Saturday, 4 September 2010

Hun Sen realises the folly of supporting Thaksin

via Khmer NZ

Published: 4/09/2010

The Cambodian government announced on Aug 23 that former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra had resigned as a personal adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen and as economic adviser to the Cambodian government, citing personal difficulty in fulfilling the roles. This paved the way for Bangkok and Phnom Penh to restore normal diplomatic relations, noted Nongnuch Singhadecha writing for Matichon.

Even though some Thai critics remarked that it was a staged act by Thaksin and Hun Sen and that the Thai government should not put much faith in Hun Sen, Nongnuch believed it was in Cambodia's own interests to dismiss Thaksin as an adviser - otherwise Thailand would not resume normal diplomatic ties.

After Thaksin resigned from his positions, the two countries returned their ambassadors to their posts in Phnom Penh and Bangkok respectively. Diplomatic relations had been downgraded to the charge d'affaires level when Thaksin was appointed adviser in November last year.

Nongnuch speculated that Hun Sen finally realised that supporting Thaksin openly and wholeheartedly was not in the best interests of Cambodia. As time passed, Hun Sen realised that holding "junk stock" like Thaksin and hoping for a quick profit would not materialise and that Thaksin was static on a declining trend and could even plunge to a lower level than his IPO price as there was no positive news to support him. In the parlance of stock speculators, Thaksin stock has no future.

The situation after the red shirt unrest in April-May with the total defeat of the red shirts made it quite clear to Hun Sen that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who Hun Sen used to ridicule as unlikely to last long, could now consolidate his position and that it would be sometime before a new general election is held, and it is not even certain that Puea Thai will take power. The economic news in Thailand is also encouraging in that GDP growth for the first and second quarter was at the forefront in Asia, consolidating the position of Mr Abhisit even further.

Hun Sen's open support of Thaksin was the main obstacle to unifying Asean, which aims to become a common market and attract trade and investment to the region. The Asean market boasts more than 500 million people with Indonesia alone having 240 million. The region is a magnet for overseas investors from the West and Asian economic giants China, Japan and South Korea. Those countries do not want to see Asean countries mired in conflicts just because Hun Sen saw personal ties with Thaksin as more important than the interests of Cambodia and Asean.

Objectively speaking, Hun Sen committed a diplomatic misstep in taking on board a fugitive from justice. It soured relations between Thailand and Cambodia. Whatever angle one looks at it from, there was no need for Hun Sen to officially announce the appointment of Thaksin as his personal adviser and an economic adviser to the Cambodian government. If Hun Sen had been wiser, he would not have put all his bets on Thaksin and announced the enmity against Mr Abhisit. He could have quietly appointed Thaksin on an informal basis to help him and the Cambodian government. With no official announcement, Hun Sen could have avoided souring diplomatic relations with Thailand while hedging his bets if Puea Thai came to power.

On the Puea Thai Party front, Thaksin loyalists argue that he was not dismissed from his advisory position but resigned voluntarily to improve relations between the two neighbours. If that were the case, Nongnuch wondered why Thaksin had not thought about this when he accepted Hun Sen's invitation to become an adviser. If he had not really wanted to sour relations between the two countries, he should not have accepted the position in the first place. The fact he accepted meant he cannot deny that he wanted to show the Abhisit administration and its backers that he was still accepted as a respected international figure by Thailand's neighbour to the point where that country did not care much about good relations with Thailand.

Nongnuch said if Thaksin was really behind the violence aimed at toppling the Abhisit administration, as many believe, he should now know that using force and violence to fight the military establishment is futile, seeing the failure in April last year and April-May this year. Violence will not succeed as it is not the democratic way.

If the red shirts continue to agitate and obstruct ruling politicians who are doing their duty in the countryside, it will give even more legitimacy to Mr Abhisit's claim to continue to rule until his term expires late next year without having to be forced to dissolve the House early for a general election, citing that the situation is still not peaceful and that candidates may not be able to campaign freely throughout the country without facing obstruction.

The resounding defeat of Puea Thai in Bangkok's local elections on Sunday, Aug 29, even though the Democrat Party did not sweep all seats, means that Bangkokians do not think too much of the red shirts torching Bangkok in May.

Puea Thai claimed only 42% of eligible voters bothered to come out to vote and thus this election did not reflect the true feeling of Bangkok voters. Nongnuch begged to differ, arguing that with the two main parties fighting tooth and nail to win over Bangkok voters, it would be unthinkable that the true, die-hard red shirt supporters would sit tight and let the Democrat supporters have their day as the memory of the red shirt defeat in May was still fresh in their minds.

'Harvest time' for MP candidates

The market for buying MPs is open. There has been constant news of MPs defecting to other parties since the dispersal of the red shirts in May. Does it portend a dissolution of the House leading to a new general election, a Post Today writer asked.

The movement of MPs defecting to other parties has occurred during two important political sessions: the government censure debate in the House of Representatives and the 2011 budget bill debate.

The no-confidence debate resulted in a cabinet reshuffle after most Puea Pandin Party MPs abstained from voting for Bhumjaithai ministers. This forced Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to rethink the cabinet, kicking Puea Pandin ministers out of the government. However, former Puea Pandin secretary-general Chaiyos Jiramethakorn was able to persuade some fellow Puea Pandin MPs to stick with the coalition government by defecting to Bhumjaithai. He was rewarded with the post of deputy education minister in the reshuffle.

Yet, all was not well with the opposition Puea Thai Party when some MPs, including list MP Somboon Wanchaithanawong and Nakhon Nayok MP Wutichai Kittithanesuan, decided to jump ship for Bhumjaithai while Sakon Nakhon MP Chumphol Boonyai and Saraburi MP Porapol Adireksarn defected even before the censure debate.

Meanwhile, during the 2011 budget debate, there was constant news about MPs defecting. It was believed the budget bill would allocate many more funds to certain constituencies that belong to the government camp than to the opposition. Some Puea Thai MPs would rather get money into their own turf so as to prop up their popularity. For this reason, they would rather defect to a party that could siphon a lot of funds to please the local voters. The Bhumjaithai Party is a favoured destination as the party controls three important ministries: Transport, Commerce and Interior.

When debate on the budget bill was over, Puea Thai suffered three more defections to Bhumjaithai: Roi Et MP Piyarat Muensaen, followed by Natee Suthinpueak (commonly known as movie star Krung Srivilai) and Chiraphan Limsakulsiriwat, both Samut Prakan MPs.

Bhumjaithai is not the only party encouraging MPs to make a move. Former premier Banharn Silpa-archa's Chart Thai Pattana Party has also made an alliance with the "three Ps" of Puea Pandin (Phinit, Phairoj, Precha) who together command 12-14 Puea Pandin MPs. Time will tell whether Puea Pandin Party will merge with Chart Thai Pattana to contest the coming general election or remain a loose political alliance.

The Democrat Party is the odd one out in not seeming to be interested in the MP market. But for now, the only coalition party that is attracting MPs from other parties is Bhumjaithai.

