that ousted Thaksin; a coup that had the fingerprints of senior advisers to the Thai royal family all over it.

In outraged reaction to Thaksin's appointment, Thailand on Thursday withdrew its ambassador to Phnom Penh and the Cambodian government swiftly retaliated by calling home its man in Bangkok.

On Friday Thailand's Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said he wants to cancel a 2001 agreement to jointly develop submarine oil and gas reserves in a disputed area in the Gulf of Thailand.

The memorandum of understanding was signed while Thaksin was prime minister, but there has been no progress in joint exploration of the 26,000-square-kilometre area and Kasit said he will propose to the Thai cabinet that the deal be scrapped.

Thai government spokesmen, meanwhile, say that all talks with Cambodia on trade and economic matters will now be halted and Thailand may even close the border over the Thaksin appointment.

This is the latest flare-up in a smoldering dispute between the Bangkok and Phnom Penh governments that came to a head in mid-2008 over rival claims to ownership of the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple complex, which is just inside Cambodia, but most easily accessible from Thailand.

At least nine people have died in skirmishes between Thai and Cambodian troops who face each other across the border.

Hun Sen's adoption of Thaksin, and the granting of sanctuary and a job, is being seen in Thailand as interference in the country's internal affairs.

Hun Sen says that's rubbish, but it's hard not to interpret the Thaksin appointment as a purposeful poke at Thailand's internal instability and the increasingly harassed government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Thaksin, after all, still has a large following of supporters among Thailand's urban and rural poor who regularly mount mass anti-government demonstrations in their signature red shirts.

There are reliable reports that Thaksin, a former policeman who founded a multibillion-dollar communications empire, gives financial backing to the red shirts.

Just as unruly as the red shirts are their opponents in yellow shirts, and Prime Minister Abhisit's theoretical supporters, from the inappropriately named People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD).

When PAD supporters demonstrated on the Thai side of the border near the Preah Vihear temple last month, Cambodia's Hun Sen went into one of his typically intemperate rants.

He told local and foreign reporters that any Thai who strayed across the border would be killed.

This was just before a summit of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The animosity between Hun Sen and Abhisit put the brakes on moves to make ASEAN into a common market like the European Union.

But one has to wonder how genuine is Hun Sen's professed friendship for Thaksin. It has the smell of an alliance of convenience for both men.

Thaksin gets protection after several years of dodging Thai attempts to extradite him from various hiding holes.

And Hun Sen gets a useful stick with which to beat Bangkok whenever the mood or opportunity takes him.

One reason for this opinion is that Hun Sen's troubles with Bangkok go back much further than the temple troubles. Indeed, they started in 2003 when Thaksin was the Thai prime minister.

At the end of January in 2003 there were anti-Thai riots in Phnom Penh led by political militias loyal to Hun Sen. The militias took to the streets, ravaged buildings belonging to Thaksin's communications conglomerate and burned the Thai embassy.

They were urged on by a verbal rampage by Hun Sen against a popular Thai soap opera actress, Suvanant (Kob) Kongying, also known as Morning Star.

Hun Sen made a public rant against her after it was reported, absolutely erroneously, that she had said the famed Cambodian temple complex, Ankor Wat, really belongs to Thailand.

Actually, the real cause of Hun Sen's anger with "Kob" was that he suggested they have a romantic encounter, as it were, and she told him to get lost.

Vietnam willing to help Cambodia develop telecoms


(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Vietnam is willing to assist Cambodia’s telecoms sector as part of the two countries’ cooperation agreement for the 2009-2010 period.

The Vietnamese Deputy Minister of Information and Telecoms, Do Quy Doan, made the statement during his talks with Cambodian Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith in Phnom Penh within the framework of his working visit to Cambodia from November 7-9.

During the talks, the Cambodian Minister asked Vietnam to support Cambodia in building a 5-KW FM radio station in Siem Reap province, which would provide the Vietnamese community in the province with better access to information.

Mr Doan pledged to report this issue to the Vietnamese Government so that it can be discussed at a session of the Inter-governmental Committee scheduled to be held on December 3-4 in Sihanoukville city, Cambodia.

During his stay, Mr Doan visited the National Television and the National Radio of Cambodia. Mr Doan said the Vinasat-1, with its coverage over the Southeast Asia, can meet all needs of Cambodia’s telecoms industry, ranging from television to Internet services.

Mr Doan also had a working session with the Metfone Company, a subsidiary of Vietnam’s Viettel military-run telecoms company.


Thai gov't can revoke maritime agreement with Cambodia: House speaker

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

BANGKOK, Nov. 9 (Xinhua) -- Thailand's House Speaker Chai Chidchob said Monday the Thai government can revoke a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on overlapping maritime boundaries in the Gulf of Thailand signed with Cambodia in 2001.

Any bilateral agreement with a foreign country can be endorsed or revoked by a government, the House Speaker said, Thai News Agency reported.

However, the government has to report such the endorsement or cancellation on any bilateral agreement to the parliament, Chai said.

The Thai Foreign Ministry announced Friday it will propose the cabinet meeting on Tuesday to cancel the MOU on overlapping maritime boundaries.

The MOU was signed by then-Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai and Cambodia's Deputy Prime Minister Sok An on June 14,2001, under the Thaksin Shinawatra-led Administration.

This joint agreement enables Thailand and Cambodia, which share26,000 square kilometers of the overlapping maritime area, to jointly develop oil and gas.

The planned MOU revocation by the Thai government occurred after the Cambodian government on Nov. 5 announced recall of its ambassador to Thailand in a move to respond to the Thai government' s recall of its ambassador Mr. Prasas Prasavinitchai to Cambodia.

The diplomatic retaliation between the two countries occurred after Thaksin was officially appointed as adviser of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Royal Government of Cambodia King Norodom Sihamoni.

Thaksin was ousted by the military coup in September 2006, in accusation of corruption, and has been kept in exile since then.

He returned to Thailand in February 2008 to face corruption charges, but he later fled into exile again and was convicted in absentia.

