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Sunday, January 14, 2007

China-ASEAN Free Trade Area

China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries signed The Agreement on Trade in Services of China-ASEAN Free Trade Area on Sunday in Cebu, the second largest city of the Philippines.

The agreement was signed at the 10th China-ASEAN Summit attended by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and leaders of the 10 ASEAN member countries.

The signing is another major achievement in China-ASEAN economic cooperation and trade. It will mark a key step forward in the building of the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area and lay the foundation for full and scheduled completion of the China-ASEAN FTA.
The following are some basic facts about the China-ASEAN free trade area.

On Nov. 4, 2002, then Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji and leaders of the 10 ASEAN nations signed at the sixth China-ASEAN summit the landmark Framework Agreement on ASEAN-China Comprehensive Economic Cooperation, marking the beginning of the process of setting up a China-ASEAN free trade zone.

Under the agreement, the free trade zone would be completed by 2010, and the four new ASEAN members -- Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam -- have been allowed an additional transitional period of five years and are slated to complete the building of the free trade area in 2015.

The China-ASEAN free trade area, which will comprise China, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, is expected to be one of the biggest free trade areas in the world.

The China-ASEAN free trade area will have a total population of 1.8 billion and a combined gross national product of 2 trillion U.S. dollars when completed in 2010.

The estimated total trade volume of 1.2 trillion U.S. dollars will make it the third largest market in the world, after theEuropean Union and the North American free trade area.

Since 2003, China and ASEAN have held consultations on agreements concerning the building of the free trade area. Beginning from July 1, 2005, China and ASEAN countries started their tariff-reducing process. The two sides will gradually reduce or cancel tariffs on 7,000 kinds of products.

By 2010, China and six old ASEAN member nations -- Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand will impose zero tariffs on most normal products, while China and the other four new ASEAN members -- Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam -- will do the same in 2015.

Source: Xinhua Read more!

Villagers Oppose More Dams in Vietnam

ENVIRONMENT-CAMBODIA:Villagers Oppose More Dams in Vietnam

Sam Rith - Newsmekong*PHNOM PENH, Jan 14 (IPS) - Chao Chantha, one of 10 community representatives from the north-eastern Cambodian province of Stung Treng became agitated as officials of the Electricity of Vietnam (EVN) fielded questions at a meeting called to discuss the neighbouring country's plans to build more dams on its side of the border.

''We have no hope that Vietnam will give any compensation to Cambodian people affected by their dams,'' Chantha, 46, said on the sidelines of the Jan. 12 meeting. Cambodian activists say this was the first time in more than a decade of Nordic aid-backed hydro-planning along rivers shared by Vietnam and Cambodia that Nordic consultants and the state-owned EVN met with affected residents and non-government organisations (NGOs). ''Since 2004, we have been experiencing unnatural floods two to three times a year. We are aware that the floods are caused by hydroelectric dams built upstream in Vietnam,'' Chantha explained, referring to construction activity that started in 2003 for a series of dams in the Srepok river basin.

Chantha says that in her village in Banmei, 83 families are already negatively affected by dams across the Srepok that flows into Cambodia. For two years, releases of water have unleashed floods that caused rice plants to rot. Their livelihoods affected, most residents are being forced to go to other provinces and find work in the garment or construction industries. A few families have decided to stick it out, but their crops are ruined by repeated flooding.

Thun Bunhean, who comes from Deilo village in Lumpat district in Rattanakkiri, said: ''During last year's floods, the water flowed very fast so that we did not have enough time to prevent our cows, pigs, chickens and ducks from being carried away by the waterà and now we have nothing to eat.'' In the Rattanakkiri and Stung Treng provinces, 11,000 villagers living along the Srepok have been facing negative impacts from hydropower development of the river basin, said Bean Sokun, dialogue project officer for the Sesan, Srepok and Sekong Rivers Protection Network (3SPN). Many fear that the Srepok projects will bring the same environmental and economic impact from that others experienced from the time dam projects began in the basin of the Se San river, a Mekong tributary shared by Vietnam and Cambodia, a decade ago.

The affected villagers, including from the Yali Falls dam, are still awaiting compensation. The Srepok and Sesan rivers merge some 30 km east of Stung Treng. In August-September 2006, 3SPN, a group banded together in the wake of the adverse impact of the cross-border dams, reported that villages, houses, schools, pagodas, and roads have already been inundated by fast-moving waters from the dammed Srepok. In mid-September, over 1,000 hectares of rice fields in Rattanakkiri were submerged, the group added. But EVN vice president Lam Du Son told the 20 community representatives from Rattanakkiri and Stung Treng, NGOs and others at the meeting here that the dams in Vietnam cannot yet have caused problems to Cambodians living downstream. ''We have not yet completed the dam to curb the Srepok river's water,'' said Du Son, referring to the fact that the dam does not yet store water and does not impact flow yet.

