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Monday, June 30, 2008

Historical baggage a burden on thai-cambodian relations

By Kavi Chongkittavorn

The never-ending row over Preah Vihear Temple has to do with the complete lack of trust between Thailand and Cambodia, both at the governmental and citizen level.

In addition, the flames of nationalism have been fanned by politicians of all stripes on both sides. Years of historical baggage hang like a persistent cloud over their relations.

Ever since Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej took over, a convergence of numerous incidents, comments and hidden agendas have come together and raised suspicions in the minds of Thai stakeholders over territorial integrity. In this case, Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama's own idiosyncrasies and diplomatic gaffes have damaged the country's handling of the temple case. Add all of these elements together plus an overdose of invective against Cambodia and one can predict how bilateral relations will end up in the future.

It's unfortunate that the two countries have to experience such turbulence at a time that is trying for both. Cambodia will hold a general election on July 27, while in Thailand the Samak government is trying to stay alive as a surrogate of deposed former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The scare from the torching of the Thai embassy at the end of January, 2003 is still fresh in the minds of Thais. But the flames of the pair's love-hate relations date back to the 13th century and the founding of the Sukhothai Kingdom.

Visitors to the ruins of the 11th Angkor Wat complex in Siem Reap (which literally means "flattened Siam") can easily see how the Siamese invaders were portrayed in the carvings on the stone walls. Their faces are ugly and cruel. To Cambodians, Thais are villains who invaded their country and destroyed the Angkor civilisation. They are also arrogant and often look down on their neighbours.

When the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia in 1975, millions of Cambodians sought refuge overseas, nearly a half a million of them crossing the border into Aranyaprathet. Some of them stayed for over a decade before they were settled into third countries. Indeed, very few of these refugees, if any, decided to remain in Thailand.

Truth be told, these refugees, who have since grown up to receive good educations and become affluent, do not have any fond memories of their rough childhood years spent at Khao-I-Dang camp. Some of these same people are now in power and are directing Cambodia's foreign policy. Former Khmer Rouge resistance fighters who used to live in Thailand and were under the care of the Thai Army often recall bitter experiences and the ways they were patronised, albeit while mentioning some of the good deeds committed by the Thais.

Back in 1996 and 1997, senior Thai officials were also involved in an unpublicised and aborted coup in Cambodia stemming from disputes over telecommunications deals. Thailand's involvement in its domestic politics also deepened Cambodian suspicions that if the opportunity arose, Thailand's power-wielders would destabilise the country. That explains why instances of joint-development cooperation are hard to come by. Thailand and Malaysia entered into their first joint-development cooperation effort in the Gulf of Thailand back in 1979 and the cooperation continues with profits shared between the two countries. The Thai-Malay effort could serve as a model for a joint gas development effort between Thailand and Cambodia in the disputed area in the gulf.

After peace came to Cambodia in 1993, Thailand's economic and cultural presence in the country started to increase rapidly. Eager Thai investors were seen as cowboys coming into the country to turn a fast profit, while exploiting the resource-rich country. Anti-Thai sentiment and hatred went on the rise. Meanwhile, local markets were filled with Thai consumer products; on TV, Thai soap operas were dubbed in broken Khmer. At one point, the Hun Sen government even banned Thai dramas. During the UN-sanctioned political transition in Cambodia during the 1990s, Thai pop culture and language were popular among Cambodians. The Thai government did not realise this potential and failed to nurture these good feelings.

But it has not all been one-sided. Thais who are old enough might recall the Cambodian horror film Puos Keng Kang ("The Snake King's Child") made by Dy Saveth, a Cambodian actress who was hugely popular in Thailand. Indeed, the Khmer cultural influence in Thailand is far greater than the Thais are willing to admit. Historians concur quite readily that Khmer cultural contributions over the past several centuries have enriched Thai culture in its present form.

Indeed, Cambodia is different from Burma, a country perceived as an eternal enemy by the Thais. Indeed, the Cambodians are as close to the Thais as the Lao. Both Thailand and Cambodia share similar customs and traditions, as well as Buddhism. Without Khmer words, the Thai language would not be as rich.

Fast-forward to the present, and it took Cambodian foreign minister Hor Namhong's comments about Surakiart Sathirathai for the UN's top job to galvanise the Thaksin government to go full steam ahead on the Preah Vihear issue. The versatile foreign minister will again serve in the days and weeks to come in the effort to resolve the Preah Vihear issue.

Thailand should learn and adjust its relations with Cambodia. It needs to prevent an anti-Thai sentiment from arising as it did in 2003. Since joining Asean in 1999, the country has joined the ranks of democratic countries, albeit one with many imperfections. It has a vibrant economy and able technocrats and diplomats. With potential gas and oil deposits, Cambodia's future is going to be a strong one.

The trouble is, Thailand has never dealt with stronger neighbours in an equal manner before.

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Going it alone

By Sambath Teth

Cambodia has vowed to press ahead with its bid for a UNESCO World Heritage listing for Preah Vihear temple despite a Thai court ruling that Bangkok cannot support the nomination for the ancient Hindu site.

"It's their internal problem," Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan told the Post in a phone interview on June 30.

"[Preah Vihear] is our temple and we want it to receive world heritage listing," Siphan said.

"Preah Vihear belongs to us so we are not interested in this," he added, referring to an injunction issued by Thailand's Administrative Court on June 28.

The injunction temporarily blocked the Thai government from supporting Cambodia's nomination to seek world heritage status for Preah Vihear at a UNESCO meeting in Quebec starting July 2.

The injunction follows a joint communiqué endorsing the nomination that was signed by Deputy Prime Minister Sok An and Thai Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama on June 18.

The injunction had been sought by a coalition of activist groups in Thailand, the People's Alliance for Democracy, which has been leading weeks of street protests in Bangkok against the government of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej.

Opposition parties criticized Samak over the communiqué during a no-confidence debate in the Thai parliament last week after the Preah Vihear issue had been raised at the street protests in Bangkok.

Siphan expressed frustration at the role played by Thai opposition parties.

"The Cambodian government is working with the Thai government; we are not working with the Thai opposition," he said.

Siphan downplayed the possibility of unrest in Cambodia over the stand taken by some Thai groups.

"Thai restaurants are full of Cambodian people," he said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong also expressed regret that some Thai parties and politicians were exploiting the Preah Vihear issue as part of their campaign against the Samak government.

"I am very sorry they are using Preah Vihear for their internal political purposes; this can affect the friendship and cooperation between our two countries," Namhong told a news conference on June 27.

On June 22, the Cambodian government closed the border checkpoint at Preah Vihear, citing security concerns after a group of Thai activists gathered at a market near the main entrance to the temple, which is most easily accessed from the Thai side of the border.

In response to the border closure, a ceremony was held at Preah Vihear on June 30 to offer food to the small Cambodian community living at the temple site and to pray for peace.

The ceremony was sponsored by the Khmer Civilization Foundation, which on June 15 hosted a celebration in Phnom Penh to mark the 46th anniversary of the ruling by the International Court of Justice granting ownership of Preah Vihear to Cambodia.

Foundation president Moeung Sonn said the donated food, including four tons of rice and 330 bottles of fish sauce, as well as soy sauce, salt and packaged noodles, had cost $4,000, including $1,000 of his own money.