Editor: Deng Shasha

Thailand, Cambodia leave leeway for relaxation of tension

November 09, 2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Thailand and Cambodia recalled their respective ambassadors on Nov. 5 after Phnom Penh appointed former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra as an economic adviser of Cambodia and personal advisor to Prime Minister Hun Sen, and strained bilateral ties thus further escalated. Both sides, however, still leave some leeway for the relaxation of tension between them.

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Sunday afternoon announced that ousted Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra would visit Cambodia this week in his new role as economic adviser to his government. Moreover, Hun Sen said, Thaksin would address a group of 300 Cambodians. "Thaksin will be at the Minister of Economy and Finance on Nov. 12 to do a briefing with 300 Cambodian economic experts," he told a new conference at Phnom Penh International Airport. Apparently, this move of his showed to the world that he was not scared or "intimidated" by Bangkok's recall of its ambassador to Cambodia.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen appointed Thaksin as his economic adviser, and criticized or decried judicial injustice in Thailand, thus seriously hurting the national dignity or self-respect of Thai people. A Thai newspaper named "Bangkok Post", therefore, in an editorial referred to this act as "a huge slap in the face of Thailand."

Subsequently, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva in his television address on Sunday, November 8th defended his own actions in an ongoing spat and called on Thais to get united and "to protect the honor" or pride of his country.

Thailand is angrily claiming that Thaksin's acceptance of Hun Sen's appointment is definitely dwarfing or "downgrading" the former Thai prime minister himself and the whole Thailand as well, some Thai media have commented.

Recent polls indicate that most Thais do not favor or endorse the move of Thaksin Shinawata's. On the contrary, a latest poll put the support rate of incumbent Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva at 69 percent as against the previous rate of 23 percent,for the popularity of the Abhisit Vejjajiva government has soared after its diplomatic protest against Phnom Penh's appointment of Thaksin Shinawata as Cambodia's economic adviser and ensuing announcement for the withdrawal of Thai ambassador from Cambodia.

Nevertheless, Thailand has underscored that it has gone into actions to prompt Hun Sen to change his mind instead of making things worse. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on Sunday, Nov. 8th noted that the Thai-Cambodian diplomatic ties would not affect the bilateral economic and trade relations between the two Southeast Asian neighbors. Meanwhile, Hun Sen also announced in Phnom Penh Sunday that he would withdraw an elite unit of paratroopers (Brigade 911) from disputed territory near a historic border temple, Preah Vihear Temple, where Thailand maintains it is its territory.

Furthermore, the International community is reluctant to see the strained Thai-Cambodian relations deteriorating. Singaporean foreign minister George Yeo has also said that he did not want to see the strained Thai-Cambodian ties would affect negatively the ASEAN's image.

Meanwhile, Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, the secretary general of the ASEAN, acknowledged that the APEC CEO Summit will be held in Singapore in mid November 2009 alongside the APEC Learders' Meeting as well as the ASEAN-U.S. Summit. At this critical moment, the ASEAN Secretary General appealed for Cambodian-Thai maximum restraint and called on ASEAN foreign ministers to assist the two ASEAN member states to settle their bilateral disputes amicably and as soon as possible.

By People's Daily resident reporter in Thailand Ren Jianmin and translated by PD Online

Q+A-How much damage will the Thai-Cambodia spat cause?

Mon Nov 9, 2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

(For a related Q+A and analysis, click [ID:nBKK413373] and [ID:nBKK461030])
By Martin Petty

BANGKOK, Nov 9 (Reuters) - Thailand and Cambodia are embroiled in a diplomatic stand-off over the appointment of former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra, on the run from a graft conviction, as an adviser to the Cambodian government.

Rivalry between the two neighbours dates back centuries and tensions are never far from the surface. But ties have sunk to their lowest in almost seven years, with both sides recalling their ambassadors and freezing agreements. [ID:nBKK246900].


The Thai government sees Thaksin's new job as a slap in the face, but what seems to have irked Bangkok so much is Cambodia's refusal to extradite Thaksin, should a request be made, on the grounds that his graft conviction was politically motivated.

That is seen as an attack on Thailand's judicial system.

There are other reasons, however. Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has had enough trouble from the self-exiled Thaksin as it is, and the prospect of him wielding his sizable influence from across the border could hamper his efforts to bring stability to his deeply polarised country. [ID:nBKK452972]


There is no love lost between the two countries. Cambodia's Khmer Empire, dating back to the ninth century, was once the dominant power in the region and ruled over much of modern Thailand from its Angkor Wat complex, prompting a series of rebellions.

A big source of tension is Preah Vihear, an 11th century temple that straddles their disputed border. Although an international court ruling awarded it to Cambodia in 1962, it is still the source of nationalist squabbles that have led to deadly border skirmishes (For a Q+A: [ID:nBKK227352]).

Diplomatic ties were severed in 2003 for almost three months after Cambodians went on the rampage in Phnom Penh, torching the Thai embassy and vandalising Thai businesses over an unsubstantiated rumour that a famous Thai actress claimed Angkor Wat belonged to Thailand.


Both Abhisit and his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen have said they will not close the border, which would disrupt trade and tourist movements between the two countries.

Thailand sought to hit impoverished Cambodia where it hurts by halting a 2001 agreement to jointly develop a disputed area of the Gulf of Thailand believed to have abundant natural gas reserves. Both countries have already awarded concessions to firms such as Chevron (CVX.N).

Thailand believes Thaksin, a former negotiator on the issue while in office, could get involved from the Cambodian side, but it has no evidence to prove it. Hun Sen might also get a more favourable deal if Thaksin or his allies return to power, so it would be in his interests to give the billionaire a helping hand.

However, the suspension of the agreement is unlikely to have much of an effect, since negotiations were moving at a snail's pace, with the issue years away from being resolved.


Both sides have repeatedly pledged not to engage in any confrontation but it remains to be seen how much control politicians have over their trigger-happy troops. Cambodia reduced its military presence a few months ago and Hun Sen pledged on Sunday to pull more troops out.


Not a big one. Cambodia's economy depends heavily on South Korea and China, and very little on Thailand, which it turn relies on its neighbour for just 0.05 percent of total imports.

