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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Mixed reactions arise over possible return of direct U.S aid for Cambodia

Government welcomes, the opposition doubts, the ambassador supports, the expert becomes worried and the analyst hints changes, as local media reported on Tuesday the possible resumption of direct aid, including that for the military, by the U.S. for Cambodian government.
"Any assistance is useful for us," the Cambodian Daily quoted Deputy Prime Minister and Co-Minister of Defense Tea Banh as saying, while mentioning the U.S. Senate's proposed budget for the 2007 fiscal year, under which the Foreign Appropriations Subcommittee recommended that the ban on direct funding to the Cambodian government be lifted in exchange for the kingdom's cooperation to carry out the anti-terrorism war.
This might open the way for a proposed 55.8 million U.S. dollars in general aid to be delivered over the year, in addition to the one million U.S. dollars already earmarked for the Cambodian military.
The funds for the Cambodian military were committed in September but had not yet been received, Tea Banh added.
In addition, government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith told reporters that "it would be great if we can resume a normal diplomatic relationship (with the U.S.)."
Local paper quoted U.S. officials as saying that the possible resumption aimed at engaging the Cambodian government on counter- terrorism, as the kingdom once provided shelter from September 2002 to March 2003 for Riduan Isamuddin, an Indonesian better known as Hambali, who was believed to be al-Qaida's top operative in Southeast Asia and operational chief of Jemaah Islamiyah.
However, local analyst told Xinhua here on Tuesday in condition of anonymity that if the aid came true, its major impact might be the change of the Cambodian government's stance over its donor or aid countries, mainly including Japan, China, France and the recently highlighted South Korea.
If the U.S. could help, it must be the most generous helping hand, which would share a lot of the Cambodian government's attention towards its traditional donors, who in effect had to adjust their strategy to balance the U.S. influence, he added.
Meanwhile, major opposition party leader Sam Rainsy focused on the kingdom's allegedly notorious record of human rights, insisting that the U.S. lacked reasons to finance such a government and army directly.
"You should not give a dime to the Cambodian military. They are the worst perpetrators of human rights abuses. They take land, burn houses and evict poor farmers from their land," he added.
In response, U.S. Ambassador Joseph Mussomeili said that human rights concerns were a reason to engage the military.
"It would be akin to having an adolescent who is committing crimes and refusing to put him in a training center to learn how to be a better person. The whole point is to make them a more responsible and trust-worthy organization," he added.
Additionally, some critics charged that the cost of making a direct bid for influence was too high in a country like Cambodia.
"It is almost a probability that you would have to accept that in the course of re-engaging (with the government), only a portion of your investment will have the impact you have. The rest will be siphoned off and help the few rather than the many," Tony Knowles, the Canadian Director of the Small and Medium-sized Enterprises of Cambodia, was quoted by local media as saying.
"You are going into partnership with a group that has demonstrated neither sincerity nor competence," he added.
The Cambodian Daily reported that the U.S. Congress was not entirely at ease with delivering unrestricted funds to Cambodia.
"The flood gates won't open. A check is still in here," it quoted a U.S. congressional aide as saying.
Source: Xinhua Read more!

Terror threat reason for postponing Asian summits

Associated Press
Posted date: December 12, 2006

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- The threat of a terrorist attack was one reason for the postponement of two high-profile Asian summits due to take place in the Philippines this week, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Tuesday.
There had been considerable speculation -- but no official confirmation -- that fear of terrorism was one of the reasons for postponing the December 11-13 annual summit of leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations and their meetings with the leaders of China, Japan and South Korea.
Last Friday, the Philippine government abruptly postponed the meetings, blaming Typhoon Utor (Philippine codename: Seniang), which was bearing down on the country near the venue of the summits in Cebu province.
But several reports in the media that cited unnamed Asian officials said the postponement might have been prompted by warnings from several foreign embassies in the Philippines that a terror attack was possible.
Hun Sen, in a speech given in the countryside, noted that he would have been in the Philippines on Tuesday had the meetings there not been postponed.
"But in the Philippines, there was a typhoon on one hand and threat of attack on the other," he said in a speech in Svay Rieng province, about 110 kilometers (68 miles) southeast of the capital Phnom Penh.
"The terrorists threatened to launch an attack" in the Philippines, Hun Sen added without elaborating. His speech was broadcast on the national radio.
In separate advisories last Wednesday, the United States, Britain and Australia warned terrorists might be plotting attacks in the central Philippines, the site of the meetings.
Philippine security officials said they had not discovered any specific terror threats against the summit, but could not discount them.
ASEAN is made up of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Philippine officials have said the meetings may resume on January 11-13. Read more!