Sunday, 6 March 2011
Newspaper section: News
Border tensions near Preah Vihear temple have risen again as both sides have resumed construction of roads to serve military operations in the disputed border area despite each other's protests against such action.
Thai soldiers on Friday resumed building a laterite road from Pha Mor I Dang cliff to Sa Trao, an ancient reservoir on the northern axis of Preah Vihear where Thai border patrol police had been stationed.
The road will be two kilometres long.
Thai soldiers had completed 70% of the road when border clashes on Feb 4 brought its construction to a halt.
The sources said Thai soldiers built the road in response to Cambodian soldiers' construction of two roads in the disputed area. "Actually, we have to build the road all the way to the entrance of the Preah Vihear temple on the Thai side of the border," an army source said. "We had to stop when the Cambodians protested against it, but now we have to continue building the road as far as possible so it can be used as a military logistics route, too."
The source said Thai soldiers would use the laterite road to reach Keo Sikha Kiri Svara pagoda, which is in the 4.6-square-kilometre disputed area and currently occupied by Cambodian troops.
Thai troops once built a pathway to Keo Sikha Kiri Svara pagoda, which sits on land claimed by Thailand, but they could no longer use that route because Cambodian troops occupied it after breaching an agreement to withdraw military forces.
Thai troops withdrew on Oct 1 last year but the Cambodian soldiers did not, so Thai troops have to build a new road to the pagoda, the source said.
Cambodian troops yesterday also resumed construction of its two roads.
One road will lead to the first-level gopura (arch) at the entrance of the Preah Vihear temple.
The other will be used to send reinforcements to the Phu Makhua mountain area, west of the Preah Vihear temple.
Both sides have protested against the resumption of each other's road construction efforts. "The Cambodians have resumed construction, so we have too," said the source.
"We won't be at an disadvantage. Thai troops are ready if Cambodians are the first to open fire."
Cambodia on Thursday took foreign military attaches on a visit to Preah Vihear temple and Keo Sikha Kiri Svara pagoda, despite protests from Thai troops.
The move is seen as a violation of an agreement reached in 2000 that neither country would take any person into the disputed area without the consent of the other side.
The Suranaree task force plans to conduct a drill on Tuesday in the border area in response to Cambodian's fresh deployment of artillery and troops around Preah Vihear and Phu Makhua. The roads under construction by the two sides could be the catalyst for a new round of clashes between the two countries.
BANGKOK, March 5 -- In defiance against the imposition of the Internal Security Act by the government, the yellow-clad movement, or the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), on Saturday reiterated that its members who are now holding a rally on Bangkok’s Rajdamnoen Nok Avenue would not disperse even at police request, as the area is needed to hold an annual Red Cross Fair, said PAD core leader retired Maj Gen Chamlong Srimuang on Saturday.
It shows that police is trying to use legal means to intimidate PAD members so that they could leave the area before March 15 as demanded by them, Gen Chamlong said, adding that the fair, of which most of the shops were private businesses, could be relocated. Police should think twice before taking any drastic action against the demonstrators.
PAD members have been holding their rally in the area since January 25 demanding the ouster of the government under Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, charging that the government is neglecting its duty, which caused the country to lose territory around the disputed Preah Vihear temple to Cambodia. The movement is planning to collect 20,000 signatures on a petition to impeach Mr Abhisit, as required by the Constitution, and present it to the Constitution Court.
On Friday, Gen Chamlong also demanded that Thailand’s political system should be amended temporarily for at least four to five years before a general election is held. He said he would reveal details of the political amendment later.
His call was made as Mr Abhisit has said he would dissolve the House and call for a general election later this year.
Meanwhile, PAD spokesman Panthep Puapongphan said his group rally would not affect plans to organise the Red Cross Fair and that his group had in 2006 held a demonstration which coincided with the fair and that it went smoothly then. He said his group would retaliate against the government from next Monday on the imposition of the Internal Security Act.
The Civil Court on Friday rejected petitions filed by the PAD against Mr Abhisit, the cabinet and the national police chief over the imposition of the Act and six related orders. The movement had earlier asked the court to issue an injunction against the Act and those related orders. (MCOT online news)
March 5, 2011
March 5, 2011
Cambodia's coast ... the Song Saa islands. Photo: Leisa Tyler
Leisa Tyler explores the long stretch of beaches and islands south of Sihanoukville - unspoilt and ripe for development.
When Sydney couple Rory and Melita Hunter discovered Cambodia's tropical coastline, it was love at first sight.
Living in Phnom Penh at the time, they hired an old wooden boat from the port town of Sihanoukville for a fortnight to explore the nation's little-known islands.
They fished from the deck, lounged on deserted beaches and slept under the stars. ''We just absolutely fell in love,'' Melita says, over a bottle of wine on the deck of their Robinson Crusoe-style house on Koh Ouen, one of two islands known together as Song Saa, or the Sweetheart Islands, which the Hunters now own.
Advertisement: Story continues below It is January 2008 and we have just returned from an afternoon of swimming at neighbouring Koh Rong's six-kilometre Techo Beach, a stretch of white sand renowned for its length and seclusion. The sun is setting over the estuary before us, and behind wafts the smoke from char-grilled lobster and prawns bought from a local fisherman.
The process of securing the rights to lease the Sweetheart Islands was fraught with complications and included an agreement that the Hunters would develop the islands for tourism. But the future looked exciting - investors were interested and plans were being drawn for a $40 million Per Aquum resort by hotel architect Bill Bensley.
Cambodia's 443-kilometre coast, peppered with quaint villages flanking perfect white-sand coves, is a reminder of how south-east Asian beaches used to be before mass tourism. In Cambodia's halcyon days in the 1960s, this coastline was the place to be seen, attracting glamour cats such as Jacqueline Kennedy and Catherine Deneuve, who holidayed here. Then came the Khmer Rouge, the brutal militia that had a particular dislike for the languid coastal towns and their voluptuary lifestyles, and all but razed them. The inhabitants fled - villagers to hidden coves on neighbouring islands, the bourgeois to safe countries abroad - and the jungle reclaimed the towns.
But by the summer of 2008, Cambodia's south coast had been rediscovered. The country's property market was booming and the coastline was being touted as ''The last undiscovered paradise! The next Asian Riviera!'' Companies from Malaysia, China, Russia and France were competing for leaseholds on the nation's 60-plus islands and carving off tracts of beachfront on the mainland. Hundreds of residents were evicted and plans for everything from racecourses and billion-dollar casinos to multiple-resort complexes were declared.
''We want to build a tourism corridor from Thailand right through to Vietnam,'' tourism minister Dr Thong Khon told me in 2008.
Then came the global financial crisis, promptly bringing the majority of projects - and rumours - to a halt.
''The crisis was the best thing that could have happened to Cambodia's south coast,'' the French owner of guest houses in Phnom Penh and a long-term Cambodian resident, Alexis de Suremain, says in retrospect. ''It delayed the development.''
As a result of the financial crisis, the Hunters decided to eschew well-known designers and branded hotel companies and to develop Song Saa Private Island themselves. It is scheduled to open at the end of this year.
Elsewhere, on Sihanoukville's Snake Island, a Russian-owned project, including a casino, restaurant, hotel, sanatorium - and a 900-metre, $US450 million ($442 million) suspension bridge connecting it to the mainland - has been put on hold. Work on a $US2-3 billion resort and casino project on Koh Ta Kiev has stopped.
But the crisis did little to thwart dreams. The sizeable 7826-hectare island of Koh Rong has been acquired by Khmer businessman Kith Meng, who grew up in Australia. The island has waterfalls, rainforest and 28 sandy beaches, including gorgeous Techo Beach. Meng and his Royal Group have plans for 35 resorts and 16 villa communities, as well as golf courses, schools, hospitals, a marina and an international airport capable of handling Airbus A320s.