Despite endemic corruption and various internal problems, investors are still drawn to Cambodia and it is unlikely the latest tit-for-tat row with Thailand will change anything.

Providing the border remains open and peace prevails, it will not make much difference. However, the thousands of Thais that flock to Cambodia's border casinos each week might think twice about a flutter while tensions remain high. (Editing by Alan Raybould and Dean Yates)

PAD: PM must get back at Cambodia

Published: 9/11/2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Leaders and followers of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) gathered in front of Government House on Monday morning, pressuring Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to terminate the memorandum of understanding on overlapping maritime boundaries in the Gulf of Thailand signed with Cambodia in 2001.

PAD core member Pibhop Dhongchai said they wanted the government to revoke all bilateral projects with Cambodia and financial assistance for the neighbouring country.

The yellow-shirt group also demanded the government drive the Cambodian army out of the disputed border area around the ancient Preah Vihear temple.

After a 30-minute talk with the prime minister, the PAD leader said Mr Abhisit promised him that he will raise the group's demands at the cabinet meeting tomorrow.

ASEAN Secretary-General appeals Cambodia, Thailand to exercise maximum restrain


(Posted by CAAI News Media)

JAKARTA, Nov. 9 (Xinhua) -- The Secretary-General of ASEAN, Surin Pitsuwan, has appealed Cambodia and Thailand to exercise maximum restraint and asked ASEAN foreign ministers to assist the two countries to end the dispute.

Surin informed the ministers that he has received many inquiries and expressions of concern from ASEAN's Dialogue Partners and friends over the apparent deterioration of relations between Cambodia and Thailand, as evidenced in the recalling of their Ambassadors earlier this week.

The secretary general said that the dispute could undermine the credibility of ASEAN.

"We in ASEAN cannot afford to be seen as being so seriously divided prior to the upcoming APEC Economic Leaders Meeting and the historic ASEAN-US Leaders Meeting in Singapore this month," he said in a statement received by Xinhua on Monday.

The Secretary-General pointed out that in line with the spirit of the ASEAN Charter and the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) of 1976, all other Member States in ASEAN are obliged to offer assistance to help fellow Member States settle their settlement.

The King signed the Royal Decree of the appointment of Thaksin Shinawatra on Oct. 27. The appointment was made in accordance with the country's constitutions and at the request of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Official contact with Cambodia to be made if Thaksin visits there: Thai Deputy PM

BANGKOK, Nov 09, 2009 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- Thailand is going to officially contact with Cambodia if ousted former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra visits Cambodia on Nov. 12, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said Monday.

Over the weekend, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced in Cambodia that Thaksin will visit Cambodia this week after he has been named the country's economic adviser.

On Nov. 12, Thaksin will hold a briefing with over 300 Cambodian economics experts at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, Hun Sen said.

Suthep said Thaksin's visit to Cambodia is not unexpected and the Thai government will officially contact with Cambodia if Thaksin is in Cambodia on Nov. 12, Thai News Agency reported.

And, if Thaksin wants to use Cambodia as his base in a bid to damage Thailand, there will be another step to deal with this matter, Suthep said. But, Suthep does not explain in details.

However, in a related development, the Thai Foreign Ministry has prepared related document to send to Cambodia to extradite Thaksin to Thailand, if Thaksin visits Cambodia this week, Vice Foreign Minister Panich Vikitsreth said Sunday.

The Office of the Attorney General will request Cambodia to extradite Thaksin from Cambodia since the two countries have already signed an extradition treaty, Panich said.

After sending the request to Cambodia, Thailand will wait for Cambodia's legal procedures to be carried out, the vice foreign minister said.

But, if Cambodia denies the Thai request, Thailand will review the status of its bilateral relations with Cambodia, which is another level under diplomatic protocol, he said.

Currently, Thailand is reviewing all existing bilateral agreements and cooperation projects with Cambodia after Thaksin is appointed as the economic advisor to Cambodia's government.

The diplomatic retaliation between the two countries has occurred after Thaksin was officially appointed on Nov. 4 as the adviser of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Royal Government of Cambodia King Norodom Sihamoni.

The Cambodian government on Nov. 5 announced to recall its ambassador to Thailand in a move to respond to the Thai government 's earlier recall of its ambassador, Mr. Prasas Prasavinitchai, to Cambodia.

Thaksin was ousted by the military coup in September 2006, in accusation of corruption, and has been kept in exile since then.

He returned to Thailand in February 2008 to face corruption charges, but he later fled into exile again and was convicted in absentia.

Documents ready for extradition bid if Thaksin visits Phnom Penh

By The Nation
Mon, November 9, 2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Thai Foreign Ministry has prepared documents requesting the extradition of fugitive prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra from Cambodia if he really visited Phnom Penh this week, Vice Foreign Minister Panich Vikitsreth.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Sunday that Thaksin will visit Phnom Penh as his economic adviser, to lecture over 300 Cambodian economists at Cambodia's finance ministry on Thursday.

Panich said if Mr Thaksin is really in Cambodia, the Office of the Attorney General will request extradition from Cambodia as the two countries have already signed an extradition treaty.

He said all documents related to the case have already been prepared and translated to English.

The Thai foreign ministry official said that Thailand earlier requested Fiji and other countries which had treaties with the kingdom, and where Mr Thaksin was reportedly visiting.

After the request is sent to Cambodia, Thailand must wait for Cambodia's legal procedures to be carried out and if Cambodia denies the Thai request then Thailand must review the status of its bilateral relations for another step under diplomatic protocol, he said.

Following Cambodia's appointment of Thaksin as its economic adviser, Thailand has downgraded the relations, recalling its ambassador, reviewing all existing bilateral agreements and cooperation projects with Cambodia.

However, Panich said, any measures will be adopted using diplomatic protocol and would not lead to military measures as that would be the last option.

Thai Cabinet will on Tuesday considers terminating the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Thailand and Cambodia regarding the area of their overlapping maritime claims to the continental shelf.

The MoU, dated 18 June 2001, was signed by then-foreign minister Surakiart Sathirathai and Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An during the Thaksin administration.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva also said on Sunday Thailand will seek extradition of ousted premier Thaksin if he visits Cambodia on November 12.