Sonn said he planned to take doctors with him on a return trip to Preah Vihear because some of the Cambodians there were ill and had requested medicine and medical treatment.
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Sorting Through Sadness

By John Brown

Those who live there call it “Smokey Mountain.” Officially, it’s the Steung Meanchey landfill in Cambodia, the city dump for Phnom Penh, a 100-acre mountain of waste where some 2,000 registered workers, including 600 children, sift through roughly 700 tons of garbage a day.

The air is thick with smoke and the smell of burning rubbish. The dirt road leading to the dumping ground is lined with recycling facilities, makeshift noodle stands, a pool hall and a hairdressing shop. Beyond the industrial scales used to weigh arriving trucks is a huge, flat plateau of garbage crawling with workers. Children, some barefoot and naked, clutch plastic bags full of empty bottles and cans.

Large tractors crisscross the site shoveling the slippery flotsam into massive piles of rotting food, clothes, magazines and wilted flowers. Groups of scavengers converge on the incoming trucks while others scour ash and soot searching for lucrative metal. Tarpaulin and plastic shelters dot the landscape, providing relief from hot sun or soaking rain. Children too young to join their parents occupy several of these refuges, playing with found objects—and dead animals.

These children can’t attend school because their families depend upon even the youngest worker’s income, as little as $.50 USD per day, to sustain them. Replacing that income is the first step in getting these children an education. According to its website, the French NGO Pour un Sourire d’Enfant (“for a child’s smile”) has helped 5,000 children attend school in Phnom Penh during the past 10 years.

As the afternoon sun descends behind drifting walls of hazy gray air, workers separate items by type, sacks are filled, gathered and weighed, and recyclers pay each worker in cash. According to Thingha, a 26-year-old worker from Phnom Penh, “Many of the people have difficulty finding metal, that’s why I choose to concentrate on metal each day.” Other workers focus their efforts on soft, clear plastic that can generate 200 riels (about $.05 USD) per kilogram.

Shrouded by impending nightfall, the Steung Meanchey workers trek back to their ramshackle living quarters on the edge of the facility. Small clusters of wood-frame shacks wrapped with plastic and canvas await them. Children gather scraps of wood used to fuel fires for cooking while women fill pots with rice that will be prepared on heavy clay or black cast iron stoves. After their evening meal, large families retire for the evening to sleeping spaces, some no larger than three by four meters, only to arise before dawn to repeat this routine the next day.

Led By Hope

The World Bank reports that 35 percent of Cambodia’s population of around 14 million exists on less than $.50 USD per day. Since an adult who spends 12 hours per day scavenging through this sea of waste may earn as much as 10,000 riels, or the equivalent of $2.50 USD, many workers come to work at Steung Meanchey to escape the crushing poverty and malnourishment found in rural Cambodia. Their newfound wealth comes with a heavy price, however, as they are forced to breathe air polluted by the constant smolder that generates toxic byproducts from the flaming heaps of garbage. Scores of workers are seen coughing or sneezing, and most of the youngest children have runny noses, inflamed throats and watering eyes. Some scavengers sport facial scars from being struck by errant swinging gaffs, while others have been injured or killed by tractors or garbage trucks whose drivers didn’t notice them.

Cambodian-born Dr. Teng Soeun, 60, moved to the Steung Meanchey area four years ago from Phnom Penh’s city center and opened a health clinic near the landfill. “I feel better about myself living here in Steung Meanchey and I wanted to help,” says the German-educated hematologist. “The people who work at the dump look unhealthy because of the air pollution. I see a lot of breathing problems and eye infections. The potable water supply around here is also limited because of the poison that leaks into the ground.”

Small groups are trying to provide healthcare and supplies to the needy residents. They range from Los Angeles-based theinvisibles.org to endexploitation.org, a grassroots organization headquartered in Toronto. According to George Reed, a representative for endexploitation.org, the organization has recently provided a van to help the workers get to health clinics and hospitals. Despite their noteworthy humanitarian efforts, these groups have unwittingly added to the collective needs of the people who work there, since a large percentage of the workers come to Phnom Penh from rural Cambodia after learning about health, food and school programs available there.

Approximately 85 percent of Cambodians live in rural areas, including You Engsry, an unmarried 27-year-old resident of Prasat Village in Kampong Cham province. “I’ve heard about people leaving my village to pick through garbage, but that is something I don’t want to do,” he says. “Maybe if I had a family I would think about it,” he continued, “but I spend my extra money on English lessons.”

The need for humanitarian aid for newly arriving workers is seemingly constant, adding pressure on entities to sustain and grow their sources of funding. That doesn’t discourage Chicago’s Jerry and Valerie Varney from doing what they can. The couple is forming a new charity, justonechild.org, that they hope will receive enough funding to rescue as many youngsters from the misery as possible. While the Varneys’ initial focus will be trading garbage hooks for school books, Mr. Varney is taking an open approach to their new endeavor. “The areas we go into depend in large part on how much money we can raise,” he says. “I’m open to everything given the proper funding.”
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Top Khmer Rouge diplomat in court

Former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary has appeared before Cambodia's genocide tribunal to appeal against his detention.

The 82-year-old has been charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the Maoist regime's four-year rule in the late 1970s.

He is one of five former leaders of the Khmer Rouge being detained by the UN-backed tribunal.

Some 1.7 million people are thought to have died under the brutal regime.

Hundreds of thousands starved as the Khmer Rouge tried to create an agrarian society. Many others perceived as educated were tortured and executed.

Trials are expected to begin later in the year.

Royal pardon

About 300 people attended the hearing at the court in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh.

Ieng Sary is the most prominent surviving Khmer Rouge leader - and is still viewed as an influential and respected figure in parts of Cambodia, reports the BBC's Guy Delauney from Phnom Penh.

He received a royal pardon 12 years ago after reaching a deal with the government that resulted in the eventual surrender of the Khmer Rouge.

His lawyers say this is why he should not be facing charges now. They will also argue that a trial would amount to double jeopardy.

The Vietnamese-backed forces which ousted the Khmer Rouge in 1979 tried Ieng Sary in absentia and found him guilty of genocide. That verdict was overturned by the pardon.

But Cambodians who survived Khmer Rouge prison camps feel particularly strongly about the former foreign minister, our correspondent adds.

Many of them were well-educated people who returned to the country after personal appeals from Ieng Sary to help rebuild Cambodia.

They were arrested on arrival, and thrown into brutal detention centres.

Ieng Sary's wife, former social welfare minister Ieng Thirith, has also been charged by the genocide court.
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Chinese-funded hydro-dams bring hope and fear to Cambodia

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Hydropower is held up as the beacon of hope for millions of electricity-starved Cambodians, with ten planned hydro-dams set to power up their homes for the first time.

But flicking the switch comes at a price as critics say the controversial deals made with mostly Chinese companies to build the dams will create further hardship for Cambodia's poor and ruin the environment.

For window-maker Dorn Seanghor, however, the prospect of working without being plunged into darkness is appealing. In the midst of Cambodia's building boom his business should be thriving, but he is constantly frustrated.

"There's usually a blackout for six to eight hours almost every day -- one time in the morning and again in the evening," he said at his shop in the capital, Phnom Penh.

"It disturbs my business. I use a generator when the power is cut, but the price of gasoline is very high now."

Still, Dorn Seanghor is one of the luckier ones. Four-fifths of Cambodians do not have access to any electricity.

Ten dams are set to begin churning between 2010 and 2019, and once they are all operational the government says they will generate 2,045 megawatts of power, serving all Cambodia's provinces.

Government officials say six of the dams will be funded by Chinese companies, but the US-based International Rivers Network warned in a January report that these Chinese investments could threaten some of Cambodia's most precious eco-systems.

