Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Council of Ministers says UN should not be critical

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Tuesday, 16 March 2010 15:05 James O'Toole

Body rejects UN comments on passage of Anticorruption Law.

THE Council of Ministers said Monday that the UN had been wrong to weigh in on the passage of the Kingdom’s Anticorruption Law, arguing that the body had shown a lack of respect for Cambodian sovereignty.

In a statement released by its Press and Quick Reaction Unit, the Council of Ministers said the government had spent years in consultation with the UN and other international organisations to develop the law. Widespread criticisms that the legislation was pushed through the National Assembly too quickly, the Council said, were thus unwarranted.

“The Royal Government of Cambodia, which has been democratically elected through free and fair elections, would like to take this opportunity to remind the ‘UN Country Team’ that there is a time for consultation, but there is also a time for decision,” the Council of Ministers said.

The Council added that the UN and other organisations had no legal basis on which to rest their criticisms of the law, which was passed without amendment by the National Assembly last week in two days of debate.

“No international standards require the core of the national sovereignty to seek the approval from the different organisations and civil societies, either national or international, that failed to enjoy the legitimacy directly from the Cambodian people,” the Council of Ministers said.

UN spokeswoman Margaret Lamb declined to comment.

There is a time for consultation, but there is also a time for decision.

The UN said last week that while it welcomed the passage of anticorruption legislation, it worried that observers and civil society organisations would be denied the chance to offer input and possible amendments.

“The draft Anticorruption Law should undergo a transparent and participatory consultation process to ensure that it is consistent with international standards,” the UN said, noting “with concern” the brief window between the draft law’s release and the opening of debate in the National Assembly.

The criticisms of the UN position by the Council of Ministers followed those aired last week by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which accused the UN of acting “as if it were the spokesperson of the opposition parties”.

Hang Chhaya, executive director of the Khmer Institute for Democracy, said the government did deserve credit for seeking external consultation in the years spent developing the law. He contrasted this, however, with the “highly secretive” approach taken since the final incarnation of the Anticorruption Law was drafted.

“We just want a proper dialogue and consultation,” Hang Chhaya said. “It’s constructive, it’s not in any way aimed at destabilising or overthrowing the government.”

Border logging claims new casualties

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Tuesday, 16 March 2010 15:05 Tep Nimol and Kim Yuthana

TWO Cambodian nationals are feared to have been shot and killed by Thai soldiers in separate incidents in Banteay Meanchey province’s Thma Puok district along the border with Thailand, officials said on Monday.

One man was shot dead by Thai soldiers in Banteay Meanchey province’s Thma Puok district on Saturday after straying into Thai territory to cut down trees, provincial governor Oung Ouen said.

The man, who was armed with an AK-47 rifle, was part of a group of 30 Cambodian villagers who crossed the border into Thailand’s Buriram province before coming under fire from Thai border troops.

The man with the gun was killed at the scene, and the other villagers managed to flee back across the border, Oung Ouen said.

“They still cross the border to cut trees illegally in Thailand, although the local authorities have warned them many times, especially in such circumstances when Cambodia and Thailand have a border conflict,” he said.

However, he denied a report, published in the Thai newspaper INN on Monday, that all the Cambodians were carrying weapons and were dressed in military uniforms, saying the group was made up exclusively of citizens, not soldiers.

“We acknowledge that they have encroached into Thailand illegally, but they were all in civilian dress and not in military uniform,” he said.

He conceded, though, that the gun the victim was carrying was illegally used for the purpose of protecting his group.

“We have not identified the victim yet. We only received the news that his body was taken back to his hometown on Sunday,” he added.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said that he had ordered the Cambodian consul-general in Thailand to investigate the shooting on Monday, but could not give more details, as he had not yet received clear information about the case.

The second incident reportedly occurred on Sunday night. Officials and the relatives of a man from Sre La’or village in Thma Puok district’s Kork Romeat commune said they feared he had been shot dead by a Thai soldier while he was walking in the Dangrek mountains to gather ingredients for herbal medicine.

Rorn Chanla, the victim’s aunt, said the victim’s wife and her neighbours had gone to look for the body on Monday, after he failed to return.

Sre La’or village chief Yorn Sareth said he had sent a letter to the Thai authorities on Monday seeking permission to look for the body, but that he has not yet informed the Cambodian authorities of the case.

PM calls for calm during Thai protests

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Tuesday, 16 March 2010 15:05 Sam Rith

PRIME Minister Hun Sen declared Monday that Cambodia will do nothing to provoke a confrontation with Thailand as Red Shirt protesters flood the streets of Bangkok in an attempt to bring down the government.

Roughly 90,000 of Thailand’s Red Shirts, supporters of fugitive former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, have staged demonstrations in the Thai capital since Saturday, despite a 50,000-strong security force deployed to maintain order.

Speaking at the National Institute of Education in Phnom Penh on Monday, Hun Sen ordered a halt to all Cambodian troop movements along the Thai border until the chaos in Bangkok subsides.

“If it is not necessary, please do not move the troops in order to avoid confusion,” Hun Sen said, addressing Minister of Defence Tea Banh and Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) Commander in Chief Pol Saroeun.

“We will not permit our soldiers and armed forces to do anything that could cause instability along the Thai-Cambodian border.”

The premier also called on Cambodian citizens working in Thailand to avoid getting caught up in the political unrest. Thailand said last week that any foreign workers who are caught participating in political demonstrations will automatically lose their right to work in the country and will be deported.

“I would like to call on all Cambodian people working in Thailand, both legally and illegally, not to participate in any demonstrations ... so that we do not give the impression that Cambodian nationals are gathering in Thailand,” Hun Sen said, calling the unrest an issue for Thailand to resolve on its own.

Srey Doek, commander of RCAF Division 3 in Preah Vihear province, said Monday that the situation along the border was normal, and that Cambodian troops were abiding by Hun Sen’s order to fix their positions.

“If there is not an invasion from the Thai side, we will not do anything,” Srey Doek said.

Interest in Ratanakkirii’s Yeak Loam lake worries conservation committee

Photo by: David Boyle
A man sits beside Yeak Loam lake in Ratanakkiri province’s Banlung district last week.

