Sunday, 4 April 2010

Fishermen left high and dry fear for Mekong's future

Cambodian workers transporg sand along the Mekong river

A severe drought in Southeast Asia and southern China has caused the Mekong River to drop to a 50-year low

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By Rachel O'Brien (AFP) – 2 hours ago

VIENTIANE — Mekong River levels in parts of Laos have hit their lowest in 50 years.

The situation has alarmed the millions who depend on what is the world's largest inland fishery with an estimated annual catch of about 3.9 million tonnes, according to the Mekong River Commission (MRC).

Fisherman Phimmalang Sengphet paddles his boat to the sandy banks of the Mekong River in Laos and inspects his meagre haul. "We can't even catch enough to feed ourselves," he says wearily.

The 38-year-old was able to net more than 10 kilos (22 pounds) of fish a day this time last year, but now he is lucky to bring home just half that. He blames the unusually low water levels -- the most extreme he has ever seen.

"We want to know why. This is our life, catching fish to sell at the market. This is our business to provide for our families," he says as he wanders back to his village on the outskirts of the capital Vientiane.

"In Laos we don't have the sea, we only have the Mekong for water and for food, so it's very important to us," said another villager, 63-year-old Som Sirivath, as she waded waist-deep into the river in search of some supper.

The ebbing flows are not confined to land-locked Laos, one of Asia's poorest nations.

In the upper Mekong basin in China's southwest, more than 24 million people are short of drinking water as a result of the worst drought in a century. Downstream, the north of Thailand has also suffered five-decade river lows.

"Many people I know have changed to agricultural work because they can't live on income from the fishing industry," said Niwat Roykaew, head of a local conservation group in the northern Thai province of Chiang Rai.

The cause of the dwindling waterway is a matter of fierce debate, with activists pointing the finger upstream to China's hydropower dams, which they believe channel water away from the upper reaches of the Mekong.

Pianporn Deetes, of campaign group International Rivers, said water levels were not just dropping but "fluctuating unnaturally", and that disruption to the ecosystem began after China built its first dam more than a decade ago.

"Local people experienced the loss of fish catch, the destruction of aquatic resources," the Thai environmentalist told a recent forum in Bangkok.

With a dozen dams proposed downstream as well as in China, she said locals were "worrying about the threats to the ecosystem, the livelihoods and food security. Definitely the impact on fisheries is our main concern".

China, which has eight existing or planned dams on the mainstream river, insists that extreme dry weather conditions are to blame for the current shortage -- a claim backed up by findings of the intergovernmental MRC.

Whatever the reason, the problem concerns more than 60 million people who live in the lower Mekong basin and normally each eat 30 to 40 kilograms of fish every year, according to an MRC report released on Saturday.

People in southern Laos, for example, have relied "for generations" on diverse aquatic life for high-protein diets and have livelihoods "closely entwined with the seasonal rhythm of the river", the report said.

The abnormally low levels are disrupting the vast fishery, raising fears over already endangered species such as the Mekong giant catfish that can weigh up to 350 kilograms, said MRC spokesman Damian Kean.

A shallower river can affect breeding and migration patterns, as well as the waterway's general ecological health, he said.

The MRC report urged caution over future developments in the basin, warning of dangers posed by both proposed dams and expanding populations.

"Over the past five years, significant changes have taken place in water-related resources and this is likely to continue, which may put livelihoods under threat," said commission adviser Hanne Bach.

The drought and dam debate were set to dominate an MRC summit in Thailand on management of the river starting Sunday attended by the leaders of Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, along with ministers from China and Myanmar.

Urgent action is needed to protect the Mekong basin "before it's too late," said campaigner Pianporn.

Traffic accident threat looms large over Cambodia
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Sunday, April 04, 2010

VNA Traffic accident is still a serious threat, claiming numerous lives in Cambodia , said an official from the Ministry of Public Works and Transport.

Toch Chan Kosal, Secretary of State at the Ministry, said there were over 21,500 traffic accidents in the country last year, up 4 percent over the previous year.

The number of deaths by traffic accidents ranks second, only after that by HIV/AIDS, the official said, adding that about 1,700 people died and 7,000 others were injured in traffic accidents in the country last year.

According to him, the increasing figures are attributed to low awareness of a part of the local population who have not abided by traffic rules such as driving at a higher speed than allowed or driving when being drunk.

It is estimated that the Cambodian economy has lost more than US$250 million in property and treatment cost for the traffic accident victims.

Defiant Thai protesters swamp Bangkok tourist hub

Red Shirt supporters of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra gather during an anti-government protest at central world junction in Bangkok. Raising the stakes in their bid to overthrow the government, tens of thousands of Thai protesters swarmed Bangkok's tourist heartland, prompting an official warning to leave or face arrest. (AFP/Athit Perawongmetha)

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by Thanaporn Promyamyai Thanaporn Promyamyai – Sat Apr 3

BANGKOK (AFP) – Raising the stakes in their bid to overthrow the government, tens of thousands of Thai protesters swarmed Bangkok's tourist heartland Saturday, defying a warning to leave or face arrest.

Bemused foreigners looked on as the red-shirted supporters of fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra overran a swathe of central Bangkok home to five-star hotels and major shopping centres.

The government said it would officially ban protests from 9:00 pm (1400 GMT) in the area under a tough security law introduced in response to rolling demonstrations which began in mid-March.

Protesters would be asked to leave or face prosecution because of the damage to businesses and tourism, said government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn.

"The government has no alternative except to enforce the law," he said.

But the protesters ignored the deadline, vowing to stay put indefinitely until embattled Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva dissolves parliament.

"If the government has ill intentions against Red Shirts we're ready to respond. The Red Shirts will not step back," Reds leader Veera Musikapong said.

Despite sweltering temperatures, police estimated that about 60,000 people joined the protest -- the latest in a series of demonstrations since mid-March demanding Abhisit call snap elections.

"They are provoking the authorities to use force to disperse them," Abhisit said at a news conference.

He said the government hoped to end the standoff through dialogue but refused to rule out invoking emergency rule -- which would ban gatherings of more than five people -- if the situation worsens.