''It is similar to [Koh] Samui and Phuket 20 years ago … one of the last undiscovered paradises in south-east Asia,'' says David Simister, in a press release. He represents CB Richard Ellis, which is the advisor and property agent for the project. The Royal Group aims to create Asia's ''first environmentally planned resort island''.
In Sihanoukville, the petrochemical company Sokimex's hotel arm, Sokha, has extended the Sokha Beach Resort with upmarket overwater chalets with hardwood floors, balconies and rain-showers. When finished, the resort, with its own private strip of sand, will have 402 guest rooms.
Sokha is laying the foundations of a 600-room property on the far end of Ochheuteal Beach, south of Sihanoukville, and has taken out a lease on Bokor Hill Station, an hour's drive along the coast from Sihanoukville. Established in the 1920s as a resort for French colonists escaping the summer heat, Bokor Hill Station was where the Vietnamese army fought with the Khmer Rouge. The crumbling remains of Bokor's glory days include a casino, church, a clutch of villas and a hotel. Sokha is reconstructing the road up to the plateau on which the station's ruins are located and plans to sink $US1 billion into the site, building two casinos and three hotels with more than 700 rooms.
Sokha Beach Resort's Singaporean-born general manager, Michael Lim, offers to take me to the top of the 1000-metre mountain plateau but by the time we reach the turn-off a storm has rolled in, shrouding Bokor in mist.
Instead, we take a tour of Sihanoukville, a scruffy town scattered across a hill and several beaches. To get there we drive past the airport, which reopened a year ago after a $US30 million upgrade following the 2008 property boom, but it has yet to receive a scheduled flight. Billboards announcing villa and resort projects line every beach. A few have footings, one even looks half built, but there are no workers, no tourists and the town seems strangely abandoned.
But Cambodia's southern coastline has fantastic getaways that have escaped the attention of developers, for now. Kep, a sleepy seaside village on the far side of Bokor Hill Station, was once the private getaway for Phnom Penh's elite, who built their mansions and palaces along the town's rocky shores. Many of the buildings are still here, their burnt-out shells and crumbling facades a reminder of the Khmer Rouge. Other villas, such as Knai Bang Chatt, have been converted recently into low-key mini hotels and eco-resorts. The hotel comprises 11 guest rooms and a pool spread over three 1970s Miami-style houses built by a student of Le Corbusier.
Nearby, the former governor's mansion is being turned into a chic bed-and-breakfast called La Villa de Monsieur Thomas. On the hill above Kep, Veranda Natural Resort has 19 eco-villas and incredible views from a breezy restaurant.
North-west of Sihanoukville, hugging the border with Thailand, the remote Cardamom Mountains have become a hot spot for eco-tourism. The mountains are a 4.42 million-hectare swathe of rivers and rainforest that support elephants and leopards, which are increasingly threatened by mining and illegal logging.
The US-based non-government organisation Wildlife Alliance has established homestays, hiking, boating and birdwatching tours in the villages of Chi Phet and Trapeang Rung under the banner of Community Based Ecotourism. The villages have only basic facilities but the experience is genuine.
More upmarket is the slightly kitsch but comfortable 4Rivers Floating Lodge. Made from canvas and recycled plastic decking, guest rooms float in a sheltered corner of the Tatai River. Visitors can paddle the river in kayaks, visit the sublimely beautiful Tatai waterfall that cascades through misty rainforest or relax on their private deck.
Only a few years ago the road from Phnom Penh or Sihanoukville to Koh Kong, the town closest to the Cardamom Mountains, had no bridges and was so potholed it could take all day to traverse. It was paved in 2008 and the journey now takes three hours.
On the bus to Koh Kong, I chat with a British man who has been living in Sihanoukville for 10 years. ''[Cambodia's southern coastline] has undergone massive improvements in the last few years,'' he says. ''But most of the big projects are just pure speculation. You saw Sihanoukville - it's empty apart from a handful of backpackers drinking cheap beer.
''It will be another five to 10 years before tourism even begins to take off. I say enjoy it while you can.''
Singapore Airlines flies to Phnom Penh for about $1100, to Singapore (8hr), then Phnom Penh (2hr). Thai Airways has a fare for about $1422, to Bangkok (9hr), then Phnom Penh (75min). Fares are low-season return from Sydney and Melbourne, including tax. Australians obtain a $US20 visa on arrival for stays of up to 30 days. Sihanoukville is about three hours' drive from Phnom Penh.
Sokha Beach Resort has 402 guest rooms, three restaurants, two spas, a gym and a private beach. Rooms from $US200, see sokhahotels.com.
Knai Bang Chatt has 11 rustic rooms in three 1970s houses overlooking the ocean in Kep. There is a swimming pool, a breezy restaurant and a sailing club next door. Rooms from $US150, see knaibangchatt.com.
4Rivers Floating Lodge has 12 floating tents in Tatai River, in the Cardamom Mountains. The environmental footprint is light and the setting serene. No airconditioning. Rooms from $US118, see ecolodges.asia.
Wildlife Alliance's Community Based Ecotourism offers jungle treks and village stays in the Cardamom Mountains, see ecoadventurecambodia.com.
Near Siem Reap, Cambodia, the Khmer Empire's monuments are revealing their secret hideaways in the jungle as land mines are being cleared and roads are being built to get to them.
By Susan Spano, Special to the Los Angeles Times
March 6, 2011
Reporting from Siem Reap, Cambodia —
When French travel writer Pierre Loti took an ox cart to Angkor shortly after Westerners rediscovered it in the 19th century, he found creeper-choked ruins and the profound silence of the Cambodian jungle. Siem Reap, population 100,000, now at its threshold, has scores of fancy resort hotels, a pub street, a new branch of the national museum and an international airport where millions of tourists arrive every year to see the fabled temples of Angkor.
The Khmer Empire, which ruled much of Southeast Asia from 800 to 1400, built monuments all over Cambodia, but the rigors of getting to them, many in rough territory ringed by land mines left after Cambodia's long civil war, kept many travelers away.
The situation has changed. In some areas mine clearing has been completed, and with Cambodia at peace, the government has launched a road-building campaign, bringing long-lost Khmer sites beyond Angkor within reach of travelers who dream of encounters with Cambodia's ancient wonders à la Loti.
In the fall I made a long-anticipated first visit to Angkor. It was the beginning of a three-day itinerary that took me deep into the countryside northeast of Siem Reap to see three untrammeled Khmer monuments still locked in the solitude of the jungle.
Journeys Within, a small tour company with a bed-and-breakfast inn just outside Siem Reap, arranged my trip. I traveled in a van driven by trusty So Sopheap, who gave me a cool cloth from an ice chest at every stop, with Kham Sina as my wise and gentle guide.
The first day we followed a parade of Korean tourists in motorcycle taxis to Angkor. The region where Khmer rulers chiefly settled is now a 150-square-mile archaeological park with scores of temples, royal cities and reservoirs built about the time European stonemasons laid the foundations of Notre Dame de Paris and Chartres.
We visited only the best known, beginning with magisterial Angkor Wat, the apex of classical Khmer art and architecture built in the mid-12th century by the slave armies of Suryavarman II. Surrounded by a rectangle of long corbel-arched galleries, the temple rises in three astounding tiers to a cluster of five beehive-shaped towers, or prasats.
Sina and I inspected the carved stone reliefs in the galleries celebrating Suryavarman's military exploits; stopped at shrines to Buddhist gods that succeeded the Hindu divinities originally housed in the temple compound; and climbed a hair-raisingly steep flight of steps to the great central prasat 200 feet above the surrounding jungle.
Our next stop was Ta Prohm, once a Khmer monastery that has been left unrestored, dilapidated and overgrown, making it a favorite with bus tours, shutterbugs and location scouts for movies such as "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider." Sina and I then went on to mighty Angkor Thom, a walled and moated royal city built about 1200 by Khmer King Jayavarman VII. It has a bridge guarded by Buddhist devils; a pavilion flanked by a row of amiable stone elephants; and iconic Bayon Temple, where we took shelter from a downpour.