"Poorly conceived hydropower development could irreparably damage (natural) resources," the report warned.

Groups have been particularly concerned about the looming affects of Kamchay Dam, under construction by Sinohydro Corporation in Bokor National Park and expected to flood 2,000 hectares (4,942 acres) of protected forest.

And now environmental groups say two more projects agreed in mid-June at a cost of more than one billion dollars -- Stung Tatay by China National Heavy Machinery Corporation and Russey Chrum Krom by Michelle Corporation -- have not been properly scrutinised.

Both will be located in the country's southwestern Cardamom Protected Forest, and about 1,600 hectares (3,953 acres) of woodland would have to be flooded or cleared to make way for the dams, the government has said.

This could destroy key animal habitats and upset the delicate eco-system.

"Cardamom is the last hot spot of conservation in Indochina," said Sam Chanthy, an environmental officer with advocacy group Forum on Cambodia.

Qian Hai, third secretary of the Chinese embassy in Phnom Penh, denied his country's companies would damage the environment.

"We just help Cambodia. All these projects are approved by the parliament and the government," he said.

Ith Praing, Cambodia's energy secretary, insisted the government conducted careful environmental studies for all the dams.

"Outsiders always raise environmental issues, but we need electricity. We must develop our country. We must use our resources rather than buying oil," he said.

Cambodia has begun to climb back from decades of civil unrest to emerge as one of the region's fastest-growing economies.

Economic growth has averaged 11 percent over the past three years, although 30 percent of the 14 million people still earn less than a dollar per day.

The government fears rocketing energy prices will scare away foreign direct investment.

"Every sector needs electric power. When we have electricity at a reasonable price, development will come along," said Ith Praing, adding the government forecasts that by 2030, 70 percent of Cambodian families will have electricity.

Opposition member of parliament Son Chhay, however, said the debate is not simply a case of economic development versus the environment.

Poor people could be forced from their land to make way for the mega-projects, crops could be destroyed, while the environment the rural poor depend upon may be wiped out, he told AFP.

"The government just closes its eyes and lets Chinese companies do things that will cause a lot of problems in the future," Son Chhay said.

"It will not resolve poverty in Cambodia. Cambodia will lose a lot without taking into consideration the environmental consequences."
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NagaCorp Mulls Cambodia Casino Rights Sale as Competition Rises

By Netty Ismail

June 30 (Bloomberg) -- NagaCorp Ltd., the monopoly casino operator in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, said it may sell a license to foreign companies, giving them the right to develop a new gaming property in the city.

``NagaCorp may consider any subconcession proposal when the timing is right,'' Chief Executive Officer Chen Lip Keong, 60, said in an interview in Phnom Penh on June 27.

The company has a monopoly to operate casinos within a 200- kilometer (125-mile) radius of the capital until 2035, and isn't subject to any legal restriction on selling secondary licenses.

Cambodia's only publicly traded company is betting on growing wealth at home and in the neighboring countries of Thailand and Vietnam to increase its revenue base beyond gamblers from China, Malaysia and Singapore. Visitors to Cambodia have risen to about 2 million from 118,183 in 1993, when Southeast Asia's second-poorest nation emerged from a two- decade civil war.

NagaCorp has ``done a good job attracting customers,'' said Billy Ng, a gaming analyst at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in Hong Kong. ``There will be more competition, but I don't think we need to be concerned about it now.''

Singapore awarded bids for two casino resorts in 2006, while Japan and Taiwan are considering allowing casinos in an effort to boost tourism.

Kuala Lumpur-based Genting Bhd., which will operate one of the two Singapore resorts, also plans to build Southeast Asia's first Universal Studios theme-park at its property in the city. Genting is Asia's biggest publicly traded gaming operator.

Macau Market

Foreign gaming operators including Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Wynn Resorts Ltd. are staking more than $20 billion on Macau after the city's government ended the 40-year monopoly of gambling magnate Stanley Ho. Macau surpassed the Las Vegas Strip as the world's biggest casino market in 2006.

NagaCorp is catering to ``regional mid-sized'' gamblers taken to its casino by junket operators, who provided about 45 percent of its gaming revenue last year, Chen said.

About 52 percent of revenue comes from the public casino floor. The operator's revenue rose 69 percent to $144 million in 2007.

``We are not competing head on with those high rollers in Macau,'' Chen said.

Citigroup Inc.'s Hong Kong-based analyst Anil Daswani, in a Feb. 18 report, said NagaCorp was part of the ``poor man's VIP'' market.

NagaCorp operated its casino on a barge moored along the banks of the Bassac River in Phnom Penh for eight years, before relocating in October 2003 to a permanent hotel and entertainment complex, NagaWorld, a few hundred meters away.

The company is expanding the complex to 700 hotel rooms and 300 gaming tables by next year. It had 508 hotel rooms and 176 gaming tables in June.

Chen owns 62 percent of NagaCorp after selling a 5 percent stake in the company in May for ``a small premium'' to Chicago- based Columbia Wanger Asset Management LP, he said.

Stock Performance

NagaCorp shares have fallen 18 percent this year, less than the 21 percent decline in the benchmark Hang Seng Index and a 33 percent drop in Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd., a Hong Kong- listed Macau casino operator. Genting fell 29 percent.

The Cambodian operator is trading at 8 times its forecast earnings per share for 2009, compared with an average of 21 times for its regional peers, Gavin Ho, a Hong Kong-based analyst at CLSA Ltd. said in a report dated June 26.

Ho initiated coverage of the stock with a ``buy'' recommendation, setting a 12-month price target of HK$3.31. NagaCorp's profit is set to grow 37 percent to $77 million in 2009, according to the CLSA report.

``I am situated in a country like Cambodia, I have a strong perception issue,'' Chen said. ``If I don't produce earnings, I am invisible, nobody will notice me.''
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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Cambodia stays cool

By Prasit Saengrungruang in Aranyaprathet

Despite concerns about a political backlash similar to the ransacking of the Thai Embassy in 2003, the Cambodian public and media are reacting calmly to the raging Thailand controversy over Preah Vihear temple.

"Cambodia has the right to seek a World Heritage status for Preah Vihear temple, and Thai people also have the right to protest against it," said Mr Sou Chamroeun, deputy director of Bayon television station in Phnom Penh .

"The Cambodian government and its people understand the issues raised by Thai politicians and they believe bilateral relations will not be harmed," Mr Sou said in a telephone interview with Perspective last Thursday.

The interview was conducted at the same time as the no-confidence debate in the Thai parliament, where the opposition Democrat party accused Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama of acting beyond his authority by signing a joint communique with Cambodia to have the ancient temple listed as a World Heritage site.

"The World Court has ruled that the temple belongs to Cambodia and everyone must respect its ruling," said Mr Sou, who is also a deputy chairman of the Cambodian Writers Association.

He dismissed fears about adverse reactions against the Thai people and businessmen living in Cambodia. "It is unlikely that there will be a repeat of the 2003 events," he said.

In January 2003, a Cambodian newspaper article falsely alleged that a Thai actress claimed that Angkor Wat belonged to Thailand. Other Cambodian print and radio media picked up the report and furthered the nationalistic sentiment which resulted in riots in Phnom Penh on January 29. The Thai Embassy was burned and properties of Thai businesses were vandalised.

Mr Sou's views are shared by Mr Khieu Kanharith, the minister of information of Cambodia, who said any problems concerning the temple's boundaries should be settled by the joint Thai-Cambodian committee, which holds regular meetings.