"Last year's floods might have been caused by storms -- not the dams." Plans for hydropower projects on the Srepok river basin upstream in Vietnam include four dams -- the Buon Kuop (280 Mw), Buontua Srha (86 Mw), Srepok 3 (220 Mw) and Draylinh (28 Mw). Two other projects are at the feasibility study stage, such as Srepok 4 (70 Mw) and Duc Xuyen (49 Mw), according to Luong Van Dai, director of appraisal for EVN. Do Son's remarks did not satisfy Tep Bunnarith, executive director of the NGO Culture and Environment Preservation Association (CEPA). "What he (Lam Du Son) replied was just his ideas, it is not factual information that he collected from the people who are the victims.

In nature, floods happen in the rainy season, but recently the floods occurred in the dry season.'' While the two sides stuck to their respective positions, the fact that a face-to-face venue was held on the issue is an indicator of the gravity of the issue. The Jan. 12 meeting was actually called to take up the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report done by the consulting firm SWECO Groner with funding from Swedish and Norwegian aid agencies, Sida and Norad.

''This discussion is to strengthen cooperation between the two countries by finding ways to keep the environmental impact to the minimum -- as the speech of Prime Minister Hun Sen said, no one benefits, no one loses," said Mok Mareth, minister for environment, and vice chair of the Cambodia National Mekong Committee. ''And if after we discuss, we cannot find any way to reduce impacts, that means the impact remains serious, and that the plan (for hydropower development) would not be continued.

'' A draft version of the EIA report, Cambodian NGOs say, predicts major changes for people living along the river on the Cambodian side of the border, ranging from unpredictable water fluctuations, riverbank erosion, water pollution and impact on fish migration. The EIA report is part of Vietnam's master plan study that looks into potential dam sites in the country. But at the Jan 12 meeting, representatives of the Srepok communities sought a suspension of dam construction, compensation from dam builders, and a stop to the financing of dam projects that had no people's participation and EIA processes.

If dams are ultimately built upstream, they would like a notification system for water releases and fluctuations to be set up for Cambodian communities. "We are still concerned that the draft EIA report would get approval from the two governments when they do not agree with our recommendations on what's lacking in the report," said Bunnarith. ''Our other concern is that Vietnam would not pay any compensation to Cambodians who are the victims of the dams because when we asked Vietnam about that, they replied that hydropower development is the important agenda of the three governments (Vietnamese, Cambodian and Lao).

" EVN's Du Son pledged that his government would implement dam projects with bilateral agreements, follow international treaties, look to having the citizens of Vietnam and Cambodia gain income, reduce environment impact and improve the Srepok EIA report.

Tore Hagen, vice president of SWECO Groner, acknowledged that his Company could only manage a ‘'rapid EIA report'' on the Cambodian part of the Srepok. His team spent only a few weeks in Rattanakkiri and Stung Treng in November 2005. "To complete the EIA report, it takes at least one more year because the work force needs to research during different seasons in Cambodia," explained Hagen. Read more!

Analysis: Congress Presses Bush on Iraq

Sunday January 14, 2007 5:01 AM

Associated Press Writer

Congressional opposition to President Bush's decision to send more troops to Iraq has opened a new front in an increasingly complex war, setting the stage for political battles whose effects may be felt long after U.S. forces have come home.

The battle could well subvert administration efforts to bolster the power of the presidency, which many Bush supporters believe was undermined in the wake of another unpopular war a generation ago.

As if Sunni nationalists, Islamic extremists, foreign fighters and Shiite militias were not enough, Bush must now battle the Democratic leadership in Congress, as well as influential figures in his own Republican party, who oppose his plan to throw 21,500 more troops into the fray. The battlelines are reminiscent of the political struggles that occurred during two other unpopular wars - Korea and Vietnam.

Those half-forgotten struggles produced sweeping changes in the U.S. political landscape that persisted long after the guns fell silent.

Democratic leaders of Congress, fresh from victory at the polls in November, hope to force a vote on the Bush plan in the House and Senate, thereby isolating the president politically.
Although those votes will be nonbinding, Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico said on MSNBC he expects them to be followed by measures ``that restrict troop funding and all kinds of financial support for the war.''

During a visit Saturday to Baghdad, Sen. Hillary Clinton told ABC News that instead of sending more U.S. troops to Iraq, it is time to start redeploying American forces out of the country.
A showdown between Congress and the White House could have far-reaching implications not only for Iraq but for American foreign policy as well.

In the best case scenario, the prospect of an American military departure might spur Iraq's ethnic and sectarian factions to reach a political settlement to spare the nation further bloodshed. But it could also encourage Sunni and Shiite extremists to grab as much power as possible before the Americans leave.

Bush's plan is reminiscent of the furor unleashed by President Nixon's 1970 decision to invade Cambodia during the final stage of the Vietnam War.

The Cambodian incursion, as it was known at the time, occurred at a time when the U.S. public was clamoring for an end to the conflict in Southeast Asia.

In seeking to justify his decision, Nixon said the goal was to destroy North Vietnamese sanctuaries in Cambodia and force Hanoi back to negotiations.