The question is, what makes Bhumjaithai so attractive that some Puea Pandin and Puea Thai MPs have decided to jump ship? The Post Today writer conjectured that Bhumjaithai was in a good position to court electoral votes as the party controls the important Interior, Transport and Commerce ministries, which could easily influence local politics in various areas.

The second factor is the party's financiers are quite strong, as strong as Puea Thai. Chavarat Charnvirakul of the SinoThai group and Vichai Raksri-aksorn of the King Power group are two big shots who could rival former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra himself.

The last factor is de facto leader Newin Chidchob, who is regarded as a loyal, generous and dependable politician who never abandons his fellow MPs.

However, the reasons for some Puea Thai MPs defecting are not solely to do with the appeal of Bhumjaithai and its de facto leader Newin. Internal conflicts within Puea Thai are playing an important role. During the April-May disturbances, some MPs in Puea Thai did not feel at ease that their boss had allowed the red shirts to dictate the party's direction, creating confusion among local MPs who were asked to pay the expenses of some red shirts leaders to join the protests in Bangkok.

When the red shirts were defeated at the Ratchaprasong showdown in May, some Puea Thai MPs began to question the boss's strategy of employing the red shirts to topple the government, which is backed by the military, saying Thaksin and the red shirts were committing suicide for daring to fight the military. The result was always going to be obvious.

Some Puea Thai MPs were also miffed by the red shirt leaders in Bangkok as well as red shirts in the provinces who competed with local MPs in fielding candidates for local elections and Bangkok's by-election. They were dismayed that Puea Thai leaders let the red shirts grow so powerful that friction arose between Puea Thai MPs and the red shirts leaders.

Another factor was that some Puea Thai MPs saw the Abhisit government becoming stronger and stronger as Mr Abhisit managed to convince the coalition partners not to abandon the coalition government. They also dare not hope to see the Democrat Party dissolved by the Constitution Court as no one knows how long it will take to deliberate the party fund case now before the court and reach a verdict.

All these factors have prompted some Puea Thai MPs to abandon the party and seek shelter with Bhumjaithai as they think they will have a better future in terms of financial support and influence in contesting the coming election.

But this does not mean the defection of some Puea Thai MPs will lead to a general election soon if Mr Abhisit chooses to continue to administer the country for a while longer. However, nothing is certain in politics and a general election could be held at any time. For this reason, all the political parties are accumulating a war chest to fight the coming general election, concluded Post Today.

Cambodia considered a successful post-conflict country: PM Hun Sen

via Khmer NZ

Saturday, September 04, 2010

PHNOM PENH, Sep. 4, 2010 (Xinhua News Agency) -- Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen said Saturday that his country is considered as a "successful post-conflict country".

Giving speech at the forum on 2010 Asialink Conversations- Cambodia, Hun Sen said "Cambodia can be considered as a successful post-conflict country," saying the reforms and economic growth plus other development schemes and plans are on right track.

He said, after the post conflict that only ended in late 1990s, and with the support from development partners and the private sector, Cambodia has made giant strides in development in the last decade.

With the return of full peace in 1998, a sense of confidence and pride pervades the country, a feeling that bodes well for birth prospects for economic growth and job creation and a concrete vision of a promising future.

"Since then, the Cambodian economy has undergone a dramatic and rapid transformation. Economic growth during 1999-2003 averaged 8. 8 percent, and although official development assistance(ODA) continued to finance growth, foreign direct investment (FDI) particularly investments in garment and tourism, was key to promoting growth," he said.

Hun Sen said that with the implementation during the last 5 years of the public financial management reform program, government revenue more than doubled from 2,220 billion riels (553 million U.S. dollars) in 2004 to 4,928 billion riels (1.2 billion U.S. dollars in 2009.

In 2009, the gross domestic product experienced a positive growth, though very small, as agriculture and services sector maintained robust growth, he added.

On the per capita income, Hun Sen said since 1993, Cambodia's gross domestic product (GDP) increased fourfold from 2.4 billion U. S. dollars in 1993 to 10.3 billion U.S. dollars in 2008, and during this period, per capita income has more than tripled from 229 U.S. dollars to 739 U.S. dollars.

The prime minister also expressed his optimism over the Asia's growth despite global economic recovery remains fragile.

"Although the global recovery remains fragile, we can see the positive signs of the recovery of the world economy," he said, adding "We expect growth in Asia excluding Japan in 2010 to be around 7 percent."

Experience: I tracked down a man who killed 14,000 people

via Khmer NZ

'I knew immediately who he was. It was the same face I'd been carrying around with me for over a decade'

Nic Dunlop
The Guardian, Saturday 4 September 2010

'He told me he was a ­humanitarian aid worker and lay-preacher.' Photograph: Joel Redman for the Guardian

As a child growing up in London, I was blissfully unaware of other worlds less safe and secure than my own. That all changed when I was about 12. Leafing through National Geographic, I started reading a feature about some ancient ruins in Cambodia that looked very beautiful. But what really caught my attention was an article next to it about the country waking up from the nightmare of the Khmer Rouge.

Seeing those images of victims' skulls and mass graves was a defining moment for me. I couldn't believe there were countries where crimes such as this could happen – what really terrified me was finding out that members of the Khmer Rouge still hadn't been brought to justice. I started to read up about the country; how Pol Pot's regime had wanted an agrarian revolution where life would be very simple, which had instead resulted in horror and bloodshed. Nearly 2 million people had been killed outright or died as a result of torture, overwork or starvation in the latter half of the 1970s.

More than half a decade later, still fascinated, I went to art school, but dropped out after a year, realising there was only one thing I wanted to do – to travel to Cambodia to make sense of it myself.

On my second day in the country, I made a beeline for a memorial site at Tuol Sleng prison, an interrogation centre where confessions were forced out of alleged spies and saboteurs. The man in charge, Comrade Duch, had personally overseen the torture and execution of at least 14,000 people. It was Duch's portrait in the prison that fuelled my interest in tracking him down. I thought if there was anyone who could explain how these atrocities had come about, it was him.

Over the next few years, I worked in Bangkok as a photographer, making trips back to Cambodia, always carrying a photo of Duch to show defected Khmer Rouge members. I never believed I'd find him. But in 1999 I made a breakthrough. By chance, on another assignment, I travelled to a nearby Khmer Rouge area that had just opened up. I was wandering around when a small, wiry man in an African Refugee Committee T-shirt came and introduced himself as Hang Pin.

I knew immediately who he really was. It was the same face I'd been carrying around with me for more than a decade. Duch was a little bit greyer, but there was no doubt in my mind. We had a fairly banal conversation – he was interested in my camera, and I tried to appear as nonchalant as I could. This was no ranting, cold-eyed madman; he was garrulous, friendly, disarming. He told me he was a humanitarian aid worker and lay-preacher, converting Cambodians to Christianity. Surreptitiously I took a photograph, but it didn't seem the right time to confront him. I wondered if he might still be a killer.

Later, I returned to the village with Nate Thayer – the last western journalist to have interviewed Pol Pot. We talked to Duch about land mines and his planned church, but he dodged any leading questions about his past. It was only when he asked to see Nate's business card that we realised Duch had suspicions of his own.