In his opinion, both Thailand and Cambodia will benefit from tourism and related businesses if Preah Vihear temple is listed as a World Heritage Site. In fact, he noted, Thailand would gain more than Cambodia because most of the tourists would have to pass through Thailand in order to visit the ancient temple.

During the censure debate, the Democrats insisted the Thai government's support for Cambodia's unilateral listing of Preah Vihear would remove Thailand's right to have ownership of the temple reviewed. Democrat party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said the Cambodian map that Foreign Minister Noppadon had acknowledged could put Thailand at a disadvantage in talks to settle the borderline with Cambodia .

The Thai media have demanded to know why a number of Cambodians have moved into a disputed area near the temple. If these Cambodians stay there permanently, it might cause Thailand to lose part of the area in dispute.

On this issue, Mr Hourt Song Hak, a reporter for the Cambodian daily Koh Santipap, agreed that the Cambodian settlers must be moved out of the area. Other than that, it is the Cambodian government's right to seek the listing of Preah Vihear, which belongs to Cambodia, as a World Heritage Site, he told Perspective.

Interestingly, the Cambodian reactions to the controversy are typically in stark contrast to the nationalistic mood of Thai politicians, media and academics.

Thai historian Thepmontri Limpaphayom has suggested that if the Cambodian request is put on the agenda of the World Heritage Committee in Quebec early next month, Thailand's World Heritage Committee should resign to pressure other member states of the World Heritage Committee to postpone considering the issue.

Meanwhile, Supreme Commander Gen Boonsang Niampradit said the Royal Thai Air Force had already put its transport planes on standby in case it was necessary to evacuate Thais from Cambodia if the issue gets out of hand.

During the height of violence in Phnom Penh on Jan 29, 2003 - when rioters attacked the Thai Embassy and the premises of Thai-owned businesses, including Shin Corp, then owned by the family of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra - the Thai government sent military aircraft to Phnom Penh to evacuate Thai nationals, while angry Thai protesters demonstrated outside the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen attributed the government's failure to prevent the attacks to incompetence, and noted that the riots were stirred up by extremists. The then chairman of the National Assembly, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, claimed that opposition leader Sam Rainsy had directed the attacks. Rainsy, instead, said he had tried to prevent the violence.


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Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Gods in the JUNGLE

12,000 people called it home, and 80,000 worked towards its upkeep. Today, the roots of trees are all that keep the Cambodian temple of Ta Prohm from oblivion n lindsay pereira

The music grew louder with every step. Accompanying it was the sucking sound made by wet earth, as I walked beneath massive trees on my way to the temple of Ta Prohm. As I turned a corner, the source of the music appeared through the mild drizzle. It was a group of ragged locals, sitting under a tent and creating a rhythmic, hypnotic rhythm. Some were blind; others held percussive instruments between stubs that were once feet. Victims of a 25-year old civil war, they were survivors. And, for a world that had forgotten them, they were creating music.

It was, with hindsight, the perfect setting for my first glimpse of Ta Prohm, a name derived from a dedication to Lord Brahma. Like a dirge, the music created a backdrop against which the crumbling walls of the temple appeared. It was a view that had stayed the same for decades, the stone held firmly in place by the massive roots of silk cottonwood and strangler fig trees. It was a strange state of limbo for what in the late 12th century was born Rajavihara, the ‘royal temple’, built by the Khmer king Jayavarman VII.

Begun in 1186 AD, this was to be a Buddhist monastery and university. Family was clearly important to the king, considering the temple’s main image was allegedly modelled on his mother, while smaller temples within the enclosure were dedicated to his elder brother and his teacher. Those calm faces staring down for centuries, at visitors from foreign shores, were all that remained of what was once a powerful kingdom.

As I stepped into an enclosure of fallen columns and sunlight-dappled ground, it was hard to imagine what life here was like eight centuries ago. According to the guidebook The Monuments of the Angkor Group, first published in 1944 by Maurice Glaize, this was once home to over 12,000 people, including 18 high priests and more than 600 dancers. Some 80,000 people living in villages nearby offered services and supplies. A full temple treasury enabled the complex to expand until the end of the 13th century.

And then, in the 15th century, the Khmer empire collapsed. Temples was abandoned everywhere, and the forest slowly closed in. While the world outside struggled with mundane issues like war and the clash of civilisations, Ta Prohm slept undisturbed. When it was eventually re-discovered early in the 20th century, an unusual decision was made to leave it as it was. Glaize says this was done only to Ta Prohm because it was the one temple that had ‘best merged with the jungle, but not yet to the point of becoming part of it.’

It was easy to see why Ta Prohm was among the most popular temples in the massive archaeological park that held Angkor Wat. It was all thanks to the trees. An ironic situation, considering they now held the temple in a vice-like grip that could no longer be broken. Maurice Glaize described, almost lovingly, their ‘long spreading skirts trailing the ground and their endless roots coiling more like reptiles than plants.’ The effect was eerie. It’s why Hollywood wanted it as a backdrop, and got it for the Angelina Jolie-starrer Tomb Raider. Apart from the stunning architecture, what gave the ruins of Angkor Wat much of its character was its mysterious past. When King Suryavarman—the predecessor of Jayavarman VII—died, work on Angkor stopped abruptly. The temples were sacked by enemies of the Khmer people, the Chams, and restored by Jayavarman VII.

Now, as tourists lined up beneath the strangling roots for photographs to send home, I thought about how this calm still seemed illusory. Not many countries could boast a history as bloody as Cambodia’s. After the 19th century came to a close, the 20th saw the rise of the infamous Khmer Rouge. There was little damage to temple structures during that bloody reign, but a large number of statues were stolen or destroyed. The passage of time still refused to guarantee peace. Riots erupted in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh as late as 2003, after a false rumour spread, of a Thai soap star claiming Angkor belonged to Thailand.

I walked through crumbling halls that must undoubtedly have once been grand, thinking about how the Vietnam War had left Cambodia with over six million landmines. One in every 236 Cambodians had lost a limb due to a mine explosion. The music outside, barely discernable, was a reminder no one paid heed to. It was now a souvenir, available on CD for $10.

As I continued on my way out, the devtas on temple walls turned eyes of stone towards me and smiled calm, placid smiles. The world outside had changed irrevocably since they were carved into being. For them, however, our history was just a moment in time. As I stepped into the sunlight, the music played on.

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Temple row may cause rift between countries

Cambodia issues Preah Vihear warning

Flaring nationalist sentiment in Thailand over the Preah Vihear temple issue threatens to harm ties between the neighbours, Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong warned yesterday.

Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej said the government is ready to reverse its decision to accept a revised border map if Thai people disagree.

The two countries have reached a deal, setting the map around the Preah Vihear temple, so Cambodia can apply to Unesco for a World Heritage listing.

But Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama has come under fire for agreeing to the deal, which became a key issue in the censure debate that ended on Thursday with the seven targetted ministers and Mr Samak winning votes of confidence.

''Politicians in Thailand should not exploit the Preah Vihear temple issue in their domestic struggles,'' Hor Namhong told reporters in Phnom Penh.

''This could damage the cooperation and friendship that exists between the two countries.''

Cambodia this week closed the temple after about 100 Thais, mostly from Si Sa Ket province, marched to the site to protest against the deal, which they say resulted in Thailand losing territory.

But Hor Namhong insisted: ''The drawing of the Preah Vihear map for listing as a World Heritage site does not affect the border at all. Thailand will not lose even one centimetre of land.''

