Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Migrant workers worried over Thai nationality check demand

Thailand has ordered migrant workers to verify their nationality to qualify for work permits by the end of the month, or risk deportation.

Many of the estimated one million migrant workers from Myanmar fear they will face difficulties dealing with their military government and persecution if they are forced to go back.

Aela Callan reports from Bangkok (23 Feb 2010).

Laos, Cambodia cooperate in border demarcation survey
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VIENTIANE, Feb 24 (KPL) - Laos and Cambodia have jointly carried out a border demarcation survey in the Kaengtormorkhoi-Houai Ta-ngao area, a location sandwiched between Attapeu province of Laos and Ratanakiri province of Cambodia.

The survey started on 15 February, the Lao side was led by Mr Bounkeuth Sangsomsak, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the Cambodian side was led by Mr Long Visalo, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and together with them were geological survey teams of Laos and Cambodia.

The purpose of the survey was to collect data along the border areas of Kaengtormorkhoi-Houai Ta-ngao and to seek a solution to the problem of border demarcation between the two friendly neighbours.

Laos and Cambodia expect the survey in the border areas of Attapeu and Ratanakiri to be completed by this year. (KPL)

Forcible deportation of Uighur may affect US-Cambodia

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Washington: Forcible deportation of Uighurs to China by Cambodia would affect its relationship with the United States, the Obama Administration said today.

"We expect governments, including Cambodia, to uphold its international obligations, and this will affect our relationship with Cambodia as well as its international standing," Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs P J Crowley said.

"We obviously expressed our disappointment and we are deeply disturbed that the Cambodian Government, in violation of its international obligations, forcibly removed 20 Uighur asylum seekers to China in December without the benefit of a credible process for determining their refugee status," Crowley told reporters here.

"We have expressed our disappointment and we will factor this into future decisions that we make about our relationship with Cambodia," he said.

Vietnam - Cambodian defence minister visits Vietnam

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24 February 2010

Cambodian Defence Minister General Tia Banh has just paid an official visit to Vietnam at the invitation of his Vietnamese counterpart, General Phung Quang Thanh.

During his visit, Minister Tia Banh, who is also the Deputy Prime Minister of Cambodia , and his delegation held talks with a high-ranking delegation of Vietnam ’s Ministry of National Defence.

Both sides discussed international and regional issues as well as national concerns and reviewed the results of cooperation between the two armies over the past time.

They agreed to continue strengthening cooperation by increasing the exchange of delegations and cooperation in training and border protection and management as well as conducting joint patrols in common waters between the two countries.

The two sides also vowed closer coordination in searching for and repatriating the remains of Vietnamese military experts and volunteer soldiers killed in Cambodia during war time.

Thai court to rule on Thaksin fortune

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By Claire Truscott From: AFP February 24, 2010

THAILAND'S top court is set to rule on the fate of Thaksin Shinawatra's $US2.2 billion ($A2.48 billion) fortune, threatening fresh unrest in a country still riven by the fugitive former premier's influence.

Supreme Court judges will decide on Friday whether the government should seize Thaksin's assets from the sale of his family's telecommunications company, which were frozen after a 2006 military coup that toppled him from power.

The country's anti-graft commission says Thaksin, who lives abroad to avoid a jail term for corruption, became "unusually rich" by abusing his power after becoming prime minister in 2001 and must forfeit his wealth.

But the run-up to the judgment has left the country on edge, with fears that the "Red Shirt" movement with links to Thaksin could resort to violence if, as expected, the verdict does not go his way.

Up to 35,000 police and soldiers have been ordered to secure Bangkok and provinces where Thaksin is popular, while guards have been assigned to protect the nine judges dealing with the case, the government says.

"Police have increased forces in Bangkok, including setting up more checkpoints and CCTV cameras to monitor the situation," said metropolitan police spokesman Colonel Piya Utayo.

"We will not block protesters from coming to Bangkok if they protest peacefully. Police will take responsibility for security and can request help from the army."

The government has said it will invoke strict laws that put the army in charge of security if violence erupts, and that it could also impose emergency regulations that would limit movement in case of riots.

Last week police defused a bomb near the Supreme Court and a grenade exploded near government offices, leading the US, British and Australian embassies to warn their citizens to exercise caution in Bangkok.

Thaksin was ousted after months of protests over the January 2006 sale by his family of 49.6 per cent of shares in his Shin Corp telecoms giant to Singapore's Temasek group, for 73.3 billion baht ($A2.48 billion).

Protesters were angered because Thaksin's family did not pay any tax on the deal.

The funds were frozen the following year and the government is now seeking to take control of them.

Thaksin is living in self-imposed exile, mostly in Dubai, to avoid a two-year jail term relating to the sale of land belonging to his wife that was imposed in his absence in 2008.

Several other graft charges against him remain on hold in the courts.

The twice-elected former leader still bitterly divides Thailand.

His opponents accuse him of being corrupt, dictatorial and of threatening Thailand's widely revered monarchy, while his mainly rural fans still praise his populist healthcare and poverty alleviation schemes.

The royalist "Yellow Shirts" who first hounded him out in 2006 returned to the streets to force his allies from government in late 2008, staging an economically damaging blockade of Bangkok's airports for nine days.

The pro-Thaksin Red Shirts have waged a similar campaign against the current administration of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, with riots at an Asian summit and in Bangkok in April 2009 leaving two people dead.

Thaksin has stoked up his supporters with frequent video and telephone speeches, while he also sparked a diplomatic row between Thailand and Cambodia in December when Phnom Penh appointed him as a government economic adviser.

The Red Shirts say they will meet this week to decide on the schedule of further protests after the verdict.

But some say Thaksin's supporters are increasingly marginalised as Abhisit's shaky coalition clings on to power with the backing of Thailand's powerful military, while Thaksin's political allies have little parliamentary support.

"Until Thaksin can create some sort of lasting change in the current Thai political scene, he will continue to be sidelined," said Thailand analyst Paul Chambers, of Heidelberg University in Germany.

