The land of heroes
Our heroes
Our land
Cambodia Kingdom

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Unhappy anniversary for ASEAN, Myanmar

By Clive Parker

CHIANG MAI, Thailand - This week marks the 10th anniversary of Myanmar's accession to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a controversial act of engagement that at the time ran counter to the investment sanctions the United States had leveled against the country's military regime.

A decade later, ASEAN's hope that diplomatic inclusion would nudge Myanmar's military leaders toward more democracy has gone unrealized, and the tortuous process of negotiating with the hardline regime has badly undermined the grouping's regional clout and global credibility.

Arguably, ASEAN's Myanmar dilemma has now reached a crucial diplomatic juncture. Myanmar's membership in the 10-nation grouping has frequently raised European Union hackles, and Brussels has refused to conduct free-trade negotiations at a regional level with ASEAN because it would entail de facto dealing with Myanmar.

Meanwhile, US President George W Bush recently canceled a meeting with ASEAN leaders in Singapore during a scheduled Asia trip. Soon after, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced that she too would skip the ASEAN Regional Forum, a strategic talk shop hosted by the grouping each year, scheduled for next month in Manila.

The Bush administration has been a strong critic of Myanmar's regime, with Rice publicly referring to the country as an "outpost of tyranny".

In 1997, many ASEAN members were cautiously optimistic the grouping could leverage its various government-to-government contacts with the reclusive regime to promote positive political change.

Former Thai foreign minister Surin Pitsuwan, who is now tipped to be ASEAN's next secretary general, in June 1998 advanced the notion that ASEAN should abandon its tenet of non-interference and adopt a policy of "constructive intervention" in dealing with Myanmar, which was later tweaked and became the blueprint for ASEAN's diplomacy toward the junta.

At the same time, there were geostrategic concerns that backing US sanctions would open the way for China to gain significant influence over a neighboring country. Although ASEAN was first formed as a five-member grouping in 1967 to guard against communist expansionism, particularly from Vietnam, the political reality since the end of the Vietnam War has been to enhance collectively member states' negotiating leverage and strategic deterrence with regard to China.

Critics - namely the US and anti-junta campaign groups in exile - have argued that the military government, which annulled the results of 1990 democratic elections it resoundingly lost, does not deserve the privilege or political legitimacy of ASEAN membership. However, ASEAN's outreach toward Myanmar was overshadowed at the time by the deteriorating political situation in Cambodia.

In July 1997, ASEAN took a moral stand and deferred Cambodia's joining after a bloody coup orchestrated by Prime Minster Hun Sen, which entailed the murder of several opposition politicians and a new wave of refugees into Thailand. ASEAN at the time declined to admit Cambodia until "free, fair and credible" elections were held. US rights group Human Rights Watch said at the time that ASEAN's role in Cambodia "has certainly been highly useful and constructive, and we hope that ASEAN will also become more active on [Myanmar]".

Trade reliance
ASEAN's moral sway over Myanmar has been negligible. Economically, however, ASEAN's pro-engagement policy has paved the way for more trade and investment. Myanmar's trade with ASEAN has risen dramatically since 1997, giving the military regime a desperately needed economic lifeline in the face of US-led trade and investment sanctions. Myanmar's trade with ASEAN, measured as a percentage of the country's total trade, increased from 44% in 2000 to 51.6% in 2005, official statistics show.

Of ASEAN's current 10 members - Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar - only Laos has failed to diversify its trade mix outside of the region less than Myanmar. While much is made of China's economic influence over Myanmar, its total bilateral trade of US$1.2 billion in 2005 amounted to only half the amount ASEAN conducted with the country.

As Myanmar's economy has become more reliant on ASEAN goods and markets, some political analysts suggest the grouping has more political leverage over the regime than it has exercised. That economic integration is expected to increase, as all ASEAN members have committed to reduce tariffs to below 5% by the end of 2010, as part of the new ASEAN Free Trade Area agreement.

Beijing's willingness to overlook Myanmar's poor rights record, which certain ASEAN members have occasionally criticized, is speeding the two authoritarian countries' economic integration. When ASEAN members expressed their frustration at the slow pace of change in Myanmar, "the regime had essentially dumped it in favor of China", said Debbie Stothard of the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma.

One big indication that Myanmar is moving to hedge its ASEAN exposure: a new $1 billion gas pipeline linking Sittway, Myanmar, to Kunming in southwestern China, set for groundbreaking at the end of this year. Analysts note that the pipeline deal was sealed shortly after Beijing vetoed a US-led United Nations Security Council resolution against Myanmar's rights record in January.