Both countries have historically laid claim to the site, which sits on Cambodian soil but can only be easily accessed from Thailand.

He also denied an accusation by the anti-Thai government People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) that Thailand's backing of Cambodia's World Heritage bid is in return for business concessions for ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

''This has nothing to do with that. These people used it as a pretext for their own political exploitation,'' the Cambodian foreign minister said.

Mr Samak appeared to have softened his stance on the issue following the censure debate.

He said the contents of the joint communique between Thailand and Cambodia could be reviewed if the Thai public disagreed with it.

In a bid to ease pressure over the temple issue, the Thai Foreign Ministry will issue a 61-page white paper, available at www.mfa.go.th, to clarify Thailand's role.

Krit Kraichitti, director-general of the Treaties and Legal Affairs Department, Anuson Chinvanno, director-general of the East Asia Affairs Department, and ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat yesterday held a press briefing.

They insisted the signing of the joint communique did not obligate Thailand and did not violate the constitution.

The Foreign Ministry also promised to do its best to protect the country's sovereignty and bilateral relations.

According to Mr Tharit, security was being stepped up at the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh, but the situation there otherwise remained normal.

A researcher yesterday submitted a petition to the Prime Minister's Office to oppose Cambodia's application.

The petition, signed by 33,000 people, was lodged by historian M.L. Walwipa Charoonroj, of Thammasat University's Thai Studies Institute.

M.L. Walwipa said the signatories objected to Phnom Penh's bid to list the ruins and rejected any obligations Thailand had made with Cambodia.

She said the objection was raised because border disputes between the two countries were not yet settled.

The petition was accepted by Jul layuth Hiranyawasit, permanent secretary of the PM's Office.

The Administrative Court yesterday finished examining the PAD's petition seeking suspension of the joint communique.

The court is expected to decide whether to accept the petition for a hearing on Monday.

The PAD has asked the court to nullify the cabinet resolution on June 17 to endorse Cambodia's map of the temple, which was feared to be used by Phnom Penh to contest Thailand's sovereignty over the contentious overlapping areas.

In Si Sa Ket, former charter drafter Sawet Tinkul yesterday filed a complaint with police against some 500 Cambodian villagers for alleged illegal entry and encroachment.

The Cambodian villagers were accused of building houses, shops and other structures in Phra Viharn (Preah Vihear) National Park's compound.

Police investigators accepted the complaint for review while noting the matter was sensitive and would be handled carefully. _ Agencies and Bangkok Post.

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China, Cambodia hold exhibition on economic, trade cooperation

PHNOM PENH, June 27 (Xinhua) -- China and Cambodia jointly launched here Friday an exhibition on the achievements of economic and trade cooperation between the two countries.

The exhibition, Exhibition of Economic and Trade Cooperation Achievements in Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of China-Cambodia Diplomatic Ties, which will last for three days.

Co-organized by the Chinese embassy in Cambodia, the Cambodian Ministry of Commerce and the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC), this exhibition will show the economic and trade cooperation achievements between China and Cambodia at both governmental and non-governmental levels, Cambodian Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh said at the opening ceremony of the exhibition.

The Chinese government and people have provided a lot of aids and preferential loans to Cambodia for its economic and social developments, especially for its infrastructure construction, said Hor Nam Hong, Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister.

China has provided Cambodia with 118 aid projects in the past 15 years, including the office buildings of Cambodian Senate, the National Assembly and the Royal Government and the No. 7 National Road, said Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia Zhang Jinfeng.

The trade volume between China and Cambodia increased sharply from 12.95 million U.S. dollars in 1992 to 933 million U.S. dollars in 2007, according to the preface of the exhibition.

So far, China has invested 1.76 billion U.S. dollars to Cambodia, becoming the second largest source of Cambodia's Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), it said.

China and Cambodia established the diplomatic relationship on July 19, 1958.
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Cambodia denies Thaksin link in Thai temple spat

By Ek Madra

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia denied on Friday claims by a group trying to oust the Thai government that Bangkok had covertly ceded land near the disputed 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple on their joint border.

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said there was also no truth in the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) assertion that Thailand had backed Cambodia's bid to list the temple as a U.N. World Heritage Site in return for business concessions for ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

"This has nothing to do with that. But these people used it as pretext for their own political exploitation," he told a news conference.

"Thailand did not lose any land -- not even a square centimeter or handprint," he said.

"They took up this issue for political purposes in their aims to topple the Thai government, which would hurt the cooperation and friendship with Cambodia."

Preah Vihear, built by Khmer kings in the 11th century at the start of the Angkorian period, sits on top of a jungle-clad escarpment that forms a natural boundary between Cambodia and Thailand and has been a source of tension for decades.

The site was awarded to Cambodia by the International Court of Justice in 1962 in a decision that rankles with most Thais.

The ruins were off-limits for much of the 1970s to the 1990s, while the temple and surrounding forest were occupied by Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge.

Cambodia closed the temple again this week for fears a nationalist frenzy whipped up by the anti-Thaksin PAD and the opposition Democrat party during a no-confidence debate in parliament could turn into a major ruction.

Several dozen Thai activists with 40,000 signatures went to

U.N. cultural agency offices and the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok calling for a delay in the listing until both countries had settled the dispute.

"We want to tell them that the people of Thailand disagree with what our stubborn government is doing," campaign leader Walwipha Charoonroj, who said she had received help from the PAD, told Reuters.

Fears of a major fallout over Preah Vihear are not fanciful, given that a nationalist mob torched the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh in 2003 over purported comments from a Thai soap star that Cambodia's Angkor Wat temples actually belonged to Thailand.

After the closure, Defence Minister Tea Banh denied a Thai newspaper report he was sending extra soldiers to the border, but said he was "watching the situation closely".

Tea Banh was quoted last month in Thai newspapers as saying Thaksin, ousted in a 2006 coup, was looking to invest in a resort-style entertainment complex on the Cambodian island of Koh Kong.
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Friday, June 27, 2008

Cambodians fear loss of sovereignty

By Supalak Ganjanakhundee

A group of Cambodians have accused their government of losing rights to sovereignty over the area surrounding Preah Vihear in dealing with Thailand to try to get World Heritage status for the temple.

The group known as the Cambodia Watchdog Council International said in a statement that Phnom Penh was "tricked" into limiting its right to use only 30 metres from the ruined structure of the Preah Vihear to apply for a World Heritage listing.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 to put the Preah Vihear under Cambodia's sovereignty in accordance with the Siam-Franco treaty in 1904 and 1907 - as well as the French-made map.

"The map, which has been kept at The Hague, indicated clearly that the area [considered by Thailand as the overlapping area] belongs to Cambodia," the statement said.

"Taking only the temple and its limited foundation area is a loss of our territory to Thailand," it said.

"Thailand has never dared to put the case to the World Court for clarification of the boundary, but wanted to take over the temple and shut down our economic opportunities from tourism at the site," it said.

The group demanded the Cambodian government recall the new map and insisted it use the original one for the application.

The Bangkok office of Unesco has said it would forward the request, which was supported by more than 3,000 signatures by Thai people, to the Unesco head office in Paris.

The Thai Foreign Ministry is worried the fierce debate in Thailand, both in Parliament and street protests, could cause misunderstanding and hurt relations with Cambodia.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat said the ministry had launched a white paper to answer all questions over the deal with Cambodia on the Preah Vihear. The paper can be downloaded from the ministry's website.