Thus introduced to Khmer history and art, we set out the next day for the countryside where 90% of the Cambodian people lived before communist Khmer Rouge insurgents turned rice paddies into battlefields and villages into work camps.
Since the rebels' eradication in the late 1990s, the teak and tamarind forests that covered the northern plains have been cut down and the wood sold abroad or carved into smiling Buddha souvenirs. With the advent of paved roads, ox carts have yielded to rattletrap trucks, fueled by gasoline sold in Johnnie Walker whiskey bottles. Farmhouses built on stilts look desperately poor, but village markets overflow and the easy old rhythms of rural life seem to have returned.
Once you leave Siem Reap, however, tourist facilities are scant. We stopped the first night in the dusty town of Anlong Veng, which has a bare new hotel with double rooms for $15 a night. In the restaurant I met two intrepid American kings of the road, touring by motorcycle, and sampled such Cambodian dishes as beef in fermented fish paste, or prahok, but mostly filled up on rice. The guesthouse near the ruins of Koh Ker where we stayed the next night had no electricity after 10 p.m. or top sheets on the beds — and I met a frog in the bathroom.
I would have put up with much worse to see celebrated, embattled Preah Vihear, about 100 miles northeast of Angkor and built between 893 and 1200 at the edge of a cliff in the Dangrek Mountains. The temple is a national symbol, pictured on the 2,000-riel Cambodian bill, but the site is as much a bane as a glory, a natural stronghold that changed hands throughout the civil war, ending up in the hands of Khmer Rouge holdouts who finally surrendered in 1998.
Now the temple is at the center of an ongoing dispute over the country's northern border. A map drawn in the early 20th century put it in Thailand, but for complicated legal reasons the International Court of Justice gave it to Cambodia in 1962. Tension between the two age-old enemies simmered until 2008, when UNESCO granted Cambodia's application to put Preah Vihear on the World Heritage List. Cambodian and Thai troops fought near the temple, then dug in, skirmishing intermittently in 2009, 2010 and early this year. (A cease-fire has been in effect since Feb. 5, and Journeys Within has kept Preah Vihear on itineraries, though travelers are advised to be sensitive to changing conditions at the remote temple.)
Journeys Within assured me that the situation was calm, with Thai troops biding their time in a pagoda across the valley while Cambodian workers build a road up the mountain for tourists. The ascent through military checkpoints and muddy construction sites was more bracing than the war zone I found on top. I even got a tour of the military encampments around the temple where Cambodian soldiers lived with their families, grew vegetables and raised chickens. At Bee's Nest camp I joined a group of Cambodians at a picnic table and asked whether they ever saw any Thais.
The leader patted the shoulder of the man next to him and said, "Yes, here's one."
Everyone laughed. The leaky border is an open secret, as is the widely shared belief that the dispute is as wasteful as it is ridiculous.
The sanctuaries of Preah Vihear sit on a mountaintop perch along a 2,600-foot chain of walkways and staircases. Sina let me stop often to catch my breath and survey the unrestored site; it barely resembles the picture on the bill. Deep crevices have formed between the gigantic boulders paving its boulevards; the keystones of arches lie scattered in the grass, their carved reliefs worn almost blank; whole sanctuary walls tilt precariously against the slim supports erected to stay them.
Still, orange-robed Buddhist monks glide through galleries, light incense in roofless shrines and picnic on the precipice where Preah Vihear's climb up the mountain comes to a halt.
Looking over the plain below, I remembered Sina had told me that his father was one of the thousands of Cambodians who died trying to escape to Thailand during the genocidal regime of the Khmer Rouge. Others made it across the northern border to refugee camps. But in 1979 the frustrated Thai government sent about 42,000 refugees back to Preah Vihear and down the cliff where I stood, in a perilous forced descent that took the lives of an estimated 3,000 Cambodians.
It is easy for the country's recent past to eclipse its ancient history, about which much less is known. Koh Ker, the site we visited next about 50 miles south of Preah Vihear, is a mystery, a royal city built around a reservoir and briefly the Khmer capital under King Jayavarman IV. His reasons for abandoning the old capital are obscure, and shortly after his death in 941, his son returned to Angkor, leaving Koh Ker to disappear into the jungle.
Workers for the Cambodia Mine Action Centre told us there are still unrecovered explosives around Koh Ker. While studying a Sanskrit inscription on the lintel of a small temple near the entrance, Sina found a snake skin, which he said means good luck, and Ta Kok, the site's head of security, said all land mines immediately around the temples had been removed.
We met Ta Kok — who earned the nickname "Magic Man" by dodging bullets during the civil war — at a noodle shop inside the Koh Ker complex where his wife was preparing lunch — 47 frogs caught that morning in three traps. From there, we picked our way around fallen roofs and walls to Prasat Thom, a seven-tiered Khmer pyramid that would fit in at Chichén Itzá. The cordoned-off steps to the top and recently mowed lawn were the only indications that anyone had been there in ages.
Our last stop was at Beng Melea, a temple built by Suryavarman II in the same style as Angkor Wat. Apart from a wooden walkway constructed when the compound opened to visitors in 2003, it has been left as it was found, a dreamy Khmer ruin fighting a losing battle with tree roots and strangler figs.
We were alone, except for several children for whom the temple is a backyard playground. One of them, a nimble boy unaccountably garbed in a plastic shower cap, led us off the boardwalk for a closer look into dark galleries and chambers. A small Suryavarman, but no less lord of an empire like nothing else in the world — as Loti put it, "the conception of a race apart, which gave a bright flash of light in this corner of the world, and then disappeared never to return."
Nevada (US), March 05: Cambodia has sought the help of the Hindus worldwide to help safeguard the landmark Preah Vihear Shiva temple, which was reportedly damaged recently due to Thai-Cambodia border clashes.
Ros Borath, President of Cambodia's National Committee for the World Heritage, in a emailed letter to distinguished Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, wrote with the hope that "Hindu world will soon take notice of this place, most sacred to Shiva, and help people of Cambodia to safeguard this world heritage monument with universal spiritual value as propounded by Lord Shiva".
"Preah Vihear is Mount Kailash of South East Asia in the Dangrek range. Bhadreshvara-Shiva arrived here from Vat Phu via India to radiate his Shiva Teja over people of South East Asia flourishing under the Angkor kingdom. Preah Vihear is the open air theatre for the cosmic dance of Shiva. The colossal dancing image of Shiva is sculpted on the door frame (Pediment) of the mandapa of the main temple", Borath argued.
Describing the Temple, Committee President Borath further wrote: "Besides the central temple where this dancing image of Shiva is sculpted, there are four other temples at the four levels of the plateau (gopura II-IV). These gopuras are in reality mandapas where the gods of the family of Shiva (parivara devata) are depicted. Images of Brahma, Vishnu, Krishna and Shvia are all carved in bas-reliefs on the lintels and pediments over the doors of these five temples. Sanskrit and Khmer inscriptions found from Preah Vihear inform us that this temple complex was a great hermitage center for meditation, following the path of Shiva. There were a number of hermitages at the foothills of Dangrek, and the networking of these ashramas was done from Mount Preah Vihear, Kailash of mainland Southeast Asia."
"Since the sculpture of Shiva is above the door of the mandapa of the main temple, its safety is in great danger. All the images of parivara devata of Shiva, as they are sculpted out side the structure on the doorframes, are in great danger", he added.
Pictures of the Preah Vihear Shiva temple were also attached, indicating damages to Gopura (towered gateway found at the entrances to temples) I, II, III, IV, and V resulting from Thai-Cambodia border clashes.
Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, in a statement in Nevada (USA) today, urged various Hindu organizations world over to raise public opinion about this Shiva (Bhadreshvara) Temple, claimed to be one of the world's biggest temple complex dedicated to Shiva.