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Tuesday, 16 March 2010 15:05 David Boyle and Ith Sothoeuth

A COMMITTEE charged with managing Ratanakkiri’s Yeak Loam lake is preparing to send a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen today expressing concerns about what it perceives to be increased interest in developing the Banlung district attraction for commercial purposes.

Committee members have said in recent days that their fears for the lake area were heightened by a three-day provincial development trade fair, which concluded on Monday.

The letter will voice concern that a land-management agreement negotiated in 1998, which grants management rights over the lake to the Yeak Loam Conservation and Recreation Committee for 25 years, will not be honoured, said Sovann Hean , a member of the committee, which is comprised of seven people who live near the lake.

“We want the prime minister to help maintain the lake and give more support to the community to control this tourism site,” Sovann Hean said.

He also expressed concern that efforts to conserve the lake would be threatened if its management fell into private hands.

“Our community is managing it well. There are many trees, and when private companies see nature like this they want to invest in it and upgrade it and make it more modern,” he said.

Pav Hamphan, Ratanakkiri provincial governor, said Monday that the government had no intention of discarding the management agreement, noting that officials had respected the committee’s wishes to rebuff past expressions of interest by private developers.

“Previously, there was some interest to invest, but the community did not agree,” he said.

Logger accuses forestry officials of assault

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Tuesday, 16 March 2010 15:05 Rann Reuy

Siem Reap Province

A MAN in Siem Reap province has accused Forestry Administration officials of beating him after forcing him to pay a bribe while he was transporting wood to a warehouse, though a provincial court official said Monday that there were no plans to pursue the case because the man had not suffered any injuries.

Ham Som, 26, who is seeking treatment in a referral hospital in Sotr Nikum district, said three Forestry Administration officials accosted him while he was carrying the wood on Sunday morning and demanded that he pay 70,000 riels (about US$17).

He said that after he paid the fee, the officials continued to argue with him over whether he would be able to keep the wood before beating him with the handle of a knife on his backside.

“I do not know why they hit me because I already gave them the money,” he said.

Ham Som’s mother, Lit Sokha, 46, said her son was planning to use the wood to make money to pay for rice, adding that she had arrived at the scene shortly after he was beaten.

“When I arrived, I saw my son lying on the ground,” she said, adding: “I demand that they pay $5,000 to compensate my son, and I have already filed a complaint against them.”

However, Siem Reap provincial court prosecutor Ty Soveinthal said Monday that, although he had ordered district police to briefly detain one of the officials accused in the attack, he had decided not to pursue the complaint after visiting Ham Som in hospital and concluding that he had not suffered any injuries.

Soun Mengly, one of the accused officials, denied the allegation against him before declining to comment further.

King to visit alma mater in the Czech Republic

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Tuesday, 16 March 2010 15:05 AFP

KING Norodom Sihamoni on Sunday began a weeklong private visit to the Czech Republic, where he lived for 13 years during his youth, the CTK Czech news agency has reported.

Norodom Sihamoni first arrived in the country, which he considers to be his “second homeland”, in 1962 as a 9-year old to devote himself to the art of dance.

The future King attended a primary school with Czechs, then a dance school and finally a college for music, ballet and dramatic arts. He still speaks fluent Czech.

He is to receive an honorary doctorate from his former college and meet with former teachers and classmates during the visit. He is to meet with Czech President Vaclav Klaus on Thursday.

He first appeared on the stage of the Prague National Theatre at the age of 11 in a production of Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker.

Last Friday, Norodom Sihamoni was inducted into France’s Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, a society that celebrates scholarship in the humanities, in recognition of his patronage of the arts and long-term support for archaeological preservation.

The academy praised Norodom Sihamoni for his commitment to archaeology, particularly that of the Angkorean period, saying the King “brings a new force to the defence of an archaeological treasure”.

The King is the son of former Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk and his wife, Monineath. AFP

Prey Veng drownings highlight unsafe boats

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Tuesday, 16 March 2010 15:04 Thet Sambath and Kim Yuthana

TWO women died when a boat sank on the Mekong River in Prey Veng province on Friday, police said, the most recent of a string of such incidents throughout the Kingdom prompting officials to issue warnings about the dangers of overloading passenger boats and other vessels.

Seang Horn, deputy police chief of Preah Sdach district, said on Sunday that the boat was carrying 15 people and a tonne of unmilled rice – for a combined weight that greatly exceeded its intended capacity.

After the boat capsized in strong winds, Seang Horn said, 13 of the passengers managed to swim to safety with the assistance of local villagers. But the onlookers were unable to prevent Ros Sameth, 35, and In Samei, 25, from drowning.

“We are very sorry that the two women drowned, and that the people’s property was damaged,” he said.

“Since the incident, we have advised people to be careful driving [boats].”

Dim Dan, Prey Veng’s provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, said he agreed that the boat was carrying far too much weight, pointing in particular to the rice.

“Boats are loading as much as they can. They do not have a machine to weigh [the cargo] and can easily endanger themselves,” he said.

Boat owner Chan Tok could not be reached for comment on Monday, but Seang Horn said he had provided monetary compensation to the victims.

Cambodia has seen a spate of such incidents in recent months.

In Kratie province in October, a ferry measuring 8 metres in length that was crammed with 30 people and several motorbikes capsized on the Mekong, killing 17 people.

In February, another overloaded boat sank off the coast of Koh Kong province, killing seven. In that incident, 12 people were sitting in a boat built to carry just six individuals.

Um Samy, the governor of Prey Veng province, said more care had to be taken by authorities and captains in light of the latest incident.

“I ask for different authorities to educate boat owners and drivers to follow traffic, not to overload their boats and be careful with the wind,” he said.

Teachers union slams excessive exam fees

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Tuesday, 16 March 2010 15:04 Phak Seangly

THE Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association (CITA) on Monday accused administrators at a Svay Rieng province high school of charging excessively high exam fees, after some students reported paying as much as 10,500 riels (about US$2.50) to complete their exam applications.

In a letter sent to the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, CITA said the Krol Kor Hun Sen high school’s administrative board had demanded that all students sitting for exams pay the fees, adding that they should only come to about 3,000 riels for the entire process.

The letter states that the school board demanded that the students pay 4,500 riels, as well as 6,000 riels for accompanying photos, which are submitted with application forms.

Huy Mead, a 12th-grade maths teacher, also complained that students were required by the school board in some instances to spend 25,000 riels to have Grade 9 certificates endorsed at Svay Rieng provincial hall. Students need certificates endorsed by provincial authorities in order to apply for their Grade 12 certificates.

