Sunday, 14 February 2010

Grenade incident at university near Thailand's seat of government

via CAAI News Media

BANGKOK, Feb 14 (TNA) -- Despite tightened vigilence by police and army security personnel, a state university near Thailand's Government House in Bangkok was the scene of a late night apparent bombing inside the campus, damaging four parked cars, a university roof and a pavilion, police said.

The incident took place at about 11pm when an unidentified attacker fired an M79 grenade at Rajamangala University of Technology Phra Nakhon, 50 metres from Government House. Thailand's seat of government, the offices of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, police said.

Police rushed to the university and found four parked vehicles with the university grounds damaged, and the roof of one university building and a pavilion were also damaged.

No casualties were reported, according to police.

Police are investigating the possible firing location for the grenade launcher, and have not yet ruled whether the incident is connected with the ongoing political turbulence in the country.

Saturday’s incident took place as judges of the Supreme Court Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions will hand down their verdict on February 26 regarding whether Mr Thaksin's Bt76.6 billion in frozen assets were accumulated illegally while he was prime minister.

Mr. Thaksin was ousted in a bloodless coup in September 2006.

Prime Minister Abhisit told journalists Sunday he believed the bomber wanted to create unrest, saying that the target was likely to be either Government House or the nearby National Counter Corruption Commission Offices rather than the university.

Reiterating that he is not perturbed by the “sabotage” incident, Mr. Abhisit said those who have tried to create unrest won’t get what they want to achieve.

He warned those creating unrest to move within legal framework as it is the only way to solve problems.

His warning was made as members of United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), the Red Shirts, who are staunch supporters of fugitive, ousted prime minister Thaksin plan another major rally at the Election
Commission (EC) at the new Government Complex on Chaeng Wattana Road on Monday.

Again, Mr. Abhisit said the government does not plan to invoke the Internal Security Act although anti-government protesters are staging more boisterous demonstrations in the country as the verdict on Mr.Thaksin’s frozen assets approaches. (TNA)

Thai PM hit by more security lapses
via CAAI News Media

Sun, Feb 14, 2010
The Nation/Asia News Network


Acting Government Spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn expressed dismay at multiple security glitches striking Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's motorcade yesterday.

"Accidents can happen but they shouldn't happen twice in one day," said Panitan, who is also the PM's deputy secretary-general.

First a car and later a taxi tried to cut into the prime minister's procession as he was going to work to Government House and then going back home.

Panitan said security procedures might be reviewed to see if there was anything wrong although he personally did not think so.

"I believe Pol General Thanee Somboonsap, the PM's deputy secretary-general in charge of security, will look into the measures for the prime minister. And he may examine the facts regarding the incidents," Panitan said.

A white Honda with two men tried to cut into Abhisit's caravan travelling on the expressway towards the Yommaraj exit, near Government House.

Officers from the National Security Centre saw the Honda trying to cut in at the end of the procession and waved their hands at the men to slow their car but the two did not yield and tried to cut in again.

Police then sped up the van to stop the car from cutting in, cracking the hubcap on the right rear wheel in the process. The car finally stopped without anyone getting hurt.

Abhisit proceeded to Government House for the recording of his weekly television programme "Confident in Thailand with PM Abhisit".

Almost the same thing occurred when he was going home on Phetchaburi Road heading towards Prompong Intersection, at about 5pm. A taxi with the licence plate number tor wor 3801 cut into the PM's lane. On the back of the cab were two stickers saying "Red who wants no dictatorship" and "Red who wants no Amart (King's advisers).

The taxi driver drove close to a car belonging to the PM's security team, almost scraping it. When the security officials sent signals to him to keep away, the taxi came close to the back of Abhisit's car. Seeing what was happening, the same security team in the van that had stopped the first car in the afternoon sped up to force the taxi to slow down.

Abhisit instructed police to look at the video footage to see whether it was an accident or a malicious attempt. He said it was not necessary to beef up security for him.

Such encounters arise when motorists refuse to give way to the PM's convoy, but so far no accidents were serious enough to cause injuries. Some motorists are frustrated to come across a high-speed convoy, especially during traffic jams.

The premier also mentioned the human excrement attack on his home, saying acting National Police chief Pateep Tanprasert confirmed that police did not arrest the wrong suspect because a CCTV clip showed clear proof of the crime.

Right measures used on Cambodia

via CAAI News Media

Published: 14/02/2010
Online news: Breakingnews

The government is using appropriate measures to deal with the Thai-Cambodian row and there is no need for a mediator, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Sunday.

"We're trying to prevent the Thai-Cambodian conflict from affecting people living along the border areas of both countries by using diplomatic means while avoiding other measures," Mr Abhisit said.