ASEAN, on the other hand, sat on the fence during the resolution's vote - Indonesia, the only member of the bloc currently a member of the Security Council, symbolically abstained. Yet in 2006 ASEAN applied uncharacteristic diplomatic pressure on Myanmar to demonstrate progress on its so-called "roadmap toward democracy". In March, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono visited Yangon to follow up and was closely followed by Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar that month.

In his capacity as an ASEAN representative, Albar was charged with inspecting Myanmar's "democratization process", but his trip ended in frustration when he was barred from meeting with members of the opposition National League for Democracy, which won the annulled 1990 polls.

Albar flew out of Myanmar a day earlier than scheduled and, by some accounts, ASEAN's already strained relationship with Myanmar hit a new nadir. Past and current United Nations overtures, including the new round of outreach by the new UN secretary general's special representative on Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, meanwhile to date have wholly failed to produce any democratic progress.

Charter hopes
Now, ASEAN is finally upping the diplomatic ante in a move that will seemingly make or break its relations with Myanmar. In a significant departure from the grouping's erstwhile tenet of non-interference, by next year ASEAN is expected to adopt a framework that will legally bind its members to a charter that enshrines democratic values, good governance, and respect for human rights and freedoms.

Roshan Jason, spokesman for the ASEAN inter-parliamentary caucus on Myanmar, a group of regional parliamentary members aimed at pushing for political change in that country, said the new charter represents "one more opportunity to tackle Myanmar, once and for all". ASEAN "must show the political will to do so", he told Asia Times Online.

Speaking to reporters in Singapore on Tuesday, ASEAN secretary general Ong Keng Yong said the group charter was aimed at Myanmar, but he significantly ruled out the possibility of punitive measures for non-compliance. That would appear to give the junta yet another escape route - although non-compliance would no doubt open the regime to harsh criticism among ASEAN members.

Already it seems the junta is in denial about the new charter's actual commitments. In a May editorial run in the government mouthpiece New Light of Myanmar, Myat Thu, a member of the Myanmar delegation involved in charter discussions in Manila, was quoted saying, "The meeting chairman explained ... the charter would not feature human rights and the discussions would not focus on matters on termination of charter member countries."
The next meeting on the ASEAN charter is set for next week in Manila, and a draft is expected to be submitted for approval to the ASEAN summit in Singapore this November.

In 1997, ASEAN assured the West that it could cajole the junta on to a more democratic path. Ten years later, through the new charter initiative, the grouping appears to be finally following through on that pledge. How much longer Myanmar decides to remain in the regional club, however, is an open question.
Read more!

A question of genocide in Cambodia

BANGKOK - For nearly 30 years, the Khmer Rouge regime that unleashed a reign of terror during its rule of Cambodia from 1975-79 has been accused of committing genocide. But employing a strict legal definition, was that the case?

That and other troubling questions are slated for scrutiny as Cambodia's highly anticipated war-crimes tribunal is now finally under way. Last week marked a milestone in the long-delayed United Nations-sponsored tribunal when prosecutors submitted.

the names of five former Khmer Rouge leaders to stand trial.

Although widely reported as genocide, some legal experts say it's not an open and closed case against the Khmer Rouge.

"Describing the acts committed in Cambodia as genocide has always been controversial," Rupert Skilbeck, head of the Defense Support Section of the tribunal, said in a telephone interview from Phnom Penh. "It is not easily accepted by the legal community. The court will have to consider this question."

The globally accepted definition of genocide is an act of violence aimed to "destroy an ethnic group because of their nationality, race, religion", said Skilbeck, who also served as the adviser for the defense during the special war-crimes tribunal for Sierra Leone. "Killing a people for their political views, as happened in Cambodia, is different," he contended.

There are other hard questions that the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), as this tribunal is officially called, is expected to answer. Foremost among them is how many people the Khmer Rouge actually killed between April 17, 1975, and January 6, 1979, the precise period of their rule and the period that the tribunal is examining.

"The number of people who died in Rwanda was not challenged, but the number of deaths in Cambodia has not been confirmed; it could be challenged," Skilbeck said this month when he met with journalists in Bangkok. In Rwanda, by comparison, an estimated 800,000 people from the ethnic Tutsi group were slaughtered by Hutu extremists during that country's civil war in 1994. Legal experts agree that was a definite act of genocide.

The Khmer Rouge has been accused of killing as many as 1.7 million Cambodians, or a quarter of the Southeast Asian nation's population at the time. The victims were either executed or died as a result of forced labor or starvation from famine, as the Maoist group depopulated the cities and attempted to turn the country into an agrarian utopia.