Thaksin's supporters to rally next month in Thailand

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24 February 2010

BANGKOK - Thailand's "Red Shirt" protesters, led by supporters of fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, said Wednesday they would start mass rallies from mid-March in a bid to force out the government.

The demonstrations will come two weeks after a Supreme Court verdict on the fate of US$2.2 billion worth of frozen assets belonging to Thaksin, which is due on Friday.

Red Shirt protesters from around the country would start travelling to Bangkok on March 12 and the rallies would begin in the capital's historic district on March 14, organisers said.

"We told our people to prepare themselves to rally for at least one week. It'll be the largest political demonstration in Thailand," said Jatuporn Prompan, one of the movement's leaders.

"This time we are more ready than last April when we attracted hundreds of thousands of protesters," he said.

In April 2009, the Red Shirts stormed a summit of Asian leaders and then rioted in Bangkok, leaving two people dead, but the unrest failed to bring down the administration of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Police at the time said the biggest of those Red Shirt rallies attracted around 100,000 people.

Another leader of the movement, Nattawut Saikuar, said that the protests would go ahead whatever the verdict in Friday's case, in which the government is trying to seize Thaksin's fortune.

"The Thaksin asset case has nothing to do with our rally, so whatever the verdict is we will continue to rally until the government collapses," Nattawut told reporters.

Thailand is deeply divided between supporters and foes of Thaksin, who was toppled in a military coup in 2006 and is living abroad to avoid a two-year jail term for corruption.

The Red Shirts, most of whom hail from Thailand's impoverished north and northeast, say Abhisit's government is an undemocratic mouthpiece for the interests of elite cliques in the palace, military and bureaucracy.

Thaksin's opponents say he was corrupt, dictatorial and disloyal to Thailand's revered king. He recently angered them by becoming an economic adviser to neighbouring Cambodia, with which Bangkok has tense relations.

Abhisit's government says it has deployed up to 35,000 security personnel across the country in case of violence after Friday's case, which centres on assets frozen after the coup.

Thailand’s great political divide

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By Tim Johnston, Bangkok correspondent

Published: February 22 2010

The village of Pracha Suksan, deep in Thailand’s rural north-east, remains solidly behind Thaksin Shinawatra, the controversial prime minister who was removed in a military coup in 2006.

Tension between the government and Mr Thaksin’s supporters, known for their trademark red shirts, has been growing as the Supreme Court prepares to hand down a verdict on February 26 that could strip Mr Thaksin of Bt76bn ($2.3bn) in assets.

Some 30m of Thailand's 65m people live in the rural northeast, a hard-scrabble region of rice farms and cattle plots. A group gathers in front of the village shop in Pracha Suksan to talk politics and drink tea in the dusk. Preecha Nakhawong, 56, farms cattle. He believes that the courts and the bureaucracy favour the rich. “They don’t want to give us the same standards because, as it stands, it is easy for them to control us,” he says.

Mr Thaksin's opponents say that he bought the votes that got him into power, but Sayan Chanakiatpaisarn, a local businessman, denies that he has received anything but basic expenses from the group's Puea Thai party. He says he has swapped his Mercedes Benz for a pick up to fund the political cause, and likes to unbutton his T-shirt to show the scar of the heart-bypass surgery that cost him Bt30 (less than $1) under Mr Thaksin's cheap healthcare scheme.

Mr Thaksin is currently in self-imposed exile, avoiding a two year sentence for breaching conflict of interest laws while he was in office. He says the charges were politically motivated, and he remains hugely popular in Thailand's rural heartland. “He is honest and he is a man of the people,” said Mr Sayan, who acts as a red shirt organiser in the northern province of Shakorn Nakhorn.

The government used troops to suppress rioting red shirts in April last year. Red shirt officials blamed agents provocateur, but the riots damaged their cause. Pictures such as this travelled round the world, dealing a savage blow to the country's investment potential and crucial tourist sector. The red shirts say they are better organised this time and are working to avoid confrontation.

The red shirts have set up groups in places such as Pracha Suksan to create a more disciplined organisation and to promote the rural poor. Rieungchai Ohnchairat (centre, sitting at table) is a 62-year-old navy veteran who now runs a local community radio station. The red shirts have used local radio stations to promote their political message, and to counter the coverage of national broadcasters, which are overwhelmingly pro-government.

Although political analysts tend to use a shorthand of rich/poor, urban/rural to describe Thailand's political divide, the truth is more complex. Many anti-government protesters are middle class people, who might be put off by Mr Thaksin's demagoguery and the allegations of corruption, but believe that he won a democratic election and should be able to fulfil his mandate. Similarly, the ruling Democrat party always has a strong electoral showing among the rural poor of the country's south.

Mr Thaksin's populist policies including cheap health care, village loans, and streamlined bureaucracy won him the support of a part of society that had been long ignored by Bangkok's politicians. Political analysts quote a saying that "the country elects governments and Bangkok removes them". Analysts say that if there is a general election in the near future, Mr Thaksin's supporters are likely to win, but they warn that powerful forces will resist that happening.

"We think it is possible that the army will try and mount a coup, but we have the determination to stop them," said Jintana Ownchairat, right, 57, a housewife. Since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932, there have been 18 coup attempts, 11 of them successful, 18 constitutions and 27 prime ministers. The army has been accused of engineering Mr Abhisit's December 2008 rise to the office of prime minister by persuading a group of erstwhile Thaksin supporters in parliament to change sides.

Sithasak Srisongbat, 57, is a cattle farmer in Pracha Suksan. “The elite groups don’t understand democracy, where every vote is equal,” he says, and denies the charges that villagers are paid for the votes they cast. “We vote for the candidate that we think will be good for us.”

Mr Thaksin's reputation as the CEO-Prime Minister carries a strong appeal in villages such as Pracha Suksan, where they have seen little of the benefits of the past 30 years. One of Sakorn Nakhorn's largest exports is labour: thousands of young villagers leave the area to find work, some travelling as far as Taiwan to work in electronics factories, or Israel to pick fruit.