He said the government did not need a mediator since Thailand was not looking to confront Cambodia.

However, he said, if the situation worsened the army and all sides would need to take utmost precaution.

Asked if a meeting with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to end the dispute would be possible, the Thai premier said a discussion could take place if both sides had respect for each other.

On the measures to prevent violence during the anti-government rallies of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), Mr Abhisit said his administration will not resort to violence to solve the problems.

The government was ready to impose additional security laws to prevent a third party from inciting violence, he said.

"However, if there's a riot authorities will be very cautious in putting the situation under control, but I hope it would not reach that point," the prime minister said.

He said the government was now looking into the news regarding the funding for the red-shirt rallies.

The Stink of Corruption in Phnom Penh

via CAAI News Media

Saturday 13 February 2010
by: Anne Elizabeth Moore

A lake development project is fueling thousands of forced evictions in the Cambodian capital.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia - There are plenty of guns in Cambodia, but I cannot get used to them being pointed at me, even in jest. After all, I'm just picking at my lunch, staring lazily at Phnom Penh's biggest lake, Boeung Kak, and the massive sandy beach across the water. Two years ago, the area was thriving with fishermen. Now, the beach is moving closer to the spot where I sit, minute by minute. Most of the fishermen are gone.

The man with the gun stands, gesturing for me to follow him. He jerks his chin upwards as he strides down the open deck of the bar and restaurant of a one-time popular guest house in the seedy backpacker area of the city. His ruddy face projects menace, but only in an act of self-protection. "Is not real," he asides of the rifle when we get to the edge of the water.

I look at the gun. It is carved from a solid piece of wood. It could kill someone, sure, but it cannot protect him from what is being stolen from him, even as we stand watching.

The capital city's largest remaining natural lake is being filled in with sand to make way for a residential and shopping district. It's sparked a wave of forced evictions known more commonly around the country as "landgrabbing," kicked off by the city's February 2007 agreement with Shukaku Inc., in which the company paid $79 million for a 99-year lease on the land.

A Phnom Penh family, finishes fishing and chores on the banks of the polluted Boeung Kak lake, currently under development. The mass of sand behind them used to line the Mekong River. (photo: Anne Elizabeth Moore)

That is, the land invisible under the water. To make it useful for the development project, of course, Shukaku Inc. had to devise a way of getting to that land. So in late August 2008, a massive drainage pipe began pumping sand into the water at a rate of around 25 square meters per hour. Residents fled. Many had not been notified in advance.

I asked the restaurant manager if tourism would soon be affected, and my armed companion scoffs. "Is already," he says in his rolling Khmer accent, waving the gun toward the sandy beach. As many Cambodians do, he declines to give his name to reporters out of fear of government retaliation.

The back door of artist Leang Seckon's studio overlooks Boeung Kak. Many lakeside residents are unsure when flooding, pollution, or landslides will force them to abandon their homes. (photo: Anne Elizabeth Moore)

This isn't an idle fear, either: According to the local human rights group Adhoc, the number of arrests of human rights activists in Cambodia rose by about 70% in 2009. Most arrests were of people speaking out about housing and land rights.

"Before, this was a beautiful lake and people came from the city to watch the sunset. Maybe a part of this is also the amount of tourists coming to Cambodia, I don't know. But now ..."

He turns back and looks at the paltry number of customers lunching at the establishment. Two men argue over coffee, a young woman shoots pool in the corner. This is high tourist season in Cambodia. Other proprietors I've spoken to, in other tourist areas of town, have seen business pick up again after the previous year's drop.

Part of the problem here could be the smell. Pollution was noticeable, but not overwhelming, when the lake was at its peak. Now, rising levels of rotting garbage, fish carcasses and raw sewage are plainly visible - and malodorous.

"... What to do?" The guest house manager finishes his thought.

In early February, 100 affected residents gathered at City Hall to protest the city's handling of drainage at the construction site. Wastewater was backing up, they complained. One woman's kitchen was entirely submerged, she told the Phnom Penh Post, and it was still the dry season. The city has so far failed to create an adequate drainage system for the construction sites.

In Cambodia, fetid water is not only unseemly. It's also a health risk in a country plagued by malaria and Dengue fever.

Of course, the development project also violates several federal laws. A 2009 report from the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), an international human rights organization, finds multiple causes for concern. Among them, that leases for state public property cannot change the function of land nor last for longer than 15 years. And, land over which people already hold titles, which have not been bought out in advance of the agreement, cannot be leased by third parties. Additionally, the report charges, evictions are only legally allowable under certain circumstances that do not include private development projects. (Resultant evictions are also found in the report to be in violation of international human rights law obligations.)