"Nic," he said, "I believe your friend has interviewed Pol Pot."

"That's right," I said.

Duch gave a deep sigh: "I believe it is God's will you are here," he said. It was almost as if he'd always expected this day to come.

After that he talked openly about what had happened and said he was very sorry. I'd spent 10 years pursuing a "monster", and found instead a wizened old man who appeared to be contrite and displaying humanity. We showed him confessions from Tuol Sleng prisoners, and he identified his handwriting on them.

A few days later, Duch simply gave himself up to the Cambodian authorities, but it took another decade for him to be tried through a United Nations-backed tribunal. Found guilty of crimes against humanity, he faces 35 years in jail.

My part in this process has been very small; finding him was an accident, and the chain of events since has had nothing to do with me. It wasn't my plan to bring him to justice; I simply wanted to see for myself how this man – a former mathematician and teacher – had become one of the most notorious mass murderers of the 20th century.

• As told to Chris Broughton.

Do you have an experience to share? Email

Cambodian vultures defying extinction

via Khmer NZ

Published: Sept. 3, 2010

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, Sept. 3 (UPI) -- Vultures in Cambodia are increasing in number, making it the only country in Asia with an increasing population of the scavengers, researchers say.

A record numbers of vultures have been counted in Cambodia's census, with 296 birds of three species found across the Northern and Eastern Plains of Cambodia by the Cambodia Vulture Conservation Project, a partnership of conservationists led by the Wildlife Conservation Society of London, a society release said.

While vultures across Asia teeter on the brink of extinction in most countries, all three of Cambodia's endangered vulture species are either stable or growing in numbers, the WCS says.

The greatest threat to Asia's vultures is the veterinary drug diclofenac, widely used as an anti-inflammatory drug for cattle in South Asia.

The drug is toxic to vultures, causing death in birds that feed on cattle carcasses, the WCS says.

Vulture conservation efforts in Cambodia are the result of a number of activities promoted by the Cambodia Vulture Conservation Project, including paying villagers a small fee for protecting vulture nests and the establishment of "vulture restaurant" feeding stations.

"By protecting nests and supplementing food supplies, we are saving some of the world's largest and most charismatic birds," Hugo Rainey, WCS technical adviser to the Cambodia Vulture Conservation Project, said. "Nowhere else in Asia do vultures have such a promising future."

Special Reports : Cambodian army has live firing exercise

via Khmer NZ

Published: Sept. 3, 2010

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, Sept. 3 (UPI) -- The Cambodian army is to shortly begin a live-fire exercise in Phnom Srouch district of Kampong Speu province.

Concerned about the possibility of inadvertent civilian casualties, the commander in chief of the Cambodian armed forces, Tea Banh, appealed to the provincial governor and local authorities in Phnom Srouch district to disseminate information among the people living near the area of the training exercise, Rasmei Kampuchea newspaper reported Friday.

Cambodian deputy commander in chief and the Supreme Command's training department commander also appealed to local authorities to inform the citizenry during a recent inspection of the exercise's location.

The Cambodian armed forces are becoming increasingly armed with more sophisticated weaponry. At another live-fire exercise last January, troops deployed BM-21 multiple rocket launchers along with T55 and T54 tanks.

For most Cambodians of more immediate concern are the more than 2 million land mines estimated to be still littering the countryside after nearly three decades of strife.

Abhisit, Hun Sen on course for early talks over Preah Vihear

via Khmer NZ

Published: 4/09/2010

The first top-level meeting on the Preah Vihear dispute between Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen is likely to take place earlier than expected in New York rather than in Brussels, diplomatic sources told the Bangkok Post yesterday.

Initially, Hun Sen had not planned to attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York this year.

He is now likely to be in New York after US President Barack Obama officially invited all Asean leaders to the second US-Asean summit set for Sept 24.

The summit is expected to last two hours - half an hour longer than the first US-Asean summit held in Singapore in November last year.

The possibility of a high-level meeting between the leaders in Brussels was first revealed by Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan after his visit to Phnom Penh where he met Hun Sen and Foreign Minister Hor Nam Hong on Aug 16.

Mr Surin spent more than two hours with Hun Sen but did not reveal details of their meeting.

Two days later the leaders confirmed their willingness to meet in Brussels.

When Phnom Penh announced on Aug 23 that former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra had resigned as Cambodia's economic adviser, Thailand decided to send its ambassador Prasas Prasasvinitchai back to Phnom Penh.

Phnom Penh then announced its ambassador, You Aye, would return to Bangkok.

The thawing of relations is the result of discussions at various levels resulting in Hun Sen agreeing not only to meet Mr Abhisit but also agreeing to discuss a resolution to Preah Vihear based on a framework proposed by intermediaries.

Hun Sen revealed to diplomatic sources in Phnom Penh that he had been silent on the Preah Vihear dispute for quite a while but was prompted to speak out only after Mr Abhisit appeared on a national televised programme with members of the Thai Patriots network led by the People's Alliance for Democracy in August.

The sources quoted Hun Sen as saying he was confused because on the one hand the Thai prime minister said he would explain the Thai position to the international community but wanted the dispute to be resolved bilaterally.

Hun Sen reacted strongly also because Mr Abhisit said that Thailand would apply diplomatic and military measures in dealing with Cambodia's encroaching upon the disputed area surrounding the Preah Vihear temple.

Hun Sen is very familiar with all the players on the Thai side but he questions why the memorandums of understanding (MoU) which have been agreed upon by both countries on the issue have not yet moved forward.

The Cambodian leader said there was a perception that Thailand is not really committed or that it cannot deliver, and that a resolution was also difficult because Preah Vihear had become a "hostage of Thai politics".

Hun Sen understood, however, that his Thai counterpart was under considerable pressure and had to balance the various forces in Thailand over the temple dispute, the sources said.

Despite these doubts and questions, Thailand and Cambodia continue to keep the channel of communications open through their respective defence ministers.

This is to ensure that the border dispute does not get out of hand, sources in both capitals said.

In an attempt to help defuse the situation, the point was made to Hun Sen that the hundreds of kilometres of border between the two countries had not been surveyed, nor was there clear demarcation. Each attempt to resolve the boundary issue failed because of a lack of trust.

The sources said it was proposed to Hun Sen that one way forward was for both leaders to meet when it was convenient.

It was suggested there were several opportunities to meet, namely at the Asia-Europe summit in Brussels in early October, the Asean summit in Hanoi at the end of October, the Asian Games in Gaungzhao in November, or at the Ayeyarwady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (Acmecs) in Cambodia in November.

There were a number of points proposed which would form the framework of discussions between both leaders when they meet, including:

- That both sides accept the fundamental fact that there is no defined border and that both sides commit to defining that border.

- That both sides exercise maximum restraint with regards to troop movements and avoid any movement that could lead to miscalculations or act in any way that would increase pressure at the border.

- To allow technical teams to find a process of moving forward - this should occur "when it is convenient" along the lines agreed in the MoU. By agreeing to this, a cooling down process would commence.