Melody Ross's death causes Cambodian parents' wariness and fears to grow

Wilson High School student Melody Ross,16, who was shot and killed Friday October 30, 2009, after a Wilson High School football game, at Wilson. Family Photo

By Greg Mellen Staff Writer

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

LONG BEACH - The shooting death of Melody Ross, a 16-year-old Cambodian American bystander killed after a high school football game, has reawakened old fears and concerns among a number of Cambodian parents in the community about the safety of their children.

The tragedy also has at least some reconsidering the involvement of their children in extracurricular activities.

It also has a Cambodian sociologist telling the community that retreat is the worst outcome for Khmer kids, who need to be active and involved in their schools and culture if they are to flourish.

While the death of Ross is a concern for parents of all races, it is particularly acute among parents in the Cambodian community, where the ghosts of the Killing Fields genocide and the culture of fear are never far beneath the surface.

Ross, the daughter of survivors, was not involved in the dispute that erupted in the fatal shooting after Wilson's homecoming game against Poly on Oct. 30. She was simply in a crowd and hit at random. Police say she was not a target and that race was not a factor.

That is little solace to survivors of the genocide that left upwards of 2 million dead between 1975 and 1979.

Since Ross' death, several Cambodian parents have said they are debating whether to let their children participate in after-school activities.

Dr. Leakhena Nou, a sociology professor at Cal State Long Beach, says for genocide survivors in particular the feelings are amplified.

"Any random act of violence can be a trigger for survivors who have lived through such terrible circumstances," Nou said. "This is definitely a step backward for psychological and emotional healing."

Traditional culture

Compounding the difficulty are aspects of Cambodian culture and identity.

Ross, for example, came from a traditional family that clung to the idea of "chabap srey" or the Cambodian code of behavior for girls.

Khmer parents typically are very protective of their girls and restrict their interactions outside of the family with friends and social groups.

The football game was the first Ross had been allowed to attend and she had to lobby her parents hard to gain permission to go.

The Cambodian Coordinating Council, in a statement to the Board of Education, expressed the feelings of many.

"As you know, many of the Cambodians in this community fled during the Killing Fields to other countries for peace and freedom. When this tragic incident happens in our city, it brings horrible memories for those who are survivors," the letter said.

The news shook John and Candy Vong. Their son, Petra, sings for Lakewood High's madrigals and the parents were debating whether to let him attend the next game.

"I'm afraid to let him go," Candy said. "We haven't made a decision, but right now it's about 98 percent we won't let him go. He's our only son."

Candy says John lost much of his family in Cambodia and was nearly killed himself.

A father's fears

Just hours before Friday's football game, Bryant Ben, a survivor whose 13-year-old son, Patrick, attends Poly, had a discussion with his son.

The boy wanted to exercise his freedom and ride the bus to the game after school.

Bryant said, "No," and they went through the motions of a typical father-son argument: the child wanting freedom and independence, the parent arguing for safety.

"He said, `You're overreacting,"' Bryant recalls, "I said `You can say that."'

Dr. Christina Lee is a survivor with two younger children who understands the fear of her compatriots.

For many Cambodians, survival during the Khmer Rouge reign depended on being invisible and going unnoticed. So it is difficult to expose their children to perceived hazards.

Lee said survivors who lost family members tend to be cautious and when they lose a child for no apparent reason it is like a double blow.

She said Ross' death will probably deter parents from letting children attend events, and she admits she'd "think twice" about letting her children go.

Nou says as difficult as it may be for parents to let go, it is a vital part of the children's acculturation, their identity and their self-esteem.

Being involved in school activities, Nou says, is integral to "adolescent identity building.

"Attending a football game is a natural part of growing up," she said.

And as tempting as it may be to want to shield kids, Nou says Khmer children need to experience the full range of the high school if they are to learn, grow, adapt and succeed, which ultimately is their parents' wish.

About the services

What: Funeral services for Melody Ross

When: Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Where: Sky Rose Chapel at Rose Hills Memorial Park, 3888 S. Workman Mill Road, Whittier. The chapel is in the East Park area. The entrance is through Gate 1. The burial will follow. The event is open to the public.

Donations: The Long Beach Education Foundation has set up a fund for the Ross family to pay for the funeral and related costs and possibly as a college scholarship fund for Ross' two sisters, Emily, 17, and Kimberly, 6.

Donations can be made by check to the Long Beach Education Foundation with Melody Ross Memorial Trust Account noted on the memo line. Checks should be mailed to the Long Beach Education Foundation, 1515 Hughes Way, Long Beach, CA 90810.

The Cambodian Coordinating Council and other civic groups are also organizing fundraisers and events to help the family.

Govt threatens to cut financial grant to Cambodia

Mon, November 9, 2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Thailand will review its relations with Cambodia including cancelling agreements, cutting support and financial grant, if it refuses to hand over ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra after Thailand formally seeks his extradition, Vice Foreign Minister Panit Wikitset said on Monday.

Thailand will immediately request Cambodia to deport Thaksin, if he lands in there, he said. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Sunday that Thaksin would visit Phnom Penh on Thursday to give a lecture on economic matters.

After sending the documents, the country will have to give Cambodia time to respond to the request. If Cambodia replies that it will not deport Thaksin, Thailand will have to review it relations with Cambodia. The government is looking at all agreements Thailand has with Cambodia including any support and financial grant, Panit said.

"We have to follow diplomatic procedures but this will not lead to military action, which will be a last resort,'' he said.

If Cambodia does not follow the extradition request or did not give any sound reason for turning down the request, it means that they clearly intend to violate the extradition treaty, Sirisak Tiyapan, director-general of the Office of the Attorney-General's Department of Foreign Litigation said on Monday.

"If Cambodia does not hand him over, it would hurt our bilateral relations, which means they do not want anything from us,'' Sirisak said.

Public prosecutors will ask Cambodia to temporarily detain Thaksin and hand him over to Thailand as soon as they know he is in Cambodia, Sirisak said.

This will depend on whether the executive branch of Cambodia wields influence on its justice system. Normally the judicial branch should be independent from the government,'' he said.