The red shirts want to bring down the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva, the prime minister they say was brought to power by unelected elites in Bangkok, but they harbour surprisingly little animosity for the man himself. “He’s a good and capable man, but he can’t do much because of the people behind him,” said Preecha Nakhawong, a farmer.

Cambodia to conduct multiple rocket launcher test next week+

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PHNOM PENH, Feb. 24 (AP) - (Kyodo)—Prime Minister Hun Sen said Wednesday that Cambodia will conduct a multiple rocket launching test next week.

Speaking at a graduating ceremony for graduate students, Hun Sen called the move a routine military drill and said it is not intended to show Cambodia's military muscle to any country.

Cambodia has been locked in a territorial dispute with Thailand since 2008 and there have been sporadic military clashes between the two countries at the border area near Cambodia's Preah Vihear Temple.

Hun Sen said the rocket tests will take place March 4 in Kompong Chhnang Province, about 100 kilometers north of Phnom Penh.

About 200 rounds of the BM-21 multiple rocket launcher will be fired to test the military's capabilities as well as the quality of the Russian-made rocket-launching system, he said.

The 122-mm rockets have a range of 40 kilometers. Hun Sen said one round of the BM-21 costs between $1,200 and $3,800.

Earlier this month, Hun Sen toured the Cambodia-Thai border area and visited military units. The trip and the heavy weapons displayed during his visit were broadcast on many television channels in Cambodia.

US Deputy Secretary of State Negroponte arrives in Cambodia

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Phnom Penh - US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte flew into the northern Cambodian tourist hub of Siem Reap in a relaxed start to his three-day official visit, touring the ancient temples of Angkor Wat, local officials said on Sunday.

PR Log (Press Release) – Feb 24, 2010 – Phnom Penh - US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte flew into the northern Cambodian tourist hub of Siem Reap in a relaxed start to his three-day official visit, touring the ancient temples of Angkor Wat, local officials said on Sunday.

Negroponte arrived in Cambodia from neighbouring Vietnam for a visit which will include meetings with Prime Minister Hun Sen and an array of ministers including Foreign Minister Hor Namhong.

He is scheduled to sign a 24-million-dollar agreement on Monday to assist economic development in the country and will hold a press conference on Tuesday morning before flying out, according to a schedule from the US embassy.

At Angkor Wat, Negroponte toured the 12th century World Heritage- listed temples, which are also the nation's largest tourism draw, 300 kilometres from the capital, and he is expected to arrive in Phnom Penh early on Monday morning, officials said.

Ties between the US and Cambodia have warmed considerably in recent years, with the US providing support for the nation's armed forces as well as recently agreeing to give aid directly to the government, rather than through other agencies.

Cambodia has also been praised by the US for its help in fighting terrorism and its assistance in helping locate the remains of US soldiers missing in action, mostly from the Vietnam War era.

Top Chinese legislator pledges to further ties with Cambodia

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February 24, 2010

Top Chinese legislator Wu Bangguo on Tuesday pledged to increase cooperation and exchange between Chinese and Cambodian parliaments in a bid to further bilateral ties.

Top Chinese legislator Wu Bangguo meet with visiting Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni in the Great Hall of the People on Feb 23, 2010.(Xinhua).

Wu Bangguo, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, spoke highly of Sino-Cambodian relations during his half-hour meeting with visiting Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni.

Such a "traditional friendly" relationship "brought about tangible benefits to the two peoples," Wu said in the Great Hall of the People in downtown Beijing.

China appreciated the contribution to the development of bilateral ties made by the Cambodian royal family, especially by Sihamoni and his father, retired king Norodom Sihanouk, Wu said.

The royal family "always offered firm support to China on those issues that concern China's core interests, which indicated (their) good will and friendship with the Chinese people," Wu said.

Wu Bangguo(R), chairman of the Standing Committee of China's National People's Congress(NPC), China's top legislature, shakes hands with visiting Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni in Beijing, capital of China, Feb. 23, 2010. (Xinhua/Liu Weibing)

He conveyed greetings from Chinese President Hu Jintao to the King and his family.

Sihamoni, who arrived in Beijing on Monday for a health checkup, thanked China's long-term help to his country and conveyed the royal family's new year greetings to President Hu and the Chinese people, with China's Lunar New Year festivities having just ended.

He pledged to further the traditional friendship, which was initiated by the two countries' former leaders.

Source: Xinhua

Migrants abused in Thailand

Photo by: Human Rights Watch
Migrant labourers from Cambodia help load a Thai fishing boat operating in the Gulf of Thailand.

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Wednesday, 24 February 2010 15:04 James O’toole and May Titthara

CAMBODIAN citizens and migrant workers from other nations working in Thailand are frequently subject to extortion and abuse, denied basic legal protections by local authorities, according to a report from Human Rights Watch.

Released on Tuesday, the report documents a litany of dangers inherent in the lives of the perhaps 3 million migrant workers in Thailand from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, even those who are working legally.

“Migrant workers make huge contributions to Thailand’s economy, but receive little protection from abuse and exploitation,” Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “Those from Burma, Cambodia and Laos suffer horribly at the hands of corrupt civil servants and police, unscrupulous employers and violent thugs, who all realise they can abuse migrants with little fear of consequences.”

Typical of this suffering is the case of Oem Borey, a Cambodian who was working on a fishing boat off the coast of Thailand’s Trat province when he began to argue with the ship’s captain. Oem Borey said that after being beaten by the captain and several other fishermen, he was dragged ashore and accused by Thai police of attempting to steal the boat, and that he suffered further beatings while in custody.

“Oem Borey suffered a deep gash on the head, a broken nose, possible broken ribs, and other injuries, but he said ... police refused to send him to the hospital,” the report states, adding that Oem Borey was released two weeks later, only after his sister paid 2,300 baht (US$70).

Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs deputy spokesman Thani Thongphakdi said Tuesday that Thailand was “looking through the paper, because in the past we’ve tried to cooperate with [Human Rights Watch] in providing any information we can.”

Thailand, Thani said, hopes to address this issue in part through its current push to register migrant workers. Migrants in Thailand must submit documents to their home governments by this Sunday in order to begin the process of nationality verification to secure new work permits.