Secondary affects of the development project also concern local organizations. In May of 2009, Prime Minister Hun Sen halted all dredging of sand from the Mekong for export purposes due to environmental concerns, yet dredging for domestic purposes continues. A site directly across the water from Phnom Penh's Royal Palace pipes sand into Boeung Kak. The Cambodia Daily reports that some dredging companies pull as much as 2,000 tons of sand from the riverbed daily, but no official records are maintained.

In residential areas near dredge sites, homeowners report riverbank landslides coinciding with sand pulls. Many have been forced to move from their traditional stilted homes, concerned their families will one day tumble into the water. (These figures are not counted in displacement statistics.)

The Ministry of Environment claims that the amount of removed sand is recovered annually. The landslides, it charges, are caused by natural erosion.

It's this kind of official response that has my friend with the wooden rifle frustrated. He's been to meeting after meeting, and signed petition upon petition. All to no satisfaction. "I wish I could go to the government," he says and he looks over at the encroaching sand.

Across from us, three of the last remaining handful of fisherman that work the lake shuffle something small from the water in their bamboo baskets, even as more land piles up behind them. Figures on how many people made their living selling fish from this lake are unavailable, as are the number of people who sustained themselves almost exclusively by eating their catch, or picking the vegetables that grow along the lakeside.

In 2007, city authorities claimed that only 600 people would be affected by the development project; that number has been surpassed. NGOs place the number of persons displaced at between 4,250 and 30,000 people. The city has offered some families three choices: move to the northeast corner of the city, into government-approved housing projects still under construction; take an $8000 lump payment in compensation, far lower than the market value of their property; or wait until alternative housing is built in the neighborhood.

Other families have simply seen their houses crumble, with no advance warning from construction crews or government officials.

Artist Leang Seckon hopes this doesn't happen to him. His studio opens onto the lake thousands of Cambodians have called home ever since the Khmer Rouge regime ended and people started moving back into the city 30 years ago. Born in the provinces, Seckon spent the first ten years of his life in the rice fields. His work often touches on the environmental issues that are close to his heart.

"I need nature, I need water, I need"-here he breathes deeply- "fresh air." He's excited that the government has made recent moves to cease illegal logging and halt some sand-dredging from the Mekong. But he's received no notice about when he's expected to vacate the space he's worked in for 18 years.

His studio sits north of the backpacker district, so he probably has a little more time. He just doesn't know how much. "Now the company buy the lake, and destroy the lake. Soon-I don't know when but soon-they build a city."

Land prices in Phnom Penh have increased tenfold in recent years. Prices are expected to rise even more as high-profile projects like the country's first-ever skyscraper, Gold Tower 42, are completed as soon as 2012. The country may be under development, and it's clear that some are seeing benefits from the boom. But others wonder who is paying the real price.

More upset at the loss of the city's natural resource than the loss of his studio, Seckon considers the matter. "I not feel happy at all," he declares.

Little is known about the company behind the development project, Shukaku Inc. Some press reports have linked it to Cambodian People's Party Senator Lau Meng Khin, also a close friend of Hun Sen. Chinese investment has been linked to the controversial project, but South Korea has denied any involvement. South Korean interests are behind many development projects in the city, including Gold Tower 42.

"It's got to be developed," my weaponed associate proclaims of the city from the deck of the guest house. He then outlines a plan where the lake is cleaned of pollution instead of filled, and the ramshackle guest houses in the rundown backpacker district are funded to make improvements. "It's good for tourism," he offers.

This should count for something. Alongside the construction/real estate sector, tourism is one of the fastest-growing industries in the country.

It's the justification for a handful of new public works projects in the city, such as Watermusic, a light show and fountain timed to blaring pop songs that draws local-and tourist-crowds every weekend night.

The guest house proprietor's revitalization plan, he says, has been incorporated into various official proposals for years. Still, it's gotten nowhere. Rather, as my armed companion explains, the powers that be just don't like it.

"I'm sure the government don't think the same," he says, using the Khmer phrase more properly translated as, "agree with us."

But there is more than a difference of opinion at stake. He rests his prop gun against a table and refuses to comment on the friends and neighbors who have already been forced to move. Where they are, how they're adjusting, what businesses they've gone into: he doesn't want to say, for fear he'll be labeled a political agitator.

Or maybe his fear is more personal. Soon, he'll have to close down the guest house and join them, he says.

"We'll see," he says, when asked what he'll do next. "We'll see."

