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Monday, December 17, 2007

Cambodia Buddhist Monks, Police Clash

Dozens of Buddhist monks kicked, punched and hurled bottles at baton-wielding police in Cambodia's capital Monday at a demonstration to demand religious freedom for monks in neighboring Vietnam.

The clashes erupted as about 40 monks approached the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh to submit a petition against authorities' alleged mistreatment of Buddhist monks in the communist country.

The protesters accused Vietnamese authorities of arresting and defrocking several ethnic Cambodian monks over the past few months.

Authorities let only a few state-sponsored religious organizations operate in Vietnam, a situation that has led to altercations there with some groups including Buddhists.

A large part of southern Vietnam, known in Cambodia as Kampuchea Krom, used to be part of Cambodia's Khmer empire centuries ago. Many ethnic Cambodians still live there.

In the Phnom Penh protest, about 100 riot police used batons to beat back the monks, blocking them from marching near the embassy.

The monks responded by punching the police and throwing water-filled plastic bottles at them. One monk was seen kicking a police officer in the groin.

Touch Naroth, the Phnom Penh police chief, said six policemen were slightly injured.

"They tried to storm the embassy, and police had the duty to protect the embassy," he said.

The police bruised seven monks on their heads or bodies, said Chan Saveth, an investigator with the nonprofit Cambodian human rights group Adhoc. He accused police of violence against the monks, who are widely revered in Cambodia.

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Tourism boom at Cambodia's 'Killing Fields'

The number of foreigners visiting Cambodia's "Killing Fields" has more than doubled from last year due to growing public interest in the Khmer Rouge tribunal, an official said Friday.

Up to 500 foreign tourists are visiting the grim execution sites on an average day, compared with 200-300 per day in 2006, said Ros Sophearavy, deputy director of a private company running the fields.

"The increase could be related to the arrest of Khmer Rouge leaders," she said.

"People hear about the Khmer Rouge tribunal and that must have prompted tourists to visit the Killing Fields," said Ros Sophearavy.

Visitors will see a 17-story stupa, or tower, that houses some 9,000 skulls of people killed during the the Khmer Rouge's brutal 1975-79 rule in Choeung Ek, some 15 kilometres (nine miles) southwest of Phnom Penh.

Many people were executed in Choeung Ek and buried in pits by the ultra-communist regime.

Up to two million people were executed, or died of starvation and overwork as the Khmer Rouge emptied Cambodia's cities, exiling millions to vast collective farms in a bid to forge an agrarian utopia.

Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in 1998, one year after Cambodia first sought the United Nation's help in setting up a genocide tribunal to try regime leaders.

Established in July 2006 after nearly a decade of negotiations between Cambodia and the UN, the joint Cambodian-UN tribunal seeks to prosecute crimes committed by senior Khmer Rouge leaders.

So far five top Khmer Rouge leaders, including the regime's former foreign minister Ieng Sary, have been detained to face charges for crimes committed by the regime.

AFP

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Push for single visa across South-East Asia

Thailand and Cambodia have agreed to allow foreign tourists to enter on a single visa.

"This means a tourist can get a visa either for Thailand or Cambodia and can visit the two nations," Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said after signing the agreement with visiting Thai counterpart Nitya Pibulsonggram.

The deal was the first of a hoped for series also involving Burma, Laos and Vietnam, he said.

"We want to see the five countries become one tourist destination," Hor Namhong said.

Thailand is aiming to have 15 million foreign tourists this year while Cambodia had 1.7 million last year, most of whom visited the ancient Angkor temples.

Earlier this month, Air Finland began the first commercial direct flight between Europe and Cambodia, where the tourism industry is growing 25 per cent per year.

Reuters

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Aussie-linked people-smuggler gets two years' jail

By Cath Hart

A NOTORIOUS people-smuggler linked to the arrival of 83 Sri Lankan asylum-seekers in international waters off Australia earlier this year has been sentenced to two years in jail by an Indonesian court.

Veteran people-smuggler Abraham Lauhenapessy, known as Captain Bram, was arrested inJune on people-smuggling charges and was last week handed a two-year jail term and fined 25 million rupiah ($3110).

His arrest, on charges of hiding, protecting, harbouring or providing livelihood to people known to have entered Indonesia illegally, was hailed at the time as a vital step in international efforts to disrupt people-smuggling syndicates in the region.

Former immigration minister Kevin Andrews described Bram's arrest as "the most significant breakthrough in terms of dealing with people-smuggling for years".

The successful sting to bring down the prominent people-trafficker followed a long-term joint operation by the Indonesian police and the Australian Federal Police.

The Howard government had confirmed that Bram had been linked to the arrival of 83 Sri Lankan asylum-seekers in international waters off Australia's west coast in June.

The Sri Lankans were transferred to Christmas Island and then to Nauru, where 74 have been found to be refugees but have not been resettled.

Seven of the remaining Sri Lankans being held on Nauru are facing criminal charges over the rape and sexual assault of a local woman.

Bram is believed to have had a long association with people-smuggling rackets in the region and had successfully evaded authorities for many years.

The Australian Federal Police involved in the fight against people-smugglers are believed to have classified Bram as a priority target for at least five years.

Authorities came close to shutting down the operations of Bram in July 2001 during a sting operation in Cambodia, when he and Pakistani people-smuggler Hasan Ayoub were arrested kilometres from the Cambodian port of Sihanoukville.

Although Ayoub was successfully charged and sentenced to 12 years' jail, Bram managed to slip through the net - reportedly after intense lobbying by the Indonesian embassy in Phnom Penh.

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