Workers who miss this deadline will be deported, Bangkok says, a decision that has come under criticism from groups, including the UN and the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, which said Tuesday that mass deportations “could leave [migrant workers] dangerously exposed to the risk of human trafficking”.

Thani, however, emphasised the need to impose a stronger legal framework on the migration process. “The big picture is that we want to essentially try to legalise the issue of illegal migrant workers, because once we do legalise them and institute a more orderly process, then these migrant workers will be afforded more rights and protection,” he said.

For the moment, Human Rights Watch said, official registration channels are inaccessible for many workers.

“The highly complicated migrant registration system is daunting to many migrant workers who lack both the detailed understanding of the bureaucratic steps and the requisite skill in written and spoken Thai to successfully navigate the process,” the report said, adding that even migrants working in Thailand legally face significant difficulties. Many are unable to assert their labour rights for fear of losing their jobs and being deported, and others have reported abuse by the local population amid inattention from police.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong encouraged Cambodians who suffer mistreatment in Thailand to seek assistance.

“We have an embassy there in Bangkok, and we have a consular general ... so our representation there means we can receive information if any Cambodian workers suffer such ill treatment,” he said.

Though official figures are difficult to come by, with so many migrants working illegally, Andy Hall, director of Thailand’s Migrant Justice Programme, guessed Sunday that more than 200,000 Cambodians are currently working in Thailand.

Bun Socheat, 36, of Prey Veng province, was formerly among them. He told the Post on Tuesday that he had worked in Thailand illegally for six years, constantly fearing arrest and forced to bribe police to avoid deportation.

“I told my relatives and I promised myself that I will not go to work in Thailand again, even though we have no jobs in our country,” he said.

State-run Web hub would filter sites

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Wednesday, 24 February 2010 15:04 Brooke Lewis and Ith Sothoeuth

AN official for Telecom Cambodia (TC) on Tuesday indicated that the state-run company would seek to block access to Web sites it deems “inappropriate”, should it be granted control over the country’s domestic and international Internet exchange.

“If any Web site attacks the government or any Web site displays inappropriate images or pornography, or it’s against the principle of the government, we can block all of them,” said Chin Daro, TC’s deputy director, during an interview at the company’s offices. “If TC plays the role of the exchange point, it will benefit Cambodian society because the government has trust in us, and we can control Internet consumption.”

Government officials have long been looking to funnel all Internet service providers (ISPs) through a state-run central exchange point, and they have recently indicated that they plan to execute the change as soon as possible, according to industry insiders.

Officials from ISPs currently operating in the country have warned that the transfer could cripple Cambodia’s IT industry by increasing costs, and several have said that it could give the government undue influence over online content.

Javier Sola, secretary of the Information Communication Technology Association of Cambodia, said TC could end up wielding a “very dangerous” level of power if given a monopoly over the Internet exchange.

“You should only filter content that is against the law – content that a judge says is illegal,” he said.

“Everything else is just the opinion of somebody, and power to restrict that is very dangerous because it restricts freedom of information. Giving that type of control to the government is very dangerous.”

Chin Daro also said during the interview that he believed the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications was looking to grant the monopoly as soon as the necessary infrastructure was in place. Earlier this month, Mao Chakrya, the ministry’s director general, did not specify when the change would take place.

Sola noted that the ministry issued a prakas, or edict, last October that included a stipulation requiring all telecommunications companies to connect to TC, though this has not yet been enforced.

“Inter-network connection between all telecommunication operators shall be through a central centre of Cambodian Telecommunication,” the prakas says. Sola said he believed it refers to TC.

“They have created [the law] already,” Sola said. “It’s just not happening because ISPs are not complying.”

There are currently two private telecommunications companies, CIDC-IT and Finder, that provide free domestic Internet exchange (DIX), and ISPs have expressed alarm about TC’s intention to charge for the service.

Chin Daro confirmed that TC plans to charge, though he insisted that the company’s service would be cheaper for businesses and individual users because TC would be able to buy international Internet connections in bulk if it were providing service for all Internet service providers.

ISPs have also questioned that TC would provide an efficient service, but Lao Saroeun, TC’s director general, said Tuesday that such concerns stemmed from fears that they would lose income.

“Somebody who complains this and complains that just wants to avoid paying [fees], but we don’t take that seriously,” he said.

“The important thing is control. What they bring to ruin the country or the income of the country, we have to control.”

Threats spur closure of illegal pharmacies

Photo by: Pha Lina
Staff at a pharmacy in Meanchey district conduct business on Tuesday. The director of the municipal Health Department said he expects owners of unlicensed pharmacies to register with the government soon.

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Wednesday, 24 February 2010 15:04 Chhay Channyda

MOST of the city’s unlicenced pharmacies have agreed to close their doors after repeated warnings of an impending government crackdown on recalcitrant business owners, health officials said.

Sok Sokun, director of the Phnom Penh Municipal Health Department, said Tuesday that around 60 percent of the unlicenced dispensaries in Phnom Penh had closed under the government’s recent campaign.

Last week, City Hall empowered eight district authorities to combat unlicenced pharmacies in the capital. All 116 unlicenced pharmacies in
Phnom Penh have been given until the end of February to apply for legitimate licences with the Ministry of Health.

Sok Sokun said that most of the 116 businesses were running as annexes to registered medical clinics, and that he expected the owners of the clinics to quickly fall into line.

“When we start strict enforcement, they will follow us because doctors are intellectual people,” he said. “But if we are too loose [with enforcement], they will ignore us.”

He added: “If they continue to have unlicenced pharmacies in their clinics, the pharmacists will lose their careers.”

Meanwhile, district authorities across the city called unlicenced pharmacy owners to meetings on Monday to inform them about the current campaign and urged them to improve their compliance with health regulations.

Bi Nay, deputy governor of Meanchey district, said that her district had 21 unlicenced pharmacies that were part of legal clinics and other unregistered stand-alone businesses.

“Twenty one clinics were informed Monday that they must close their unlicenced pharmacies by the end of this week, and two registered for licences yesterday,” she said Tuesday.