Saturday's protest snarled traffic and forced some shopping malls and stores to close, but tourists seemed largely unfazed by the rally, which had a carnival-like atmosphere with dancing and live music in the streets.

"It doesn't scare me because I come here every year and know it won't be serious," said Adolf Gutounik, a 57-year-old visitor from Germany.

Thailand has been wracked in recent years by a string of protests by the Red Shirts and their rival Yellow Shirts, whose campaign in 2008 led to a crippling nine-day blockade of the country's airports.

The military has mounted a heavy security response involving 50,000 personnel for the protests.

The Reds oppose the coup that toppled Thaksin in 2006 and say Abhisit's government is undemocratic because it took office through a parliamentary vote after a court stripped Thaksin's allies of power.

Thaksin, a billionaire former telecoms tycoon who lives abroad to avoid a jail term for graft at home, addressed the protesters via a videolink, urging them not to back down.

"All people in Bangkok as well as the provinces please come out ... to fight for equality," he said. "Victory belongs not only to the Red Shirts but the entire Thai nation."

The Reds had vowed that Saturday's rally would be the biggest since the demonstrations began on March 14 with a turnout of 100,000.

Authorities, however, expect attendance at the rallies to dwindle as the Songkran water festival, celebrating the traditional Thai new year, approaches in mid-April.

But Nat Jantakat, a 38-year-old lychee farmer from the north, for one vowed to keep up the fight, making light of the 37 degrees Celsius (99 Fahrenheit) temperature.

"I've been here since the first day and I'll be here until we achieve democracy."

The Reds have staged a series of dramatic stunts to press their demands, including throwing their own blood at Abhisit's offices.

Hailing mainly from the rural poor north, they seek the return of twice-elected Thaksin. The Reds rioted in Bangkok in April last year, leaving two dead and scores injured.

It’s a Gray Area: Cambodia shows progress

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By James P. Gray
Updated: Saturday, April 3, 2010

My recent trip to Vietnam and Cambodia with my wife, Grace, consisted mostly of a visit to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, and a five-day boat trip up the Mekong River to the Cambodian cities of Phnom Penhand Siem Reap, near Angkor Wat. Our visit to Ho Chi Minh City was the topic of last week’s column. Today, I will discuss our trip to Cambodia.

The highlight was our visit to Angkor Wat, and they truly lived up to our high expectations. This huge complex began in the 9th century and prospered until the 13th century. Many of the statues and stone carvings that have been protected from the elements look like artistic masterpieces that could have been created last week. It is well worth a trip to Cambodia just to see Angkor Wat alone: a truly amazing, inspiring and wondrous creation!

We also visited the holocaust museum in the capital of Phnom Penh. Tuol Sleng was a high school used to imprison and torture thousands of Cambodians for — as they frequently told us — three years, eight months and 20 days between 1975 and 1979. Most of the prisoners were subsequently taken out to the “killing fields” and executed with a club to the back of the head. The victims were the so-called traitors to the revolution, as well as the nation’s educated class or “intellectuals.” They included anyone considered to have had a relationship with the West or anyone who wore eyeglasses — as well as the children of any of the above. As a result, children were callously executed by having their heads beaten in with sticks and clubs.

What I had not focused upon previously was that this genocide was influenced by Mao Tse Tung from Communist China. It happened not long after China’s so-called Cultural Revolution, and was carried out by the Khmer Rouge, which are the French words for the “Red Khmers.” And, just like in China, many from the communist guard were young teenage boys who were given AK-47s and let loose on the population.

By the time it ended, 1.7 million Cambodians, or 21% of the population, perished under Pol Pot’s regime, according to Yale University’s Cambodia Genocide Project. Thus from what I could tell, “The Killing Fields” was unfortunately quite accurate with regard to the bloodbath, although many of the Cambodians perished from starvation and disease that resulted from the KR’s radical policies.

For this reason, half the population is younger than 20. It has also made Cambodia one of the poorest Asian countries. Cambodia is also one of the worst offenders when it comes to human trafficking. This appears to be the mind set because a recent poll showed that 75% of the women in Cambodia feel that it is all right to be beaten by their husbands.

Furthermore, few of the side streets are paved, and education is not compulsory, although it is free through the elementary grades. But for many, higher education is simply not available, either because of the cost or because the children are needed to work to help to support their family. In fact, none of the nation’s three top rulers has a high school degree.

In addition, 29% of its population has access to toilets, which means dysentery is a major killer. Nevertheless, the Cambodian people, whose ethnicity is different from the Vietnamese, were almost uniformly pleasant and cheerful. It was as much of a pleasure to be with them as with the people of Vietnam.

Cambodia uses American dollars as a currency, and, as you can imagine, the cost of living there is quite low. For example, where an hourlong massage costs $12 in Vietnam, a Khmer massage (which is different from anything I have had before and is outstanding) costs $5 for an hour in Cambodia.

But one thing that really stayed with me was the times that I looked at some of the teenage girls who were living on houseboats on the river as they were watching our tourist boat go by. They would look at us in a way that expressed a deep resignation that they knew that their lives would never be any better. They would eventually get married and have children, but still live as fishermen in these same houseboats on the river.

I wish I could take some of our children here in the U.S. and impress upon them the importance of their staying in school and getting an education. So many of these young Cambodians are absolutely desperate to have the education that many of our children are simply throwing away!

But slowly things are getting better in Cambodia. There seems to be a fair amount of freedom of the press, because several of the newspapers I read included articles that were actually critical of the government. Clean drinking water also now seems to be much more readily available, and prison reform is increasing, as is access to their justice system. Religious freedom in the country also does not seem to be a problem, and at least the girls seem to have a veto power over whom they will marry. In addition, tourism dollars are increasingly flowing into the country, at least in Siem Reap, although tourists still must procure a cumbersome and expensive visa to enter the country.

It was a great trip and one that I would recommend to any semi-adventurous travelers. But, as my father used to say, the best part of any trip is coming home. Our visits to Vietnam and Cambodia further helped me to appreciate what we have in our wonderful country, even to the extent that it makes my paying our income taxes in a few weeks quite a bit more palatable.


JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of Wearing the Robe – the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today’s Courts (Square One Press, 2008), and can be contacted at  or via his website at .