Panit said document related to extradition request for Thaksin had already been translated. This is not the first time the Foreign Ministry is preparing to send such document to foreign countries that Thakin believed to land or stay in. The ministry had earlier submitted extradition documents to Australia, Fiji and other countries Thailand has extradition treaty with and where Thaksin was reported to enter.

Cambodia to withdraw part of its troops from border areas with Thailand

November 09, 2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Senon Sunday afternoon announced that Cambodia has planed to withdraw part of its troops from the border areas with Thailand.

Hun Sen made the announcement at a press conference held at the Phnom Penh International Airport where he arrived from the first Mekong-Japan Summit from Nov. 6 to 7, 2009 in Tokyo, Japan.

"What I should start with today is that after examining the border issue between Cambodia and Thailand, the situation is normal, quiet, then we decide to withdraw paratroops number 911 from Preah Vihear area to the camp, and one week from now, complete withdrawal," Hun Sen said, adding that "The dispute is not between the two nationalities of Cambodian and Thai, or the two peoples, nor military and ministry between the two countries, but Abhisit and Hun Sen or Bangkok and Phnom Penh."

Pal Saraenn, commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF), told Xinhua that so far, the situation in border areas was calm and stable.

Relations between the two neighboring countries were strained this past week when Cambodia named ousted former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra its economic adviser. Thailand recalled its ambassador Thursday, and Cambodia followed suit.

Hun Sen also told reporters that Thaksin Shinawatro would arrive in Cambodia to give an economic lecture on Thursday. He said that "Thaksin will make a lecture on economic topics in Phnom Penh on Nov. 12 in the morning to 300 people. I cannot tell you when and from where he will come through, but he will make a lecture here."

ASEAN in its statement on Saturday appealed to both countries to "exercise maximum restraint."

Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 military coup for alleged massive corruption and other charges. His supporters say he should be pardoned and returned to power. Since the coup, Thaksin has lived abroad to escape a corruption conviction and two-year prison sentence.

Thailand Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Saturday he has no plan yet to seal its border with Cambodia despite a diplomatic row, but will seek to extradite the former prime minister if he goes to Cambodia to become an adviser.

Thaksin, born in Thailand's northern province Chiang Mai in 1949, became one of the richest people in Thailand by setting up telecommunications companies like Shin Corporation and Advanced Info Service before entering politics.

Thaksin entered politics by joining the Phalang Dharma Party (Power of Justice Party) in 1994, and once served as Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister in two administrations.

"Thaksin can stay in Cambodia as a guest of Cambodia. He can also be my adviser on the economy," Hun Sen said as he arrived in the beach resort of Hua Hin for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit last month. The Cambodian leader repeated an earlier invitation to Thaksin to stay in Cambodia and rejected Thai claims that Phnom Penh would have to extradite the tycoon.

"Our concern is for humanitarian reasons, it is friends helping friends. The internal affairs of Thailand would be left for Thai people to resolve, I am not interfering," Hun Sen said earlier.

Source: Xinhua

Thai Army Chief Phones to Apologize

Written by DAP NEWS -- Monday, 09 November 2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Thai Army Region 2 Commander Lt Gen Veevalit Chornsamrit on Saturday phoned three times to apologize sorry to Cambodia Army Chief Chea Dara, according to a high ranking military source.

The apology came following the Cambodia army chief’s warning to Chornsamrit when he was quoted by Bangkok Post as saying that “If the war really breaks out, Thailand will be the winner.”

The Thai army chief warned the Cambodia army chief not to use strong words to Thailand over sealing the border. Thailand has expressed dissatisfaction with Cambodia after former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was given a job as Cambodian Government advisor and PM Hun Sen’s economic advisor.

Gen. Chea Dara strongly reacted to the remarks, saying that “I suggested that Veevalit take back his words urgently. If not, Cambodian soldiers will announce a war with them.”

“At bilateral talks on Friday afternoon at Red house, Gen. Veevalit himself begged us not to fight and use force, but we are waiting for the order from the Premier Hun Sen; to fight or not is at his request,” Chea Dara told DAP News Cambodia on Saturday.

About 30 minutes later, Thai army chief phoned three times Chea Dara to say sorry to Chea Dara, stressing that “What was issued by Bangkok Post was not our stance.”

“They say sorry to us so that we forgive them and we can have a good relationship with each other,” Chea Dara said.

Thai leaders have several times retracted their remarks made in the Bangkok Post or claimed to have been misquoted. Thai foreign Minister Kasit Piromya last month claimed he was misquoted by the Bangkok Post. Cambodia and Thai army chiefs on Friday met for bilateral talks at the border to ensure security and peace.

The discussions come amid rapidly worsening diplomatic ties. On Thursday evening the Cambodian Government recalled its ambassador to Thailand in a tit-for-tat response after the Thai Government’s earlier recall of its ambassador to Cambodia.

Situation at Pailin normal

The situation at the border in Pailin province was still normal on Saturday, even as relations between the two countries worsened after Thailand recalled its ambassador on Thursday, a high ranking Pailin official told DAP News Cambodia.

“The business of the local citizens is normal, it has not changed nor has anything of note occurred,” Ti Sokha, deputy Pailin provincial military chief, told DAP News Cambodia on Saturday.

“If Thailand wishes to seal the border, Thailand itself will lose benefits,” he said, claiming that the cross border trade was around 90/10 in Thailand’s favor.

Cambodia’s Western University Meets Vietnam National University (RVNU)

Written by DAP NEWS -- Monday, 09 November 2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Cambodia’s Western University on Saturday held a meeting with representatives of the Vietnam National University (RVNU) during a Vietna- mese delegation visit to Cambodia.

In the meeting between the Western University and the RVNU, Dr. Traing Thanhan, Director of Pali language and Senor Consultant Vietnam National University, said that “Cam- bodian students who learned at the Western, they are accuracy if we compared to other university in ASEAN countries, they are qualified we would like to admire.”

We will report to our leader to provide the scholarship for Cambo- dian students through the Western University. Recently, the education in Cambodia is developing, and we noted that it is better than in the past, Thanhan added.