- Both sides should agree to an exchange of ambassadors.

- Given the political nature of the dispute which has heightened emotions on both sides, people-to-people exchanges should be encouraged.

Hun Sen had no difficulty in accepting the points and was willing to meet Mr Abhisit to discuss them, the sources in Phnom Penh said.

On the thorny issue of former prime minister Thaksin's role as economic adviser - an issue which prompted Thailand to withdraw its ambassador - Hun Sen said "he could not abandon Thaksin".

However it was made clear to Hun Sen that Thaksin's appointment via royal proclamation was very difficult for the Thai side to accept, especially when the former prime minister is viewed as a convicted fugitive.

Since his appointment as economic adviser, Thaksin has not visited Cambodia nor been active in his advisory role.

The sources in Phnom Penh quoted Hun Sen as saying that during the political turmoil in Thailand in May, Thaksin had asked to visit Cambodia but Hun Sen asked him not to come.

It is also widely known in Phnom Penh that Cambodian instructions were issued prohibiting troop movements along the border during the May riots as it could be misconstrued, and that Cambodians in Thailand should not be involved in the red shirt protests.

Apart from agreeing to meet Mr Abhisit and to discuss the four points, Hun Sen said he had nothing personal against the Thai leader and asked intermediaries to convey his "best wishes".

Hun Sen's agreement to meet Mr Abhisit and the possible points of discussion were conveyed to the Thai prime minister indirectly through intermediaries, the sources in both capitals said.

Cambodian Baptists seek partnerships

via Khmer NZ

Posted on Sep 3, 2010 | by Mark Kelly

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--God has blessed Baptist work in Cambodia -- with 304 churches started since 1993 -- but partnership is needed for the work to move forward, the president of Cambodia's Baptist Union said.

Nivath Nhem, who was re-elected in 2010 for a second five-year term as president of the Cambodia Baptist Union, traveled to the United States in August to explore prospects for church-to-church partnerships that would help advance a visionary plan to start 1,621 new congregations in next five years. He was hosted by Albert W. Wardin Jr., emeritus professor of history at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.

"We want to see every person in Cambodia accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord," Nhem told Baptist Press in a mid-August interview. "The goal of the Cambodia Baptist Union is to reach Cambodia with the Gospel of Jesus Christ by planting churches throughout Cambodia."

Nhem led Cambodia's congregations to set a goal of reaching all 13,871 villages in the country and has challenged each church to reach that goal by starting a new church each year. He also has led them to establish goals of expanding the union's program of pastor training and starting general education schools for the nation's children.

"We need partners if the work is going to move forward," Nhem said. "We know these goals are inspiration from the Lord. There is openness to the Gospel in our country right now. We cannot delay because the door may close at any time. We must take advantage of this openness, but we need partners to do that."

Like neighboring Vietnam and Laos, Cambodia has a communist government and is traditionally Buddhist, but right now Cambodia is the country that is more open, Nhem said.

"Cambodia is more soft than hard," Nhem said. "The people are more open to the Gospel. There are some restrictions on our work, but the Baptist union is recognized by the government."

Thavy Nhem, a believer who is a member of Cambodia's parliament, helped start Baptist work in the country and still is an adviser to the Baptist union, which was organized in 1995. The union has had a strong emphasis on church planting since its inception, and now has churches in 17 provinces of the country's 24 provinces. Its 304 congregations have 13,238 members, and 50 of them have permanent facilities. The union operates pastor training schools in the capital, Phnom Penh, and two provinces, and wants to expand the training to five provinces in the next five years.

"We want to see the church grow and be established all over Cambodia. We want to see believers and churches be a blessing for Cambodia," Nhem said. "Our mission is for Cambodia to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God, that He is salvation when people accept Him as their Lord and Savior.

"If anyone feels led by the Spirit of God," Nhem said, "we invite them to partner with us."

In the meantime, Nhem requested prayer for the Baptist union's plans in starting churches and schools, and that they would be able to establish the physical facilities needed for progress. He also requested prayer for adequate finances and for the Lord to lead congregations into five-year church-to-church partnerships.

Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press. Nivath Nhem can be contacted by e-mail at The Cambodia Baptist Union on the Internet at

Unregistered Cambodian stuck in immigration limbo

via Khmer NZ

By Bae Ji-sook

Sok Senghorth

An unregistered Cambodian worker, diagnosed with an intractable disease while working here, is stuck in limbo as he is unable to benefit from the state health insurance he desperately needs to cover the huge cost of an operation.

Doctors and civic activists in the southern port city of Busan are making efforts to help Sok Senghorth, 29, get a bone marrow transplant to fight the disease.

Kosin University Gospel Hospital said Sok was diagnosed with aplastic anemia in May. According to the Mayo Clinic’s definition, aplastic anemia is a condition that occurs when a person’s body stops producing enough new blood cells. The disease requires a bone marrow transplant in the most serious cases.

Sok needs to undergo this operation, but the cost could reach more than 100 million won ($83,000) without the benefit of the state health insurance policy. Even though doctors and civic groups are donating blood and money, it is not enough.

Sok arrived in Korea in 2006 as a factory worker in Chilgok, North Gyeongsang Province, but soon left the workplace and wandered from one factory after another as an illegal alien.

While he was working more than 10 hours a day at an aluminum plant, he visited a free clinic for foreign workers and was informed of his illness. Because his stay in Korea is illegal, Sok was not allowed treatment at a domestic hospital or any welfare benefits.

Prof. Oh Moo-young of Inje University Medical Center sought to help him and requested Busan Immigration Center to issue him a G1 visa, which allows medical treatment here.

The Ministry of Justice canceled the millions of won in fines for his illegal stay, while Green Doctors, a Busan-based international medical charity group and the Gospel Hospital’s Dr. Kim Yang-soo arranged for treatment.

The 100 million won covers preparation for the surgery and post-surgical treatment, though Green Doctors said they would need extra funds to fly Sok’s twin sister over as a bone marrow donor.

The hospital said surgeons would perform the operation pro bono surgery if the National Health Insurance Corp. (NHIC) covered the basic fee. However, a G1 visa does not allow a foreigner to subscribe to the state health insurance.

The Busan medical charity organizers gathered Tuesday to draw out a plan for Sok but the immigration authorities and the NHIC reiterated that Sok doesn’t qualify for a visa revision nor subscribe to the insurance as he is unemployed, according Prof. Oh.

“He needs an operation. But we cannot perform it as the costs are too much without the insurance coverage,” Oh told The Korea Times. “With his G1 visa, he cannot subscribe to the health insurance policy, though he needs it badly.”

Oh said the immigration office and NHIC officials are also trying to help him but under current regulations, he is not entitled to insurance.

“So, we are contacting some lawmakers to clear the administrative hurdle. But they also seem to be busy with opening the new National Assembly session,” Oh said.

Oh said if Sok was allowed to subscribe to the insurance, the cost would go down to about 15 million won, and the hospital would treat him on the presumption that payment would be settled after treatment.

