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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Michael Costello: Sometimes all you can do is wait

Sometimes there is nothing that can be done to stop the horror unless outsiders are prepared to use force

AS the carnage in Somalia continues, matched by horrors in Sudan and elsewhere in the world, common humanity cries out for somebody, anybody, to do something to stop the starvation, the rape, the torture, murder and war and, especially, to spare the innocent, who seem to suffer the most, whatever side they're on.These calls reflect a natural human feeling that if we could just get people around the table, good conflict-resolution skills would work these things out to the reasonable satisfaction of all parties.

Unfortunately, human history shows that this is simply not so. Often for strategic reasons, but just as frequently because parties to a dispute would rather fight, kill and die than compromise, many conflicts will not be resolved in the short or medium term. Only when those strategic relationships change, or when one of those parties is prepared to surrender dearly held positions, can there be a solution.

An example in Australia's recent experience is the effort in the 1980s and '90s to solve the Cambodian issue.

Bob Hawke, soon after his election as prime minister in 1983, asked Bill Hayden, then the foreign minister, to take the lead in seeking a solution to the Cambodian dispute.
Hayden worked hard on this for several years, culminating in a meeting in Ho Chi Minh City with Hun Sen, then foreign minister of the Soviet and Vietnamese-backed regime in Phnom Penh. That meeting so incensed the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that it seriously jeopardised Australia's relationship with them, and Australia had no choice but to back off.

Gareth Evans, who succeeded Hayden as foreign minister, accepted a proposal in late 1989 to try again. By September 1990, the deal was effectively done.
What changed between 1987 and late 1989 that allowed the Australian initiative to succeed where it had earlier failed?

What happened was that in those two years, the whole global and regional strategic situation changed because of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Remember what Hayden faced in 1983. The Soviet Union was Vietnam's close ally, supplying aid and weapons to it and to the regime in Phnom Penh. It did this to pressure its neighbour and antagonist, China.

China, in turn, pressured the Soviet Union and Vietnam by supporting the Khmer Rouge, which had undertaken armed incursions against Vietnam. Vietnam drove the Khmer Rouge out of Cambodia, into camps in Thailand on the Cambodian border. The Chinese also supported the deposed King Sihanouk and his forces.

The Americans, still burning with rage over Vietnam's victory over them and keen to support China as a balance to the Soviet Union, also recognised the Khmer Rouge as Cambodia's legitimate government and supported the Lon Nolists, who worked in a military alliance of convenience with their enemies, the Khmer Rouge and Sihanouk. In the region the issue was ASEAN solidarity with Thailand, which was terrified by the threat on its border from the fearsome Vietnamese army.

Australia supported ASEAN and the US. But with the Soviet Union's collapse and the withdrawal of its material support for Vietnam and the Cambodian regime, everything changed. China no longer feared the threat of Soviet encirclement, so the Khmer Rouge was no longer needed to pressure Vietnam.

The US no longer needed to support China against the Soviets and Vietnam, and without this the political stench of supporting the Khmer Rouge became too much. With the withdrawal of Vietnamese forces from Cambodia, the threat on Thailand's border was gone.
What had looked set in concrete suddenly became completely fluid. The timing was perfect for Australia, trusted by all sides, with good ideas and high energy.

The point, however, is that good ideas, high energy and high moral purpose will not solve a conflict if the strategic environment is hostile, or one or more of the parties to that conflict are not sufficiently exhausted by the fight.

As the foreign minister of Vietnam during that period, Nguyen Co Thach, used to say: "You do not win at the negotiating table what you have lost on the battlefield." So the next time you hear good people like George Clooney say "the world must do something" about Darfur, remember this. Often negotiation, mediation and goodwill won't work unless the facts on the ground are changed, as the US eventually did by its intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Sometimes there is nothing that can be done by outsiders to stop the horror if antagonists would rather fight than settle, unless the outsiders are themselves prepared to use force.
China, usually supported by Russia, will prevent UN use of force. And the international mood - and the mood now in the US - is that it's better to allow all the horror in the world to go unchecked than to support intervention by an American-led coalition.

In the absence of this willingness to intervene by force, with all its attendant risks (including the risk of failure) and huge financial costs, we should recognise that in many, many situations, the most we can do is offer what humanitarian assistance we can, seek to prevent the contagion spreading, and wait until better times come.
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Cambodian NEC asks candidates to appoint agents to observe election

The National Election Committee (NEC) of Cambodia here on Thursday issued a notification to ask the candidates of the ongoing commune councils elections to appoint agents to observe the process.

"Political parties who register candidates for the commune councils election in any commune and wish to send agents as observers, have the right to send one accredited observer and selected one substitute observer, in order to monitor in polling stations and counting ballot in the stations where parties' candidates are running," the notification said.

Political parties who have above intention shall get ready by preparing their agents' lists and applications within seven days after the publication of the official candidates lists, it said.
"Political parties who have no candidates in given communes and wish to observe the election, can send their member(s) where they are eligible to vote. The procedures for accreditation are those of national observers," it added.

The notification was signed by NEC Chairperson Im Suosdey.
Village chiefs, deputy village chiefs and villagers will attend the 2007 commune councils election, whose process started on September 21, 2006 and will end up on May 23, 2007.

The registration of candidates will start from the beginning of January until the middle of February. The election campaign will take place from March 16 to 30, 2007. April 1, 2007 will be the polling day, ballot counting, and publishing of results at polling stations.

The commune councils election is prelude to the general election in 2008, which will elect a new government for the country.

Source: Xinhua Read more!