The negative reaction began after the opposition Democrat Party launched a censure motion against Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama, accusing him of recognising Cambodia's sovereignty over the foundations of the temple.

The ICJ ruled that Cambodia had sovereignty over the temple but never ruled on the foundation area, according to opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Noppadon said the Cabinet in 1962 followed the ICJ's ruing and handed the ruined temple with 250,000 square metres of its foundations to Cambodia.

As long as Phnom Penh included only that part for World Heritage listing, it had nothing to do with Thai sovereignty, he said.
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Opinion: The meaning of censure

By Thitinan Pongsudhirak
The government has the numbers to ensure political survival but a major cabinet reshuffle is needed and the coalition partners will want more influential

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Thitinan Pongsudhirak is Associate Professor and Director of the Institute of Security and International Studies, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University.

The concerted movement to bring down the People Power party-led government of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej this week shifted its focus from street protests to a parliamentary censure debate. As parliament's current session ends tomorrow, the government initially wanted only to debate the Budget Bill rather than to allow a censure motion, as it has been in power for just four months.

However, the pressure from street demonstrators under the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) prompted the government to concede to a censure debate. While the government is likely to win the vote in the Lower House when the debate concludes today, Mr Samak and a clutch of his cabinet ministers will be so bruised with their credibility shaken to a point that a wide-ranging cabinet reshuffle will be needed.

After the censure debate, the PAD will continue to undermine the government's credibility and legitimacy in the streets, stymieing Mr Samak's limited ability to address pressing economic difficulties. His position after the censure debate will thus become untenable.

As the only party in opposition, the Democrat party has decided to focus its attack on only seven ministers from the PPP, leaving aside all the cabinet members from the other five coalition partners. This tactic is designed to isolate Mr Samak and the largest ruling party, opening up the possibility of coalition partners crossing over and the remote chance that Democrat party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva will cobble up an alternative coalition and scale to the premiership in the event the sitting prime minister is compelled to resign.

The opposition is now part of a three-pronged attack, led in the censure debate by the Democrats and in a separate anti-government motion by the mostly appointed portion of the Senate, as well as outside parliament by the PAD.

The beleaguered Samak government still commands almost two-thirds of MPs in the 480-member Lower House, with more than 220 under the PPP. Notwithstanding the manoeuvres during the debate, the government's numbers are sufficient to ensure political survival when the censure motion goes to a vote today.

However, the PPP's partners will gain more leverage within the ruling coalition and may try to convert it for better portfolio allotments down the line.

The opposition has had ample ammunition to take the Samak government to task. It has mostly focused on policy missteps, standard-of-living issues and alleged conflicts of interest. Central to the Democrats' censure manoeuvres has been the hot controversy surrounding Preah Vihear temple along the Thai-Cambodian border. The Samak government has inked a settlement that recognises Cambodia's sovereignty over the temple complex and its adjoining parcel of land. A verdict by the International Court of Justice in 1962 indicated that the temple belonged to Cambodia but Thai perceptions insist that its location has been, and should be, on Thai soil, despite growing accounts by respected Thai historians to the contrary.

Stirring up nationalist fervour, the PAD has accused the government of selling out to Cambodia with vested interests hidden behind the deal, an allusion to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's reported business intentions in Cambodia, with particular reference to the development of Koh Kong island.

The Preah Vihear temple affair is being shaped by the PAD and the opposition as the equivalent of Mr Thaksin's sale of his family-owned Shin Corp conglomerate to Singapore's Temasek Holdings in early 2006, which became the last straw that eventually overthrew his regime.

The Samak government did not help matters by pressing ahead without doing the necessary homework and earning public trust to settle the temple ownership, border demarcation, and registration as a World Heritage site.

While this issue is unlikely to be enough for a government downfall, it will continue to erode the government's credibility in the absence of corrective measures and adequate explanations to the public. It is incumbent on the government to take a pause on the Preah Vihear controversy in order to clarify and overcome doubts and allegations of a sell-out.

The censure debate has highlighted Mr Samak's weaknesses and his government's shortcomings. The prime minister is now embattled. He has a narrow base within PPP, which is beset with internal rumblings from different factions. Mr Samak also faces friction with other parties in the coalition. His lack of policy expertise and his ill temper have worsened his lot in the eyes of the public, fanning the PAD's flames.

At minimum, he will have to revamp his cabinet to shore up government performance. Getting rid of cabinet liabilities, such as Interior Minister Chalerm Yubamrung, would be a start, but more policy hands are needed in key economy-related portfolios. More policy coordination between ministries led by PPP and coalition partners is needed. The semblance of policy effectiveness in the face of growing hardships and rising food and energy prices is imperative.

Even if he manages a significant cabinet reshuffle and more responsive policy measures, Mr Samak will still be pressed by the PAD and its anti-government allies in parliament. His endgame will be drawn out but its denouement is likely weeks away. The key now is not whether he will be forced out well before his term ends, but how Mr Samak intends to leave the stage.

Foremost in his mind should be a transition that is within parliamentary and constitutional boundaries, not the detour and short cut that the PAD is demanding in the name of a warped paradigm called Thailand's so-called "new politics" of less representation and more nomination and appointment.



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Thai business under threat

NAREERAT WIRIYAPONG & SOMRUEDI BANCHONGDUANG

Thai businesses operating in Cambodia have expressed concern that bilateral relations could be shaken by conflict over the Preah Vihear temple.

The opposition Democrat Party has blasted the government over the past week, alleging that it is ceding Thai territory to Cambodia for supporting the latter's bid to register Preah Vihear as a World Heritage site.

The World Court earlier ruled that Preah Vihear is Cambodian territory and that Thailand has no claim to the temples.

The Thai embassy in Phnom Penh recently met with Thai business executives operating in Cambodia to discuss the political and social tensions between the two countries.

Business leaders want to avoid a repeat of the anti-Thai riots of January 2003, when the Thai embassy and Thai businesses were sacked. The riots were sparked by allegedly inflammatory remarks made by a Thai actress and resulted in hundreds of millions of baht in damage.

''We do hope that the current arguments will not last long,'' said Chitrapongse Kwangsukstith, chief operations officer for upstream petroleum and gas business of PTT Plc.

''There are several possible peaceful solutions that will be of mutual benefit. But if the situation could not be ended quickly and get worse, it would possibly make the relationship sour and cause the parties to lose trust in each other. [Thai] businesses operating [in Cambodia] could be affected.''

PTT holds a licence to develop an offshore natural gas block off the east coast of Cambodia. It also has been in discussions about petroleum exploration rights in the overlapping area that is claimed by both countries.

Dr Chitrapongse said that the temple issue could complicate discussions over the overlapping claims.

Niyom Waiyaratchapanich, the chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce's committee on border trade development, called on the government and related parties to end the conflict quickly.

''If it is prolonged and intensified to provoke nationalistic actions, Thai businesses in Cambodia would be seriously affected,'' said Mr Niyom.

Thai investors rank third among foreign businesses investing in Cambodia after Korea and Japan. Most Thai investments are in hotels and construction.

Thailand enjoys a trade surplus of 35 billion baht in trade worth 40 billion baht annually, he added.

Thailand's Siam Cement Group has operated a cement plant in Cambodia and plans to expand its logistics and trading businesses. The Charoen Pokphand group has invested in an animal feed and integrated agricultural project there.

Thai Airways International files daily between Bangkok and Phnom Penh, while Bangkok Airway operates daily flights from Bangkok to Cambodia's capital and Siam Reap. Thai Air Asia has seven flights a week between Phnom Penh and Bangkok.