Expressing serious concern at the reported damage, Rajan Zed said that international community, UNESCO, and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) should immediately provide funding to bring back this Lord Shiva temple to its original shape as it was before Thai-Cambodia clashes began February four. These organizations should not shy away to shoulder their responsibility of saving the important heritage of the world and respecting the feelings of Hindus worldwide, Rajan Zed said and added that besides temple repairs, some infrastructure in the area should also be provided for devotees and other visitors.
Zed stressed that this landmark age-old and revered Preah Vihear Hindu Shiva temple complex was important to Hindu heritage and must be preserved to pass it on to the future generations. Damage to 11th century Shiva temple was shocking and hurtful to the Hindu community world over. Lord Shiva, one of the major deities in Hinduism forming great triad with Brahma and Vishnu, was focus of worship of the Hindus, and it was important for them that Preah Vihear Hindu Shiva temple be protected. It was a world heritage and it was moral duty of the world to keep it intact for the coming generations.
Known as Preah Vihear in Cambodia and Khao Phra Viharn in Thailand, this remote temple at the border between Thailand and Cambodia, which had reportedly not been clearly demarcated, had been a source of tension for generations. Preah Vihear was said to even predate Cambodia's Angkor Wat temple complex by about 100 years and its stunning setting made it finest of all the ruins left from the mighty Khmer civilization, Rajan Zed stated.
Zed pointed out that world should not let this sacred site dedicated to Lord Shiva (situated where Preah Vihear province of northern Cambodia touched Sisaket province of eastern Thailand) be further damaged to advance political agendas of some as there appeared to be a no clear solution to settle the long-standing territorial dispute surrounding the temple, which was already a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and whose history could be traced to 9th century when the hermitage was founded.
Moreover, Temple of Preah Vihear, an outstanding masterpiece of Khmer architecture mostly created by Suryavarman I and Suryavarman II, was a unique architectural complex of a series of sanctuaries and was said to be exceptional for the quality of its architecture and carved stone ornamentation. It was reportedly dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva in his manifestations as Sikharesvara and Bhadresvara. It was also said to be marking representation of sacred Mount Meru, the abode of the gods, and showing a depiction of Churning of the Ocean, a Hindu scriptural episode, Rajan Zed said.
Cambodian Government's Committee describes Preah Vihear as: The site serves as a sacred place worshipping to the Hindu god Shiva manifesting as Sikharesvara (the Lord of Peak) and his figures are depicted on pediments and lintels.(ANI)
Indonesia, in the status of ASEAN chair, is arranging meetings for Cambodian-Thai defense ministers and border chiefs in Jakarta, said Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Saturday.
"Indonesian foreign minister (Marty M. Natalegawa) is preparing to have the meetings of Cambodia-Thai General Border Committee and Joint Border Committee on Demarcation for Land Boundary (JBC) in Jakarta, Indonesia," Hun Sen said during a visit to about 500 disabled soldiers and their families in Chhouk district of Kampot province.
"Cambodia welcomes Indonesian foreign minister to set the dates for the meetings of the two countries' defense ministers and border chiefs," he said. "And Indonesia, the host, will be the referee, and whatever points Cambodia and Thailand agree, Indonesia has to take a note of every agreement between us."
Hun Sen said that Indonesia foreign minister Marty M. Natalegawa has sent a letter to Cambodian and Thai foreign ministers and other foreign ministers of ASEAN members on Friday.
The letter mentioned Cambodia's absolute acceptance of the terms of reference for the Indonesian observers to the border disputed areas.
Also, in the letter, the foreign minister wrote, "I am aware that Thai side does not oppose to the observers, but it is taking it into consideration," Hun Sen said.
Cambodia has arranged 14 places for the observers and for the period of 12 months, and it said the time could be extended and the 14 points could be added further. "Nothing is mysterious for Cambodia," said Hun Sen.
Cambodia and Thailand on Feb. 22 agreed to receive Indonesian observers to monitor the border disputed areas near the 11th century Preah Vihear temple in order to ensure a permanent ceasefire
The border between Thailand and Cambodia has never been completely demarcated.
Although the International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that the Temple of Preah Vihear belonged to Cambodia, the row over the 4.6-square-km territory around the temple has never been resolved.
The conflict has occurred just a week after Cambodia's Preah Vihear temple was enlisted as World Heritage Site on July 7, 2008, since then both sides have built up military forces along the border, and periodic clashes happened, resulted in deaths of troops on both sides.
The latest clashes on Feb. 4-7, unleashed a barrage of artillery shells on both sides of the border, had killed and wounded many soldiers and citizens of both sides, and caused tens of thousands of the two countries' villagers nearby the disputed areas fleeing for safe shelters.
ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Phnom Penh will wait until Thailand's parliament ratifies the previous memos of Joint- Boundary Commission (JBC) meetings before it will accept Bangkok' s proposal on the next JBC meeting, Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman said Saturday.
Thailand has proposed to hold the next JBC on March 7-8 with its neighboring Cambodia in order to discuss border demarcation.
The issue so far has not yet been submitted for approval of Thai parliament; therefore, it is uncertain the next JBC would be held in Indonesia during March 7-8, Thani Thongpakdi, FM spokesman said.
The Article190 of Thailand's 2007 Constitution regulates that any treaty to be signed with other foreign countries and may bring about territorial changes requires parliament's ratification before it will be implemented.
The spokesman insisted that the meeting would be carried out bilaterally not multilaterally as Cambodian preferred. There might be the third country to facilitate talks but only Thailand and Cambodia would be at negotiating table, he added.
The two neighboring countries share a common border approximately 800 kilometers (500 miles) long but demarcation has never been fully completed. The 11th-century Preah Vihear temple has been the subject of age-old border dispute for decades. Although the International Court of Justice awarded the Hindu temple to Cambodia in 1962, the dispute over area adjacent to the temple has never been solved.
Listing of the temple to Unesco's World Heritage Site in 2008 fueled tensions between the two countries, resulting in military build-up with sporadic skirmishes. The latest deadly clashes on Feb 4-7, when both countries exchanged small arms firing and shelling, caused loss of lives of civilian population and soldiers on both sides as well as massive evacuation of residents along the border.
BANGKOK, March 5 (Bernama) -- Thai Prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has insisted that negotiations on Thai-Cambodian border issues are to be held bilaterally, Thai News Agency (TNA) reported.
The Thai premier was responding to his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen's recent remarks that Phnom Penh did not support bilateral negotiations and had called for participation in the talks by Indonesia or a neutral party.
Abhisit said everyone at a recent Asean foreign ministers' meeting supported bilateral negotiations between Thailand and Cambodia; while Indonesia would facilitate the bilateral talks, noting that bilateral negotiations between Bangkok and Phnom Penh can be under existing bilateral mechanisms, including the Thai-Cambodian Joint Boundary Commission, the General Border Committee or the Regional Border Committee.
The Thai Democrat premier also denied Hun Sen's recent remarks, quoting the special envoy of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as saying that Thailand sought the revocation of the World Heritage listing for the ancient Preah Vihear Temple along the Thai-Cambodian border.
Abhisit insisted that Thailand did not mention any delisting of the 11th century Hindu temple but had had told the UNESCO special envoy that attempts to proceed with a world heritage management plan by Cambodia unilaterally could cause more problems.
BANGKOK, March 4 (UPI) -- The Cambodian government gave a group of visiting military attaches a tour of a temple in a border area also claimed by Thailand, a Thai military official said.
The official, whose name was not reported, told the Bangkok Post the Thai government regards the trip as a breach of an agreement with Cambodia. But the source said the government's responses are limited.
"If we open fire, this will play into the hands of Cambodia and it will show the world that we started the fight," he said.
Military officers from France, Russia, China, Japan, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand, Malaysia, Myanmar (formerly Burma), Vietnam and Laos were given a tour of the area and the Preah Vihear Temple, the source said. They were observed by Thai soldiers through binoculars.