Ly Rosamy, deputy governor of Russey Keo district, said that of the 23 unlicenced clinics selling medicines illegally in her district all had agreed to stop dispensing drugs.

“If they violate the contract by having pharmacies without getting licences, they will face punishment according to the law,” she said.

“All of them have agreed to close their illegitimate pharmacies.”

She said that clinics were targeted to ensure that no fake or expired drugs were sold.

Police criticised over KKrom

Photo by: Sovan Philong
Khmer Krom returnees from Thailand sit in a rental home in Boeung Tumpun commune last week.

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Wednesday, 24 February 2010 15:04 Camron Wells and Tharum Bun

MUNICIPAL police officials on Tuesday called the representative of a group of 22 Khmer Krom asylum seekers to police headquarters in order to explain the rationale behind the decision to deny them identification cards, a move that has drawn the ire of civil society groups.

The representative, Thach Soong, attended the meeting along with the owner of the home where most members of the group have been staying since being deported from Thailand in December after a failed asylum bid.

On Friday, police informed the Khmer Krom that they could not receive identification cards, which are seen as essential for finding jobs, enrolling in schools, renting accommodation and accessing healthcare, among other things.

After the meeting on Tuesday, Min Sothet, director of statistics and information for the municipal police, reiterated that the Khmer Krom could not receive identification cards because they lacked a permanent address.

“First, the Khmer Krom live in a rented house; there is no permanent address,” he said. “The authorities will provide them family books should they have their own permanent place to live.”

He said he had advised the Khmer Krom to seek assistance from NGOs to purchase a plot of land for themselves.

“As long as the group owns the property, we’ll be able to process the family books for them, and following that they can obtain ID cards,” he said.

He added: “It’s not that we don’t want to provide them with legal documents such as family books and the ID cards. We’re more sympathetic to them ... than native Cambodians.”

Licadho, the rights group that has been assisting the Khmer Krom, has said it cannot continue paying for rent and food beyond the end of the month. Am Sam Ath, a technical supervisor for the group, said Min Sothet’s suggestion that the Khmer Krom buy land was disingenuous.

“How can they [buy land] without having any legal documents that identify themselves as Cambodian citizens?” he said. “The Khmer Krom are poor. They have no money to buy property.”

Meanwhile, Maggie Murphy, programme director at the Unrepresented Nations and People’s Organisation, which is based in The Hague, said the decision to deny identification cards was part of a broader pattern of discrimination against the Khmer Krom.

“Khmer Krom from Vietnam should not have to fulfil impossible conditions such as proving they were born in Cambodia, nor being expected to have a permanent address,” she said.

“Cambodia needs to resolve this issue once and for all to guarantee a fair and transparent process administered by the central government to ensure consistency and equality in the treatment of Khmer Krom. Khmer Krom arriving in Cambodia from Vietnam live in legal limbo for significant stretches of time, as they are neither treated as citizens nor as refugees.”

Court officials blast Radio Free Asia over report on convictions

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Wednesday, 24 February 2010 15:04 Chrann Chamroeun

COURT officials in Phnom Penh have taken the unusual step of criticising recent media reports alleging “irregularities” in the convictions of three men accused of armed robberies last week.

A statement issued Monday and signed by Yet Chakrya, the chief prosecutor at Phnom Penh Municipal Court, alleged that Radio Free Asia (RFA) had broadcast “exaggerated information” involving three men convicted of committing a series of armed robberies.

The statement defended the conviction of the men, each of whom was sentenced last week to 30 years in prison. The men were involved in multiple robberies, the statement read – crimes that caused people to lose property and had a negative impact on public security.

The RFA reports, which aired last Wednesday and Monday, relied on interviews with people who lacked sufficient information to criticise the judicial system and police officials, the court suggested in the statement. The reports amounted to a lack of journalistic professionalism, the statement said.

RFA reporter Kim Pov said she met with the Council of Ministers to discuss her reporting.

“I told them that I have no intention of defending robbers or thieves, but I just wanted to broadcast information based on a report I got from a human rights organisation,” Kim Pov said.

The report, she said, suggested there were irregularities in the convictions.

Kim Pov said the court declined to comment when she first asked for access to the case files.

Unfinished investigation
Chan Soveth, a senior investigator with rights group Adhoc, confirmed that it was his organisation that publicised the issue after receiving complaints from the three convicted men.

They “told us that they have been convicted and sentenced unjustly. We haven’t conducted a thorough investigation”, said Chan Soveth, who urged the court to provide evidence of the three men’s alleged crimes.

Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said the court overreacted by criticising the RFA journalist’s reporting, and that the prisoners were merely expressing their opinions through the media.

Malaysia asks foreign maids to study rights

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Wednesday, 24 February 2010 15:03 Irwin Loy and Mom Kunthear

FOREIGN maids working in Malaysia will be required to attend training courses to learn about their “rights and responsibilities”, Malaysian media have reported, a development likely to affect thousands of Cambodians preparing to head there in search of jobs, but rights organisations warn that domestic workers are still vulnerable to mistreatment.

Beginning next month, new foreign maids and their employers will attend mandatory courses aimed at “improving working relations”, according to Malaysia’s New Straits Times.

The country is reliant on foreign domestic workers. More than 200,000 foreign maids are currently working there, according to the paper.

Some officials say they believe more Cambodians will seek work in Malaysia, partly due to the Kingdom’s recent political tensions with Thailand.

“There are about 3,000 to 4,000 domestic workers sent to work as maids in Malaysia per year, and it will increase more,” said An Bun Hak, director of the Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies.

Rights groups continue to be wary of how such workers are treated, particularly undocumented ones.

Under Malaysian labour laws, “domestic servants” are not entitled to the same rights as regular “employees”. Domestic workers, for example, are exempted from receiving mandatory rest days and limits on weekly work hours.

“All the benefits that other workers enjoy, like medical leave, days off and overtime, all that is excluded,” said Glorene Dass, programme director at migrant labour group Tenaganita in Malaysia.