PAD protesters tell Cambodia's Hun Sen he's not welcome in Hua Hin

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Published: 4/04/2010 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: News

PHETCHABURI : More than 100 activists arrived in Cha-am on Saturday to deliver a letter protesting against Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's visit to Thailand.

VOICING THEIR OPINION: Members of the People’s Alliance for Democracy show their opposition to Cambodian Prime Minsiter Hun Sen yesterday.

Key People's Alliance for Democracy figure Veera Somkwamkid led the group and handed the letter of protest to Chavanond Intarakomalyasut, secretary to the foreign minister.

Hun Sen is due to attend the Mekong River Commission summit in Hua Hin tomorrow.

Mr Veera said the Cambodian prime minister is "persona non grata" in Thailand and accused Hun Sen of having tried to interfere in Thailand's domestic affairs.

He said Hun Sen showed a disregard of the Thai judicial system when he criticised it over its handling of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's legal cases.

Mr Veera said Hun Sen offended Thais by appointing Thaksin as an economic adviser and his own personal adviser.

Mr Veera attacked Hun Sen for putting personal relationships and individual interests above relations between Thailand and Cambodia.

Mr Veera accused the Cambodian prime minister of trying to infringe on Thailand's sovereignty by sending troops to invade the 4.6-square-kilometre area surrounding the Preah Vihear temple. He also alleged Hun Sen was trying to take control of other disputed areas along the Thai-Cambodian border and the overlapping areas in the Gulf of Thailand.

Mr Veera said he and other Thais would fight to protect the country's territorial integrity.

He said Thais would not be bound by any agreements and actions by past and present governments that violate the constitution and hurt the country's interests.

News in Pictures

Rice paddy, Cambodia: This scene is actually opposite one of the main entrances to Angkor Wat. The man walked into frame by chance - the landscape was enough for me to stop Photograph: Philip Lee Harvey

Environmental activists gather in front of the Chinese embassy in Bangkok after delivering a letter demanding its government to stop building dams on upper Mekong river April 3, 2010. Leaders of China, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, comprising the Mekong River Commission (MRC), hold a summit in Thai resort town of Hua Hin to discuss falling water levels in the mighty Mekong river. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Environmental activists dance in front of the Chinese embassy in Bangkok after delivering a letter demanding its government to stop building dams on upper Mekong river April 3, 2010. Leaders of China, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, comprising the Mekong River Commission (MRC), hold a summit in Thai resort town of Hua Hin to discuss falling water levels in the mighty Mekong river. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Thai anti-government demonstrators clog the streets of downtown Bangkok, Thailand, Saturday, April 3, 2010. The United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, also known as 'Red Shirts' are demanding new elections and continue to call for massive street demonstrations in the Thai capital. (AP Photo/David Longstreath)

Supporters of former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra rally in Bangkok April 3, 2010. Red-shirted protesters have been rallying on the streets in Bangkok's old quarters for nearly three weeks, calling for Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to dissolve parliament and hold fresh elections. Negotiations have so far failed to end the impasse after the protesters demanded the government dissolve in nine months, calling for Abhisit to leave office in 15 days. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom

Supporters of former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra rally in central Bangkok April 3, 2010. Red-shirted protesters have been rallying on the streets in Bangkok's old quarters for nearly three weeks, calling for Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to dissolve parliament and hold fresh elections. Negotiations have so far failed to end the impasse after the protesters demanded the government dissolve in nine months, calling for Abhisit to leave office in 15 days. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom

Playwright Catherine Filloux on Genocide, Surviving, and Hope

Harry Hanson

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By Marjorie Rivera, Staff Writer

Catherine Filloux has a good reason to be serious: she has spent the last two decades writing plays that center on genocide and its devastating effect on human life and livelihood. On March 24, at Mansfield Freeman Center for East Asian Studies, she presented two 10-minute clips of her most recent work, “Where Elephants Weep,” a rock opera about a man who has returned to Cambodia after a successful career in the United States, only to find his homeland still entrenched in poverty and political instability that remains from the genocide in 1975. The opera, written and sung in English and Khmer with corresponding subtitles, premiered in Cambodia in November 2008. The English portions of the opera are sung with American rock overtones while the Cambodian parts are performed with more traditional Cambodian accompaniment, which more subtly underlines the distinction between the two cultures and how they attempt to reconcile themselves within the play.

Filloux began writing about survivors of the Cambodian genocide in 1996, with her play “Eyes of the Heart,” about a survivor who is psychosomatically blind. She was inspired to write this play after interviewing a group of psychosomatically blind Cambodian women living in Long Beach. Their stories stuck with her, and Filloux has been attempting to relate the effects of genocide ever since.

Argus: What was it about these psychosomatically blind women that compelled you to talk to them and write about them?
Catherine Filloux: OK, well, the story struck me as intriguing and mysterious in terms of the fact that their brains were working, clinically they could see, but they said that they were blind. There was a group of them, about 150, in Long Beach, California and it led me...that was the kind of the entry point in learning about the Post-Traumatic Stress disorder that was rampant in Cambodian refugee population in the late ’80s-early ’90s. And so it was a way for me to begin to understand what had happened in Cambodia.

A: Was “Eyes of the Heart” your first play about genocide? Can you tell us a little about what it’s about?
CF: Yes, it was my first play about Cambodia and the genocide there. The play is about a woman whose name is Thida San—it’s a character that I made up—who is in her fifties and she is psychosomatically blind, and her brother, whose name is Kim, lives in Long Beach, California. He’s a refugee, he lost his wife in the genocide and he’s bringing up his daughter (whose name is Serei), and they are trying to make a life in California and it is his hope to bring Thida to be with him, and they succeed in doing that. But when she arrives she is completely shut down and blind and she tries to understand what happened to her and there is a doctor, named Doctor Simpson, a female doctor who gets involved in trying to help Thida, but ultimately it is Thida who ends up helping Doctor Simpson. And the trajectory of the story is, as Thida slowly joins the world again through her culture, her religion, her family, and her friendships, she is able to become less isolated, though she doesn’t regain her sight.

