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Friday, March 16, 2007

Vietnam eyes more overland trade with Cambodia

A directive signed by Deputy Prime Minister Pham Gia Khiem calls for the checkpoints in the central highlands province of Gia Lai and southern provinces of Dong Thap and Kien Giang to be upgraded from national to international level.

Three others in Dak Lak, Long An, and Kien Giang provinces will be elevated to national-level checkpoints.

Two new local facilities are to be opened, one in Tay Ninh province and the other in Binh Phuoc province.

Last year Vietnam’s exports to Cambodia were worth $780 million, mainly of clothes, electrical cables, domestic plastic products, noodles, and electronic spare parts.

It imported rubber, forest, and agricultural products worth around $170 million from Cambodia.
Vietnam-Cambodia trade is expected to grow by 27 percent annually to reach US$2.45 billion by 2010.

Meanwhile, at a conference in Vung Tau city Thursday, Vietnamese and Cambodian health officials agreed to cooperate on border quarantine control to check the spread of contagious diseases like bird flu and severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.
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Campaigning in Cambodia's local elections begins

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: Election campaigning began Friday for new local governing councils across Cambodia, an apparent effort to transfer more political power from the central government to the countryside.

But some observers said the polls are more likely to consolidate the power of Prime Minister Hun Sen's ruling party.

The election, scheduled for April 1, will choose councils to administer 1,621 communes and sangkats, which are clusters of villages and urban neighborhoods.

Twelve political parties fielding a total of 102,266 candidates are competing in the elections, which are held every five years. Trucks carrying party supporters and draped with political banners wound their way through the streets of the capital Phnom Penh. Supporters chanted their campaign messages through bullhorns to woo voters.

The first local election was held Feb. 2002. Until then, the communes were ruled by chiefs appointed by the Interior Ministry..

Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party, which has maintained a firm grip on power during the last three decades, won overwhelmingly in the last local election and is expected to emerge victorious again.

The countryside has traditionally been dominated by Hun Sen's party followers.

Although the election is meant to decentralize power, Hang Puthea, executive director of Cambodian nonprofit election monitoring group Nicfec, said that it will not lead to any fundamental changes.

"This election is merely going to strengthen the current ruling party. And as already expected, the Cambodian People's Party will (again) lead in the number of local governing councils," he said.

Citing the proportional Cambodian electoral system, where candidates are appointed by their parties, Hang Puthea said elected candidates usually carry out their duties with political loyalty rather than public interest, in mind.

"I do not know how many more generations (it will take before) decentralization can fully function" in Cambodia, he said.

On Thursday, Hun Sen called for peaceful campaigning and ordered security forces to ensure safety and security until the election is over.
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Maha Ghosananda, Called Cambodia’s Gandhi, Dies

The Venerable Maha Ghosananda, a Buddhist monk who led the rebuilding of his religion in Cambodia, calling for peace and reconciliation after the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, died Monday in Northampton, Mass. He was in his late 70s and lived in Providence, R.I., and Leverett, Mass.

The death was confirmed by Christina Trinchero, a spokeswoman for Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton.
Cambodian monks elected Maha Ghosananda (his monastic name) as a supreme Buddhist patriarch in 1988. By then, his efforts to bring solace to a nation in which more than 1.5 million people were starved, worked to death or executed under the Communist dictatorship of Pol Pot had inspired many to call him “the Cambodian Gandhi.”
In his 2002 book “The Future of Peace: On the Front Lines With the World’s Great Peacemakers,” Scott A. Hunt, a professor of Buddhism at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote that Maha Ghosananda’s ability to forgive those “responsible for the murder of his entire family is incomprehensible,” until one heard his explanation of Buddhism.
Maha Ghosananda said he “does not question that loving one’s oppressors — Cambodians loving the Khmer Rouge — may be the most difficult attitude to achieve,” then added, “But it is the law of the universe that retaliation, hatred and revenge only continue the cycle.”
Reconciliation, he continued, “means that we see ourselves as the opponent; for what is the opponent but a being in ignorance, and we ourselves are also ignorant of many things.”
Somdet Phra Maha Ghosananda was born in Takeo, Cambodia, in 1929. He was initiated into the Cambodian Buddhist Order in 1943. In 1969, he received a doctorate from Nalanda University in Bihar State, India.
He was living in a monastery in southern Thailand when a five-year civil war ended in Cambodia in 1976, with Pol Pot establishing what he called Democratic Kampuchea. Within days, almost the entire population of Phnom Penh, the capital, had been marched into the countryside to do forced labor. The Khmer Rouge closed about 3,600 Buddhist temples throughout the country.