‘Modern-day slavery’Dass said her organisation has handled many cases of Cambodians who appear to have been trafficked into the country.

“When you don’t pay a worker for six months, that’s bondage. They’re confined, working without rest. That’s servitude. That’s modern-day slavery,” she said.

At the same time, promises to reform labour laws in Malaysia have so far gone unfulfilled.

“There needs to be more than employers and workers attending a half-day course,” Dass said. “There has to be recognition of domestic workers as workers.”

According to the group
CARAM Cambodia, there are more than 10,000 documented Cambodians working in Malaysia, and the total including undocumented workers is thought to be much higher.

President of tourism boat group defends central booking system

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Rental riverboats, shown here Tuesday, are now gathered together near NagaWorld Hotel and Casino, several blocks south of the area where they were formerly tied up.

via CAAI News Media

Wednesday, 24 February 2010 15:03 Chhay Channyda

THE head of a newly formed boat tourism association has rejected the concerns of boat owners who say a new booking system has cut off direct access to customers and levied unnecessarily high fees.

During a meeting between boat owners and officials from the Ministry of Tourism and Phnom Penh Autonomous Port on Tuesday, Ly Puthy, president of the Association of Phnom Penh Water Tourist Transport, said the new body had streamlined bookings and brought order to the boat tourism trade.

“Sometimes, customers walk in, and the boat owner says they have booked [his boat] by phone when in fact they did not,” Ly Puthy said.
He added that a situation in which boat owners operate independently along Sisowath Quay could lead to heated competition.

“We want to make order for them,” he added.

The association was formed late last year and began operating on January 18.

Previously, customers could book tours through individual boat owners, but now they must contact owners through the association.

However, Hei Bavy, director general for Phnom Penh Autonomous Port, argued that a free market should prevail for boat services.

“We should follow the favour of the customers. If they want to book through calling [owners], we should follow them, and if they walk in, we can put them through each of the boats in turn,” he said. “It is a free market. We should adapt to the situation.”

Tuesday’s two-hour meeting also addressed the issue of licencing the tourism boats as a means of ensuring the safety of foreign visitors.

“Boats must have tourism licences and number plates to operate for the safety of tourists,” said Chum Iek, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Tourism.

He said the authorities would give the Association of Phnom Penh Water Tourist Transport one month to register all of its boats with the ministry.

Officials hail success of logging crackdown

via CAAI News Media

Wednesday, 24 February 2010 15:03 Tep Nimol

THE enforcement of forestry laws improved in the early part of 2010, according to officials at the Ministry of Agriculture’s Forestry Administration, following Prime Minister Hun Sen’s recent warning that military officers should not engage in timber trafficking.

Tim Sipha, director of the Department of Legislation and Enforcement at the Forestry Administration, said that officials have recorded 231 cases of illegal logging and confiscated 510 cubic metres of timber so far this year. In the whole of 2009, the administration recorded 675 instances of illegal logging and seized 2,622 cubic metres of illicit timber.

Tim Sipha said that following a serious warning from the prime minister late last month and a concerted crackdown by local officials, he observed that illegal logging seemed to decrease. “We noticed that military officers who had been involved in illegal logging began to cease their actions, and illegal logging also began to decrease,” he said.

“We will continue to carry out the prime minister’s order and to strengthen law enforcement in order to reduce illegal logging.”

At an annual meeting of military officials on January 28, Hun Sen warned his audience that officers should stop cutting down trees and backing illegal loggers and land grabbers.

“Stop immediately all involvement with illegal businesses and do not back illegal businessmen. I will show no mercy,” he said. “I have a five-star rank, but I will even fire somebody with the rank of a moon or a sun.”

Pen Bonna, Ratanakkiri provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, said deforestation in the province seemed to be on the decrease, but that thousands of cubic metres of timber left over from previous illegal logging operations were being prepared for export to Vietnam despite the recent local crackdowns.

Chan Soveth, an Adhoc investigator, called on the authorities to impose “severe punishments” on those caught profiting illegally from Cambodia’s forests. “The deforestation committed by powerful and rich people will lead to the complete loss of Cambodia’s forest,” he said.

Border Row: Civil society defends SRP claim

via CAAI News Media

Wednesday, 24 February 2010 15:03 Meas Sokchea

Border Row

A coalition of local civil society organisations has slammed the government’s confrontational stance towards opposition leader Sam Rainsy, defending his allegations about Vietnamese territorial encroachments. In a statement on Tuesday, the Cambodia Watchdog Council (CWC) said government officials continue to ignore all concerns relating to the country’s eastern frontier. “CWC notes that both the Cambodian Border Committee and government leaders have never received the concerns of civil society and political parties about the loss of land because of invasions from neighbouring countries,” the statement read. On Monday, Var Kimhong, Cambodia’s chief border negotiator, told reporters that Sam Rainsy could face charges of falsifying public documents to support his claim that border markers have been posted inside Cambodian territory in Svay Rieng province.Tith Sothea, a member of the Council of Ministers’ Press Quick Reaction Unit, dismissed the CWC’s statement, saying that the government border demarcation had taken place within a legal framework.

On top of Cambodia


via CAAI News Media

Wednesday, 24 February 2010 15:03 Heng Chivoan

Phnom Penh Mayor Kep Chuktema (second left) inspects Canadia Tower, the tallest building in the Kingdom, with Canadia Bank President Pung Kheav Se (centre) on Tuesday. Canadia's Deputy Director General Charles Vann said during the visit that there was still no firm launch date for the 32-storey structure after lengthy delays.

Kampot flood blamed on clogged drain pipes

Photo by: Phil Gordon
Kampot officials convened a meeting on Tuesday to discuss the town’s drainage problem, which was evident after early morning showers led to flooding in the streets. Residents and officials said the flooding had been unexpected, both because it was not yet the wet season and because the river had not overflowed its banks.

via CAAI News Media

Wednesday, 24 February 2010 15:03 Sen David and Cameron Wells

OFFICIALS in Kampot town met on Tuesday to discuss drainage problems after early morning showers resulted in flooding despite the fact that the river had not overflowed its banks.