“We need more money and more attention. It will be a global embarrassment to turn against a sick person just because he is an unregistered patient,” he said.

An immigration official said, “We will make sure Sok does not get deported during his treatment. We will also see what we can do.”

The Shinpyungro Church, which Sok goes to every Sunday, has decided to pay for Sok’s sibling to come to Korea.

Civic group members and churchgoers are holding a nationwide campaign to help him. For more information, call (051) 607-0135.

From the Killing Fields to the Tea Party

A Cambodian refugee and self-described Reagan Republican runs for Congress in the Bay State.

Michael C. Moynihan | September 3, 2010

via Khmer Nz

Lowell, Mass.—Sam Meas isn't your typical congressional candidate. For one thing, the Cambodian refugee doesn't know his birthday.

"I tell people I am 38 years old—plus or minus two years." In 1973, Meas's father was sent to be "re-educated" by the Khmer Rouge and was never heard from again. During the chaos following the regime's collapse in 1979, Meas was separated from his mother. He never saw her again. Marching night and day toward the Thai border with a cousin, Meas recalls stepping over corpses and watching bloated bodies float down jungle waterways.

After years in a Thai refugee camp, in 1986 Meas was brought to the United States by the aid organization Catholic Charities. He spent months watching General Hospital and All My Children to improve his vocabulary. Twenty-five years later—after stints as a shoe-shine boy, a grocery-bagger, and a financial adviser—Meas is learning the craft of politics. "Health care should not be in the realm of government," he tells me in carefully accented English at a Cambodian restaurant where he is something of a celebrity. America is "on a slow path towards socialism." And "we need to get government out of managing people's lives."

Meas, who describes this country as "heaven on Earth," is running in Massachusetts' fifth district, currently represented by Democrat Niki Tsongas. Of the four Republicans competing to run against her, only Meas and Jon Golnik have garnered significant media attention. Golnik, a moderate Republican from Carlisle whose media team includes veterans of Sen. Scott Brown's campaign, is widely expected to prevail in the Sept. 14 primary. Meas is hobbled by an almost total absence of campaign money, an inexperienced campaign staff, and the difficulty of being a self-described "social conservative" in a liberal state.

And yet Meas, who calls himself the "new face of the Republican party," has attracted considerable attention from local Republican activists. Though he rejects the "tea party candidate" label, Meas acknowledges sharing many of the "values and ideas" of the insurgent movement, pointing out that he has spoken at tea party events in the state. "I've never met any tea party activists who have fangs or horns," he jokes. Instead, he argues, they are merely "the silent majority of Americans" for whom government has grown too large.

Meas prefers to identify as a Reagan Republican. Unlike the countless other Reagan votaries in the party, Meas offers a convincing claim that the 40th president was quite literally his personal savior. "I owe my life to him; he allowed me to come here and he fought Communism," he says.

Like most in the grass-roots movement, Meas rails against the health-care bill and illegal immigration, and says we need to slash personal and corporate tax rates. But he can also drift into the hyperbolic, declaring that "having lived under a totalitarian regime . . . I know what it is like to have lost all of your freedom"—stopping just short of comparing the Obama administration's policies to those of the Khmer Rouge.

Meas possesses a pronounced libertarian streak. At a recent debate, he struck a rare discordant note when he echoed the heterodox Republican Rep. Ron Paul in arguing that the Federal Reserve needs to be audited, then eliminated. Later in the same debate he waved a copy of the Constitution, declaring it the only document upon which all laws need be judged.

According to local election watchers, Meas is unlikely to emerge victorious: Golnik has more money and better name recognition. But the battle for Tsongas's seat is heating up. "In the absence of polling," says David Paleologos, a pollster at Suffolk University in Boston, "the district looks competitive if independent candidates don't draw significant numbers of votes from the Republicans."

He points out that Tsongas, despite her name recognition (she is the widow of the late Sen. Paul Tsongas), won her seat in a surprisingly tight race against an unknown Republican challenger. Massachusetts Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Nassour argues that Tsongas "faces an uphill battle." In 2009, Scott Brown won the district handily. This year, just how disaffected voters are with the status quo is anyone's guess.

Both Meas and Golnik are focusing on jobs. The cities of Lawrence and Lowell have unemployment numbers—17 percent and 11.8 percent, respectively—that are significantly higher than the national average. Meas is relying on the votes of Lowell's 20,000 Cambodian-Americans. His campaign is furiously attempting to un-enroll those currently registered as Democrats, since in Massachusetts voting in the Republican primary is open only to independents and registered Republicans.

Meas sighs deeply when conversation drifts back to his family destroyed by the Khmer Rouge. He says he forgets what his mother looks like and, if she is indeed still alive, would have no way of identifying her. "I'm hoping that after I win this congressional campaign, I'll be famous and I can go back to Cambodia and people will recognize me. Then we can do DNA tests."

But even if he doesn't, this longshot Republican vows to stay involved in politics. "I'm not doing this for glory," he stresses, "for there is no glory in politics." He is doing it, he says, out of a sense of duty.

Michael C. Moynihan is a senior editor at Reason magazine. This article originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal.

Cambodia's Human Dump

via Khmer NZ

The authorities have recognised that the dump’s comparatively central location means it could have value for development and as such has started expelling residents and banning scavenging. A new dump has been established further from the centre of Phnom Penh although there too the homeless and the desperate are barred from using it as a means of earning a living.

With their homes and income gone and a total absence of anything resembling a welfare system, the former residents have been left longing after the days when they were permitted to live and work on a filthy, smoldering pile of rubbish that for most of us would look like hell on earth.

Deputy Commerce Minister Alongkorn wins over his hosts in Phnom Penh with his humility - PM's Office Minister Ong-art builds on thawing relations with Cambodia with his own visit - Bhumjaithai de facto boss Newin is still working hard to keep Thaksin and the red shirts at bay

Published: 4/09/2010
via Khmer Nz

Made of the right diplomatic stuff

Alongkorn: Show-stealer takes act abroad

Deputy Commerce Minister Alongkorn Ponlaboot has finally emerged from the shadows and is eager to show what he is made of.

Mr Alongkorn recently paid an official visit to Cambodia, the first cabinet minister to have done so since bilateral ties were soured by the diplomatic spat over the Preah Vihear temple.

He apparently was determined to turn the visit into an opportunity to showcase his vision as befits a deputy commerce minister.

Cambodia was added to a list of neighbouring countries he has called upon to boost trans-border trade. His visit to Burma was thought to have helped defuse the simmering row between border authorities that is blamed for the temporary suspension of commerce in the bustling Mae Sot-Myawaddy area.

With Cambodia, Mr Alongkorn envisions a revival of a special economic zone project in Poipet opposite Aranyapathet. In 2004, more than 2,500 rai of land was designated for the zone, but the political will to push the project through has been lacking.

After touring the site, however, Mr Alongkorn felt that an area in Ban Rai village of Aranyaprathet could be more suitable for development into an economic boom town.

From the border checkpoint, the deputy commerce minister travelled on to Phnom Penh for a meeting with media representatives from Thailand and Cambodia.