The Khmer riche: making a killing in Cambodia

Meet the spoilt, young elite who, unlike most Cambodians, enjoy the privileges of wealth - and aren’t ashamed to flaunt

(Agnes Dherbeys)
Kith Meng is an entrepreneur whose parents were killed by the Khmer Rouge

(Agnes Dherbeys)
A mansion being built in Phnom Penh for prime minter Hun Sen

(Agnes Dherbeys)
Victor in his parents' luxurious home in Phnom Pehn

(Agnes Dherbeys)
Sophy(far right), the 'Paris Hilton of Cambodia' at a shoot

A Memorial to the victims of the Cambodian genocide

via CAAI News Media

From The Sunday Times
February 14, 2010
Andrew Marshall

I am going to drive a little fast now. Is that okay?” There is one place in Cambodia where you can hold a cold beer in one hand and a warm Kalashnikov in the other, and 21-year-old Victor is driving me there. We’re powering along Phnom Penh’s airport road with Oasis on his Merc’s sound system and enough guns in the trunk to sink a Somali pirate boat. Victor is rich and life is sweet. His father is commander of the Cambodian infantry. He has a place reserved for him at L’Ecole Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr. And, in his front passenger seat, there is a thin, silent man with a Chinese handgun: his bodyguard.

“His name is Klar,” says Victor. “It means tiger.”

Devastated by decades of civil war, Cambodia remains one of the world’s poorest nations. A third of its 13m people live on less than a dollar a day, and about 8 out of every 100 children die before the age of five, but Victor — real name Meas Sophearith — was raised in a very different Cambodia, where power and billions of dollars in wealth are concentrated in the hands of a tiny ruling elite. They prefer to conceal the size and sources of their money — illegal logging and smuggling, land-grabbing and corruption — but their children like to spend it.

I first met Victor at a fancy Phnom Penh restaurant called Cafe Metro. Outside, Porsches, Bentleys, Cadillacs, Mercedes and Humvees fight for parking spaces. The Khmer Rouge are dead; the Khmer Riche rule. The son of a powerful general, Victor has his future mapped out for him. He went to school in Versailles, speaks French and English, and now studies politics at the University of Oklahoma. “My mother wanted us to get a foreign education so we could come back and control the country,” he says. The shooting range is where Victor and his friends go to relax. “I’ve grown up with guns and soldiers all around me,” he says. Victor and his generation are Cambodia’s future. Will they use their education and wealth to lift their compatriots out of poverty, or continue their parents’ fevered pursuit of money and power?

Britain’s Department for International Development gave £16.5m of taxpayers’ money to the country in the last fiscal year, but has announced the closure of its Cambodia office by 2011. Perhaps the development agency tired of throwing money at a nation where so much poverty can be blamed on a grasping political clique and their luxury-loving children. The Khmer Riche kids sometimes seem indistinguishable from the old colonial ruling class. They carry US dollars — only poor people pay with Cambodian riel — and live in newly built, neoclassical mansions.

Sophy, 22, is the daughter of a deputy prime minister. Rich, doll-like, and self-obsessed, she could be the Paris Hilton of Cambodia. She imports party shoes from Singapore, selling them in her own multistorey boutique. It has six staff, no customers and a slogan: “It’s all about me.” Sophy’s name is spelt out in sparkling stones on the back of her pimped-up Merc. She is launching a magazine with her brother Sopheary, 28, and their cousin Noh Sar, 26. All three were educated abroad and prefer to speak English together. Sopheary, who studied in New York State, seems both amused and slightly embarrassed by his wealth and privilege.

“What can you do?” he asks. “Your parents give you all these things. You can’t say no. If someone gives you cake, you eat it.”

Cambodia’s official economy largely depends on garment exports, but there is a much larger shadow economy in which only the rich, the ruthless and the well connected survive and prosper. The closer you get to Hun Sen, Cambodia’s autocratic and long-serving prime minister, the better. Hun Sen staged a bloody coup d’état in 1997 and has kept an iron grip ever since. Opponents have been silenced, while loyalists have grown rich. The armed forces are a major player in the black economy. Cambodians are often driven from their land at gunpoint by soldiers or military police. Cambodia has been colonised all over again, this time by its own greedy and ruthless ruling class.

Ask Cambodian ministers how they got so rich on a meagre government salary, and they will reply: “My wife is good at business.” When I ask Noh Sar, whose father is a senior customs official, why his family is so wealthy, he smiles and says: “My mother works a lot.”

Victor’s mother, too, is good at business, according to Country for Sale, an investigation into the Cambodian elite’s wealth published by the London-based corruption watchdog Global Witness in February 2009. “She is a key player in Royal Cambodian Armed Forces patronage politics, holding a fearsome reputation among her husband’s subordinates,” says the report.