Toe Lorin rector of Western University said that “We are welcome to the RVNU who visited in Cambo- dia, our institution was established since 2003 which approved by the Cambodian Government through Cambodian Government Decree 72 of November 17, 2003.”

The Western University’s rector added that his institution offers programs ranging from foundation academic year up to Doctorate Degree. “Our achievements, all of our members they are very hard working, especially all professors, lecturers, and teachers and all of the university’s staffs as well,” he stressed.

As a result of the downturn, his university has seen decreased enrole- ment and attnedence, he said, “so we would to ask to the Vietnam Govern- ment to provide the appropriate scho- larships for Cambodian students.”

Cambodian students can attend an examination for a scholarship to Western University on November 20, according to Western University’s Human Resource Administration Officer Mok Pheareak.

Pheareak said that the scholarships will be offered for the 2009-2010 academic year at the first Tourl Svay Prey branch in Phnom Penh.

Cambodia-India Trade Fair

Written by DAP NEWS -- Monday, 09 November 2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Cambodia and India will jointly host a trade fair in Phnom Penh next week to expand the bilateral trade volume between the two countries, a press release from Cambodia’s Ministry of Commerce obtained on Saturday said.

The trade forum will provide a great opportunity for Cambodian and Indian businesspeople to meet one other November 11-12, the press release added. Around 20 Indian companies will join the trade fair to show their products.

The event will be co-hosted by the Ministry of Commerce (MoC) of Cambodia and Federation of India Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the event will be presided over by Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh.

According to MoC figures, bilateral trade worth over US$61 million, with about US$5 million worth of Cambodian products exported to India.

The two countries established diplomatic ties in 1952 for the first time and they re-established ties in 1992. India has helped Cambodia by training Cambodian mine clearance soldiers to serve in the UN peacekeeping missions. In late October, Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said that India and Cambodia would expand the cooperation on the areas of national defense and anti-terrorism. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, held bilateral talks on a sideline of ASEAN summit in Thailand to boost bilateral ties. The Indian Prime Minister will visit Cambodia at the invitation of Hun Sen, Hor Nam Hong said. Cambodia requested Indian help restore and maintain Cambodian temples, he added. India agreed to provide US$15 million in concession loans for electricity power networks from Kratie and Stung Treng provinces in Cambodia.

Koh Kong Governor Removed from Post

Written by DAP NEWS -- Monday, 09 November 2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

The Koh Kong provincial governor, Yuth Phuthang, has been removed from his post, a source close to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Tea Banh said on Saturday.

He will apparently be replaced by Bun Let, Sre Ambel district governor.

“The reducing in rank of Yuth Phuthang was done before Thailand recalled its ambassador to Phnom Penh; it did not taking place during or after both countries recalled their ambassadors,” the source added.

To demote the Koh Kong Governor was apparently just “due to administration work,” and does not involve to any internal issues or disputes between Yuth Phuthang and the Government, the source added.

The Government decree to demote Yuth Phuthang has not yet been made public and the decree to assign a new governor is also yet to be formally issued.

Banteay Meanchey Residents Complains of Potato Blockade

Written by DAP NEWS -- Monday, 09 November 2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Provincial Banteay Meanchey residents have complained their potatoes are being barred from export to Thailand in recent months after a dispute between Cambodian vendors and Thais at the Boeung Trakourn border crossing, a local authority source said.

Chief of the at Boeung Trakourn crossing Nou Yorth told DAP News Cambodia that “There was a demonstration at the border by the Thais vendors, so all Cambodian products were blocked from export.”

Nou Yorth said that the sale of potatoes is a main source of income for many Cambodian farmers in the region. “They are depending on it. If the dispute is not finished, they will be hopeless for their business and have nothing to support their families.

Banteay Meanchey Provincial Director of the Department of Agriculture Heng Bunho said that about 20 percent of the 20,000 ha in the area was planted with potatoes in 2007. He said another 20,000 ha has been planted in 2009.

“If we cannot export our products to Thailand, we still have the local market.”

Before the demonstration, Cam-bodian vendors sold about 50 carts of potatoes to Thailand a day, Nou Yorth stressed.

Cambodian farmers, they decided to cut potatoes into chips and dry them in the sun, with the hope of exporting them in future, he added.

He reported the blockade to the Bateay Meanchey Provincial Governor and other provincial officials, and they will hold a meeting with the Thais authorities, he said.

Cambodia Hosts Football Match for Independence Day

Written by DAP NEWS -- Monday, 09 November 2009

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Cambodia will host a football tournament to celebrate the 56th anniversary of Independence Day to be held at the National Olympic Stadium November 8-14, a press release from the Football Feder-ation of Cambodia (FFC) said on Saturday.

Three teams from Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos will compete for the U23 youth football tournament. The Vietnamese team has already arrived in Cambodia, a press release from FFC said, urging all football supporters to buy a US$1-2 ticket for the event. The final result will be announ- ced in the afternoon of November 14, and the winner awarded US$20,000, the runner up US$ 10,000 and third place US$5, 000. The biggest sponsor is BIDC Vietnam bank.

Cambodia gained independence from France on November 9, 1953.

Celebrating Independence Day

Photo by: Heng Chivoan

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Monday, 09 November 2009 15:01 Heng Chivoan

Representatives from government ministries with officials from City Hall gathered at the Independence Monument on Sunday afternoon to honour Cambodians who sacrificed their lives for national independence. Cambodia gained its independence from France on November 9, 1953.

Holdout Rik Reay families spurn new City Hall offer

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Muol Thy, 29, stands in front of a barrier marked “Don’t Touch” blocking off a section of Phnom Penh’s Rik Reay community on Sunday. A City Hall official warned of a Dey Krahorm-style eviction if holdout families don’t accept new compensation offers by November 21.

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Monday, 09 November 2009 15:02 Khouth Sophakchakrya

Official warns of Dey Krahorm-like eviction if 13 families refuse compensation from municipality and Canadia Bank.

TWENTY holdout families from Phnom Penh’s Rik Reay community have agreed to relocate after accepting a new compensation offer at a meeting Thursday, and City Hall has threatened to forcibly evict the remaining 13 families if they refuse to do the same.