By the time Vietnamese forces overthrew the regime 44 months later, only about 3,000 of Cambodia’s 60,000 Buddhist priests were still alive.

By then, Maha Ghosananda had already trekked from one refugee camp to another along the border with Thailand, establishing Buddhist temples and training new monks. He continued that work throughout the country after the ouster of Pol Pot.
Maha Ghosananda moved to Massachusetts in the late 1980s at the invitation of a Buddhist order in Leverett. But in 1991 he returned to Cambodia to lead a 16-day pilgrimage across the country — gathering followers from village after village — in the first of what became known as the Dhammayietra Walks for Peace and Reconciliation.
In 1998, the Niwano Peace Foundation of Japan awarded Maha Ghosananda its peace prize, saying in its citation that “through these walks, Maha Ghosananda became a bridge of peace — bringing together people who had been separated by war — and wiped away their fears with his call for peace.”

Pointing out that Maha Ghosananda had promoted nonviolence as a remedy for other causes, including deforestation and the use of land mines, the foundation also said, “In both spirit and deed, he has shown the way to a fundamental resolution of regional and ethnic strife around the world.”
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CAMBODIA: Ousted Prince Ranariddh condemns conviction

Cambodia's Prince Norodom Ranariddh has condemned his fraud conviction in a Phnom Penh court this week, describing it as a grave injustice and politically motivated. And he's accused his long time nemesis Prime Minister Hun Sen of playing a direct role in ensuring the guilty verdict.

Presenter/Interviewer: Linda LoPresti
Speakers: Cambodia's ousted leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh

RANARIDDH: I feel personally a great sense of injustice against myself and it is clearly politically motivated. I think that what Hun Sen, the Prime Minister of Cambodia did against me is to put pressure on me and to prevent me in particular from having political activity, and in particular, during the upcoming elections.

LOPRESTI: Indeed, this conviction keeps you out of the country. It means you can't take part in both next month's local elections or national elections to be held in 2008. So what of your political career in Cambodia?

RANARIDDH: Oh, I think madam, I can have a party which bears my own name. There is no doubt about it and so I will continue to have my party, my canidates, who very, very eager now to compete in the elections. As for my political career, I think that the national community will realise once again that we cannot talk about democracy, about liberalism, about pluralism if Norodom Ranariddh and his party are not allowed to participate in the next general elections.

LOPRESTI: Your own political organisation, the Norodom Ranariddh Party which you formed after being ousted from Funcinpec. Your party though, how can it make any headway in these elections without you at the helm?

RANARIDDH: I think that on the contrary, the injustice that let's say the tribunal against me, on the contrary instead of discouraging my followers, it has provided to them a sense of great courage, determination, to fight in render justice to me.

LOPRESTI: So, you're saying that because of this trial which you've described as politically motivated, it will make people, it will gather more support for your party, for the NRP?

RANARIDDH: Absolutely, absolutely madam, you are right.

LOPRESTI: Prince Ranariddh, what are your plans now? There are reports that you will write to your brother, King Norodom Sihamoni in a letter detailing the trial's irregularities. Is that something you will do?.

RANARIDDH: Absolutely, absolutely. I will write to him, not in his capacity as my younger brother, but in his capacity of president of the Supreme Council. I like to show to him that the justice in Cambodia is that everything else but not justice at all. Why Hun Sen said that he would not ask my brother, he must be the king to give me amnesty. He has no right to say that. Because on the one hand, the king has the full right without consulting anyone to grant any amnesty to anyone.

LOPRESTI: Well, in 1998, after you were sentenced to 35 years in prison for allegedly plotting a coup with the Khmer Rouge a year earlier, you were saved by a royal parden from your father, former King Norodom Sihanouk. Will you be seeking a royal pardon this time round?

RANARIDDH: I think that I will wait for one or two more days to have a clearer picture. I think that the first thing is to mobilise my people and on the otherhand to send as I mentioned earlier, a letter to his Majesty the King.

LOPRESTI: Just finally Prince Ranariddh, you live in Paris these days. Do you think you're ever going to return to Phnom Penh and have a successful political career?

RANARIDDH: I hope that like in 1998 I will be allowed to go back and to continue my political career. Read more!