Kampot town Governor Leak Sovannary said the flood had been completely unexpected, and that he had convened a meeting Tuesday to discuss the issue.

“I have been living in Kampot for more than 20 years, and this is the first time we’ve had floods just from rain,” he said. “Some water [drainage]pipes were being repaired, and the water could not flow immediately. We had ordered the experts to repair and clean the rubbish in the pipes. So there was some flooding in the roads and houses, but no damage.”

Kristian Duncan, owner of the Rusty Keyhole restaurant on the riverfront, deemed the unseasonal storm “amazing”.

He added: “I was relieved, because when it started raining I thought, ‘Oh no, the river’s going to burst’. This had nothing to do with the river though; It was just the rain itself.”

Photo by: Phil Gordon
An early-morning storm caused flooding in the streets of Kampot on Tuesday.

Though his restaurant was not flooded, he said others had not been so lucky. “I received a call from [a friend] who owns the nightclub down the street, and his club already had about two inches of water,” he said.

Try Chhoun, provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, said damage had been minimal.

“It did not damage the houses,” he said, adding: “It was so strange having a flood [caused by] rain in this month. Of course, it was caused by having a lot of rubbish in the water [drainage] pipes.”

Tension rises at FCC over public dismissal

via CAAI News Media

Wednesday, 24 February 2010 15:03 David Boyle

Dispute led to attempted stakeholder buyouts, says manager

APUBLIC spat between senior figures within the parent company of the FCC group of businesses, which erupted over the sacking of a chief executive officer, remained unresolved Tuesday following a meeting between senior board members in Phnom Penh.

The disagreement has arisen over the dismissal of Raphael Guillien, chief operating officer of Food and Beverage Solutions Co Ltd (FABS), the company responsible for running the operational side of the FCC group.

His dismissal was announced publicly in an advertisement taken out in the Post Monday that was authorised by Steve Haywood, the founder and executive chairman of Indochina Assets Ltd (IAL), which oversees the operations of FABS.

“I’m very, very concerned about many of our staff here and that’s creating a lot of pressure on the FCC, mainly from overseas shareholders who don’t understand the difficulties of doing business in Cambodia,” Haywood said, referring to his decision to remove Guillien.

However, a subsequent advertisement titled “Notice of Correction of Information concerning FABS and CIAL” taken out in the Post Tuesday by Mark Ashall, chairman of the board of FABS Co Ltd, said Guillien had not been sacked.

Mr Ashall was unavailable for comment Tuesday but his investment adviser from law firm Sciaroni & Associates, Matthew Rendall, said Haywood was unauthorised to sack Guillien without the authorisation of the IAL board.

“In order for FABS to do that, all executive decisions have to be done at the board level of IAL and there’s been no decision to change Raphael’s position by IAL,” Rendall said.

The man at the centre of the dispute, Guillien, declined to comment extensively on the situation Tuesday but said it was clear from the meeting that his dismissal had been unauthorised.

“I think that’s pretty clear when you read [the minutes from] today that the chairman has said what was done yesterday was not authorised,” he told the Post.

Confusion over the issue, however, is rife, because of the complex relationship between the group of companies involved and contradictory claims about the outcome of today’s meeting by the opposing sides.

Haywood strongly rejected any suggestion that his decision to dismiss Guillien had been overturned at Tuesday’s meeting.

“I would challenge anyone to argue that the decision hasn’t been ratified to not have Raphael work anymore,” he said, adding that the decision to sack Guillien had been in no way personal.

The FCC group includes a long list of high-end businesses in the Kingdom, including FCC Phnom Penh, FCC Siem Reap, The Quay, Chow, Pacharan, Café Fresco and Visaya Spa.

Haywood said the dispute had triggered attempts to buy out stakeholders within the company. “There’s been offers either way to buy each other out and I’m pushing hard to buy the others out.”

Thais plan to request mental assessment of man who laid mines

Photo by: Pha Lina
Suphap Vong Pakna appears at the military court in Phnom Penh earlier this month.

via CAAI News Media

Wednesday, 24 February 2010 15:03 Irwin Loy and Vong Sokheng

THAI authorities plan to seek permission to conduct a mental health assessment of a Thai national convicted of planting land mines along the Cambodia-Thailand border, an official said Tuesday.

Suphap Vong Pakna was sentenced earlier this month to 20 years in prison after he confessed to planting land mines along a contested border area before he was arrested in Oddar Meanchey province last February. But both his court-appointed Cambodian lawyer and Thai officials have suggested the man suffers from mental health problems.

Thani Thongphakdi, deputy spokesman for the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs, confirmed Tuesday that his government plans to request that Thai medical personnel conduct an assessment of Suphap.

“He has had a prior history” of mental health issues, said Thani. “I don’t want to prejudge his current status. This depends on the approval of the Cambodian government. We would like to seek approval as soon as possible.”

Thai media have suggested the Thai government believes it could ask for a reduction in Suphap’s sentence if he is judged to have mental health issues. Thani declined to speculate on that point Tuesday.

“I think we’ll cross the bridge when we get there,” he said.

Suphap’s lawyer, Sam Sokong, said he would support having his client undergo a mental health assessment.

“I think it is a good idea that Thailand will send their psychologist to examine my client,” he said.

“Until now, there has been no clarification about this mental health problem.”

Sam Sokong said he plans to meet with Suphap on Friday to discuss “his health condition” and any possible appeal.

Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong said Tuesday the government had yet to receive an official request to examine Suphap.

“We will see the reality, because right now, no request, no answer,” Koy Kuong said.

Final phase of regional corridor due to start

via CAAI News Media

Wednesday, 24 February 2010 15:03 Sam Rith

CAMBODIA will complete construction of the last stretch of a new road linking Thailand and Vietnam through the south of the Kingdom in 2012, officials said Tuesday, as reports said Vietnam would begin a new Mekong Delta coastal road next month.

Vietnam’s Thanh Nien Daily reported late Monday that the building of the 220-kilometre road through the south of the country in Kien Giang and Ca Mau provinces would get under way in March as part of a nearly 1,000-kilometre highway, the Thailand-Cambodia-Vietnam Southern Coastal Road Corridor, designed to boost economic activity in the region.