Mann Chhoeun, deputy governor of Phnom Penh, said Sunday that City Hall would give Rik Reay residents until November 21 to voluntarily relocate and accept the new offer of US$23,000 per family.

“But if they are stubborn … we will use the same measures as with Dey Krahorm,” he said, referring to the central Phnom Penh community that was the scene of a violent eviction in January.

“This must be a fair deal because 209 of the 222 families there have already agreed to move,” Mann Chhoeun said, adding that all but 54 of the families had accepted lower compensation packages earlier in the year.

A government directive dated January 30 instructed the community’s 219 families to leave Rik Reay and offered them one of two compensation options: US$10,000 and a house in Dangkor district, or on-site housing in which Bassac Garden City, the company developing the site, vowed to invest between $5 million and $6 million.

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Phal Sopheap, 43, at her home in Phnom Penh’s Rik Reay community on Sunday. She was among 20 homeowners who received US$23,000 in compensation for agreeing to move on Thursday.

The on-site housing was later taken off the table.

Under the new compensation offer, $20,000 will be provided by City Hall, with $3,000 coming from Canadia Bank.

Pen Thai, a Rik Reay community representative, said the holdout families had no intention of accepting the new terms. “We are only asking for just $5,000 or $10,000 more per family in order to move into a new place,” he said. “$20,000 cannot buy a decent home in Phnom Penh.”

Thaksin to arrive this week

Photo by: Khem Sovannara
Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks with reporters Sunday at Phnom Penh International Airport after his return from Tokyo, where he attended the inaugural Mekong-Japan summit.

Timeline The Cambodia-Thaksin tangle

October 21, 2009
Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, leader of Thailand’s opposition Puea Thai party, makes a one-day visit to Phnom Penh and holds talks with Prime Minister Hun Sen. The following day in Bangkok, he announces that Hun Sen has prepared a house for former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, should he wish to take refuge there.

October 23, 2009
Following his arrival in the Thai resort town of Hua Hin to attend the 15th ASEAN summit, Hun Sen proposes appointing Thaksin as his economics adviser and compares Thaksin’s political struggles to those of Myanmar opposition figure Aung San Suu Kyi. Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva says Hun Sen is “misinformed” about the former leader.

November 4, 2009
The Cambodian government releases an October 27 decree signed by King Norodom Sihamoni that names Thaksin economic adviser to the government and personal adviser to Hun Sen, along with a statement reiterating the government’s position that it will not extradite Thaksin if he comes to Cambodia. Officials insist the move will not affect bilateral relations.

November 5, 2009
Thailand withdraws its ambassador to Phnom Penh as “retaliation” for Cambodia’s official appointment of Thaksin. Cambodia withdraws its ambassador to Bangkok in response, vowing to restore her only after Bangkok does likewise. Bangkok also announces the suspension of aid to Cambodia, though Prime Minister Abhisit maintains that the border will remain open.

November 8, 2009
Hun Sen announces that Thaksin will visit Cambodia on November 12 to deliver a lecture at the Ministry of Economy and Finance. Thailand had already threatened to close all border checkpoints and further downgrade diplomatic relations, a prospect that became more likely after Hun Sen’s announcement. Abhsit, meanwhile, defends his retaliation as protecting “Thai dignity”.

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Monday, 09 November 2009 15:02 James O’toole and Vong Sokheng

Hun Sen says fugitive leader will deliver economics lecture.

THAI ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra is to visit Cambodia this week, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced Sunday, prompting Bangkok to respond that it would seek Thaksin’s extradition if the visit takes place and setting the stage for further diplomatic rancour.

Speaking to reporters at Phnom Penh International Airport upon his return from the inaugural Mekong-Japan summit in Tokyo, Hun Sen said Thaksin will deliver a lecture on Thursday to 300 Cambodian economics experts at the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

“Please let Thaksin share my burden of boosting the economy of Cambodia,” Hun Sen said in an apparent appeal to the Thai public.

Responding to Hun Sen’s remarks, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said his government would pursue Thaksin’s extradition if the fugitive billionaire arrives in Phnom Penh this week, according to the Thai News Agency.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said, however, that Cambodia has already made clear that it will not extradite Thaksin because he was prosecuted for “political reasons”.

“They should understand that we keep the same position now,” Phay Siphan said of the Thai government.

Last week, the Cambodian government released a Royal decree in which Thaksin, who was deposed in a 2006 coup and self-exiled last year to avoid corruption charges, was formally named economics adviser to the government and personal adviser to Hun Sen.

The Thai government reacted by withdrawing its ambassador to Phnom Penh, and Cambodia followed suit.

On Friday, Thailand announced it was scrapping a memorandum of understanding with Cambodia over oil and gas exploration, and threatened to close the border with Cambodia in the event of further antagonism between the two countries.

“If Thais close the border, all trade between Cambodia and Thailand will be cut off,” Hun Sen said at the airport, adding: “If you want to close, close it. The loss will be mutual.”

Speaking on Sunday prior to Hun Sen’s announcement, Abhisit defended his government’s actions in the ongoing standoff, telling viewers of his weekly television programme that Cambodia had insulted the Thai justice system.

“All the government has done is for dignity of the country and Thai people,” Abhisit said, adding that Thailand had acted “calmly and carefully” to deal with the recent escalation of tensions.

Puangthong Rungswasdisab, a political analyst at Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University, said bilateral relations are certain to deteriorate further in the likely event that, upon Thaksin’s arrival, an extradition request by Thailand is denied by Cambodia.

“The Thai government will have to heed to the pressure of the Thai public to retaliate against the Cambodian government,” she said, speculating that Bangkok will “terminate” completely its diplomatic relationship with Phnom Penh.

Chheang Vannarith, the executive director of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, said diplomatic relations between Thailand and Cambodia are at their worst point since 2003, when rioters attacked the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh. He said Hun Sen and other Cambodian leaders are likely aware of the anger that Thaksin’s arrival here will elicit from Abhisit’s government, but may be playing the two sides of Thailand’s intensely polarised domestic politics against one another.

“The Cambodian government may foresee that the pro-Thaksin group will win the next election in Thailand, so by then all border issues will be solved and friendship will be rebuilt,” he said.