A: What did you learn about the U. S. involvement in Cambodia’s genocide?
CF: Well, I knew from the start that Nixon and Kissinger had carpet-bombed Cambodia because of the Vietnam War, and that that had really destroyed areas of Cambodia, creating large craters and holes that filled up during the rainy season and caused malaria, not to mention the destruction of infrastructure in Cambodia. [I knew] that Cambodia wanted very much to remain a neutral country during the Vietnam War but little by little got sucked into it. It was my belief that what happened, what I just described, created part of the imbalance that allowed the Khmer Rouge to come to power.

A: With whom did you collaborate on “Where Elephants Weep”
CF: The composer is Him Sophy and he created the fusion of traditional Cambodian orchestra and Cambodian rock and roll band, and combined traditional Cambodian musical forms with modern musical forms. And Ieng Sithol was the performer and he is a very well known actor/singer in Cambodia.

A: How was that experience different from writing about Cambodian genocide on your own?
CF: Well, music theater pieces that I’ve worked on—the one that I wrote before this was called “The Floating Box”--always involve much more time and much more specific and complex collaborations because you’re bringing in the team, it becomes twice as large or if not twice as large, much larger. Right away you are dealing with collaboration between music and words and that is something that requires a lot of time. You then have, of course, the orchestration of the piece that has to be implemented. And then, in this case it involved two different artistic teams, one which was American and one which was Cambodian so really the piece becomes a cultural exchange in itself.

A: What do you think it meant when the Cambodian government banned “Where Elephants Weep”CF: Well it was curious because the performances, which were sold out, there were seven [of them]. For the premiere of the performances in Pnomh Penh the government, the Deputy Prime Minister, in fact, gave a speech endorsing the project. He actually was the first person to speak before the premiere. And so, the fact that after it aired on TV it was banned had an absurd level to it to begin with, since they had endorsed it previously. And it is my belief that the reason that was given, that the Buddhist element was not portrayed with enough sacredness, was a pretext for censorship based on the portrayal of certain elements of Cambodian society.

A: What do you hope to achieve by artistically portraying the serious consequences of genocide?
CF: Some of the hope is the idea of never forgetting, of never again, which is a premise that happened after the holocaust—never again. We have a responsibility once we identify a genocide to do something about it, but because of geopolitical and economic reasons, we do not do so and I am attempting to make change through my plays.

A: In the plays that you’ve written and the people you’ve talked to, have you found that the people who have lost so much have managed to still have hope, or are they still picking up the pieces of their lives?
CF: I know many, many survivors who are doing some extraordinary work who are not only hopeful, but deeply inspiring people. The generations, the younger generations, are extremely talented and industrious and proud of their culture.

Cambodia woos foreigners to help lift property sector

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By Elaine Moore in Phnom Penh

Published: April 3 2010

Cambodia is trying to encourage international investment by relaxing laws on property ownership by foreigners in an attempt to lift prices that have fallen as much as 40 per cent in the wake of the global recession.

Cambodia's draft law - which echoes an Indonesian move this week to review foreign ownership rules - is under discussion at the National Assembly and would allow non-nationals to fully own residential apartments on the first floor and above for the first time.

The first-floor rule skirts sensitive political and legal issues. Land and property ownership is particularly sensitive in Cambodia, where all land deeds were destroyed by the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s . Proprietary disputes are frequent as a result.

While resorts such as Phuket and Bali remain the most popular destinations for foreigners looking to purchase a holiday home in south-east Asia, Cambodia's lawmakers hope deregulation will lead to increased foreign investment in the country and help to pick the Cambodian property market out of the doldrums.

Unrestricted ownership of property by foreigners is uncommon in south-east Asia. In Thailand foreigners are permitted to own a condominium as long as the total foreign ownership of the building does not exceed 49 per cent.

However, investors interested in property in Laos and Vietnam can only purchase leases. In Cambodia, foreigners can lease property or set up a purchasing landholding company with a national citizen in which they have a minority shareholding.

However, with property prices under pressure across Asia, a number of countries are considering liberalising property laws. In November 2009, Vietnam clarified its foreign investment laws, which allow non-residents to lease apartments for up to 50 years.

Edwin Vanderbruggen, director of tax advisory firm DFDL Mekong, said the changes to Cambodia's property law would make it an attractive prospect in the region.

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Thailand government warns protesters of strong action

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Saturday 3rd April, 2010

The Thai government Saturday told tens of thousands of protesters to leave a posh Bangkok shopping district by 9 p.m. or they would impose the draconian Internal Security Act.

'By 9 we will tell them our conditions,' government spokesman Panitan Wattanayakorn said. 'If they refuse to leave there leaders will be prosecuted and subject to arrest for one year under the Internal Security Act.'

The United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), also called the red shirts for their favoured colour of apparel, Saturday morning blocked off Ratchaprasong Road, a popular shopping area and hub for luxury hotels in Bangkok, to bring their protest to the rich centre of the capital.

'This is a good strategy,' UDD co-leader Veera Musigapong said. 'We will stay here without limit until the government dissolves parliament.'

The demonstration prompted dozens of departments stores and restaurants to close their doors to the public.

Thai Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij estimated that 10 billion baht ($312.5 million) would be lost in forfeiting sales and hotel room rents if the protest was allowed to continue in the Ratchaprasong district for more than a week.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva charged that the protest, which has been underway for almost three weeks, had gone too far.

'They have inconvenienced the people of Bangkok beyond what the law allows,' Abhisit said.

The UDD has been holding demonstrations in Bangkok since March 12 and has given Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva until April 12 to dissolve parliament.

To date both the protesters and authorities have avoided the use of violence, but as the demonstration drags on a showdown seems likely.

'If Abhisit makes the wrong decision, everything could go from bad to worse,' UDD co-leader Weng Tojirakarn warned. 'It could maybe lead to civil war.'

The red shirts have accused Abhisit of being a puppet of the 'ammat', or bureaucratic elite, while painting themselves as the champions of the poor and downtrodden, fighting to build a more equitable Thai society.

Efforts to end the conflict via negotiations between Abhisit and the red shirt leaders have failed. While Abhisit has vowed to dissolve parliament within nine months, the UDD has insisted that he do so by April 12, before the Thai traditional new year festival begins.