Last week, Bush said the reinforcements were necessary to bring stability to Baghdad so that the Iraqis could reach a political agreement. Military analysts are divided over whether Bush's plan can succeed, and the administration has refrained from a detailed explanation of what it would do if it fails.

But the 1970 invasion simply drove the North Vietnamese deeper into Cambodia. Five years
later, both South Vietnam and Cambodia fell under communist rule. Nevertheless, the showdown over Cambodia cast a long shadow over American politics for a generation.

The invasion enraged Congress, triggering legislative battles that culminated in the War Powers Act of 1973 that sets limits on a president's power to wage war without congressional approval.
Although the act's constitutionality has never been fully tested in court, Congress has invoked it on several occasions, setting conditions and limitations on the use of U.S. forces in the Middle East, Africa, Haiti and the Balkans.

Vice President Dick Cheney and others have cited the 1973 law as a major element in a series of Vietnam-era legislation that have severely undermined presidential authority to this day.
However, wartime showdowns between presidents and Congress occurred long before the Vietnam conflict.

Those political struggles reflect an ambiguity in the Constitution, which grants Congress the power to declare war but includes no language defining such a de Southern states in rebellion and ordered a blockade of their ports, triggering four years of war.
Eight months into the conflict, Congress established a joint committee to oversee the war, holding hearings into Union failures on the battlefield at a time when the very survival of the nation was in peril.

Critics complained at the time that the committee used newspaper leaks to discredit some of Lincoln's generals, undermining Northern morale at a time when Union victory was by no means certain.

Similar complaints were raised again during World War II when a little-known senator from Missouri, Harry Truman, chaired a committee investigating military waste and fraud.
Critics accused Truman of undermining the war effort. But his committee was credited with saving billions of dollars by uncovering waste and war-profiteering.

Truman's efforts won him the Democratic vice presidential nomination in 1944 and propelleduth Korea to block an invasion from the communist North. Public support for the war waned after China entered the conflict, which bogged down in a stalemate. The war became so unpopular that Truman decided against seeking re-election in 1952.

Republican war hero Dwight D. Eisenhower won the White House after promising to halt the fighting, which ended with a cease-fire on July 27, 1953. Read more!

Khmers rely on British defence

The Sunday Times
January 14, 2007
Michael Sheridan, Phnom Penh
BRITISH lawyers appointed to defend the leaders of the Khmer Rouge are to challenge the legal foundations of the international tribunal set up to try them for crimes against humanity.
They have drawn a bitter response from Cambodians who have campaigned for three decades to bring the Khmer Rouge to justice for the murder of an estimated 1.7m people between 1975 and 1979.
“This is all very philosophical,” said Youk Chhang, head of the Cambodia Documentation Centre, which has recorded the bloody excesses of the regime’s killing fields, “but what about the victims?”
At least four surviving leaders of the extreme communist movement are expected to be indicted
within months. They include “Duch”, the regime’s head of internal security, who oversaw the torture and murder of 10,499 “spies and traitors” and 2,000 children at the notorious Tuol Sleng detention centre.
Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge leader, died in 1998. But Nuon Chea, his deputy, Ieng Sary, the foreign minister, and Khieu Samphan, the nominal “head of state”, all now in their late seventies, are liable to face trial.
“This is probably the most shaky tribunal in terms of its legal basis,” said Rupert Skilbeck, a war crimes barrister named by the United Nations as principal defender. Skilbeck, 35, and his deputy, Richard Rogers, 37, are controversial figures in Phnom Penh as Cambodia’s rulers and
foreign powers wrestle for influence over the verdict of history.
“There has to be a strong defence for a fair trial and there has to be a fair trial for the court to be legitimate,” said Rogers. “That’s important for the victims and for Cambodia.” The British lawyers argue that there is a fundamental flaw in the tribunal because most of the judges are Cambodians appointed by the present regime.
This condition so worried Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary-general, that the UN negotiated a clause allowing it to withdraw if the process was not free and fair.
“Both sides have pledged to establish a tribunal that meets international standards and will deliver justice to the Cambodian people,” said Helen Jarvis, the tribunal’s chief of public affairs.
She said the rules ensure that verdicts can only be reached unanimously or by a majority including both the Cambodian and foreign judges.
Skilbeck is also to challenge a plan to conduct part of the trial in secret. On that, at least, the British team is in accord with investigators at the documentation centre, who have built up a massive archive on Khmer Rouge crimes.
“Look at this,” said Youk Chhang, reaching into a box to extract a sheaf of yellowing, handwritten documents. “Statements by villagers naming the Khmer Rouge for killing their husband or wife, 1.6m of them, each one signed and with a thumbprint. They have waited for this day. We have to have this court. For us, it is a classroom.”
The two defenders have yet to meet their clients, but Nuon Chea gave a hint of his defence strategy in an interview: “It was not us who killed our people. Our enemies killed them.”
Read more!