Figures from the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) show that 35,796 Thai nationals visited Cambodia in 2007, up 14.5% over the previous year, mainly for tourism and business. Meanwhile, 108,776 Cambodians visited Thailand, down 13.2%, due mainly to a sharp rise in the Thai baht. Cambodia uses the US dollar as its main currency.

''Conflicts over Preah Vihear are highlighted once again, making the bilateral relationship not so smooth. This could cause Cambodian tourists to lose confidence in visiting Thailand,'' the TAT said in a recent report.

Siam Commercial Bank executives said they were closely monitoring events.

Paspun Suwanchinda, the bank's executive vice-president, said the bank's operations in Phnom Penh had not been affected by the Preah Vihear case.

''Business transactions remain at normal levels,'' she said.

SCB operates branches in Phnom Penh, Battambang, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville under the name Cambodian Commercial Bank.

But while the situation appears stable now, Ms Paspun said the bank had contingency plans to cope with ''unpredictable events''.

''We are receiving round-the-clock information updates from the Thai embassy, and we have also held briefings with our staff to be sensitive to the situation,'' she said.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

No love lost over ruins

The painful memory of Thailand losing sovereignty over the 10th century Preah Vihear temple to Cambodia as a result of the decision by the International Court of Justice in 1962, should have been buried with the passing years. But thanks to the government of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, this pain has been revived and is firing up the emotions of quite a few people, especially people of that generation who experienced the national trauma and shame of that great loss.

At the centre of the controversy surrounding the ancient Hindu temple is not that the Thai people want to lay claim to the temple. The Thai people, just as every successive government since 1962, still respect the World Court's verdict which awarded the temple to Cambodia - although they are against the decision and reserve the legitimate right to challenge the verdict if new evidence emerges.

The real issue is all about the dubious way the government - especially the prime minister and Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama - has been handling the Cambodian application for the listing of the stone ruins as a Unesco World Heritage site. Up until the Opposition's exposure in Parliament, the public was virtually kept in the dark about details of the negotiations between the two countries regarding Cambodia's application. Even last week's cabinet resolution pertaining to Thailand's "active support" of the Cambodian World Heritage listing bid was not made available to the public. It was later disclosed by Agriculture Minister Somsak Prissananantakul of the Chart Thai party that the prime minister had ordered some changes to the cabinet's resolution to ensure that overlapping areas were excluded from the temple to be listed by Cambodia.

The hush-hush manner in which the government rushed to sign the joint communique pledging Thailand's "active support" for the Cambodian bid to have the temple listed, has led to a suspicion that there might be some hidden agenda. Equally disturbing is the question of why the government caved in so easily to Cambodia's insistence that there not be a joint listing of the temple by the two countries. To sum up, the Samak government's handling of this lacks transparency.

Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva made a valid point during the censure debate on Tuesday that the government's endorsement of Cambodia's unilateral listing of the Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage site could place Thailand at a disadvantage if, in the future, Phnom Penh contests Thailand's sovereignty over the contentious overlapping areas. He cited as an example the main reason for Thailand's loss in the World Court case over the temple, which was that Thai governments had never contested the French map drawn in 1907 which showed the temple inside Cambodian territory, until the case was raised in court.

The Preah Vihear temple is a sensitive and emotional issue for both countries. Therefore, it must not be over-politicised in a way which will hurt the good relations between the two sides. But as far as Thailand is concerned, the issue cannot be left for the government alone to handle, especially in light of the several unanswered questions. It is advisable that the government reconsider its position vis-a-vis Cambodia, even if it means a loss of face for the prime minister and the foreign minister. After all, national interest should come first.

Or the government can wait for a ruling from the Administrative Court today, in response to a petition seeking an injunction on the cabinet's resolution endorsing Cambodia's listing bid. And risk a crushing setback if the court rules in favour of the petitioners.

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Cambodia opens election campaign

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia's political parties kicked off campaigning Thursday for next month's general election, which is almost certain to see the return to power of Asia's longest-serving leader, Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Eleven parties are contesting the July 27 polls for the 123-seat National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, with the winner forming a government for the next five years.

Hun Sen's long-running control over the levers of state and his unmatchable political instincts all but ensure that he will lead a return of his Cambodian People's Party to office.

Hun Sen, once a member of the ultra-leftist Khmer Rouge, has been at the helm of Cambodia since 1985, when he was made prime minister of a communist government installed by neighboring Vietnam. He became an elected prime minister in a democratic vote only after his party won an 1998 election. His party has tightened its grip on power since then, with 73 seats in the National Assembly.

They "must have self-confidence in deciding to choose the political party of their liking without any coercion, pressure and intimidation," Hun Sen said in statement Tuesday. He has in the past been accused of using strong-arm tactics against political foes.

Challengers include Sam Rainsy, the outspoken opposition leader who heads his self-named Sam Rainsy Party. The party, which currently holds 24 seats in the National Assembly, has constantly accused Hun Sen's government of corruption, human rights abuses and mismanagement of natural resources.
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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

opposition leader accused government of cover up sovereignty lost

Opposition and Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva Abhisit accused the government of distorting the truth over the Preah Vihear temple. Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama said there is no conflict of interest.

Opposition and Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva yesterday charged that the government was bent on misleading the public by distorting information over the Preah Vihear temple.

Mr Abhisit also called on fellow MPs to cast votes of no-confidence against Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama in a bid to preserve Thailand's sovereignty which he said had virtually been given up when the cabinet on June 17 endorsed Cambodia's map of the ancient temple and the joint statement over it.

The documents will be used by Phnom Penh to have World Heritage Committee members under the United Nations Scientific, Educational and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) consider its bid for the temple to gain World Heritage site status. The committee meeting starts on July 2 in Quebec.

Mr Noppadon said Thailand planned to separately propose that the Sra Trao reservoir and other ancient structures relating to Preah Vihear, be listed. But he said this plan could not be completed in time for the Quebec meeting.

He denied the idea was aimed at deflecting pressure from the anti-government People's Alliance for Democracy and those criticising Thailand's support for Cambodia's attempt to gain World Heritage status for Preah Vihear.

MPs will vote in the no-confidence debate tomorrow.

In the two-day censure debate which kicked off yesterday, Mr Abhisit accused the government of distorting the truth when it claimed the Thai team of lawyers accepted Cambodia's map in the 1962 legal battle over the temple in the International Courts of Justice.

Mr Abhisit said the Thai lawyers, led by the late M.R. Seni Pramoj, had never accepted Cambodia's map presented to the World Court in The Hague.

He said the court ruled in favour of Cambodia on the grounds that Thailand never protested against Cambodia's map until the dispute was brought to the court.

"The court then ruled that Thailand's failure to protest against [Cambodia's] map was tantamount to legal acceptance of the map. Fortunately, the court never touched on border disputes," he said.

Mr Abhisit said that shortly after the court's ruling in 1962 the Thai government issued a statement in which it said it would reserve the right to seek a review while observing the court's ruling.

He said the government's statement showed Thailand's intention to seek the return of the Preah Vihear temple when the opportunity arose.

The current administration's endorsement of the Cambodian map was giving up the rights that Thailand had always upheld, he said.

Mr Abhisit also lambasted the government for its failure to seek parliamentary approval before it signed a joint statement with Cambodia over the proposed listing of the temple.

He said the government exceeded its power in doing so and was in violation of Article 190 of the constitution as the joint statement would have an impact on the country's sovereignty.