It is only in the past few years that the children of Cambodia’s elite have grown confident enough to show off their family’s wealth. “If you want people to respect you in Cambodia, you must have a good car, good diamonds, a good cellphone,” explains Ouch Vichet, 28, better known as Richard. “It’s an I’m-richer-than-you competition.” Richard drives a black Cadillac Escalade ($150,000) and wears a Hèrmes watch ($2,500) and a 2.5-carat diamond ring ($13,000). “My money is from my parents,” he says with refreshing candour, and then breaks it down. They gave him a villa ($500,000), and a rubber plantation that will generate income for the rest of Richard’s natural life. His parents-in-law gave him $100,000 in cash and another villa, worth $200,000, which he sold and invested in real estate. He also runs a nightclub called Emerald — his parents made their first fortune in gems — which provides him with “pocket money”. A party of rich kids can spend $2,000 on drinks and mixers in a single night — more than an average Cambodian earns in three years. His parents’ second, much larger fortune comes from real estate. A few years ago they bought about five hectares of land just outside Phnom Penh for $14 per square metre, then sold it for $120 per square metre two years later. They made more than $5m. “Where else can you make profits like that?” grins Richard. “It’s crazy money.” He has a daughter called Emerald and a son called Benz. His living room features giant chairs ornately carved from tropical hardwood, and a flatscreen television the size of a pool table.

Yet Richard’s house is modest by the operatic standards of Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kuok district.

A taxi driver shows me the neighbourhood — it’s like a “homes of the stars” tour in Beverly Hills, except that Tuol Kuok’s backstreets are piled with uncollected rubbish. My driver points out giant mansion after mansion, and tells me who lives there. Defence minister. Prime minster Hun Sen’s son. Hun Sen’s daughter. Secretary of state at the Ministry of Labour. A deputy prime minister — Sophy and Sopheary’s dad. A four-mansion compound with high walls, razor wire and a gate guarded by special-forces soldiers — Victor’s family. Tuol Kuok’s houses are well guarded for a reason: until there was real estate to invest in, many wealthy Cambodians kept their money at home in bricks of cash, sometimes for so long that the elastic bands around them rotted. “We don’t trust banks,” says Richard. “The old generation kept their money under the bed. The new generation keep it in safes in their houses.”

Victor’s family, too, stay away from banks, but for a slightly different reason. “If you put your money in a bank, everyone will know how much you have,” he explains. I had also heard that rich Cambodians had repatriated hundreds of millions of dirty dollars from Singapore banks after a post-September 11 shake-up of global banking, and that this money had helped fuel the land speculation in Phnom Penh. Richard had heard this too. The bank accounts had belonged to “government people”, he said. Buying land and selling land had not only enriched them further, but had also allowed them to obscure the source of their wealth. Laundering any dirty money was vital, since foreign donors were pressing the Cambodian government to pass anti-corruption legislation that would force the rich to declare their assets.

For the children, the wealth comes with one big condition: they must do exactly what Mum and Dad tell them.

“I wanted to go to art school, but my parents wouldn’t let me,” says Sopheary.

Most kids dutifully join the family business. For some, that business is politics. The commerce minister, Cham Prasidh, whose house is the size of an airport-departure hall — one with a jet-ski lake — gave a ministry position to his wife and made his daughter his chief of cabinet. Cambodia’s ambassadors to Britain and Japan are brothers, and their boss is also their father, the foreign minister Hor Namhong. “It’s not nepotism,” he insists.

Their parents also expect them to marry young and strategically, to someone from a rich and influential family. These marriages are often arranged. Many high-society Cambodians soon find themselves trapped in loveless unions; extramarital affairs are common. Sophy, that deputy prime minister’s daughter, was married off at 17 to the son of the rich and powerful interior minister. A web of marriages binds together the elite and ensures the ruling

People’s Party’s stranglehold on power. At the centre of the web sits prime minister Hun Sen. His three sons and three daughters are all married to the children of senior ruling-party politicians or, in the case of his son Hun Manet, to the daughter of the late national police chief. Hun Manet is being groomed to succeed his father. He graduated from West Point in 1999, amid protests by members of the US Congress over his father’s human-rights record. Senior Khmer Rouge figures such as Comrade Duch, the mass-murdering commandant of Tuol Sleng prison, are currently on trial at a United Nations-backed tribunal in Phnom Penh.