The military task force in the region in Thailand lodged a protest with their Cambodian counterparts, the source said.
Thai Patriots Network coordinator Veera Somkwamkid was sentenced to two-to-eight years in prison, and his secretary, Ratree Pipatanapaiboon, was sentenced to six years for illegal entry into Cambodia and espionage.
A 72-year-old man is one of several Minnesota sex criminals believed to have fled the country.
By JAMES WALSH, Star Tribune
March 4, 2011
Loren Clayton Oulman was like many American expatriates looking for a fresh start in Asia. He ran website ads in Korea and China, offering his services as a teacher or consultant. He lived in Cambodia and traveled to India, Bangkok and Myanmar, searching for opportunities.
But he is also a convicted sex offender who'd fled Minnesota. Thanks to his Internet ads and a new international initiative, the U.S. Marshals Service captured Oulman in January and, last week, returned him to a cell in Minnesota. He had spent more than a year abroad and been featured on "America's Most Wanted."
Oulman, 72, is one of a several known sex offenders who have fled Minnesota for other countries, according to the Marshals Service -- just some of the thousands across the country who evade monitoring. Investigators hope a new initiative, dubbed "Project Sentinel/Operation Guardian," helps make foreign soil less of a haven for U.S. sex criminals.
"It's about child safety," said Deputy U.S. Marshal Matt Moran, who coordinates sex offender investigations for the Minnesota office. "Here, and in other countries."
Of the estimated 750,000 convicted sex offenders in the United States, as many as 125,000 have failed to register, Moran said.
The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 makes failure to register a federal crime.
Operation Guardian targets the five most dangerous "noncompliant" sex offenders in each Marshals Service district, as identified by state and local officials.
Oulman had been on the run for nearly two years -- and spent at least a year in Southeast Asia.
"There is quite the trend of these guys fleeing the country," Moran said, adding that two known Minnesota offenders are in Mexico, one is in Canada, another is in Cambodia and one man is believed to have fled to Sweden.
Oulman was particularly brazen about it.
He was first convicted of sexually molesting a juvenile in Anoka County in 1982, officials say. His most recent crime involved using the free Wi-fi at a Roseville Dunn Bros. coffee shop to look at child pornography on his laptop computer.
"I have a tendency to look at inappropriate things," he told the Dunn Bros. manager when confronted, the criminal complaint said.
In April 2008, he pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography and was sentenced to four months in jail. By September 2008, Oulman was telling his probation officer that he "had no intention of contacting probation," said Bob Pavlak, commander of the Ramsey County Sheriff Apprehension Unit.
And then he was gone.
'He didn't hide very well'
In February 2010, the Marshals Service learned that Oulman was traveling all over Asia. How? His Web postings were one clue.
One ran on a website in Korea: "I CAN TEACH ENGLISH -- DO CONSULTANT WORK -- OR EDUCATE EMPLOYEES IN THE THREE MOST IMPORTANT ISSUES FOR BUSINESS SUCCESS. Professionalism -- Positive Attitude -- Problem Solving. My name is Loren Oulman."
Another ad was posted in China.
"He didn't hide very well -- or try to hide at all for that matter," Moran said.
Oulman had even adopted children in Asia, officials said. "They call me Dad," he told them later.
In October 2010, U.S. officials went to Phnom Penh and worked with their Cambodian counterparts to pinpoint Oulman's location. In November, "America's Most Wanted" featured him. On Jan. 14, Cambodian police arrested Oulman at a casino in the seaside town of Sihanoukville. Cambodian officials said his sex offenses invalidated his travel documents.
"I think he is a dangerous man who threatens the safety of our children," Samleang Seila, an official with an anti-pedophile organization, told the Phnom Penh Post.
Oulman was extradited and taken to the Los Angeles County jail, where he was locked up for a month before being returned to Minnesota. On Feb. 23, he was incarcerated at the St. Cloud prison.
According to Ramsey County Community Corrections spokesman Christopher Crutchfield, Oulman is scheduled to be released in March 2012.
He will then be on supervised release for 10 more years.
Moran said Marshals Service sex offender investigators tracked down approximately 20,000 fugitive sex offenders in the past year, criminals wanted for sexual assaults, sex offender registration violations and other crimes.
Tracking sex offenders who flee overseas "is a real focus for us," Moran said. "We have the resources. And, more and more, we have the cooperation of other countries."
James Walsh • 612-673-7428
March 05, 2011
Cambodia sticks to its stance on Friday that there will be no bilateral meeting of Cambodia- Thailand General Border Committee (GBC) this month as requested by Thailand, Lt. Gen. Chhum Socheat, spokesman for Cambodian Ministry of Defense, said Friday.
"His Excellency Tea Banh (Cambodian Defense Minister) has already replied the Thai request, saying that it's not appropriate time to hold the meeting and there will be no bilateral talks without the presence of ASEAN chair," he said by telephone.
"If Thailand wants to propose meeting with Cambodia, it can ask ASEAN chair to convene," he said.
The Bangkok Post quoted Thai Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwon on March 3 as saying that Thailand has requested Cambodia to hold the 8th GBC meeting in March, instead of its usual meeting in April, so the two countries can hold bilateral talks sooner to solve problems and to talk over arrangements for Indonesian observers to visit the border area.
"It is just Thai's excuse to delay its acceptance of Indonesian observers," said Chhum Socheat.
Usually, the GBC is co-chaired by the two countries' defense ministers, aiming at strengthening and expanding cooperation on the armies of the two countries and to control security along the border.
Cambodia and Thailand on Feb. 22 agreed to receive Indonesian observers to monitor the border disputed areas near the 11th century Preah Vihear temple in order to ensure a permanent ceasefire; however, so far Thailand has not approved the terms of reference to receive the observers.
Preah Vihear Temple was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2008.
The conflict has occurred just a week after the inscription due to Thai claim of the ownership of 1.8 square miles (4.6 sq km) of scrub next to the temple, since then periodic clashes have happened between the two nations' troops, resulted in the deaths of troops on both sides.
March 05, 2011
The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), or the "yellow-shirt" movement, plans to collect 20,000 signatures in an effort to impeach the prime minister for alleged neglect of duty leading the kingdom to lose territory to Cambodia, a leader said Friday.
PAD's key member Prapan Koonmee said the group would use legal means to put pressure against Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his government by collecting 20,000 signatures, as required by the Constitution, to present to the Constitution Court.
He said the premier should be impeached for neglect of duty by not revoking the 2000 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Thailand and Cambodia which the PAD claimed was legally ineffective as a tool for negotiation with the Cambodian authorities.
The move had led Thailand to lose territory to Cambodia, he claimed.
The MoU on the Survey and Demarcation of Land Boundary signed by Thailand and Cambodia on June 4, 2000 saw both sides agreeing not to carry out any work resulting in changes to the frontier zone environment.
Meanwhile, Maj Gen Chamlong Srimuang, a PAD core leader, said the PAD would not return the area on Rajdamnoen Nok Avenue to the authorities except if the government uses force to disperse the protest which he believed the government would try to do just that.
Chamlong said that now the PAD would step up its campaign to inform the public that if Thailand loses the 4.6 square kilometers (1.8 square miles) of overlapped land to Cambodia, the kingdom will lose another 180,000 rai (110 square miles) along the border to Cambodia.
The PAD has staged mass gathering since January 25 in a bid to demand the government to withdraw the membership from the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, revoke the MoU on the Thai-Cambodian border signed in 2000, and expel Cambodian people from disputed border areas.
March 05, 2011
Thailand has principally agreed on terms of reference (TOR) on observation related to its dispute with Cambodia over border issue, an Indonesian minister said here on Friday.
Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa told reporters that as observing party in the issue, Indonesia has sent the terms of reference that was responded positively by Cambodia.
"Cambodia has agreed and yesterday I heard Thailand has principally agreed but details will be submitted in the near term, " he said.