Abhisit has said he needs nine months to fix the economy, amend the constitution's election laws and pass the budget. September 30 marks the end of Thailand's fiscal year when a new budget must be passed and a politically vital military reshuffle is approved.

Controlling the appointment of the next army commander-in-chief is deemed a crucial step for the stability of the next elected government.

The current head of the army, General Anupong Paochinda, is a strong supporter of Abhisit and played a role in the 2006 coup that overthrew the red shirts' political patron, fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thaksin, although living in exile since August 2008 to avoid a two-year jail sentence on an abuse of power conviction, is the de-facto leader of the Puea Thai opposition party and a key ringleader of the red shirts.

While prime minister from 2001 to 2006, he introduced a host of populist policies that improved the livelihoods of the poor and gave them a sense of empowerment and entitlement.

'When Thaksin was prime minister, the economy was good, but as soon as Abhisit came in, the economy turned lousy,' said Songbat, a 57-year-old saleswoman from Samut Prakan near Bangkok.

Abhisit came to power in December 2008 at the peak of the global economic crisis.

Although the protesters have shunned violence to date, there has been a spate of explosions and rocket grenade attacks concurrent with the demonstrations and directed at government and pro-government targets.

Experts Say Cooperation Needed on Mekong River Resources

The Mekong River runs more than 4,000 kilometers through six countries, vital to large populations for farming, fishing, drinking water, industry and power generation

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Daniel Schearf
Hua Hin, Thailand
03 April 2010

Experts meeting to discuss Mekong River resources have urged countries along the Southeast Asian river to improve cooperation in developing hydropower. Delegates also urged China to share more information about its dam building on the Mekong.

After two days of discussions, some 200 experts on water, environmental protection, and finance concluded there is not enough cooperation on developing the Mekong River's resources.

They urged Mekong countries to find a balanced approach to harness the river's economic benefits such as hydropower without causing too much social and environmental damage.

Ian Matthews, who is with the ANZ Bank in Singapore, says international standards for environmental protection are not being met on Mekong dam projects when international banks are not involved.

"As a country, as a government, there's a clear desire to have hydropower finance because it is an increasingly valuable resource in places like Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. If the international bank is not going to finance it, and they're not going to apply World Bank standards, IFC standards, to these projects, what you get are banks coming in who have much lower standards. Now, that will lead to much greater degradation of the environment, it will lead to the exclusion of other stakeholders," said Matthews.

China is the only country with hydropower dams on the Mekong and along with Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand is also planning to build more.

Until recently China provided very little information from its dams to its downstream neighbors.

And when the river flooded in 2008 and this year dropped to a 50-year low, many along the Mekong blamed China.

However, the Mekong River Commission, the organization coordinating cooperation on the river, says drought was the real culprit.

But the MRC says dams on the Mekong are likely to have adverse effects on fish migration and sediment flows.

Pham Thi Thanh Hang is coordinator of the MRC's Basin Development Program. She noted China was giving more data on its dams but said even more was needed.

"We have been benefiting from the sharing of informations, from the sharing of the borders used, with our Chinese colleagues, and comparing the model results. But, we will also benefit if further, extensive information will be shared. For example, on the operations of the dams. So that the countries down here can really plan and work according to a good understanding of what are the opportunities and risks," she said.

MRC member countries are Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Their prime ministers are to meet Monday to discuss for the first time efforts to improve transparency and cooperation on the river.

They will be joined by dialogue partners from upstream countries Burma and China.

Cambodians to mark new year with parade

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By Greg Mellen
Staff Writer
Posted: 04/02/2010

LONG BEACH - Cambodians will celebrate the Year of the Tiger on Sunday when the 6th annual Cambodian New Year Parade sets off down Anaheim Street.

This year, it would have been more fitting had it been the Year of the Hare, which is 2011, as the parade coincides with Easter Sunday.

This year the parade is being staged several weeks before the actual Cambodian New Year date and the annual New Year celebration is being held on Saturday, April 10, so as not to conflict with the 36th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on the weekend of April 17.

The actual three-day New Year celebration in Cambodia is April 14-16.

Such fine points should have little effect on the upbeat atmosphere of the popular event that has become a staple in the center of Cambodiatown.

Adding to the atmosphere for the first time will be a weekend carnival at the empty lot at the corner of Walnut Avenue and Anaheim Street, diagonally across from the parade terminus at MacArthur Park.

Last year, the post-parade celebration was held in the dusty lot, but this year it moves back to its traditional spot at the park.

Some of the proceeds from the carnival rides and activities will benefit the Cambodian Coordinating Council, which stages the parade and celebration.

John Edmond, chief of staff for Councilman Dee Andrews, in whose district the event is held, said the council office has worked closely with parade organizers to help them overcome the obstacles of previous years.
He said Andrews spoke with residents to allay concerns about the park celebration and the office brokered the deal with the carnival operator, who had a similar deal at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Peace and Unity Parade and Celebration.

"It's a new thing. We're trying to help them keep their costs under control," Edmond said.

Organizers ran into financial difficulties two years ago when they ran into unexpected costs for city services.

This year, however, all is well and Cam-CC spokesman Dan Durke said the parade has "a clean slate."

Otherwise the parade will be much like past years. Durke says there will be about 60 parade entries and VIPs.

There will also be three grand marshals: Sam Meas, from Massachusetts, who is running as a Republican for Congress against incumbent Niki Tsongas; Thary Ung, a local activist in a variety of social organizations and a member of the Citizen Police Complaint Commission; and Mary Blatz, the pastoral director at the Mt. Carmel Cambodian Catholic Church, who is active in a number of issues including deportation and health care as well as working in the community on the 2010 census count.

The post-parade celebration at the park will include entertainment until 4 p.m. The parade begins at 9:30 a.m. at Anaheim Street and Junipero Avenue.

The Cambodian New Year Celebration on April 10 at El Dorado Park Area III, 7550 E. Spring St., runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It features religious ceremonies, ethnic food, games and live entertainment including traditional Khmer performances and a band with popular Khmer singers.