Also on Sunday, Hun Sen said he had ordered the withdrawal of a paratrooper unit stationed around the disputed border area near Preah Vihear temple, emphasising that the recent breakdown in diplomatic relations will not translate into armed hostilities.

“After examining the situation at the border between Cambodia and Thailand, the situation was quiet,” Hun Sen said. “Therefore, I announce the withdrawal of special paratroop number 911 from the area at Preah Vihear temple, and their return to headquarters.”

Yim Phim, commander of Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Brigade 8, stationed near Preah Vihear temple, said Sunday that the border was quiet.

“The situation is normal at the border,” he said. “Thai military officials have always said we should not clash with one another even when there are disputes among our politicians.”


King seeks editor’s freedom

Photo by: Sovan Philong
Hang Chakra, publisher of the opposition-aligned Khmer Machas Srok newspaper, arrives at the Appeal Court for a hearing in August.

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Monday, 09 November 2009 15:02 Meas Sokchea and Sebastian Strangio

KING Norodom Sihamoni has encouraged Prime Minister Hun Sen to request that Hang Chakra, the opposition newspaper publisher who received a one-year prison term in June after being convicted of disinformation, be granted amnesty and released.

In a letter dated October 27, the King said an earlier appeal from the Sam Rainsy Party had prompted him to push for amnesty.

“I have received a letter from the SRP dated October 23, 2009, asking me to give amnesty to Khmer Machas Srok newspaper publisher Hang Chakra, currently imprisoned at Prey Sar prison on disinformation charges,” the letter stated.

“I am submitting this letter to Samdech Techo [Hun Sen], head of the Royal Government, for consideration.”

On June 26, Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Hang Chakra of spreading disinformation, sentenced him to one year in prison and ordered him to pay 9 million riels (US$2,250) in fines.

The charge, which drew strong criticism from human rights groups and free speech advocates, stemmed from a series of articles Hang Chakra published in April and May accusing officials working under Deputy Prime Minister Sok An of corruption.

According to Article 27 of the Constitution, the King has “the right to grant partial or complete amnesty” to any Cambodian subject. But Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodia Defenders Project, noted that a sub-decree predating the 1993 Constitution requires the premier to issue a formal request before amnesty can be granted.

Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith declined to comment in detail but said he supported the King’s decision to send a letter requesting amnesty for Hang Chakra.

“I support the King’s intention, but it depends on the plaintiff,” he said, referring to Sok An, who brought the charges against Hang Chakra.

But government lawyer Suong Chanthan, who prosecuted the case against Hang Chakra, said the decision whether to grant amnesty would “depend on the government, not on individuals”.

SRP spokesman Yim Sovann said the court system had displayed an obvious bias in the Hang Chakra case as well as in other disinformation and defamation cases involving government critics, meaning the only chance for justice would be through Royal intervention.

“The courts are not independent – they are influenced by the ruling party. We can’t trust anybody else but the King,” he said.

He added that the request for the release of Hang Chakra – whom Yim Sovann described as a “prisoner of conscience” – was an indication that the monarch recognised the unjust nature of the case against him. “By writing a letter to Hun Sen [about Hang Chakra], it’s a recognition he is innocent,” he said.

This is not the first time the King has intervened on behalf of a journalist, said Um Sarin, director of the Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists, who added that in cases of perceived bias on the part of the legal system, a royal plea is often the only recourse.

“It is the last resort of ordinary people,” he said.

When contacted on Sunday, Hang Chakra’s daughter, Hang Chanpisey, said her father’s health had deteriorated during his five months in prison.

“My father looks so thin. His face keeps getting thinner and thinner,” she said.

Rights groups decry jailing of journalist

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

Monday, 09 November 2009 15:02 Chhay Channyda and Sebastian Strangio

LOCAL and international human rights groups have lashed out at the two-year sentence handed down to freelance journalist Ros Sokhet by Phnom Penh Municipal Court last week, describing it as an “outrageous misuse” of a criminal lawsuit.

In a hearing Friday, judge Chhay Kong sentenced Ros Sokhet, 40, to two years in prison after convicting him of spreading disinformation by sending disparaging text messages to Soy Sopheap, a well-known CTN anchor.

The following day, the Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists (CAPJ) issued a statement saying it was “deeply dismayed” by the sentence, as well as the fact that the court chose to prosecute Ros Sokhet under the Kingdom’s 1992 UNTAC Law rather than the more lenient Press Law, passed in 1995.

On Friday, the court heard that Ros Sokhet’s messages, sent on October 8 and 28, accused Soy Sopheap of demanding hush money from Khay Dara, a woman arrested for firing a pistol during a traffic dispute in September, in exchange for keeping her story out of the news. The journalist admitted to the court that he had sent the messages, but claims he was only alerting Soy Sopheap to rumours already in circulation.

Ros Sokhet is the third person to have been imprisoned in a legal crackdown that has seen over 10 journalists and critics sued for defamation or disinformation by senior government officials since April.

On Sunday, observers criticised the terms of Ros Sokhet’s sentence and questioned that the text messages, which were never made public, could be used to mount a case for his imprisonment.

“The sentence is unjust and disproportional to his offence. It violates the Press Law and the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression,” said Moeun Chhean Nariddh, director of the Cambodia Institute for Media Studies.“His text messages were wrong, but he should not be imprisoned.”

Sara Colm, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, said the case would only “reinforce the chilling effect” of the recent string of lawsuits against government critics.

“This year has already seen one person convicted for writing slogans on the walls of his house protesting his own eviction; now it’s text messages.”

Sok Dara, a lawyer from the Cambodia Defenders Project who represented Ros Sokhet, agreed on the primacy of the 1995 Press Law and requested that its articles replace the harsher terms of the 1992 UNTAC criminal code.

CAPJ’s Deputy Director Sam Rithy Doung Hak said the two-year sentence was an indication the government was continuing to take “a heavy-handed” approach to critics, but was unsure if the recently passed Penal Code – which is set to replace the UNTAC Law – would stem the tide of defamation convictions.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith declined to comment after the verdict was handed down on Friday.