Natalegawa stressed that the part should be immediately completed as the momentum must be maintained.
"(The momentum of) decision by both foreign ministers and both countries on Feb. 22 should be maintained and we must move fast," he said.
According to him, Indonesia has established two teams consisting of 30 officials to Thailand and Cambodia.
He said that it is expected that there will be a review on the observation every three months.
"But, related to how long they must stay there, we must decide together as there should be agreement from related countries. This is important as we don't want to enforce peace between them. We are just observers," he said.
Another thing, he said, is security of the observers.
"They are unarmed. So, there must be a safety guarantee," he said.
Natalegawa added that all political processes must be informed to other ASEAN countries.
Thailand and Cambodia have the border conflict just a week after Cambodia's Preah Vihear temple was enlisted as World Heritage Site on July 7, 2008, since then periodic clashes between both sides' troops happened, resulted in the deaths of troops on both sides.
The latest clashes, on Feb. 4-7, killed and wounded many soldiers and citizens of both sides, and caused tens of thousands of the two countries' villagers nearby the disputed areas fleeing for safe shelters.
Date: 04 Mar 2011
By Andy Mcelroy, IFRC Bangkok
The president of Cambodian Red Cross has been recognised as a national champion for mother and child health at a major ceremony in Phnom Penh. More than 800 people witnessed Dr Bun Rany Hun Sen receive the award from the UN population fund's Asia Pacific regional director Nobuko Horibe. Letters of recognition were also received from UNICEF and UNAIDS.
The Cambodian Red Cross president said that there were several challenges in Cambodia around mother and child health including a lack of midwives, limited health budgets, lack of medical equipment as well as basic key health messages reaching those who were most vulnerable and isolated in the country.
'While this is an honour for me, there are clearly many more duties that I have to carry out especially at a time of so many challenges around maternal and child health here in Cambodia and around the world,' Dr Hun Sen said.
The Cambodian Red Cross president speaks from experience, some of it tragic. She lost her first child after giving birth in November 1976 during some of the most difficult times in Cambodia. She trained and became an experienced midwife and has assisted in the delivery of hundreds of babies.
Dr Hun Sen called for broader and more intensive focus on health and hygiene. 'In particular, pregnant women should be advised to change their habit of having babies delivered at home by traditional midwives with no professional training.'
In a strong declaration of humanitarian diplomacy, the Red Cross president stated: 'At the same time, the Ministry of Health and other agencies should continue to strengthen and be more active in providing services to people without discrimination based on either political affiliation or wealth status, particularly vulnerable people from remote areas.'
At the ceremony the Cambodian government announced the adoption of 21 February as the national day for maternal, newborn and child health.
Cambodian Red Cross' health strategy 2012 stresses the need to reduce deaths, illness and impact from disease by addressing the leading causes of child and maternal morbidity and mortality. This area is a central pillar of the national society's approach in health.
It is part of the national society's contribution to the International Federation's global initiative of "making every mother and child count" towards the Millennium Development Goals. This drive sees the national society contribute significantly to the national health agenda driven by government but with the auxiliary role of the Red Cross playing a defined and supportive role.
The Cambodian government is seeking to reduce the under five mortality rate by two-thirds; and the maternal mortality by three-quarters ration, both by 2015. It also wants to move towards universal access to reproductive health.
Newspaper section: News
In our lives we surely must have come across one of those unfortunates _ the short-sighted girl who loses her spectacles on a camping trip; the nice boy who makes one simple mistake and his life spirals downhill to that miserable place of what-could-have-been; the person who seems to stumble just a little but falls all the way into the deep, dark abyss...
I often think of Veera Somkhwamkid as one such unfortunate soul.
For some inexplicable reason, Mr Veera finds himself in a corner so painfully tight that no choice seems available to him that will not entail his ending up in utmost misery.
I will never know what prompted Mr Veera to "cross the line" and walk across that uncertain borderline on that sunny day right before New Year's. In the video taken by one of his 6 companions (which ironically ended up as evidence against him in the Cambodian court) Mr Veera appeared energetic and confident, a man fully assured of the path he'd chosen and the righteousness of his cause.
The footage, which showed a clear sky and a golden-brown, just-harvested field with the soft tinkling sound of buffalo bells in the background, lets us see Mr Veera guiding his companions along. He tells them about the borderline, about Thai and Cambodian communities, even about what he made sound was the sure-fire possibility of them getting apprehended by Cambodian soldiers if they continued their walk... which they did.
In that video, Mr Veera showed no fear or hesitation, unlike his travel mate Democrat MP Panich Vikitsreth who, despite trying to keep his outward cool, often looked back to where he came from and who made an attempt to inform his secretary and Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of where he was going. In my opinion, Mr Veera even looked casual, as if he were walking in his own backyard, which, come to think of it, was probably what he thought he was doing.
We know where that casual walkabout has led him. Mr Veera and his secretary Ratree Pipatanapaiboon have been behind bars in Cambodia's Prey Sar prison for more than two months now. Unless they seek a royal pardon, it is likely they will have to stay in there for eight and six years, respectively, as per their sentences. Even with a pardon, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen once said they would have to serve two-thirds of their jail term.
When Mr Veera was last seen in public in February when he was brought to hear his verdict before the court, the trauma of prison time was evident in his thinner body, careworn expression and seemingly haunted eyes. What's worse is what options does he have now? His case has been so politicised that his life no longer seems to be his. The Thai Patriots Network, the ultra-nationalist group which he served as coordinator, has remained adamant that it will not see Mr Veera "bow" to the Cambodians by seeking a royal pardon. Evidently, such an act by Mr Veera _ the TPN's poster boy _ would be tantamount to him conceding that he had committed wrong and did indeed "trespass" into Cambodian territory, a concession that would go against everything the nationalist group has campaigned on.
The same burden must be heavy on Mr Veera's mind. The man really is left with no choice. If he holds on to his conviction _ his insistence that the land he trod on Dec 29 belongs to Thailand _ he will literally be left to rot in prison. His TPN may continue to make noise but very few people in Thailand will remember him or care much about the nobility of his suffering.
The other road left to him is no less grievous. If Mr Veera chooses to try to live to fight another day and submits a plea for royal pardon, what would be left of him? Even if he regains his freedom, he would become a man with no convictions. His friends and fellow nationalists could look down on him or turn their backs on him. Who would listen to him the next time he goes out to campaign? Who would follow him if he leads another march into uncertain areas? Who would respect him? And the worst question of all: will he, who has built such a strong faith in his nationalist cause, still find respect for himself? It may have seemed innocuous at the time, but that casual walkabout at the border has led Mr Veera into a truly difficult dilemma.
Atiya Achakulwisut is Deputy Editor, Bangkok Post.
Well-known fortune teller takes charge of exclusive housing estate for the rich and famous - Former police chief blocks promotion of officer who once investigated him - Bitter Thailand-Cambodia border dispute teaches army chief Prayuth a very valuable lesson
Newspaper section: News
Warin Buawiratlert must have foreseen his own future in the lucrative property business.
The Chiang Mai-based seer, made famous by making cosmic predictions for the movers and shakers of the country, has chosen a second career outside his familiar territory.
He has been named chief executive of a company building an exclusive housing estate in Chiang Mai for a group of very select clients.
The project sits on 60 rai of prime land purchased from the Bangkok Bank and is adjacent to the Bank of Thailand's northern office on Chottana Road.
The estate promises to be fully self-contained with a clubhouse and a shopping centre. A source said 36 plots on the estate have been snapped up by the rich and famous, while mansions priced at 30-40 million baht each are being built on the land.
Prospective tenants include high-flying business leaders, senior civil servants and top-ranking military and police officers.
Mr Warin hand-picked the prospective buyers, who are mostly people with whom he gained close connections through his fortune-telling service.
As the estate takes shape, each step of construction is accompanied by a luck-seeking rite performed by Mr Warin.