Advance admission to the event is $23 per vehicle and $7 entrance fee to be paid to the city. The price is $10 more on the day of the event. Tickets will be available after March 8 at many Cambodian restaurants and businesses throughout Long Beach. See for a complete list of locations.

greg.mellen@presstelegram .com 562-499-1291

Thai activists oppose Cambodian PM presence at Mekong Summit in Thailand

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PHETCHABURI, April 3 (TNA) -- More than 200 Thai nationalist activists Saturday issued a statement opposing the participation of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in the Mekong River Commission (MRC) summit at Hua Hin, charging that he is an “enemy of Thailand."

Led by Veera Somkwamkid, the radical nationalist activists said in a statement to be given to the MRC secretariat that they opposed the planned visit by Mr Hun Sen who is scheduled to arrive at Hua Hin in Prachuap Khiri Khan province Saturday evening.

Prime Minister Hun Sen will attend the first two-day MRC summit which opens Sunday.

Charging Mr Hun Sen with being an “enemy of Thailand”, the activists denounced the Khmer government leader of having overly close relations with fugitive, ousted former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, interfering in the Thai judicial system as well as violating Thailand’s sovereignty by “trying to seize Thailand’s territory along the common border as well as those in the Gulf of Thailand” by sharing benefits from oil and natural gas deposits in the Gulf with Mr Thaksin.

The statement, submitted to Chavanont Intarakomalyasut, secretary to Thai foreign affairs minister, further said that the activists do not welcome "the enemy of Thailand who has no honour."

After reading the statement, Mr Veera charged that Cambodian military units had allegedly intruded into Thai territory by posting boundary markers deep inside this country and he and his colleagues would pull them out as activists would “not lose even an inch of territory to Cambodia."

Meanwhile, Thai Foreign Affairs Minister Kasit Piromya told journalists that the activists could express their displeasure against the Cambodian government leader as they wished, but that it would not be discussed during the MRC summit.

Mr Kasit said he would find other channel to inform the Phnom Penh government. (TNA)

Vietnam students lured into Cambodian gambling trap


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Police in the southern province of Binh Duong are investigating accusations that a criminal gang has been luring local youths to casinos in Cambodia to kidnap them and demand ransoms.

Bo Thi Thay, vice principal of Lai Uyen High School in Ben Cat District, said at least five ninth-graders and one eleventh-grader from the school had been trapped in Cambodia.

Binh Duong residents have reported to police that a group of locals had been visiting villages and luring students to join them on trips to Cambodian casinos, where the students were then lent large amounts of money to play.

After the students lose the money and can’t pay the debts, those who lured them to the casinos then call the youths’ parents and demand that they bring money to Cambodia to pay the debts before the kids are released, according to local reports.

One of the students, who wished to be known only as H.A.T, said he and three of his friends went to Cambodia by taxi on March 4 after they were invited by a man named Cu, who often boasted about his gambling trips to Cambodia.

According to the ninth-grader, they set out at around 9 p.m. on that day after lying to their families that they went out for a walk.

After nearly two hours they arrived at Moc Bai Border Gate in Tay Ninh Province, where a group of motorbike taxi drivers took them through a forest to Cambodia, he said.

Arriving in Cambodia, the students received “very warm welcome” with good meals and accommodation, he said, adding that a man later lent him US$2,000 and one of his friends $3,000, while the other two students just watched.

T. said at first he won over $1,500 but very soon he and his friend lost and ended up debtors.

Nguyen Van Thu, father of one of T’s friends, said on March 5 a man named Phong called him, informing that his son was indebted to a casino. Phong demanded that the father pay off the debt in return for his son’s freedom.

According to the father, everything seemed to be planned with the arrangement of motorbike taxi drivers who drove him and his younger brother to Cambodia with VND90 million ($4,735) to pay the debt.

“On the way, they [the drivers] were very careful. Sometimes they received calls from somebody, after which they would hide us and themselves for a few minutes before continuing,” Thu said, adding they also received warm welcomes with generous meals when they arrived in Cambodia.

T’s mother, Nguyen Thi Nhon, reported the same details.

According to Vuong Tan Phuong, head of Lai Uyen Commune police in Cat Lai, inspectors were investigating certain people suspected of luring students in into gambling traps. They were also cooperating with several local agencies to warn people of such tricks.

The Government Provides 950,000 Hectares of Concession Land to Companies – Friday, 2.4.2010

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Posted on 3 April 2010
The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 658

“Phnom Penh: The Minister of Land Management, Urban Planning, and Construction, Senior Minister Im Chhun Lim, announced that economic concession land of about 950,000 hectares countrywide has been provided to 85 companies.

“He said so during a parliament session in the morning of 1 April 2010 to respond to the questions and claims of an opposition party parliamentarian, Mr. Son Chhay, regarding the economic concession land that the government has provided to companies for investment.

“Senior Minister Im Chhun Lim said that the size of economic concession land that the government has provided to companies is not more than 2 million hectares, as had been claimed by Mr. Son Chhay. Recently, because some companies did not operate appropriately according to contracts, the government had decided to cancel the contracts of 41 companies, and the land involved was more than 300,000 hectares.

“This clarification was made after a parliamentarian from the Sam Rainsy Party, Mr. Son Chhay, had encouraged the government to immediately review the provision of concession land of more than 2 million hectares to check if they violate the land law.

“Mr. Son Chhay said in front of Senior Minister Im Chhun Lim during the parliament session that the powerful and the rich fence their concession land and keep it unused, but they cut the trees at those regions. Therefore, the government should force those companies to do farming soon, to create jobs for farmers who had lost their land, and to grow agro-industrial crops.

“Mr. Son Chhay added that if those companies do not grow anything, land taxes must be imposed on them in order to force these people who just keep their land to sell it later to foreigners [for profit] to do farming, or the land should be taken back from them to be distributed to our farmers among whom not less than 25% lost their land and have no land to do cultivation.

“The annual report from the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association [ADHOC] indicates that in 2009 there was no official report from the government showing the figures of land that the government had provided as economic concession land to private companies.

“But according to figures from partner organizations gathered by ADHOC, the government provided economic concession land of 1,208,185 hectares to private companies in 2009.