Cambodia's Angkor battles for new world wonder spot Wed Dec 27, 2:08 PM ET

Wed Dec 27, 2:08 PM ET

Cambodia called on its citizens to vote online to support the kingdom's bid to get the famed Angkor Wat temples named one of the new seven wonders of the world.
Officials hope the Angkor complex, capital of the powerful Khmer empire from the ninth to the 15th century, will win the "New 7 Wonders of the World" campaign, launched by Swiss adventurer Bernard Weber.

"Cambodian citizens inside and outside the country, please vote and help to have relatives and foreign friends... vote to select Angkor temples as one of the world wonders," said the government's Apsara Authority, which manages the ancient complex.
But Angkor will have to compete with other aspiring wonders such as the Acropolis in Athens, the Eiffel Tower in Paris and India's world-famous monument to love, the Taj Mahal.

The "New 7 Wonders" campaign was launched in 2000 by Weber, and aims to choose seven sites to replace the original wonders, which were selected more than two millennia ago.
Public voting and deliberation by the "New 7 Wonders" panel whittled about 200 nominations from around the world down to 21 short-listed candidates, including Angkor Wat.

The public now has until July 6 next year to vote by internet or phone. The new seven wonders of the world will be announced in the Portuguese capital Lisbon on July 7, 2007 -- 07.07.07.
"When our Angkor temple is selected... we hope more and more foreign tourists will be interested and come to visit the temple bringing more revenue for the country," Soeung Kong, deputy director general of the Apsara, told AFP.

Angkor Wat, located in Siem Reap, is Cambodia's most treasured landmark and biggest tourist draw, bringing much needed tourist dollars to the impoverished country.
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Plastics sector ready for international integration

With an annual growth rate of between 25-30%, the plastics sector of Vietnam is already ready for international economic integration, and is able to compete with its rivals in both regional and international markets, according to experts.

The plastics sector's turnover has rapidly increased over recent years. In 2006, its export revenue jumped to US $478 million from US $100 million five years ago. Particularly, the value of plastic package and wrapping products used for export products reaches hundreds of million of US dollars each year.

Made-in-Vietnam plastic products have made a foothold in many regional and international markets like Cambodia, Laos, the US, the European Union, and particularly Japan. Of the products, package and wrapping products alone, which are now available at 41 countries and territories around the world, account for 80% of the total export value of the sector.
Alongside the mentioned traditional markets, Vietnamese businesses are also aiming towards promising ones like China, India, Russia, Eastern Europe and Africa.

In the domestic market, Vietnamese plastic products are widely used by almost all sectors, including industry, agriculture, transport, seafood, construction, electricity and electronics. High-quality products like oil pipelines or those used for automobiles and computers are successfully produced by local businesses, including Tien Phong, Phuong Dong, Tan Tien and Binh Minh.

According to Nguyen Dang Cuong, Secretary General of the Vietnam Plastic Association, the abolishment of tariffs when Vietnam officially becomes a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) will generate a greater opportunity for the plastics sector in export and investment attraction.

The move, he added, would create favourable conditions for the sector to reach the target of fetching US $1.3 million from export by 2010.
Plastic ware production has become appealing to international investors, particularly Japanese businesses, Cuong said.

With the aim of seizing this opportunity and expanding the sector's export market, the association has worked out various measures, focusing on encouraging businesses to invest in plants specialising in producing materials, semi-products, chemicals and equipment, and to apply hi-tech and state-of-the-art equipment.

The association will also concentrate on speeding up the equitisation of state-owned enterprises in a bid to mobilise capitals from every economic sector.
Additionally, it points to the need for local businesses to coordinate to increase capital and technology, pay more attention to trademark and products advertising, and penetrate into retail networks of international markets by attending exhibitions, fairs and trade promotion activities.

Vietnam is currently home to 800 plastic ware producers, of whom 80% are operating in Ho Chi Minh City. Major products include wrapping, consumer products, construction products and hi-tech plastic products. (VNA) Read more!

Cambodian Court remanded Thai soldier for drug trafficking

A Cambodian court has remanded a Thai soldier in custody after he was allegedly caught attempting to smuggle more than 200 methamphetamine tablets into Thailand, officials said Thursday. Sok Nimol, provincial anti-drugs' police chief for the northwestern province, said the soldier was apprehended with 210 methamphetamine tablets concealed in the collar of his jacket on Christmas day as he attempted to cross the border into Thailand.

"He was making a living as a motorbike smuggler, bringing stolen bikes into Cambodia. He said he bought the drugs in Cambodia at the request of a businessman in Thailand and was carrying them back for him," she said. She said the 24-year-old soldier named Rattaphon had been posted to Thailand's Klong Hat commune in the border province of Sa Kaeo prior to his arrest.

Deputy chief of Battambang police, Chea Thong, confirmed the man was in custody and said the reaction from Thailand had been satisfactory. "In fact there was no reaction. He was in Cambodia and is accused of breaking Cambodian law, so he must face the consequences in Cambodia," he said. If convicted on drug trafficking charges, Rattaphon faces five to 10 years in prison. Read more!

Angelina Jolie & Brad Pitt Continue To Support Cambodia

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are stepping up efforts to aid people in need in their son's home country of Cambodia. The celebrity couple visited the homeland of their son Maddox, five, in November and are working to expand the scope of the Maddox Jolie-Pitt project (MJP), which Jolie launched more than four years ago as a conservation initiative.

The two have donated millions of dollars and teamed up with Dr. Jeffrey Sachs and his anti-poverty organization Millennium Promise on an economic-development program in northwestern Cambodia. Seventy MJP workers will work with Sach's group on activities including rice planting, distribution of beds to fight malaria, school meal programs and providing medicine for clinics.

Jolie tells People, "We have learned so much and I think we are on the right track. We hope people will travel to Cambodia. The people there have overcome so much." Pitt adds, "It was incredibly moving to visit my son's country." Read more!