Rong Chhun, the president of CITA, said the exploitation of students by education officials was a serious problem throughout the country. “So far, similar problems have occurred in Kampong Thom, Preah Vihear and Kandal provinces,” he said.

Yut Saruth, the deputy chief of the Svay Rieng provincial education department, said Monday afternoon that he was unaware of the CITA complaint.

“We will investigate the problem, and if it is true, we will educate [the school board],” he said.

Officials at Krol Kor Hun Sen high school could not be reached for comment Monday.

Oddar Meanchey villagers to leave contested forest

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Tuesday, 16 March 2010 15:04 May Titthara

MILITARY families have agreed to vacate a section of protected forest land in Oddar Meanchey province after Forestry Administration officials filed a series of complaints against them, and one of two men accused of fraudulently selling the land denied the allegation on Monday.

The complaints were filed to the Interior Ministry and the Siem Reap provincial court last week, following an altercation in which members of the families allegedly opened fire on Forestry Administration officials and physically assaulted 10 of them.

Von Bunthoeun, the chief of the Forestry Administration office in Samraong town, said an agreement was reached with the families last Thursday.

“We have a contract with Hean Sok, the deputy of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces in Samraong, who encouraged about 200 soldiers and their families to shelter illegally in the protected forest community, and they will tear down the huts,” he said.

“There is no deadline yet, but they must tear down the huts as soon as possible.”

Hean Sok confirmed Sunday that the families would move, though he denied having pocketed money for the land from the families.

Von Bonthoeun had previously accused Hean Sok and Kim Saruon, the chief of a village located some 50 kilometres away from the protected forest area, of taking between US$300 and $350 for 30-metre-by-50-metre plots of land.

“We did not sell the land to villagers. They came to live by themselves,” Hean Sok said. “People accused me of persuading people and soldiers to live here and sell the land to the villagers, but in the name of RCAF it isn’t true.”

Kim Saruon could not be reached on Monday.

Forestry officials have said the section of land was granted protected status last June, but that 10 families moved there in late 2009. That number has since climbed to 200.

Thon Nol, the governor of Samraong town, said officials were looking for new land for the families. He added that they might be offered somewhere to stay in a temporary settlement until suitable plots are located.

“We will try our best to move them from the protected forest area soon,” he said.

Man confesses to rape of 9-year-old niece in Banteay Meanchey

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Tuesday, 16 March 2010 15:04 Chrann Chamroeun and Chhay Channyda

A 23-YEAR-OLD man was arrested on Friday and has been remanded into custody after allegedly raping his 9-year-old niece at his home in Banteay Meanchey province’s Phnom Srok district, police said.

The accused was arrested following complaints from his wife, who said the man raped the victim several times at his home on Thursday. District police chief Roeung Bo said the man had already confessed his guilt to authorities.

“The suspect confessed to raping his niece after the girl’s mother trusted him to take care of her, as the mother went to work in Thailand,” he said.

“The man’s wife told us her husband raped his niece inside the grocery store located at the front of the house.”

After the wife of the accused took the girl to hospital, doctors confirmed that she had been sexually assaulted.

Prak Sophima, investigator of women’s issues for the rights group Adhoc, said that although she was unaware of the specifics of the case, the organisation would conduct its own investigation.

“I was tipped off about the case Sunday,” she said. “We will investigate the case in order to guarantee justice for the victim.”

Meanwhile, Women’s Affairs Minister Ing Kantha Phavi on Friday defended the government’s record on combating rape and providing services to rape victims, responding in particular to an Amnesty International report released earlier this month that said rape victims often had to resort to bribing officials in order to have their cases heard.

“What the Amnesty report showed is not new. The government has been taking serious action,” the minister said during a press conference at the Australian embassy.

Referring to the report’s claim that police, the media and NGOs have tallied more rape cases lately, she said: “The increase [of abuse] does not mean there is a real increase; rather, it is the effectiveness of law enforcement officers or police who arrest perpetrators. There is more intervention on time.”

The report drew from interviews with 30 female victims aged between 10 and 40, and concluded that most perpetrators of sexual violence never face trial in Cambodian courts, and that victims – particularly the poor – are routinely denied access to legal and medical services.

However, Ing Kantha Phavi said Cambodian authorities were better equipped than ever to handle cases of rape and sexual violence.

“In the past, there were weaknesses in the court process. Now, we have increased prosecutions and convictions,” she said.

“What we can say is that there is a high commitment from the government to combat such issues.”

Charged naval officer released to hospital

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Tuesday, 16 March 2010 15:04 Chrann Chamroeun

A NAVAL officer in Preah Sihanouk province who is facing charges stemming from an attack on two teachers and a student at the International Home of English School was released from pretrial detention on Sunday to receive medical treatment at a local hospital, prison and court officials said.

Von Nguon, the deputy chief of Preah Sihanouk provincial court, said Keo Monysoka’s family was permitted to escort him from the provincial prison in the company of a prison guard to seek treatment for high blood pressure.

“Upon the request from the court prosecutor, we allowed the family to bring him for medical care at a hospital on Sunday after seeing that he felt not well because of his blood pressure,” he said.

Keo Monysoka, deputy commander at Ream Naval Base, was arrested on Thursday and charged with causing intentional injury for allegedly attacking two teachers at the school after a 10-year-old male student there frightened his 14-year-old daughter with a turtle.

Von Nguon said that the officer, who failed to appear on two separate occasions for questioning by military police before he was detained, would remain at the hospital Monday night, but that he was expected to appear in court on Tuesday, when a verdict is to be handed down in the case.

Chan Chamroeun, an investigator for the rights group Adhoc, which received complaints from both of the teachers who were allegedly attacked, said he planned on attending the hearing to ensure that “the court procedure goes smoothly”.

“It is very important for him to have medical treatment, even though he is a prisoner,” Chan Chamroeun said, though he urged officials to make sure that Keo Monysoka did not try to skip today’s scheduled hearing.