“The government can get income from the provision of economic concession land to private companies for national economic development through investment in agro-industry, and this helps to improve the living conditions of people who are employed for their labor.

“Nevertheless, ADHOC found that by 2009, no private companies that had received economic concession land operated justly, and they were involved in violent activities against citizens.

“Many negative impacts result from the licensing of economic concession land to private companies which heavily affect property, houses, cultivation land, and living conditions of the citizens at most of these economic concession areas countrywide.”

Rasmei Kampuchea, Vol.18, #5166, 2.4.2010
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Friday, 2 April 2010

The Floating Village of Cambodia

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April 3, 2010

Whether residents choose to dwell here, or they have no other choice but to live in this place, I am sure they still find life’s fufillment in this floating village. The community is complete with a department store, a Catholic church whose cross marker draws a contrast in the sky, a general market, a school, a basketball court, a barangay hall, fish and crocodile farms and others like a medical clinic or hospital or food stations and others which might have escaped my eyes. All these...floating. A concrete highway is alongside this floating village. There are vast unoccupied land areas that appear to extend up to the horizon, yet these people prefer to stay here. They have their own reasons. I saw a couple of foreign journalists recording scenes and people’s activities here.

The floating village, very unique in perspective, draws very many foreign tourists every day. Residents speak English, and foreign tourists understand them well despite errors in pronunciation, tenses, or agreement of subject and predicate. Majority of the Cambodians, even toktok drivers, (counterpart of our tricycle) sound to be efficient tour guides. They can identify places, markers, events and elaborate stories attached to them.

The floating village is a unique residential area. Children who are too small to paddle a banca use their hands to propel an aluminium basin which serves as their transportation. Even grown ups sell their ware in floating aluminium basins. Some bancas are converted into floating stores that go from house to house to sell many things. We can compare them to our sari-sari store.

You may wonder if basketballs do not go into the water during a hard bound or a miscalculated lay-up. Like the other open structures, the basketball court is caged with chicken wire. I said some prayers in the floating church. I also requested God to bless this unique residential village. There are peddlers on bancas including children who animate the snake movements coiled around their necks. They expect from tourists some tips for their art.
Aside from the tourism industry in this particular village, fishing is a good source of income and servings on the table. We passed by fishermen’s boats heavy with fish harvest. There were a few residents, some with their bigger children, who threw nets into the water.

I didn’t see plastic bags or wrappers or bottles floating in the river unlike our Pasig River. Along the highways, I saw a few plastic trash. Definitely less than what we have in this city. Does it mean that Cambodia can manage its trash better?

(Mrs Cecilia S. Angeles is a college professor and a regular lecturer at the FPPF Photography Workshop in Fort Santiago, Intramuros, Manila. Email: )

VN exhibits goods in Cambodia

April, 03 2010

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HA NOI — A fair showcasing high-quality Vietnamese products and exports will take place in Phnom Penh from today until Wednesday.

The fair, the ninth of its kind, is not only for trade promotion but also for Vietnamese businesses to showcase the quality of their products in the neighbouring market.

Business Studies and Assistance Centre director Vu Kim Hanh said this year's event was expected to attract a larger number of entries than previous years.

Various cultural, sports and social activities will be held on the occasion, such as art performances and the provision of free medical checks-up and medicines for the poor in Phnom Penh, Kandal and Takeo provinces, Hanh said.

As part of the fair, Cambodian distributors and agents will meet with producers and entrepreneurs from Viet Nam to seek partnerships and increase Vietnamese investments in the country.

Cambodian commercial counsellor in Viet Nam Yea Kim Hen said Viet Nam now had an opportunity as Cambodian consumers were shifting from Thai to Vietnamese products.

The market share for Vietnamese goods in Cambodia had climbed by 40 per cent over the past three years with aquatic products, construction steel and processed farm produce taking the lead.

Viet Nam's exports to Cambodia include instant noodles, plastics products, cigarettes, confectioneries, maize seed, home appliances, fruits and vegetables, construction steel, agricultural machines, fertilisers, pesticides, consumer goods and processed farm produce.

Viet Nam imports mainly garment materials, automobile spare parts and wood and rubber from Cambodia.

The two countries have set a target of US$2 billion in two-way trade this year. — VNS

From California to Cambodia, Fighting for Women

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Published: April 2, 2010

“When I hit San Francisco I knew that was my city. I began to shine. I let my hair grow. I looked like a hippie.”
Mu Sochua

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MAK PRAING, Cambodia

IT was at Berkeley in the 1970s that Mu Sochua, a shy teenager fleeing a war in Cambodia, learned the thrill of speaking her mind.

The daughter of a well-to-do merchant in Phnom Penh, she had been sent to the West at the age of 18 to study and to be safe from the fighting that later brought the brutal Khmer Rouge regime to power.

“When I hit San Francisco I knew that was my city,” said Ms. Mu Sochua, who is now 55. “I began to shine. I let my hair grow. I looked like a hippie.” She learned English, she said, by listening to the Beatles.

She earned a master’s degree in social work from Berkeley and transformed herself enthusiastically from a demure traditional Cambodian woman to one who knew her rights and was not shy about demanding them.

That is her problem today as the most prominent female member of Parliament, a leader of the country’s struggling political opposition and a campaigner for women’s rights in a society where women are still expected to walk and speak with a becoming deference.

“I have to be careful not to push things too far,” she said in a recent interview on the campaign trail here in southern Cambodia. “I have to be very, very careful about what I bring from the West, to promote women’s rights within the context of a society that is led by men,” she said.

“In the Cambodian context, it’s women’s lib. It’s feminism. It’s challenging the culture, challenging the men.”

She has this in mind as she campaigns through the villages of Kandal Province, a woman with power but a woman nonetheless. “I walk into a cafe and I have to think twice, how to be polite to the men,” she said. “I have to ask if I can enter. This is their turf.”

Ms. Mu Sochua is a member of a new generation of female leaders who are working their way into the political systems of countries across Asia and elsewhere, from local councils to national assemblies and cabinet positions.

A former minister of women’s affairs, she did as much as anybody to put women’s issues on the agenda of a nation emerging in the 1990s from decades of war and mass killings.