At the ''Minister Meets the Press'' meeting organised by the Asean reporters' federation, Mr Alongkorn lost no time in putting his exceptional verbal talents to good use.

Before dignitaries, including Cambodia's Deputy Prime Minister Nhek Bunchay, Information Minister Khieu Kanharith and Deputy Commerce Minister Kim Sitan, Mr Alongkorn won over his Cambodian hosts with his humility.

He told them he had stayed up late on his first night in Cambodia because he was practising hard to sign his name in Khmer. ''And now I've got the hang of it,'' he said.

He then proceeded to sign his name on a piece of paper, drawing visible admiration from those assembled.

Mr Alongkorn then went for the kill. Towards the end of his speech, he said: ''We may not be able to correct history, but we can build a better future together.'' The statement was met with a thunderous round of applause.

He insisted that the troubled friendship between the two countries be smoothened out. ''It's like pebbles in our shoes. We need to remove them so we can walk with ease,'' he said.

The persistent conflict was holding back progress for both countries. Tighter economic cooperation was the way forward.

Grabbing a bite of khanom tarn (small cakes made from tarn palm), the deputy minister commented that the Cambodian version of the sweet has a superior taste even to the khanom tarn produced in his native Phetchaburi, dubbed Thailand's capital of traditional sweets.

He compared the wholesome khanom tarn of Cambodia to that country's richness in resources and economic potential.

Mr Alongkorn's visit was given extensive coverage by the local media. The success of the visit has bolstered his reputation as a minister who steals the show.

Sweet talker sugars relations

PM's Office Minister Ong-art Klampaibul's recent visit to Cambodia was well timed as the rocky relations with Thailand's neighbour have been showing signs of improvement.

His trip followed hot on the heels of an official visit to Phnom Penh last week by Deputy Commerce Minister Alongkorn Ponlaboot. Mr Alongkorn's mission was to boost economic cooperation with Cambodia.

Ong-art: Good listener, humble manner

Both countries have reinstated their ambassadors to the respective capitals after ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra resigned from his post as economic adviser to the Cambodian prime minister, a position that had helped keep bilateral ties frosty.

Now that diplomatic ties are on the road to becoming normalised, both countries are putting their best foot forward in restoring relations.

Mr Ong-art, a seasoned politician and also former secretary to former foreign minister Surin Pitsuwan, is fully aware of the cautious diplomatic approach he must take with Phnom Penh.

He must work towards confidence-building so discussions can take place on sensitive topics, such as the long-standing dispute involving the Preah Vihear temple.

A good listener with a humble manner, Mr Ong-art has worked well in exercising his diplomatic leverage over the temple dispute and Cambodia's warm reception of Thaksin.

Mr Ong-art's reconciliatory tone in talks with Cambodia's veteran Information Minister Khieu Kanharith created a positive atmosphere at the meeting. The two agreed that improving communications between the two countries would benefit the citizens of both countries.

Both are former journalists, which might have helped to facilitate talks.

Mr Kanharith emphasised the need for reporters from both nations to maintain professionalism and avoid inciting people in their bilateral conflict.

The ministers were looking forward to the establishment of an information exchange system.

Concerts might also be held as a cultural exchange measure between the countries.

Mr Ong-art also plans to organise a ''Visit Thailand'' project, an orientation programme for Cambodian journalists to lift their understanding of this country.

Mr Ong-art was even granted an unexpected courtesy call on Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Departing totally from his usually unflattering tone when speaking about Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, Hun Sen conveyed his praise for Mr Abhisit through Mr Ong-art.

He said Mr Abhisit is a well educated and smart young leader who is very experienced in many areas.

Sweet talk aside, it remains to be seen when the prickly issue of the Preah Vihear temple will flare up again.

Playing more than just footie

Despite his claim that he is fully occupied with Buri Ram PEA football club, Newin Chidchob remains a political play-maker with a clear mission.

Newin: Political playmaker with a mission

His Bhumjaithai faithful have been told repeatedly that the party is on a mission and that is to keep ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra's clout and red shirt movement at bay and to protect the monarchy.

And it is widely known that Mr Newin, now the dedicated chairman of Thunder Castle (the football team's nickname), is a man of his word.

Ekkapab Ponsue, a former MP from Roi Et with the Puea Pandin Party who is barred from politics, is said to be so impressed by Mr Newin that he has agreed to have his wife, Ratchanee, join the Bhumjaithai Party.

Mr Newin is aware that MPs from Puea Thai and other parties have approached him partly because they each want a piece of the national budget pie for their constituencies.

The Bhumjaithai de facto leader may be serving a political ban but, as political pundits agree, his influence in the government is undeniable.

Mr Newin also knows that as long as the general election date is not set, the vote of every single MP counts and the Democrat-led administration needs all the support it can get.

''While the House of Representatives is not dissolved, the support of MPs remains vital.

''And even if the Democrats do get dissolved, don't even think that the Puea Thai Party can form a government. Mr Suthep and I have made arrangements,'' Mr Newin was quoted as saying by a political source when he talked about the warm welcome he has extended to MPs from all camps.

According to Mr Newin, vote management in the House of Representatives is as important to the government as the military and the police force.

He, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban and Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva have reportedly discussed security concerns and agreed that handling the red shirt movement requires people who are determined to deal with the problems.

It is reported that Mr Newin ''requested'' the appointment of Pol Maj Gen Sompong Khongpetsak, currently deputy chief of Police Region 6, as chief of Police Region 4, which oversees the northeastern provinces of Udon Thani and Khon Kaen, the red shirts' main strongholds.

The police reshuffle also includes the appointments of Pol Maj Gen Chaiya Siriamphankul as chief of Police Region 5 overseeing the northern region, and of Pol Maj Gen Sriwara Rangsipramanakul as chief of Police Region 1, which oversees the central provinces.

Mr Newin believes that if the regional police chiefs do their jobs efficiently, they can deter red shirt-related incidents and prevent a repeat of the political violence which took place in May this year.

Toxins In The Marketplace

UN Expert Arrives to Assay Tribunal Progress

Kong Sothanarith, VOA Khmer | Phnom Penh
Friday, 03 September 2010

via Khmer NZ

Photo: AP
Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, ECCC.

Williamson, the former US ambassador-at-large for war crimes, arrived in Cambodia Wednesday night and met with court officials Thursday and Friday. He is expected to meet with Cabinet Minister Sok An, who oversees the court for the government, next week.

The UN's special envoy for the Khmer Rouge tribunal has undertaken a series of meetings this week to report on the progress of the UN-backed court and weigh in on future funding.

UN Special Expert Clint Williamson told VOA Khmer Friday night he would not only be looking into fundraising but also “a number of issues related to the operation of the court.”

Williamson, the former US ambassador-at-large for war crimes, arrived in Cambodia Wednesday night and met with court officials Thursday and Friday. He is expected to meet with Cabinet Minister Sok An, who oversees the court for the government, next week.

The tribunal has experienced cash-flow problems this year, with some donors reluctant to fund a court facing staff allegations of corruption and mismanagement.