Suicide at wat: Immolation by woman at city pagoda

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Tuesday, 16 March 2010 15:03 Chrann Chamroeun

Suicide at wat

A 55-year-old woman from Pursat province died Sunday night after dousing herself in kerosene and setting herself on fire at Wat Botum, a monk at the pagoda said. “We don’t know the real reason why she burned herself, as she arrived alone yesterday at around 6:30pm with some belongings and placed them in front of the pagoda,” Chum Son said. “When I went to meet her and asked where she came from and why she came here, she didn’t say anything to me.” Preak Kha, the Chaktomuk commune police chief, said police were investigating.

Sampling the local java

Photo by: May Kunmakara

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Tuesday, 16 March 2010 15:03 May Kunmakara

Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh tastes Cambodian-produced coffee Friday at a trade fair in Banlung town, Rattanakiri province also featuring vendors from bordering regions of Laos and Vietnam. The event concluded on Monday.

Police Blotter: 16 Mar 2010

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Tuesday, 16 March 2010 15:03 Phak Seangly

Police have arrested two suspected car thieves after the pair ran out of petrol making a getaway. The two men, who police say work for a local TV station and an NGO, planned to buy a car from a vendor based in Phnom Penh. The group was on its way to Kandal province to complete the sale. But on the way, the trio somehow got into an argument, and the car’s owner hopped out of the car. The two suspects drove off, only to be arrested when their hot wheels ran out of fuel.

Police in Russey Keo district are looking for the killer or killers of a motorist who died following an apparent traffic dispute. According to the victim’s friend, the deceased man had an argument with a pedestrian Friday, which saw the victim slap the pedestrian on the head. A few hours later, the victim was beaten with wooden sticks and died after being sent to hospital. Police concluded that the killing was caused by bitter rancour.

A chef from Phnom Penh has been arrested after he allegedly stole a woman’s heart - then her motorbike. Police say the man, a chef in a Phnom Penh restaurant, visited Siem Reap town, where he met and struck up a torrid relationship with a 21-year-old woman. Police say the man “borrowed” the woman’s motorbike and fled to Phnom Penh, where he pawned the vehicle for US$400. But police arrested the man after the woman complained.

Police are on the lookout for multiple suspects after three plantation workers were attacked with cleavers, leaving two dead and the third injured. Kampong Thom provincial police say the victims and suspects had been drinking together earlier Thursday before an argument erupted, causing the suspects to leave in a huff. Then the victims were attacked with cleavers. Police said “rancour” was the motive. They are on the hunt for the suspects.

A man in Takeo province has been arrested after he allegedly raped his neighbour on Friday. The victim, age 24, said she went to the accused man’s house on a routine visit to borrow a mat. She followed the man into his house, but instead, he pounced on her, raping her and threatening to kill her if she revealed what happened, she said.

SECC releases latest draft edicts for bourse

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Tuesday, 16 March 2010 15:03 Nguon Sovan

Circulated prakas mark latest stage on road to stock exchange

CAMBODIA’S new stock exchange released two draft edicts on Monday to be opened for public consultation.

The two draft prakas were published by the Securities and Exchange Commission of Cambodia (SECC) and will be discussed by representatives from banks and private companies. The Cambodian Securities Exchange, regulated by SECC, is set to launch later this year.

The SECC will select banks with enough qualifications for this service."--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The first draft document covers the granting of accreditation for cash settlement charged with managing cash resettlement for securities trading. According to the draft, the applicant must be a commercial bank with sound corporate governance, strong financial integrity and operational capacity, qualified human resources with adequate qualifications, and experience dealing with securities, banking, financial and commercial cash settlements.

The annual fee for a cash settlement agent is 40 million riels (US$9,570), it added.

“The SECC will select banks with enough qualifications for this service,” Ming Bankosal, SECC’s director general, said Monday.

He declined to say how many of the Kingdom’s 27 banks would be granted the accreditation.

In Channy, president and CEO of ACLEDA Bank, confirmed Monday that the bank will be one of the applicants for the service.

“We are interested because this [cash settlement] is one of our services, and we have the most branch networks in Cambodia. It is easy for us to do this work,” he said.

The second draft prakas detailed the attributes needed for the accreditation of lawyers providing legal services in the securities sector. To be accepted, lawyers must be registered on the list of the Bar Association of Cambodia, have a good reputation for at least three years, be a member of a law firm and have professional liability insurance.

Accredited lawyers will pay an annual accreditation fee to SECC of 500,000 riels ($120), the draft added.

Twenty-two companies applied to be licensed on Cambodia’s forthcoming stock exchange by the March 1 deadline. Potential entrants will now be short-listed, Ming Bankosal said on March 3.

Owner says $40m mall will open before 2011

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Tuesday, 16 March 2010 15:03 Soeun Say

A NEW six-storey US$40 million shopping centre will open in Phnom Penh before 2011, the owner of the development said Monday.

“We have completed 70 percent of the whole project and will open our doors to customers at the end of this year,” said Ear Kim Keng, managing director of Happiness City, where the 100,000-square-metre Young’s Commercial Shopping Centre is being built on reclaimed swamp land, about 100 metres on the eastern side of the Cambodian-Japanese Friendship Bridge.

“We have attracted 52 percent of the clients we need to rent our space so far,” said Ear Kim Keng.

He added that negotiations are ongoing with KFC, Pizza Company, Cambodian Public Bank, Canadia Bank and City Mart – which he said is interested in a 1,000-square-metre space.

Rental prices at the centre are set at around $300 per month for a 3-metre-by-4-metre shop space. If a client rents a store for 10 years, he can stay for 100 years without charge, thanks to a new promotion.

The capital already has a large number of one-stop shopping centres. The first major mall, Sorya Shopping Centre, opened for business in 2002. It was followed by Pencil Mall, Sydney Mall, Paragon Cambodia, Sovanna and City Mall.

The managers of Young’s potential competitors are not concerned by the new threat.

“We are not worried because we have a good location, good car parking, and we will run promotions such as music concerts and lucky draws every month,” said Chheang Meng, manager of Bayon Shopping Centre in Phnom Penh.

Lam Sopheap, general manager of Sorya, said: “Our shopping mall is still number one because we always update our place to be fresh and fun for customers.”

Taiwanese shoemaker builds new factory

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Tuesday, 16 March 2010 15:03 Chun Sophal

TAIWANESE footwear producer Bao Cheng International Group (BCIG) is set to open a factory in Cambodia this year, according to a report released by the Cambodia-Taiwan Trade Association.