The Khmer Riche, on the other hand, remain above the law. Victor displays a military VIP sticker on the dashboard of his Merc. “It means that the police cannot touch me,” he says. Many of his generation abuse such privileges. Last August Hun Chea, a nephew of the prime minister, hit a motorcyclist with his Cadillac Escalade, ripping off the man’s leg and arm. Hun Chea tried to drive off but couldn’t, because the accident had shredded one of his tyres. Military police arrived, removed the Escalade’s licence plates and, according to the Phnom Penh Post, told Hun Chea: “Don’t worry. It wasn’t your mistake.” Hun Chea walked away. The motorcyclist bled to death in the road.

Hun Sen has yet another bad-boy nephew, the widely feared, mega-wealthy Hun To (“Little Hun”). In 2006 a newspaper editor filed a lawsuit against Hun To for alleged death threats, then fled overseas to seek asylum, with the help of the UN. Hun To owns, among other cars, a Lamborghini, a Rolls-Royce Phantom and a Bentley. Victor test-drove Hun To’s latest acquisition before it was put on a Cambodia-bound shipping container: a $500,000 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren supercar. “He’s built a special garage for it,” says Victor. He dares not criticise Hun To. But he is critical of Cambodian society. “From top to bottom, everyone is corrupt,” he says. He hopes one day to set up a foundation to help poor Cambodians send their children to study overseas.

“We want to change things, but we’ll have to wait until our parents retire,” he says.

But the older generation shows no sign of retiring — not when there’s so much cake to eat. In January 2009 foreign donors pledged $US1 billion to Cambodia, its biggest aid package yet, mostly donated by western tax-payers. The government relies on foreign aid for almost half of its budget. It could break this reliance by exploiting its reserves of oil, gas and minerals: the International Monetary Fund estimates that Cambodia’s annual oil revenues alone will reach $US1.7 billion by 2021. Could, but probably won’t. Why? Because the same elite who cut down the trees and sold off the land are now poised to extract the oil and minerals. And they will expect their children to help them.

Some Hun Sen loyalists have already been allocated exploratory mining licences, including General Meas Sophea. He recently hired a temp to act as his foreign liaison officer. The temp is his son. His son’s name is Victor.

Picture of the Week: Market in CAmbodia

A Parliamentarian from the Cambodian People’s Party Rejected the Reports of COMFREL and of the Inter-Parliamentary Union – Friday, 12.2.2010
via CAAI News Media

Posted on 13 February 2010
The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 651

“Phnom Penh: A parliamentarian and high ranking official of the Cambodian People’s Party voiced his strong reaction by totally rejecting a report of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections (COMFREL) on Thursday 11 February 2010, and of an announcement by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) over the suspension of the immunity of Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarians.

“The parliamentarian from Prey Veng and chairperson of the Commission on Economy, Banking, and Audits of the National Assembly, Mr. Cheam Yeap, said that the Cambodian People’s Party won the through the [2008] elections as many as 90 seats, more than two thirds of the total of 123 seats. Under this situation, leaders of the Cambodian People’s Party do not commit any wrongdoings, because it could affect the confidence of citizens who are voters or party members.

“Mr. Cheam Yeap added that he would like to announce, instead, what the Permanent Committee of the National Assembly did, saying, ‘As a parliamentarian, what we did (suspended the immunity of Sam Rainsy Party’s parliamentarians) was based on the law. The suspension or the withdrawal of the immunity is not an important matter. We just put off their raincoats (the immunity) to let them get soaked like others, and to let the court question and work on them. The National Assembly has the obligation to obey the law. Though the immunity of parliamentarians from the Sam Rainsy Party was suspended, they can attend meetings and retain the necessary rights to vote on laws and to receive their salary like the other parliamentarians.’

“He went on to say that the reports of COMFREL and of the IPU, which criticized that the National Assembly’s records in this term are worse than in the previous terms, and that the suspension of the immunity of the Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarians was not done based on the law… claim unnecessary concerns which contrasts the reality. ‘As the National Assembly, we adhere to and implement the laws of Cambodia.’

“Mr. Cheam Yeap stressed that both the government and the National Assembly are not worried, because what they have done complied with the Cambodian law.

“The reaction of the parliamentarian from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party was made a day after COMFREL had issued a report on 10 February 2010 which says that democracy in Cambodia is being affected, because the Cambodian People’s Party caused the freedom of expression and the discussions in the National Assembly to diminish. Also, criticism of the suspension of the immunity of the Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarians in three cases – of Mr. Sam Rainsy, of Ms. Mu Sochua, and of Mr. Ho Van – was easily made but was not based on the law.

“Meanwhile, the IPU criticized, on 10 February 2010, that the suspension of the immunity of the three Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarians did not go through careful discussions and reviews beforehand. The IPU added that it will put this issue on the agenda of the 122nd meeting in April and May 2010.