The source said the project was financed by a joint venture whose controlling stakes are believed to belong to one of Thailand's major conglomerates.
Mr Warin shot to fame after his name was associated as the ''reader of the fates'' with the engineers of the Sept 19, 2006, coup. Among his prominent clients was coup leader Sonthi Boonyaratkalin.
With his closeness to the coup makers, he has gone by his new alias of Hone Kor Mor Chor, or Seer of the Council for
dhNational Security (CNS). The CNS is the group that ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra from power.
Appointments to see Mr Warin are said to have a backlog of many months.
He is sometimes reported to arrange merit-seeking rites for influential top brass to shore up their waning fortunes. His high-powered clients include former CNS strongman Chalit Phukpasuk, who is also the former air force chief, Election Com mission member Sodsri Satayatham and former police chief Pol Gen Sereepisut Taemeeyaves.
Mr Warin has not been faultless in his predictions, although that has done nothing to dent public fascination in his
dhextraordinary ability, according to the source.
Apart from his new-found career in property, Mr Warin has authored a pocket book titled Perd Nimitr III: Rueng Lao Chabab Archan Warin (Insight Into the Vision III: A Story Foretold by Archan Warin).
The book has stirred tremendous
dhexcitement among readers as it fathoms Mr Warin's new depth in his vision of army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha as the emerging defender of the throne and the nation.
The subject matter is thought to hold implications for the highly unpredictable nature of the country's politics.
Long memory, short promotion
Bitter feelings stemming from a dispute with another senior police officer may have cut short Pol Maj Gen Sriwara Rangsipramanakul's rapid promotion to chief of Provincial Police Region 1.
The former deputy Central Investigation Bureau chief took the job as PPR 1 office head after winning strong political support.
However, he had served only a few days in the job when a complaint was filed against him, resulting in his promotion to the PPR office being put on hold pending an inquiry.
The complaint was signed by former police chief Pol Gen Sereepisut Taemeeyaves, who insisted Pol Maj Gen Sriwara was unqualified to be commissioner.
The police major-general did not
dhpossess the seniority he claimed he had to land the PPR chief post, the complaint said.
Pol Maj Gen Sriwara passed the screening by the Police Commission, which subsequently endorsed his promotion to the PPR. The endorsement was made in large part because of the account of Pol Maj Gen Sriwara's seniority based on the number of years he has been in the police service.
The service years, in Pol Maj Gen
dhSriwara's case, were boosted by his
dhassignment to a station in the insurgent-infiltrated far South.
Regulations give those dispatched to troubled areas or conflict zones more service years than they actually serve, allowing some officers to increase their seniority and rise rapidly through the ranks.
The complaint alleged that during the time that Pol Maj Gen Sriwara was supposed to have been stationed in the far South, he was also enrolled in a course offered by the National Defence College.
Prayuth: Ordered construction
He may not have been working full time in the far South as he was supposed to have done.
If that was the case, he should not have enjoyed the privilege of earning the extra service years associated with the far South posting, the complaint said.
Pol Maj Gen Sriwara is on poor terms with Pol Gen Sereepisut after he led a police investigation into the former police chief's resort home in Kanchanaburi.
Pol Gen Sereepisut was accused of
dhencroaching on protected forests and polluting a waterway for construction of the 100-rai Phu Prai Tarn Nam resort in Kanchanaburi's Thong Pha Phum district.
The project led to illegal tree-cutting and left a canal dirty with rocks and other construction debris, according to the charges.
Pol Maj Gen Sriwara climbed fast through the ranks. He was deputy chief of the CIB for a year before he was promoted to the PPR 1 bureau.
Few officers go from deputy to full commissioner in the space of only a year.
Pol Maj Gen Sriwara has secured steady support from the government after he played an active role in the Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation set up to quell last year's political unrest.
A source said if the Democrat Party remains in power for a few more months, Pol Maj Gen Sriwara could clear the complaint hurdle and resume his stint as chief of the PPR 1 bureau.
Its work will be vital in preparations for this year's general elections.
All's fair inlove and war
Soldiers at the border have learned there are times when their gentlemanly ways will not win the day.
Playing hardball may be necessary when either party in a dispute resorts to all ways imaginable to get what it wants.
The clashes between Thai and Cambodian troops last month in Si Sa Ket highlighted the critically precarious state of the border situation between the two countries.
The tension was brought to the boil after Cambodia built two roads through the disputed area with Thailand near the ancient Preah Vihear temple early this year.
One road leads to the Hindu temple and the other to the old patrol base where Thai soldiers used to be stationed close to the Keo Sikha Kiri Savara pagoda built by Cambodia.
The building of the roads was a blatant breach of the memorandum of under standing (MoU) banning any physical construction in the disputed area.
Honouring the agreement, Thai troops withdrew from the outpost near the
dhpagoda. However, Cambodian soldiers did not follow suit and retained a military presence there.
After a briefing about the security
dhdevelopment, army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha gave the Suranaree Task Force the go-ahead to pave a road in the disputed land too.
The road was intended to be a supply route for troops in case the border confrontation degenerated into skirmishes, which it later did.
The soldiers responsible for the road construction that began on Jan 27 were a 40-strong team comprising engineers, infantry troops and those from a security protection unit.
The Cambodian army kept watch on the road being paved while hurrying the construction of its own roads.
The 2-kilometre road went from Pha Mor I Dang cliff to a spot near the Preah Vihear temple. As construction was in progress, Cambodian troops launched heavy shelling targeting the tractors used to build the road on Feb 4. The firing of weapons including rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47 rifles continued for three hours. The military offensive then carried on sporadically over the course of the next three days.
Over to the top-level security meeting, Gen Prayuth admitted it was his fault that he had ordered the road construction. He said he did not anticipate that Cambodian troops would open fire without prior warning or protest, according to an army source.
Security officials have pointed out that Cambodia has consistently ignored the MoU by building roads and refusing to stop the work despite formal protests from Thailand. When Thailand paved its road, Cambodia began its assault.
After the clashes, the Cambodian troops moved in and occupied the 4.6-square-kilometre disputed area. When Thai soldiers tried to enter the area, the Cambodian troops fired upon them.
Gen Prayuth said the government has ordered Thai troops to maintain their positions, guard the border and not attack Cambodia. But some observers feel the Thai soldiers should not sit back and let Cambodia establish a military presence in the disputed area. They should also gain access to the area to assert Thailand's territorial claims.
By NAOMI LINDT
Published: March 4, 2011
INSIDE a breezy bamboo structure in Chi Phat, a village in the remote province of Koh Kong, near the Thai border in southwestern Cambodia, a dozen or so foreigners sat down to a communal dinner of chicken curry and Angkor Beer. Cinnamon-hued cattle and elderly women wearing ikat sarongs and checkered scarves ambled along the dusty road outside.
Eating by the light given off by fishing cages doubling as lamps, the group recounted the day’s activities: bird-watching at sunrise, mountain biking across rocky streams, swimming in waterfalls. And fending off rain forest leeches.
“The bite is no worse than a large mosquito’s,” said David Lambert, a strapping Englishman.
Katrin van Camp, from Belgium, had returned from a guided overnight jungle trek, then spent the afternoon in a hammock and playing with local children eager to improve their English. “When I go home, this is the Cambodia I’m going to remember,” she said.
For decades, Koh Kong villages like Chi Phat had little contact with the outside world. Marginalized by a lack of infrastructure, a Khmer Rouge presence that endured into the late 1990s, and some of Southeast Asia’s wildest, least-explored terrain, the region remained virtually forbidden to outsiders.
But new roads now penetrate the jungle and scale the hills; new bridges traverse the area’s numerous rivers. And as Cambodia has achieved a level of political stability, a small but diverse array of Western-run accommodations — including the makeshift restaurant in Chi Phat, part of a project called Community-Based Eco-tourism — has opened in the last few years, catering to both backpackers and the well-heeled.