YH Chiang, chairman of the association, said Monday that BCIG is constructing a large footwear factory on 40,000 square metres of land beside National Road 4 in Phnom Penh.

It is planning to produce Adidas footwear for international export, he added.

“We hope that the company’s investment will help develop Cambodia’s economy,” he said.

According to the association, construction of the factory started last month. It is set to employ around 10,000 Cambodian workers.

BCIG currently has footwear factories in three countries, including China, Indonesia and Vietnam. It exports millions of pairs of shoes every year.

On Monday, Chiang did not disclose the amount of capital the company would invest in the scheme, nor the number of shoes the company would produce in Cambodia. He said the figures were the company’s private business.

Yun Heng, director of the Department of Evaluation and Incentives at the Council for the Development of Cambodia, said Monday that the investment project had been approved in early January 2010.

He told a reporter that he did not remember the value of the investment and, as he was travelling from Ratanakiri province to Phnom Penh, could not find out.

“We have already approved the investment project of this company because it responds to the government’s policy in striving to create more job opportunities for Cambodian people,” he said.

According to the Cambodia-Taiwan Trade Association, 300 Taiwanese companies are investing in Cambodia at present, mostly in the garment sector and in footwear production.

High price of Internet is still main barrier to domestic use

An Internet user plays online games at home in December. 64 percent of Cambodians cite expense as the main rationale for not connecting to the Internet in their homes, according to the results of an Indochina Research survey at the end of last year.

NO HOME Connection
Rationale for not using Internet in the home among respondents in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Battambang, Sihanoukville and Kampong Cham:

Internet service at home is too expensive
No computer in the home
No need to use at home. Can access elsewhere
Have computer at home, but no Internet access
Have computer at home, but cannot connect through mobile
Have a computer at home, but no landline
Source: Indochina Research

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Tuesday, 16 March 2010 15:02 Ellie Dyer

Survey shows two-thirds of people still find connection costs prohibitively pricey

THE high cost of Internet access is a key reason behind Cambodians not connecting to the Web at home, a survey conducted by IndoChina Research (ICR) has found.

A total of 64 percent of Internet users, in ICR’s Cambodia Media Index survey of 1,100 people, said that expense was the main rationale for not connecting to the Internet at home .

The report, which was conducted in December as the second wave of a new study, stated that around 11.7 percent of those surveyed – who all lived within a 25-kilometre radius of Cambodia’s five main urban centres: Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Battambang, Sihanoukville and Kampong Cham – regularly used the Internet at all. This was up from 9.8 percent in the survey’s first wave, which was conducted six months beforehand.

Of those, just 5 percent of the people surveyed said that they used the Internet most often at home. This compares with 70 percent using Internet cafes most regularly, 16 percent using computers at schools or universities and 7 percent utilising their work’s online facilities.

The main reasons for not using the Web at home were cost (64 percent), a lack of computer (55 percent), and a lack of a need for home Internet due to access elsewhere (36 percent).

According to industry experts, who explained the problem to the Post Monday, Internet prices in Cambodia are among the highest in Asia due to the high cost of wholesale connective supply bought by Internet service providers (ISPs) through international fibre-optic cables.

On Monday, Viettel was advertising its SurfHome 128 kbps ADSL line for between US$20 and $50 a month. Camnet charged $80 per month for unlimited use of a 256 kbps ADSL line while EZECOM offered 256kbps ADSL for $39 a month. Most packages see Internet speeds plummet during peak daytime hours.

Vice president of ISP Chuan Wei, Hyam Bolande, said Monday: “The situation today is that there is a limited supply, as the cables are owned by a small number of people. Because demand is greater than supply, the prices are high.

“Most ISPs are paying 50 to 70 percent of total operating cost on international bandwidth, [a cost] which is passed on to customers.”

He said that more young people are using the Internet as they are exposed to technology at school and university, but added: “The problem is that supply is not growing at the same speed.”

Bolande hopes that in years to come increased connections – creating greater supply – and liberalised competition will reduce prices and enable greater numbers of the population to access the resource.

“As Cambodia becomes more developed, in the future we will need to see fibre-optic cables running through Thailand, Laos, and a sub-sea cable through the Gulf of Thailand. Bandwidth is getting faster and cheaper, so road blocks in price here can be and should be removed,” he said.

At a lonely airstrip, there are more cattle than planes

Photo by: Roth Meas
Peace and quiet rule at the so-called Chinese Airfield.

via CAAI News Media

Tuesday, 16 March 2010 15:00 Roth Meas

The runway, built during the Khmer Rouge regime, is now the scene of a struggle for control between cows and the Royal Cambodian Air Force

Kampong Chhnang Province

WHERE planes once landed, there is now little more than a massive concrete runway surrounded by fields of palm trees and low shrubs. There are a few rusty fuel drums, a ruined control tower, a few decrepit buildings, but there are no runway lights, wind vane, parked aircraft or airport staff.

The eerie site, located in Palarng village in the Rolea Paea district of Kampong Chhnang province, is known by locals as the Chinese Airfield.

Despite appearances, the old airport is not completely abandoned. It is manned by a skeleton crew of security guards from the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, whose job is to prevent illegal use of the runway and to clear the way on those rare occasions when authorised planes do approach for a landing.

The runway is so little used nowadays that it sometimes serves as an extension of the surrounding fields where local villagers raise their animals.

Villager Kheat Kong, 52, said she always releases her animals to eat grass around the airfield, but sometimes they slip through the fence and graze inside the perimeter.

“Before 1999 this wasn’t possible because planes landed here all the time, but now I almost never seen planes come in,” she said.

“When they inform us not to release our cows because a plane is landing, we’ll tie them up,” she said.

Kheat Kong said she moved to Palarng village in the early 1980s and was therefore not around to see the construction of the airfield in 1977. She said that when she arrived in the region, the 2400-metre-long runway and airport buildings were already there, as was the 10-kilometre paved road connecting the airport to National Road 5.

“I didn’t know who built it, but people in the village called it ‘Chinese Airfield’, so I did the same,” Kheat Kong said.

Despite the name, the airfield was not built by the Chinese.

“The airfield, including the control tower and other buildings, was built in 1977 by the Khmer Rouge regime,” said Hing Suntara, the vice commander of the Air Force’s Kampong Chhnang division. “At the time, the Khmer Rouge used the airport to serve its air force.”