In a report issued Thursday, the Open Society Justice Initiative said the tribunal suffers from fractured leadership and would require “effective and sustained high-level UN deal with the political, funding and management problems facing the court.”

EU To Look Into Sugar Deals, Land Disputes

Heng Reaksmey, VOA Khmer | Phnom Penh
Friday, 03 September 2010

via Khmer NZ

Photo: by Heng Reaksmey
Villagers in Kampong Speu protest against Phnom Penh Sugar Company for land grabbing, in May 2010.

“Before the EU has agreements with companies in Cambodia, they should investigate whether those companies are involved in human rights abuses, before they take the goods for import into Europe,”

Representatives of the rights group Licadho met with European Union officials on Friday, following reports this week that the EU's preferential trade polices were linked to agricultural land evictions.

Officials from Licadho and the EU confirmed the closed-door meeting on Friday but declined to elaborate.

However, the meeting follows a week of increased media scrutiny questioning whether the EU's trade deals are being taken advantage of by companies behind the forced evictions of thousands of people.

The EU's Cambodian charge d'affaires, Rafael Dochao-Moreno, said at an EU-sponsored human rights forum on Wednesday the EU would look into whether its Anything But Arms program, which provides tariff exemptions for goods exported from less-developed countries, was linked to illegal evictions.

“This is something we are analyzing now,” the Cambodia Daily quoted him saying.

The Cambodia Daily also reported last week that the sugar plantation operations of Cambodian People's Party Senator Ly Yong Phat were fueling land disputes while cashing in on the EU trade deal.

Villagers in the provinces of Koh Kong and Kampong Speu have alleged that sugar plantations operated by Ly Yong Phat have pushed them off their land. Major protests have ensued, leading to violence and arrests.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Hun Sen wrote a letter to opposition party lawmakers defending the Kampong Speu concession, given by the Ministry of Agriculture, an act which Dochao-Moreno was quoted as saying had prompted the EU investigation.

Ly Yong Phat told VOA Khmer on Friday that his sugar plantations did not have deals with Europe.

The Cambodia Daily, however, reported that Ly Yong Phat operated sugar contracts through a joint venture with Thai company Khon Kaen Sugar, which in turn sells it to a British industrial food company.

“Before the EU has agreements with companies in Cambodia, they should investigate whether those companies are involved in human rights abuses, before they take the goods for import into Europe,” Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, said.

Groups Prepare Complaints for New Corruption Investigators

Chun Sakada, VOA Khmer | Phnom Penh
Friday, 03 September 2010

via Khmer NZ

Photo: AP
The Cambodia Independent Anti-Corruption Committee will also file a complaint over a 5-hectare land dispute in Phnom Penh, the committee's president.

“All the complaints have the names and IDs of corrupt tax agents, and in each complaint there are about five to 15 complainants,” he said. “All the complaints will be submitted to the Anti-Corruption Unit in late September to stop and punish corrupt tax agents.”

At least three local organizations say they are preparing a stack of complaints of graft and misdeeds for submission to the new national Anti-Corruption Unit.

Fourteen members of the unit were sworn in on Tuesday, vowing to uphold an anti-corruption law that was passed earlier this year.

The complaints, which will be the first test of the Anti-Corruption Unit, encompass allegations of corruption within the police and courts and in illegal logging and land disputes.

San Chey, the Cambodian coordinator for the regional Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, said he had 60 complaints of tax agents demanding excessive fees for vehicle taxes.

“All the complaints have the names and IDs of corrupt tax agents, and in each complaint there are about five to 15 complainants,” he said. “All the complaints will be submitted to the Anti-Corruption Unit in late September to stop and punish corrupt tax agents.”

The most serious complaints are of tax agents in the provinces of Kampong Cham, Kampong Speu, Kandal and Takeo and will be a “test” of the Anti-Corruption Unit's willingness to tackle the problem, he said.

“The Anti-Corruption Unit is starting its work,” he said. “We want to see the 2010 annual tax collection for all vehicles have transparency and be a good example in the fight against corruption.”

The National Resource and Wildlife Preservation Organization, which monitors natural resources and human rights, will also lodge a complaint accusing 241 people of illegal logging in Kampong Speu's Oral National Park.

Chea Hean, the director of the organization, said he was preparing even more similar complaints for officials and park rangers in Koh Kong province's Botum Sakor National Park and Kampot province's Bokor National Park.

“I'll lodge these complaints with the Anti-Corruption Unit to create more investigations, because I've lodged them with the Koh Kong and Kampong Speu provincial courts...but the courts did not take action,” he said. “If we gather the evidence and the Anti-Corruption Unit cannot find corruption, I won't have faith in the government institution.”

The Cambodia Independent Anti-Corruption Committee will also file a complaint over a 5-hectare land dispute in Phnom Penh, the committee's president, Mom Sitha said.

Yet more civic groups have complaints to file, said Chan Soveth, an investigator for the rights group Adhoc. However, many are waiting because they do not have faith the Anti-Corruption Unit is politically neutral, he said.

“The ACU officials were sworn in as corruption investigators, but they have not sworn to withdraw from the [ruling Cambodian People's Party] yet,” he said.

Om Yientang, a senior government adviser and the head of the Anti-Corruption Unit, said he welcomed the complaints, provided they contained enough evidence.

“We can investigate all kinds of complaints,” he said.

Licadho Decries Steep Court Sentence for Staff Member

Sok Khemara, VOA Khmer | Washington, D.C
Friday, 03 September 2010

via Khmer NZ

Photo: VOA, Khmer
Am Sam Ath is a senior Licadho monitor.

“I do not think it impacts the human rights defense process of Licadho,” the monitor, Am Sam Ath, said as a guest on “Hello VOA.” “But what we regret is that the Takeo court convicted Leang Sochoeun without proper evidence, and the verdict also did not comply with court independence and legitimacy at all.”

The two-year jail sentence of a rights worker for Licadho will not deter the groups work, a senior Licadho monitor said Thursday.

Leang Sochoeun, a staff member of Licadho, was handed the sentence from the Takeo provincial court this week, on charges he participated in an anti-government leaflet distribution earlier this year.

“I do not think it impacts the human rights defense process of Licadho,” the monitor, Am Sam Ath, said as a guest on “Hello VOA.” “But what we regret is that the Takeo court convicted Leang Sochoeun without proper evidence, and the verdict also did not comply with court independence and legitimacy at all.”

Even the court's arrest warrant was flawed, he said. It called for the arrest of a person name Leang Sokly of Phnom Penh's Svay Pak commune, not Leang Sochoeun, who lives in Sen Sok commune.

Leang Sochoeun was charged with three other men for distributing leaflets earlier this year critical of the government's relationship with Vietnam and a celebration marking the January 7 anniversary of the Vietnamese-backed ouster of the Khmer Rouge.

Leang Sochoeun fainted after his verdict was read, and Licadho said the conviction had created “an atmosphere of fear.”

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said rights workers were subject to the same laws as everyone. “No one is above the law,” he said, adding that rights groups did not fully understand the case.