During six years as minister, Ms. Mu Sochua campaigned against child abuse, marital rape, violence against women, human trafficking and the exploitation of female workers. She helped draft the country’s Prevention of Domestic Violence law.

In part because of her work, she said, “People are aware about gender. It’s a new Cambodian word: ‘gen-de.’ People are aware that women have rights.”

But she lost her public platform in 2004 when she broke with the government and joined the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, and she is finding it as difficult now to promote her ideas as to gain attention as a candidate.

LIKE dissidents and opposition figures in many countries, she has found herself with a new burden, battling for her own rights. As she has risen in prominence, her political stands have become more of a political liability than her gender.

Most recently, she has been caught in a bizarre tit-for-tat exchange of defamation suits with the country’s domineering prime minister, Hun Sen, in which, to nobody’s surprise, she was the loser.

It started last April here in Kampot Province when Mr. Hun Sen referred to her with the phrase “cheung klang,” or “strong legs,” an insulting term for a woman in Cambodia.

She sued him for defamation; he stripped her of her parliamentary immunity and sued her back. Her suit was dismissed in the politically docile courts. On Aug. 4 she was convicted of defaming the prime minister and fined about $4,000, which she has refused to pay.

“Now I live with the uncertainty about whether I’m going to go to jail,” she said. “I’m not going to pay the fine. Paying the fine is saying to all Cambodian women, ‘What are you worth? A man can call you anything he wants and there is nothing you can do.’ ”

Ms. Mu Sochua was still in California when the Khmer Rouge seized power in Cambodia in 1975 and began mass killings that would take 1.7 million lives over the next four years.

“We were waiting, waiting, waiting to hear from our parents,” she said. “They told us they were on the last plane to Paris. They never made it.”

She headed for the Thai border, where refugees were fleeing by the tens of thousands, and it was there that she met her future husband, an American, when both were working in the refugee camps. They have lived together in Cambodia since 1989, where he works for the United Nations, and have three grown children living in the United States and Britain.

Ms. Mu Sochua makes frequent trips into the countryside around their villa, introducing herself to constituents who may never have seen her face. The next parliamentary election is still three years away, but she is already campaigning because she is almost entirely excluded from government-controlled newspapers and television.

She paused politely the other day at the stoop of a small open-fronted noodle shop in this riverside village, where men sat in the midday heat on red plastic chairs. She let her male assistants enter first.

She had succeeded in halting a sand-dredging project that was eroding riverbanks here, and she wanted the men to know that she had been working on their behalf. “I came here to inform you that you got a result from the government,” she told the men, showing them a legal document. “I want to inform you that you have a voice. If you see something wrong, you can stand up and speak about it.”

Asked afterward what it was like to have a woman fighting his battles, Mol Sa, 37, a fisherman, said, “She speaks up for us, so I don’t think she’s any different from a man. Maybe a different lady couldn’t do it, but she can do it because she is strong and not afraid.”

FEAR was a theme as Ms. Mu Sochua moved through the countryside here.

At another village where cracks were appearing in the sandy embankment, a widow named Pal Nas, 78, said the big dredging boats had scared her.

“I’m afraid that if I speak out they will come after me,” she said. “In the Khmer Rouge time they killed all the men. When night comes I don’t have a man to protect me. It’s more difficult if you are a woman alone.”

Mr. Hun Sen’s ruling party holds power through most of rural Cambodia, and Ms. Mu Sochua said party agents kept an eye on her as she campaigned. At one point a man on a motorbike took photographs of her and her companions with a mobile telephone, then drove away.

Later, as the sun began to set, a farmer greeted her warmly, calling out to his wife and climbing a tree to pick ripe guavas for her.

“I voted for you,” he said as he handed her the fruit. “But don’t tell anyone.”

.Korea recovers first body from missing navy crew

The body of Senior Chief Petty Officer Nam Ki-Hoon was retrieved from the mess hall of the sunken corvette Cheonan

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03 April 2010

 SEOUL — South Korean rescuers Saturday recovered the first body from the 46 missing crew of a warship that sank last week after a mystery explosion near North Korea's maritime border, Yonhap news agency said.

Divers retrieved the body of Senior Chief Petty Officer Nam Ki-Hoon from the mess hall of the sunken 1,200-tonne corvette Cheonan, Yonhap said, citing military officials.

The 88-metre (290-foot) warship went down on March 26 following an unexplained explosion which tore the vessel in two near the disputed maritime border with North Korea.

A total of 58 people were rescued from the bow section of the ship soon after the sinking but efforts to locate the missing 46 crew have been hampered by bad weather and strong currents.

A week after the disaster, officials are still searching for answers as to what caused the ship to break in two in the murky waters off Baengyeong Island in the Yellow Sea.

Defence ministry and presidential officials have dismissed media reports that the ship had been tracking North Korean submarines at the time.

Seoul has not cited any evidence the North was involved, although the defence minister has said a North Korean mine -- either drifting or deliberately placed -- might have caused the disaster.

South Korea's navy, backed by fishing boats and US military divers, has been struggling against high waves and strong currents to explore the hull sections of the sunken warship where many of the missing sailors could have been trapped.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman earlier said the divers had groped their way into the entrance of the mess hall of the ship but found it filled with water.

Other divers examined the captain's chamber and the communications centre in the broken wreckage of the sunken corvette.

Divers' attempts to go deeper inside the hull were being hampered by wires and debris detached from the ceiling and walls, he told AFP.

Officials suspect most of the missing are in the rear section of the hull.

No one has officially declared all the missing sailors to be dead, even though the air in any watertight compartments would likely have been used up.

The area where the warship went down has been crowded with ships and aircraft, which have been combing the area in a search and rescue operation.

A sailor died and eight were missing Saturday after their fishing boat, which had been helping in the search, collided with a freighter, maritime police said.

"We've captured the Taiyo 1, a Cambodian-registered 1,472-ton freighter, which was apparently involved in the collision," an Incheon Maritime Police spokesman told AFP.

The fishing boat was one of 10 trawlers helping with the search.

The disaster site is close to the disputed border which was the scene of deadly naval clashes between North and South Korea in 1999 and 2002 and of a firefight last November.