The tribunal's proceedings on these mass deaths could also prove embarrassing to major powers involved before and after Cambodia was dragged into the US war in Vietnam, which raged through the 1960s and early 1970s. Washington's secret bombing raids over Cambodia in the early 1970s are now well documented, as too is the major role Beijing played in propping up the Khmer Rouge as they systematically killed their perceived enemies.

"America's illegal bombing raids will come up in figuring out how many died in Cambodia," said Skilbeck. "There will be lots of issues that will come up during the trial that will be embarrassing to many countries."

The quest for justice began 10 years ago, when talks about establishing the tribunal commenced between the UN and Phnom Penh. Since then, the process has been strewn with hurdles, including several placed by Prime Minister Hun Sen's government, which independently brokered a compromise with several high-level Khmer Rouge leaders, including some who serve in his government.

Hun Sen has backtracked on his initial financial commitments to the tribunal and has also heaped scorn on human-rights groups that have challenged Phnom Penh's choice of local judges for the trial. The ECCC, unlike other tribunals, such as the one that investigated crimes against humanity committed in the former Yugoslavia, is not completely international in nature, but rather combines local and foreign jurists.

The ECCC is also expected to question the credentials of some of the appointed Cambodian lawyers and judges, based on concerns leveled by rights groups and others about the local jurists' grasp and application of international law, the basis of the tribunal's proceedings.

Cambodia's legal community, as with other educated professionals and intellectuals, were singled out as enemies of the state and systematically brutalized by the Khmer Rouge. By some estimates, only nine lawyers and judges survived the Khmer Rouge's reign of terror.

For the Cambodians who survived the brutality and are among the millions who lost relatives to the radical Maoist regime, there are several other questions they hope the ECCC will help to answer.

"Many people want to know why the Khmer Rouge killed their own people and how they were killed," said Im Sophea, a ranking member of the Center for Social Development, a Phnom Penh-based non-governmental body. "We expect the court to reveal answers for this. Public expectation is very high."

The war-crimes trial of course will not hear from Pol Pot, the notorious leader of the Khmer Rouge, who died in his jungle redoubt in 1998. Nor will Ta Mok, widely known in Cambodia as "The Butcher", for the alleged atrocities he oversaw during the brutal regime's rule, take the stand; he died in June last year.

The five names submitted last week to stand trial at the ECCC were major figures in the Maoist group. According to reports in the Cambodian press, those on the prosecution's list include Nuon Chea, Pol Pot's deputy; Khieu Samphan, former Khmer Rouge head of state; Ieng Sary, the regime's former foreign minister; and Kang Kech Eav, also known as Duch, who was the head of the infamous Tuol Sleng Prison in Phnom Penh.
Read more!

Party General Secretary reiterates policy to boost ties with Cambodia

Cooperations and a good neighbour, what are Cooperations and a good neighbour?

A cooperation in order to defrock Cambodian Monks and killing Cambodian people are just the same games that Communist Yuon Hanoi had been playing and cooperation to let Yuon robbing land from Cambodia.

VietNamNet Bridge – Party General Secretary Nong Duc Manh has renewed the Vietnamese foreign policy of respecting the friendship and cooperative relations with Cambodia and is eager to improve on ties with its neighbour.

The Party leader made the remark while receiving a high-level delegation of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), headed by Nay Pena, member of the CPP Standing Board, in Hanoi on July 24.

General Secretary Manh said the relations would be strengthened in order to follow the motto of “Good neighbours, traditional friendship, long-term, sustainable and comprehensive cooperation” for the benefit of people of each country and for peace, stability, cooperation and development in the region.

General Secretary Manh congratulated the achievements of the CPP and Cambodian people in the building of peace and national harmony, socio-economic development, expansion of international relations and improvement of their country’s position at regional and international arenas.

He expressed his wish that under the leadership of King Norodom Sihamoni, the Senate, the National Assembly and the Royal Government, the Cambodian people would continue to obtain greater achievements in the process of building Cambodia into a peaceful, neutral, non-aligned and prosperous nation.

He asked the Cambodian delegation to convey his best regards to former King Norodom Sihanouk, the Queen-Mother, King Norodom Sihamoni, President Chea Sim, Deputy President Hun Sen, Honorary President Heng Samrin and other leaders of the CPP.

Nay Pena expressed his gratitude for the assistance the Vietnamese Party, State and people had lent to the Cambodian people during their struggle for national freedom, their escape from genocide and the current national construction.

The CPP official expressed his wish to further boost ties between the two parties and people in the future.

Earlier, a delegation of the Communist Party of Viet Nam (CPV) headed by politburo member Truong Vinh Trong held talks with the Cambodian delegation.

During the visit, the Cambodian guests had a working session with Nguyen Van Son, member of the CPV Central Committee and Chairman of the CPV Commission for External Affairs.
Read more!