Var Sim Sorya, director of Planning Department at the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, said Cambodia had almost finished its section of the highway.

“We only have left about 17 kilometres of road from Kampot to the Vietnamese border,” he said.

Work on National Road 48 from Sre Ambel in Koh Kong province to the border with Thailand is already complete, he added, along with another road from Veal Rinh, Preah Sihanouk province to Kampot. The remaining 17-kilometre stretch to the Vietnamese border already existed but had not yet been standardised.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and South Korean government have already supplied funds for this section.

Ouk Nida, senior project implementation officer at ADB in Cambodia, said the 17-kilometre road from Kampong Trach in Kampot to the Vietnamese border would be completed in 2012.

“Now we are preparing documents for the bidding,” he said, adding he was unable to recall the projected cost.

Tourism Minister Thong Khon said Tuesday that the project would help attract greater numbers of tourists to Cambodian beaches and other sites including Bokor in Kampot province.

Families free to remain in protected forest area

via CAAI News Media

Wednesday, 24 February 2010 15:03 May Titthara

BATTAMBANG provincial authorities on Tuesday ruled that 68 families in Ek Phnom district could continue farming on land that is part of a protected forest area, one day after they led an inspection of the site, officials said.

The families in Bak Prea village, Prey Chas commune, said they were informed in December that they would be required to leave the 74.5-hectare site where some had lived since 1983.

However, after touring the site on Monday, officials concluded that the families could remain there, though they will not be eligible for land titles.

“We allow them to plant on their land, but we cannot allow them to control the land or receive land titles because the government has the right to control it,” said Battambang Deputy Governor Saing Southong.

Yin Mengly, the provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, said he welcomed the decision.

“They answered the people’s request,” he said, “because they just wanted to plant on their land.”

He added that the presence of the families could curtail illegal logging in the protected forest area.

“The villagers will be watchdogs to stop those who come to cut down the forest. They can protect the forest,” he said.

Dodd extradited to US

via CAAI News Media

Wednesday, 24 February 2010 15:02 Chrann Chamroeun

AN American man who has been sentenced to 13 years in prison on charges of purchasing sex from underage girls in two separate cases was extradited to the US on Monday, Cambodian and American officials said.

Bith Kimhong, director of the anti-human trafficking department at the Ministry of Interior, said Michael James Dodd had been sent to the US per the request of officials there.

The US embassy said in a statement Tuesday that an arrest warrant had been issued by American authorities, and that Dodd would face charges under the 2003 PROTECT Act.

“This act allows US citizens who commit sex crimes abroad to be prosecuted and sentenced under US law upon their return to the country. The US is grateful for the assistance provided by the Royal Government in this case,” read the statement.

Bomb hits Northern Ireland court

A police forensics officer inspects damage from a car bomb that exploded outside the front of the Newry courthouse in Newry, Northern Ireland, on Tuesday. AFP

It is only by sheer miracle that nobody was killed or injured."

via CAAI News Media

Wednesday, 24 February 2010 15:02 Eamonn Mallie

Authorities blame dissidents for explosion soon after signing of deal to transfer police powers; politicians say perpetrators won’t manage to derail peace talks or rekindle sectarian violence


A HUGE car bomb exploded outside a Northern Ireland court in an attack blamed on dissident republicans, just weeks after an agreement was finally brokered on devolving sensitive policing powers.

Police said it was a “sheer miracle” that no-one was killed or injured in the explosion in Newry, south of Belfast, which highlights the fragility of the peace in the British-ruled province.

The bomb went off at around 10:30pm (5:30am Tuesday Cambodian time) Monday as officers were evacuating the area after two coded warnings to a local hospital and business.

“It is only by sheer miracle that nobody was killed or injured,” said the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s area commander Sam Cordiner.

Conor Murphy, the local lawmaker for republicans Sinn Fein, also condemned in strong terms the blast, which was heard several miles away.

“The people responsible have absolutely nothing to offer the community except the prospect of a return to the past,” he told reporters at the scene.

The attack came nearly three weeks after Northern Ireland’s leaders sealed a hard-fought accord to transfer sensitive policing and justice powers from London to Belfast, the final major step to devolving power fully to Northern Ireland.

Responsibility for policing and justice is due to transfer from London to Belfast on April 12 and the Northern Ireland Assembly is to vote on the deal on March 9.

The negotiations between coalition government partners the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein on the issue were painful and drawn out.

The situation was complicated when First Minister Peter Robinson of the DUP temporarily stepped aside to fight allegations of financial impropriety linked to his wife’s affair with a 19-year-old.

Robinson was cleared and is now back in office.

The BBC reported that police had been bracing themselves for some kind of dissident riposte to the deal.

Britain’s Northern Ireland Secretary Shaun Woodward said the latest act of “senseless violence” was committed by “a small handful of people who refuse to accept the people’s overwhelming support for the peace process”.

“On March 9, Northern Ireland’s politicians in the assembly can send the unanimous message in the cross-community vote: Politics is the way forward, and the small number of dissident criminals will never be given the opportunity to turn back the success of the peace process,” he added.

No group has claimed responsibility for the Newry attack but Danny Kennedy, deputy leader of pro-British Ulster Unionist party, said dissident republicans had sent a warning about the device.

“A recognised code from dissidents accompanied a warning. It’s likely there will be sizeable damage,” said Kennedy.

Northern Ireland’s three decades of violence known as “The Troubles”, in which more than 3,500 people died, was largely ended by a 1998 peace deal which paved the way for the devolution of power from politicians in London to Belfast.

However, there are still splinter groups opposed to the peace process.

Monday’s incident came just days after a mortar bomb abandoned outside a police station in a nearby village failed to detonate.

A Catholic police officer was seriously injured after a car bomb attack last month and police stations have been shot at in recent weeks.

In September, army experts defused a massive roadside bomb near the border with the Irish Republic in South Armagh, averting what police said would have been a devastating explosion. AFP