However, Am Sam Ath said rights workers do want law, governance and an independent court. They also want to work with the government, not against it.

Licadho recorded at least 66 cases of threats and intimidation against rights workers in 2008 and 2009.

A leaflet distribution was an expression of political views that should be protected, he said, noting that in the West, such acts rarely lead to imprisonment.

PM's Office Minister Ongart: Cambodian PM Hun Sen ready to talk with Abhisit

via Khmer NZ

BANGKOK, Sept 3 - Thai Prime Minister's Office Minister Ongart Klampaiboon said on Friday Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Thailand and Cambodia are like “tongue and teeth” and that he is ready to hold bilateral talks with his Thai counterpart Abhisit Vejjajiva in every forum and in any topic.

Mr Ongart, the first Thai cabinet member visiting Phnom Penh since diplomatic ties were restored following the return to duty of the ambassadors of the two kingdoms after fugitive ousted Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra resigned from his advisory post with the Cambodian government.

A diplomatic spat between Thailand and Cambodia occurred after the Khmer government appointed Mr Thaksin as its economic adviser and refused to extradite the ex-Thai premier to face legal action in Bangkok if asked by the Thai authorities.

Thailand expressed its dissatisfaction by recalling its ambassador to Phnom Penh, while Cambodia also recalled its ambassador to Bangkok in retaliation.

Mr Ongart, who met the Cambodian prime minister on Thursday, said he was assured by Mr Hun Sen that he was ready to talk with his Thai counterpart "in every forum", not only the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) scheduled to be held in Belgium in October.

The Cambodian leader said he could discuss with Mr Abhisit on any issue and at any other forum where they may meet including the United Nations General Assembly scheduled at the end of September, he said.

Mr Hun Sen also praised the Thai premier as a well-qualified young man and told Mr Abhisit not to worry over criticism that young men cannot work well as Mr Hun Sen himself became Cambodian prime minister when he was just 32, the Thai minister.

The Cambodian premier said he believed Mr Abhisit will be prime minister for a long period and becoming stronger now he has proven his leadership skills.

Mr Ongart revealed that the Thai premier also asked him to convey his message to his Cambodian counterpart, hoping the relations between the two countries will improve.

The PM's Office Minister however said the issue of Mr Thaksin was not raised during his trip to Phnom Penh.

Regarding the border dispute between both countries concerning the work of Joint Boundary Commission (JBC), Mr Ongart said he clarified to Mr Hun Sen that Thailand is not delaying the case, but now the government is soliciting public opinion on the matter before seeking joint parliamentary approval.

Mr Hun Sen said he wants the JBC to be a forum which will create better understanding between Thailand and Cambodia, adding that relations of both countries are like "tongue and teeth" which may sometimes hit, but never separate from being neighbours due to their adjacent territories

The Cambodian leader said both must find ways to make "tongue and teeth" live in the mouth happily, according to Mr Ongart.

Tension between Thailand and Cambodia regarding the border dispute flared up after the World Heritage Committee (WHC) registered the ancient Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage site last July.

Cambodia attempted to propose a temple management plan to the WHC, but Thailand opposed the move as problem of the contested 4.6 sq km of land near the temple remains unsolved, leading to several military clashes along the Thai-Cambodian border. (MCOT online news)

PM, Hun Sen set to meet

Ong-art's visit to Phnom Penh helps boost ties

Published: 4/09/2010
via Khmer NZ

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen look set to hold talks later this month to build on the improving ties between the two countries.

He [Hun Sen] has voiced confidence that Mr Abhisit will stay in the post for a long time and that the prime minister has grown stronger and proved his leadership skills. - ONG-ART KLAMPAIBUL PRIME MINISTER’S OFFICE MINISTER

Given the potential meeting of the two leaders, the Defence Ministry is considering postponing the Joint Boundary Commission (JBC) meeting scheduled for Sept 8-10 in Bangkok, a ministry source said.

Speaking after his return from Cambodia yesterday, Prime Minister's Office Minister Ong-art Klampaibul said the Cambodian prime minister appears keen on the prospect of catching up with Mr Abhisit when they meet at the United Nations General Assembly.

"He said we [Thailand and Cambodia] don't have to wait until the Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem) in October because we will meet in New York on Sept 24," said Mr Ong-art who visited Cambodia on Thursday shortly after the normalisation of diplomatic ties.

Mr Ong-art was only scheduled to meet with the Cambodian information minister during the visit. But he also had a one-hour meeting with Hun Sen.

Ties with Phnom Penh deteriorated over border conflicts and the appointment of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra as economic adviser. They went downhill after Cambodia proposed a management plan for the Preah Vihear temple to the World Heritage Committee that Bangkok opposed.

Bangkok and Phnom Penh recently reinstated their ambassadors after Thaksin resigned from his advisory post.

Mr Ong-art said the Cambodian leader is ready to hold talks on "any issue" with Mr Abhisit. "He has assured that a broker is unnecessary when holding a dialogue with Thailand. Any forum can do."

According to the minister, the Cambodian leader said Thailand and Cambodia were like "tongue and teeth" - a reference to occasional disagreements which should be dealt with amicably.

Mr Ong-art said bilateral relations between the two nations are picking up, citing the bringing forward from Oct 18 to Sept 10 of the Thai ambassador to submit his appointment to Cambodia's king for endorsement.

Both countries have also agreed to carry out journalistic and cultural exchange programmes, he said.

A hotline will be set up as a communications channel between him and the Cambodian information minister in case there are any urgent issues that need to be resolved, he said.

Mr Ong-art added that Hun Sen was full of praise for Mr Abhisit.

The Cambodian prime minister said that Mr Abhisit should not be discouraged by criticism about his early rise to become prime minister.

"He has voiced confidence that Mr Abhisit will stay in the post for a long time and that the prime minister has grown stronger and proved his leadership skills," Mr Ong-art said.

Mr Ong-art said he also explained the legal requirements about the Thai side in working on the JBC and Hun Sen seemed to understand these.

Mr Abhisit, meanwhile, said yesterday that he expects to meet and hold talks with Hun Sen when they meet at international forums later this year.

Mr Abhisit played down Hun Sen's softened stance towards bilateral ties.

Earlier, Hun Sen had accused Thailand of threatening to renege on its acceptance of Cambodia's rights to the Preah Vihear temple and asked the UN to intervene.

Mr Abhisit said that as neighbours both countries are aware that existing disagreements or conflicts must be resolved through talks but certain issues need to proceed at the right time.

Mr Abhisit said he hoped Mr Ong-art's visit to Cambodia would strengthen communications and that the ministers concerned seemed to be working on some mechanisms to reduce tensions caused by misunderstandings.

In a related development, provincial authorities and the private sector in Trat are holding a three-day meeting with their Cambodian counterparts from four provinces to discuss cooperation.

Trat governor Kaenpet Chuangrangsi said the meeting, which will take place on Koh Chang, will discuss matters ranging from border security to health care and trade and tourism. He said that a draft memorandum on cooperation guidelines is expected to be signed at the end of the meeting today.