“Regarding the suspension of the immunity, [the Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian] Mr Ho Van appealed to the president of the National Assembly to give him back his immunity, because the judgment of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court dated 2 February 2010 decided to lift the accusation against him, over his assumed defamation against 22 senior military officials, and it has been sent to the president of the National Assembly.

“Mr. Cheam Yeap said that the Permanent Committee of the National Assembly led by Samdech Heng Samrin will organize a meeting very soon to install the immunity back to Mr. Ho Van, after the National Assembly had received information about the judgment and his request earlier this week.”

Rasmei Kampuchea, Vol.18, #5124, 12.2.2010
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Friday, 12 February 2010

Foreign Ministry seeking to help Thai national jailed in Cambodia for planting landmines

via CAAI News Media

BANGKOK, Feb 13 (TNA) - Following the Cambodian court ruling, sentencing a Thai man to 20 years in jail for planting landmines along the Thai-Cambodian border, the Thai Minister of Foreign Affairs Kasit Piromya said on Saturday that the ministry is seeking to help the convicted Thai national and has dispatched Thai officials to visit him.

French news agency Agence-France-Presse (AFP) reported Friday that 39-year-old Suphap Pakna was sentenced to 20 years in Cambodian jail after he confessed in proceedings that he had planted at least five landmines in Cambodia's town of Anlong Veng near the disputed areas claimed by both countries.

The news service said that he was arrested one year ago and that the Cambodian authorities charged him with attempted murder, endangering national security and entering Cambodia illegally.

Associated Press (AP) quoted the Cambodian court record as saying Mr Suphap was arrested by Cambodian border guards just a few metres inside Cambodian territory while carrying a land mine on February 27, 2009.

The Thai foreign minister said that he has been informed that the Cambodian court read the verdict several days ago.

He said the foreign ministry wants to help Mr Suphap and has already instructed the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh to carry out consular visits to him.

The Cambodian court ruling came only few days after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen visited the ancient Preah Vihear temple and boost morale for his troops stationed in the area last weekend.

The Cambodian premier also planned to visit the Ta Muen Thom ruins which belong to Thailand, but he was not allowed to enter the area as Thai security agencies said the situation was unfavourable for fear of possible confrontation with protesters from Thailand's People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) gathering near the temple.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that Preah Vihear belongs to Cambodia, but Thailand has argued that the 1.8 square miles (4.6 sq km) area near the temple belongs to it. Demarcation of the area remains unresolved, leading to sporadic clashes between soldiers of the two countries since then. (TNA)

Ta Kwai not occupied by Cambodia

via CAAI News Media

Published: 13/02/2010 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: News

The army insisted that Cambodian troops did not occupy Ta Kwai Hindu temple in Surin last week.

Spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd yesterday said Cambodian troops entered the Ta Kwai temple in Surin province on Thursday but it was because of a misunderstanding between Thai and Cambodian forces.

Thailand claims Ta Kwai temple, 15km east of Ta Muan Thom temple, but Cambodia contests the claim. As a result, the two countries agreed neither side would occupy the temple.

Col Sansern said that on Thursday military patrols from both sides came face to face at Ta Kwai. The Thai forces decided to withdraw, but the Cambodian troops did not.

The army held talks with their Cambodian counterparts, who later withdrew.

Col Sansern said Cambodia agreed there had been a misunderstanding during troop rotation at the border.

In another development, a Cambodian military tribunal yesterday convicted a Thai man of planting landmines along a disputed section of the border and sentenced him to 20 years in prison.

Suphap Vongpakna confessed last week to planting at least five mines in territory disputed between Thailand and Cambodia, saying Thai soldiers had paid him to do it.

"The court has considered the accused man's confession, so it sentences him to a jail term of 20 years, which is open to appeal," military judge Pohk Pan said.

Suphap, arrested last February, faced a maximum of 30 years in prison for attempted murder, endangering national security and entering Cambodia illegally.

Defence lawyer Sam Sokong said he would consult his client on whether to appeal the decision.

Troops from both sides have been killed or injured by landmines along the border.

Thailand accused Cambodia of freshly deploying landmines after a pair of Thai soldiers were wounded in October 2008.

U.S. naval vessel to make port in Cambodia's coast of Sihanoukville

via CAAI News Media

February 13, 2010

The USS Patriot, an Avenger- class countermeasures vessel from the 7th fleet based in Hawaii will make port in Cambodia's coast of Sihanoukville early next week, according to a statement released Friday by the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh.

The statement said the USS Patriot will begin a weeklong visit starting from Monday and to conduct exercises with the Cambodian Navy.