Thanks to this new accessibility, travelers are now discovering the area’s awe-inspiring biodiversity, which includes one of Southeast Asia’s largest tracts of virgin rain forest; some 60 threatened species, including the endangered Asian elephants, tigers, Siamese crocodiles and pileated gibbons; and a virtually untouched 12-island archipelago in the Gulf of Thailand, with sand beaches and crystal-clear aquamarine waters.
The Koh Kong region spans 4,300 square miles, about the size of the Everglades National Park. But the charms of Cambodian rural life are readily apparent in Chi Phat, home to about 2,500 people. The village sits at the foot of the Southern Cardamom Mountains, about 10 miles inland, up the mangrove- and bamboo-lined Preak Piphot River. Wooden houses on stilts, painted mint green and baby blue and shaded by towering palms, line the main dirt road. Children wearing navy blue and white uniforms and broad smiles cycle to school on adult-size bikes, passing by toothpick-legged white egrets hanging out on the backs of water buffalo in neon green rice fields.
It wasn’t always this peaceful. Chi Phat was once infamous for its abundant poachers, loggers and slash-and-burn farmers, who were forced to turn to illegal practices to make a living. That began to change in 2007, when the conservation group Wildlife Alliance started to work with the community on a project that would turn hunters — who knew the forest’s hidden gems better than anyone — into tour guides, and local families into guesthouse owners.
“Chi Phat was home to the most destructive inhabitants in the whole of Koh Kong province,” said John Maloy, a spokesman for Wildlife Alliance. “By participating in the eco-tourism project, community members would not only receive income that would greatly improve their situation, they would be provided with incentives to protect the forest rather than exploit it in an unsustainable manner.”
So far, the initiatives seem to be working. Last year, Chi Phat welcomed 1,228 visitors, according to the alliance, an increase of nearly 50 percent from 2009. Residents are receiving much-needed income that allows them to reside year-round in the village, allowing their children to go to school and get to health care. (When locals relied on logging and hunting, they had to spend long stretches in the forest.)
Travelers, meanwhile, can leave the pressures of the developed world behind. Days begin with the rooster’s crow and end when the village’s generator goes silent at midnight. On trips organized by the Community-Based Eco-tourism office, visitors can trek through fields filled with canary yellow and electric blue butterflies to reach bat caves hidden behind curved waterfalls, or plant a tree at a reforestation nursery. Recent visitors reportedly caught a glimpse of a few of the area’s roughly 175 endangered elephants.
Janet Newman, originally from England, fell for Koh Kong while documenting the province’s wildlife in 2005. Within three years, she had decided to stay for good, and opened the eco-friendly Rainbow Lodge.
“I looked at many parts of the country but always had a big smile on my face when I went to Koh Kong,” Ms. Newman said. “It was just the sheer unspoiled beauty of the area.”
The lodge, on 12 acres along the Tatai River about 50 miles northwest of Chi Phat, is thick with palms and brightly colored flowering bushes. The seven wooden thatched-roof bungalows have hammock-strung terraces that overlook the trees.
Guests at the lodge — who recently ranged from a young Australian family of five to adventure-ready couples from Europe — can kayak to the nearby Tatai waterfall, a wide expanse that creates small bathing pools and pummeling massage spots between black rocks; head into the jungle on guided hikes, spotting and identifying birds and insects as they go; or just lounge in the wicker sofas in the open-air restaurant, whose thatched roof features a nightly display by limb-size polka-dotted geckos.
If you are lucky, the spot might just live up to its name: three rainbows streaked the sky during a November visit.
Ms. Newman and her boyfriend and co-manager, Gee Cartier, go to great lengths to minimize the property’s environmental impact, sourcing about 95 percent of Rainbow Lodge’s power from solar panels and supporting Cambodian-made products like biodegradable handmade soaps and locally harvested honey.
Cozy as Rainbow might be, some travelers may prefer the creature comforts available at 4 Rivers Floating Lodge, which opened in November 2009 three miles downstream on a bend in the river. Bringing luxury to the untamed wilderness is the focus here, with 12 rooms housed in elaborately built tents that float on interconnected decks made of recycled wood.
With perks like king beds, air-conditioning, hot water and three-course dinners, 4 Rivers caters to European honeymooners and expatriates in Phnom Penh seeking a refuge from the city.
But just as eco-tourism is taking off, businesses may soon have to deal with major threats from a different sort of development. Like much of Cambodia, Koh Kong faces serious challenges as the government sells off land, including parcels of national parks, to private developers. Several Chinese-built dams have been proposed or are under construction along Koh Kong’s rivers. And given the recent government approval to build a titanium mine nearby, Chi Phat itself faces the possible loss of 11,000 acres of rain forest and and additional challenges to its eco-tourism efforts.
Last year, ground was broken on a $5 billion, 25-year Chinese-financed tourism project that includes an airport, a sea port, a golf course and a large commercial development along a stretch of Koh Kong’s southern coast, now accessible only by boat. Although the roads and airport might be good for the eco-tourism efforts, the additional developments might not.
The archipelago consists of a dozen islands with few inhabitants, aside from the main fishing island of Koh Sdach. A few places to stay already operate on the islands. December 2009 saw the opening of hippie-friendly Nomads Land on Koh Totang, a rugged island, and Belinda Beach Resort, opened in October on Koh Sdach, which easily qualifies as Koh Kong’s fanciest digs, with stone bungalows surrounded by bougainvilleas and plumeria trees, an infinity pool and a terrace.
As in Chi Phat, positive, symbiotic relationships between businesses and residents are forming on the islands — which may be a bulwark against overdevelopment. Nomads and Belinda Beach employ islanders at their properties; tourists hire fishermen, intimately familiar with the area’s secret beaches and best swimming spots, as day-trip guides.
“We felt such positive energy from the locals when we arrived,” said Benoit Trigaux, the owner of Belinda Beach. “Everything you can dream of is here.”
HOW TO GET THERE
Koh Kong province is roughly a five-hour drive from Phnom Penh. Public buses ($10) leave from Phnom Penh throughout the day, but hiring a private car ($70 each way; arrange through your hotel) will save time. (U.S. dollars are widely accepted in Cambodia.)
Koh Sdach is best reached by a two-hour ferry ($25) from Sihanoukville that runs every other day (returning the next day); a Chinese-built road is expected to be finished this year.
WHERE TO STAY
There are currently 11 guesthouses and 8 homestays in Chi Phat (855-92-720-925; ecoadventurecambodia.com). Accommodations are simple: foam mattress, mosquito net, shared toilets. You might have a farm animal or two under your room. Take it all in stride. Daily rates are $3 to $5 a person.
The seven bungalows at family-friendly Rainbow Lodge (855-99-744-321; rainbowlodgecambodia.com) feature log-frame beds, a silk bedside lamp, fans and private balconies. Doubles, including all meals, are $65.
Rooms at the 4 Rivers Floating Lodge (Tatai River; 855-97-64-34-032; ecolodges.asia) are spacious and furnished with beds and settees made of woven water hyacinth; the private verandas are lovely. Doubles, $139.
At Nomads Land (Koh Totang; 855-11-91-61-71; nomadslandcambodia.com), you can stay in anything from a single room made of thatched bamboo to a two-story bungalow with stunning ocean views. There are plans to introduce yoga and meditation retreats. From $8 per person.
Belinda Beach Resort (Koh Sdach; 855-17-517-517; belindabeach.com) is the first luxury hotel to come to the Koh Kong coast. Doubles, $120.
Day treks from Chi Phat start at $8, overnight trips into the jungle from $20. At Rainbow Lodge, kayaks are free; full-day treks start at $15.
You can charter a basic fisherman’s boat at Koh Sdach for $25 for a long half-day; more comfortable is a day trip snorkeling and kayaking with Koh Kong Divers (855-17-502-784; kohkongdivers.com), which is $40 a person. Dives from $55.