He said that as soon as the regime was overthrown in 1979, the new government took it over for use by its air force. It is now under the control of the Royal Cambodian Air Force and has never been used by commercial aircraft.

Hing Suntara said the airfield is still nearly 100 per cent functional, although some of the rubber between the concrete slabs is deteriorating from exposure to the sun year after year. He added that as far as he knows, there have never been any plane crashes at the airfield.

“These days if a plane is going to land, we are notified by phone,” he said.

Hing Suntara said the biggest problem was preventing domesticated animals from crossing the airfield. “We tell the villagers not to release their animals near the airfield because there is no gate and it’s easy for them to get in,” he said. “I still station troops around the airfield to try to keep animals and people outside.”

Hing Suntara said the airfield’s concrete can support the weight of bigger planes, but the runway would have to be lengthened if plans were made to allow such aircraft to land there.

“We are preventing villagers from expanding into the area around the airfield so that someday we can lengthen the runway to 3000 to 3500 metres,” he said.

Chey Kosal beats Vung Sithai

Photo by: Robert Starkweather
Chey Kosal (right, red shorts), locally known as the Cambodian Bull, scored a decision victory over Brigade 70 veteran fighter Vung Sithai in their bout Sunday at TV5.

via CAAI News Media

Tuesday, 16 March 2010 15:00 Robert Starkweather

Kun Khmer boxing fans embrace Chey Kosal as he returns to the ring having escaped a lifetime ban from the sport to defeat veteran Vung Sithai Sunday

AS the wet season reached a crescendo last November, the prospects of former kickboxing champion Chey Kosal seemed as bleak and unforgiving as the monsoon rains that pounded the muddy scrubland surrounding his home in Kambol.

Among Kun Khmer’s most prized fighters, the Siem Reap native faced a lifetime ban from the sport that defined him.

The local fight scene, however, could not survive without Chey Kosal any more than Chey Kosal could survive without fighting. And on Sunday, with his suspension recently overturned, the ‘Cambodian Bull’ charged back into the boxing ring at TV5, cutting former champion Vung Sithai with an elbow late in the fifth to clinch a decision victory.

It was Chey Kosal’s second fight since being reinstated in February. In his first comeback bout two weeks ago, Chey Kosal outpointed Brigade 70 veteran Long Sophal at the Bayon TV boxing arena.

Chey Kosal, Outh Phouthang and brothers Pich Sophan and Pich Seyha were given lifetime suspensions in July 2009 for fighting in Australia without the permission of the sport’s governing body, known then as the Cambodian Amateur Boxing Federation.

The word amateur has since been dropped as the organisation now includes professional boxing.

In December, the federation elected a new president, Tem Mouen, who overruled the ban enacted under previous president Oum Yourann, and all four fighters have since returned to the ring.

On Sunday, Brigade 70 veteran Vung Sithai showed little deference to the Bull, who is widely feared for his fight-stopping, face-changing elbows.

Within seconds of opening bell, Vung Sithai, a southpaw, landed a hard left elbow to the face, drawing a wide smile from Chey Kosal, who responded in kind seconds later.

Chey Kosal then kicked Vung Sithai across the ring early in the second with half a dozen unanswered right roundhouse kicks. Vung Sithai came charging back with four-punch combinations and knees to the body.

In the second and third rounds, Vung Sithai landed elbows so flush that Chey Kosal dabbed at his left eye checking for blood.

The two clashed heads in the fifth, ripping a short, jagged gash down the center of Chey Kosal’s forehead, and referee Chhith Sarim stopped the action twice to mop away the blood and check the cut.

The blood sparked a final charge from Chey Kosal, and with less than half a minute left, he landed the right elbow for which his is so famous. The blow split Vung Sithai’s heavily scarred left brow, and Chey Kosal lifted his gloves in a brief moment of celebration.

Severe drought has dropped the Mekong River to its lowest level in nearly 20 years

A Cambodian fisherman rows his wooden boat as he heads for fishing in the Mekong River at A-Reyksat village on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Monday, March 15, 2010. Severe drought has dropped the Mekong River to its lowest level in nearly 20 years, halting some cargo traffic and boat tours on the Asian waterway that is the lifeblood for 65 million people in six countries, a draft report said. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

People living in floating houses are seen on the Mekong River along A-Reyksat village on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Monday, March 15, 2010. Severe drought has dropped the Mekong River to its lowest level in nearly 20 years, halting some cargo traffic and boat tours on the Asian waterway that is the lifeblood for 65 million people in six countries, a draft report said. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Cambodian villagers cross the Mekong River by ferry along A-Reyksat village on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Monday, March 15, 2010. Severe drought has dropped the Mekong River to its lowest level in nearly 20 years, halting some cargo traffic and boat tours on the Asian waterway that is the lifeblood for 65 million people in six countries, a draft report said.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

The sunset is seen from A-Reyksat along the Mekong River, Cambodia, Monday, March 15, 2010. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Explosion wounds Thai soldiers amid protests

ITN news
March 15, 2010

Grenade explosions have wounded two soldiers at a Thai military base - further raising tensions in Bangkok. . Follow us on twitter at http://twitter.com/itn_news  .

MSU programmers develop land mine avoidance game

via CAAI News Media

Published: 03/14 9:01pm
By: Zane McMillin


In the Cambodian jungle, dangers from battles and wars past — namely land mines — lay strewn about, threatening the lives and limbs of the unsuspecting.

Those dangers could more easily be avoided if a team of MSU instructors and students has anything to do with it.

Continuing work that began at MSU about two years ago, the team is developing a computer video game to educate people — primarily kids — on how to avoid land mines and other explosive jungle perils.

Led by Corey Bohil, a visiting assistant professor of telecommunication, information studies and media, the team created a maze-like video game that uses image repetition to embed warning signals in players’ minds.

“The real trick is how do you get people, especially kids, to look at these things long enough to sort of notice these kinds of (dangers),” Bohil said.

The game is a capstone project for students in the game design and development specialization offered by the Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies and Media.

In the game, players use directional buttons to guide a character, accompanied by a pet, through a series of Cambodian landscape pictures in search of food. Players must avoid land mines and other artillery, called unexploded ordnances, or UXOs, by following warnings, such as bright red signs emblazoned with a skull and cautionary words.