Sihanoukville province is located 230 kilometers southwest of Phnom Penh.

The bilateral training exercises will focus on damage control, search and seizure and at sea rescue techniques.

In addition, naval surveyors who are also traveling on the ship will assist their Cambodian counterparts in taking sides scan surveys of the port area to check for possible obstructions in commercial shipping lanes.

Both the bilateral training exercises and the survey are being orchestrated at the request of the Cambodian Navy and the Port Authority.

This is the fifth visit by a U.S. naval ship since the resumption of military to military engagement between the U.S. and Cambodia.

The statement said that "each visit represents another important step in this evolving relationship as well as an opportunity for military personnel from both countries to exchange experiences, tips and techniques which will assist them in the future."

Source: Xinhua

Rain, snow threaten Lunar New Year

The Spring Festival, or Lunar New Year, is China's most important holiday, reuniting families around the country

China expects 210 million passengers to take the train during the current New Year period

VIDEO: Full steam ahead as Chinese new year travel season begins

For the first time in decades, Valentine's Day and the Chinese New Year will fall on the same day

via CAAI News Media

BEIJING — Heavy rain and snow storms were set to hit parts of China on Saturday, meteorologists said, threatening travel chaos as millions headed home on the eve of the Lunar New Year.

The Spring Festival, or Lunar New Year, is China's most important holiday, reuniting families around the vast nation of 1.3 billion and triggering an exodus believed to be the world's largest annual human migration.

China's Meteorological Administration said on Saturday the country's south was set for rain and snow, while temperatures in the north would begin to fall.

Heavy snow would also fall over parts of the east.

"Everyone must make preparations for rain, snow and falling temperatures when returning home or going out to visit relatives and friends," it said in an earlier warning.

Authorities are hoping to avoid a repeat of the chaos after a massive cold wave and freezing rain hit southern and central China in 2008, crippling transport systems and stranding millions just as the travel rush got under way.

The government has said that 210 million passengers are expected to take the train during the current New Year period, which officially began late January. Nearly 30 million more will travel by air and millions of others by bus.

With many Chinese living and working in cities a long way from their family, the crush on transport and resulting price hikes was a problem, Xinhua said, adding the price of a return train ticket could be as much as one month's salary for some.

Guo Kai, a 30-year-old Beijing IT worker, told the agency tickets were hard to come by.

"A few of my friends queued up overnight outside ticket offices, and others bought tickets from scalpers," Guo said.

Other costs also make the trip expensive, he said, citing the tradition of handing out red envelopes containing money.

"I bought gifts for my parents, but no cash. I will do more house chores as compensation," he said.

South Koreans also gather in home towns or ancestral villages during the Lunar New Year to pay their respects to ancestors.

Transport officials there said the majority of the 25 million people on the move -- around half the country's population -- would be taking to the roads, some of which had been hit by heavy winter weather.

The Lunar New Year is also a major public holiday across several other parts of Asia.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a Lunar New Year message that he hoped the coming year would see a reversal of the city-state's plunging birth rate.

Lee said he was particularly worried about ethnic Chinese couples who chose to hold back having babies during Tiger years because of a superstition that children born during the year will have the animal's attributes.

"It is one thing to encourage ourselves with the traditional attributes of the zodiac animals," he said.

"But it is another to cling on to superstitions against children born in the Year of the Tiger, who are really no different from children born under other animal signs."

Singapore's first casino will start operating on Sunday, in time for the Lunar New Year, the operator said Thursday.

Hong Kong's Peninsula Hotel is hoping to cash in on Valentine's Day and the Chinese New Year starting the same day this year, the first time in decades in what has been dubbed locally as "double happiness".

The swanky hotel is offering a helicopter service that lets boyfriends propose to their sweetheart or married couples exchange vows mid-flight as they watch New Year fireworks in the city's famed Victoria Harbour.

Hotel spokeswoman Winvy Lung said it was rare for the two celebrations to coincide.

"It is traditional for people to spend time with relatives during the day but we can foresee that many couples would still like to celebrate Valentine's Day in the evening," she said.

In Cambodia, around 300,000 Cambodian Chinese prepared to join in the festivities.

Suon Sopheak, 27-year-old Phnom Penh resident, said it is becoming important in Cambodia's society, with even Cambodians of none Chinese descent joining the fun.

"My parents say their ancestors were Chinese. Even though I don't look like one, we have to celebrate it annually to send the offerings to ours like we celebrate the Khmer one," Sopheak said.

"When I was in school, friends always boasted about celebrating the New Year, and made the ones who didn't jealous."