“It should be fun enough that a kid wants to play this game over and over again … and get enough repetition that when it transfers out into the real world, it translates into actual changes in behavior,” Bohil said.

The game first was conceptualized when a California-based nonprofit organization approached MSU with the idea.

The Golden West Humanitarian Foundation, which works to eradicate UXOs across the globe, wanted to explore new methods of land mine education because current methods, such as informational pamphlets, are ineffective, Bohil said.

The team is in the process of fine-tuning the game, having received a nearly $78,000 grant last year from the U.S. State Department’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement.

Officials from Golden West plan to take copies of the game to children in Cambodia for testing in April. Bohil said Golden West will be able to switch landscape pictures for distribution in countries other than Cambodia.

Bohil said the team is working with One Laptop per Child, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit organization initiative designed to provide low-cost laptop computers to children in third world countries for educational purposes. The game will be compatible with those laptops.

Computer science junior Neil Owen, one of the game’s programmers, said the project was interesting and challenging.

“I hope this project will be fun, because even if not everyone in the target audience has a chance to experience it, word of mouth can spread the educational message and awareness of the problem even better,” Owen said in an e-mail.

Dan Shillair, a media arts and technology senior who works as an artist on the project, said the game is designed to be an effective way to teach important safety techniques.

“I think that this type of game can be pretty practical when it comes to teaching certain things to kids,” Shillair said in an e-mail.

Mekong Giant Catfish

via CAAI News Media

Monday, 15 March 2010
Added by PT
Editor Eng.k.almallahi

March 15, 2010 (Pal Telegraph)- The world's largest scaleless freshwater fish lives a tenuous existence in the murky brown waters of Southeast Asia's Mekong River. Capable of reaching an almost mythical 10 feet (3 meters) in length and 650 pounds (295 kilograms), Mekong giant catfish live mainly in the lower half of the Mekong River system, in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Once plentiful throughout the Mekong basin, population numbers have dropped by some 95 percent over the past century, and this critically endangered behemoth now teeters on the brink of extinction. Overfishing is the primary culprit in the giant catfish's decline, but damming of Mekong tributaries, destruction of spawning and breeding grounds, and siltation have taken a huge toll. Some experts think there may only be a few hundred adults left.

Mekong giant catfish have very low-set eyes and are silvery to dark gray on top and whitish to yellow on the bottom. They are toothless herbivores who live off the plants and algae in the river. Juveniles wear the characteristic catfish "whiskers," called barbels, but these features shrink as they age.

Highly migratory creatures, giant catfish require large stretches of river for their seasonal journeys and specific environmental conditions in their spawning and breeding areas. They are thought to rear primarily in Cambodia's Tonle Sap lake and migrate hundreds of miles north to spawning grounds in Thailand. Dams and human encroachment, however, have severely disrupted their lifecycle.

International efforts are under way to save the species. It is now illegal in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia to harvest giant catfish. And recently in Thailand, a group of fishers pledged to stop catching giant catfish to honor the king's 60th year on the throne. However, enforcement of fishing restrictions in many isolated villages along the Mekong is nearly impossible, and illicit and bycatch takings continue.

Ref: NGM.

Report of the US Department of State Is in Line with the Actual Situation in Cambodia – Monday, 15.3.2010

via CAAI News Media

Posted on 15 March 2010
The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 656

“Recently, the US Department of State assessed the human rights situation in Cambodia for 2009, saying that Cambodia progressed in the prevention of human trafficking. But the United States of America expressed some concerns, such as about the restriction of the freedom of expression, the deportation of Uighurs to China, land disputes, and the growing corruption in Cambodia.

“The report on human rights for 2009 of the US Department of State noticed that Cambodia positively promoted the rights of the disabled, and made also efforts at the national level to protect victims of human trafficking that helps the most vulnerable people. Besides this, the authorities worked to reduce serious crimes – the number of murders declined, compared to 2008. The report continues to say that the United States of America is worried about the restriction of the freedom of expression and the freedom of the press by the Cambodian government, pointing to court cases related to defamation and disinformation.

“The report continues that the United States of America is worried about land disputes, forced evictions, and corruption that frequently happens in Cambodia, while the court systems remains weak. The report of the US Department of State is not welcomed by high ranking officials of the Cambodian government, and they accused it as not being based on thorough observations. However, officials of human rights organization recognized that the report reflects the actual situation, and what is mentioned in the report is true.

“The spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cambodia said that the Cambodia government is settling those problems, including through the adoption of an anti-corruption law soon. But meanwhile, the president of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights [LICADHO], Ms. Pong Chhiv Kek [Dr. Kek Galabru], said that in general, the work to prevent the trafficking of women and children still faces some shortages, but the government tried to do it to some extent. The other three points that are unacceptable for the United States of America are real issues, because land disputes is also recognized by the government as a major issue. The claim by non-government organization officials testifies that the situation of human rights violations in Cambodia has not improved.

“It is remembered that in late 2009, the Cambodia government arrested 20 Uighurs and forcedly deported them to China, while they were applying for asylum from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Such action caused concerns from human rights groups, voicing the concern that those Uighurs might receive the death penalty in China. Due to this deportation, the Cambodian government was strongly criticized by many local and well-known international human rights organizations.

“At present, heavy human rights violations happen in Cambodia, not different from the concerns raised in the report of the US Department of State. Typically, like in a land dispute in Kompong Thom, the authorities ordered armed forces to evict citizens without any justification, to grab land for a Yuon [Vietnamese] company. When citizens protested to protect their land and their shelters, they were shot at like animals – an unacceptable human rights violation.

“In another case, even the freedom of expression of a parliamentarian, who had expressed his opinion to protect the territorial integrity of the country, was restricted. The opposition party president and parliamentarian from Kompong Cham, Mr. Sam Rainsy, was convicted by the Svay Rieng Court to serve two years in prison and was ordered to pay Riel 1 million [approx. US$235.-] as a fine, because he uprooted border posts at the Khmer-Yuon border in the Samroang commune, Chantrea district, Svay Rieng, while two villagers who lost their rice fields, Mr. Prum Chea and Ms. Meas Srey, were jailed unjustly.

“After all, the report of the US Department of State regarding human rights issues in Cambodia complies with the actual situation, and officials of [Prime Minister] Hun Sen’s government cannot hide this. Therefore, all members of the international community and donors, especially the United States of America, should encourage the Cambodian government to respect human rights, as stated in the Constitution. That means the government should stop restrictions that violate the freedom of expression, and protect the right of living of citizens by completely stopping to use the word ‘development’ as an excuse to evict citizens from their land.”

Moneaksekar Khmer, Vol.17, #3832, 15.3.2010
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Monday, 15 March 2010

Troops To Stay Put During Thai Strife

via CAAI News Media

By Heng Reaksmey, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
15 March 2010

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday appealed to Cambodian soldiers to limit operations while Thailand undergoes a new round of political instability.

Thai protesters have gathered in the tens of thousands in Bangkok to demand fresh elections, raising the possibility of further demonstrations and strikes.

“For the problem in Thailand, it’s the Thai people’s problem,” Hun Sen said, speaking at a graduation ceremony at the International Institute of Education.

“I also appeal for all Cambodian troops who are stationed along the border with Cambodia and Thailand, please have good cooperation with the Thai army and provincial governors of Thailand close to the border with Cambodia. If it’s not important, please do not mobilize the troops.”

Hun Sen said he wanted to avoid “misunderstandings from the Thai side,” adding, “I won’t allow Cambodian troops to cause any problem between Cambodia and Thailand.”

Chea Dara, the army commander in charge of front-line operations near Preah Vihear temple, said his troops remained stationed at the border and were prepared “to protect our territory.” However, he said, they would not be moving, as per Hun Sen’s order.

Tourism a Boon to Siem Reap Prostitution

via CAAI News Media

By Vong Dara, VOA Khmer
Original report from Siem Reap
15 March 2010

In recent years, Siem Reap province, the home of the Angkortemples, has seen its tourism numbers grow beyond 2 million. Luxury hotels, restaurants and entertainment clubs have all grown around this boon. But so has prostitution.

“If you have money, you can find a girl,” a motorcycle taxi driver name Por said recently. Por, who declined to give his full name, finds prostitutes for visiting tourists.

“There are prostitutes in karaoke, in clubs, and she will come out for $30 or $35 for one night’s sleep,” he said.

“The sex business is behind the massage salon,” said another guide who wished not to be named at all.

For the workers, prostitution is an underground industry.

“Most go out [with clients] without showing that we are working directly [in prostitution],” said one worker in a Siem Reap town karaoke club.

Residents here like Mao Yin say the problem is getting worse, and the local government is not doing enough.

“They do not take action frequently,” she said. “A lack of action has dishonored our province.”

However, Sun Bun Thang, the head of the provincial counter-trafficking office, acknowledged the problem is increasing, but he said the authorities are doing what they can.

Eight entertainment clubs have recently been closed due to association with the sex trade, he said.

“We have to find evidence before action,” he said. “If we only see karaoke, we cannot identify that place as a brothel.”

Thailand: Protests gain momentum as Thai PM refuses to resign

Thailand protests entered their third day Monday, paralyzing parts of Bangkok. Earlier in the day, demonstrators thronged the military base where Thai PM Abhisit Vejjajiva is staying.

Thai protesters and supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra gather during an antigovernment rally outside a military barrack in Bangkok, Thailand Monday.

via CAAI News Media

By Simon Montlake Correspondent / March 15, 2010

Bangkok, Thailand

Thailand’s prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, rejected calls Monday for his resignation as red-shirted opponents sought to expand their street campaign to unseat his government.

A long convoy of vehicles converged outside a military base where Mr. Abhisit is staying, paralyzing parts of the Thai capital. After a few hours, the protesters left the heavily fortified base and returned to their protest site in the heart of historic Bangkok for a third night of demonstrations, which attracted over 100,000 people on Sunday.

In a sign of the underlying tensions, several grenades were fired from the perimeter into an Army camp in another part of the city. Two soldiers were injured in the attack, which bore the hallmarks of other unexplained incidents in recent years. Thais on both sides blame provocateurs for stirring up trouble during political stand-offs to foment violence.

On Sunday, red-shirt leaders aligned with former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra had set a deadline of noon Monday for Abhisit to dissolve parliament and call fresh elections. As expected, Abhisit refused and defended his right to continue ruling the deeply divided country.

‘The government has time on its side’
The standoff is set to continue for several days, as red-shirt leaders seek to rattle the government. But the difficulty of sustaining a nonstop rally by protesters who are mostly from outside Bangkok, where Thaksin’s base is strongest, may start to tell.

“They’re waiting each other out. But the government has time on its side,” says Paul Quaglia, director of PSA Asia, a security consultant.

A senior Army officer said the turnout of protesters was below expectations and predicted that it would fizzle within a week. Government officials have reported much lower numbers than independent observers have, and there has been scant coverage on government-run TV channels.

While many red shirts pledge loyalty to Thaksin, who was ousted by a coup in 2006 and lives in Dubai, they insist their real cause is democracy and justice. Most are scornful of British-educated Abhisit, who took power in December 2008 with military backing after the court-ordered breakup of a pro-Thaksin government.

“Abhisit doesn’t know how to run this country. He lived and studied overseas, he’s got no idea about Thailand,” says Nittaya Chaicharoenwattana, a retired teacher, as she cheered a passing convoy of red-shirt protesters.

Abhisit heads a six-party coalition that includes minor parties led by former Thaksin loyalists. Some lawmakers have reportedly threatened to switch sides and form a pro-Thaksin coalition, essentially reversing the maneuver that installed Abhisit. A senior cabinet minister in Abhisit’s Democrat Party insisted Monday that his government was in no danger of collapsing.

Big crowds welcome the protesters
Last week, as Bangkok braced for what organizers claimed would be the country’s biggest-ever political rally, government officials warned that violence could erupt, sparking travel warnings for foreign tourists. A similar gathering last April led to riots that troops put down, sullying the popular image of the red shirts.

But the red shirts were greeted Monday by cheering, whooping crowds as their convoys of pickup trucks and buses crawled through the congested streets toward the Army base. Some shops had closed in anticipation, but others stayed open and allowed employees to join the jubilant throng of onlookers.

“We love Thaksin! We love democracy!” screamed a middle-aged woman from a footbridge, as her companion pointed her digital camera at the passing convoy. From below, Thai country rock blasted out of speakers mounted on a truck, on which protesters danced precariously.