Mr Noppadon on June 18 signed the joint statement with Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An.

Mr Noppadon and Foreign Ministry legal experts have argued that the joint statement did not need parliament's endorsement because it will have no effect on Thai sovereignty or territory.

In his defence last night, Mr Noppadon said the ministry closely consulted the armed forces before deciding to endorse the Cambodian map. There was no conflict of interest behind the Thai government's decision, he added.

The prime minister stressed that the temple belonged to Cambodia which had the right to seek the temple's listing.

Thailand, on the other hand, had succeeded in persuading Cambodia to list only the temple, not the 4.6 sq km overlapping area, he said, noting that it was important to maintain a healthy relationship with Phnom Penh.

Mr Samak said the Preah Vihear temple had become a controversial issue as intended by some politicians.

He warned that if it was allowed to be politicised further, it would sour the Thai-Cambodian ties and it was worrying Thai people living in Cambodia.

"I can tell you the stir-up is successful. Don't you know Thai people over there can't sleep?" the prime minister said.

He also said the Democrats were irresponsible in playing the nationalistic card at the expense of bilateral relations.


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Cambodia's Khmer Rouge Tribunal Trims Budget

Cambodia's Khmer Rouge tribunal says it will complete its work early and for almost $30 million less than previously proposed. Donors had balked at the initial budget of $170 million. To ensure new cost-cutting targets are met, a U.N. official has been drafted from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Rory Byrne reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.

Cambodia's Khmer Rouge tribunal has suffered a cash crisis for months. Donors have been reluctant to kick in money because of concerns over alleged corruption and mismanagement. That led to fears that the tribunal could close its doors before the first trial takes place.

Donors also had concerns about the court's rising costs, and what they consider its slow pace of operations.

But tribunal officials say they have shaved almost $30 million off the original budget of $170 million. They say the court will aim finish its work by the end of 2010, a year ahead of schedule.

Donors meeting in New York this week expressed satisfaction with the new budget, raising hopes in Cambodia that money will be coming.

To help ensure the Khmer Rouge tribunal meets its new targets, Norwegian U.N. official Knut Rosandhaug has been brought in from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

Speaking to reporters this week, he outlined his concerns about the tribunal.

"I share the concerns about the swiftness of the process. I am fully aware of the health situation of the detainees and I will do my part, offer my support to see that this is done as swift[ly] as possible but within the standards that we want to achieve," he said.

Under the ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge government in the late 1970s, as many as two million Cambodians were executed for any minor criticism of the government or died of hunger and illness.

Only a handful of the group's senior leaders are still alive, and most of them are elderly and frail. There are fears they will die before they ever face justice.

Rosandhaug says he is confident the tribunal will now get the money it needs to finish its work. He praised the determination of those involved in bringing the Khmer Rouge leaders to justice.

"I am coming from the Balkans in Europe, I am used to sort of a battle mode, people are fighting each other, and it is therefore a joy for me to come here and to see that it is a joint effort, one platform, we have concept to work on, one way forward, and for me that is very joyful," Rosandhaug.

The tribunal has indicted five former Khmer Rouge leaders. The trial of the first defendant, the commander of the Khmer Rouge's notorious S-21 torture center in Phnom Penh, is expected to begin in September.
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Thai PM's foes throw temple tantrum

BANGKOK, Thailand - Opponents of ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra are using a 900-year-old temple on the Cambodian border, centre of a bitter 50-year dispute, to try to oust a five-month-old government that backs him.

With Cambodia seeking Thai support for its bid to list the Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage Site, Thaksin's enemies are accusing the government of ceding land near the temple to Phnom Penh.

The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) - the motley group of businessmen, academics and royalists whose campaign against Thaksin led to his removal in a 2006 coup - is unabashed about whipping up a nationalist fervour.

"The Preah Vihear issue has sent us more people, many of whom are apolitical, white-collar workers," said Suriyasai Katasila, a lead of the PAD, which has accused the government of being 'Thaksin Puppets' bent on turning Thailand into a republic.

Specifically to the temple saga, the PAD says the government is ceding 4.6 sq km of disputed land near the temple to Phnom Penh in exchange for business concessions for Thaksin.

The Thaksin camp and Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, whose office has now been under siege by PAD protesters for six days, vehemently deny the accusations, or the handing over of any territory.

The issue of Preah Vihear, which the International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 belonged to Cambodia, is widening the PAD's support base to include opposition politicians, top bankers and high society bigwigs.

In its no-confidence motion against Samak this week, the Democrat party has focused primarily on the temple and the government's apparent acceptance of a map of the area drawn by Cambodia that lays claim to the 4.6 sq km of scrubland.

A group of senators petitioned the U.N. cultural agency, UNESCO, in Bangkok to halt the temple listing, and a Thai court has agreed to an urgent hearing to rule whether cabinet's approval of the map was constitutional.

Preah Vihear, built by Khmer kings at the start of the Angkorian period, sits on the top of a jungle-clad escarpment that forms a natural boundary between Cambodia and Thailand.

It has been a source of tensions for decades, but was off-limits for much of the 1970s to the 1990s due to its use as a major jungle outpost by Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge guerrillas. The area around the temple is still littered with land mines.

The political uproar in Thailand prompted Cambodia to close the temple on Monday, raising fears the spat could turn into a major diplomatic ruction between the two southeast Asian nations.

Another Cambodian temple, Angkor Wat, lay at the heart of a shouting match that resulted in a nationalist mob torching the Thai embassy and several Thai businesses in Phnom Penh in 2003.

"This nationalistic rhetoric can escalate to hurt diplomatic ties and sow the seeds of hatred between the people of the two countries," said political scientist Boonyakiet Karavekpan of Bangkok's Ramkhamhaeng University.

"We can only pray that will not happen again," he said.
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Cambodia closes Thai border entrance to disputed ancient temple

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: Cambodia shut a border gate leading from Thailand to an 11th-century temple claimed by both nations, an official said Tuesday, as Thai protesters gathered outside and opposition politicians in Thailand's Parliament accused the prime minister of yielding sovereignty over the site.

The closure of the border crossing at the Preah Vihear temple was the latest flare-up in a long-standing dispute between Cambodia and Thailand over ownership of the area.

Preah Vihear is located on the top of a cliff in the Dangrek Mountains, about 150 miles (245 kilometers) north of the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh. However, it is more easily accessible from Thailand than from Cambodia.

The two countries have been at loggerheads over ownership of the temple, located in still-disputed territory, although it was awarded to Cambodia by the International Court of Justice in 1962.

The latest conflict arose last week when Thailand's government endorsed Cambodia's bid to register the temple as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Critics in Thailand say Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej bypassed Parliament when his government endorsed Cambodia's application and accused him of violating national sovereignty. They say Thailand and Cambodia should apply jointly for World Heritage status for the site.

Thai opposition lawmakers debating a wide-ranging no-confidence motion against Samak have made the temple dispute a prominent part of their accusations.

Abhisit Vejjajiva, head of the opposition Democrat Party, said he intends to prove to Parliament that the government "caused damage to the country" by supporting Cambodia's bid.

"Preah Vihear is the knockout punch" for the no-confidence motion, Abhisit told reporters.

Hundreds of Thai protesters gathered Sunday along the border near the entrance to the temple, shouting that the temple belongs to Thailand and telling Cambodians who live on the hill to move away, said Hang Soth, director-general of the Preah Vihear Authority. Smaller protests were held Monday and Tuesday.

"We decided to shut down the border entrance because we are afraid that Thai demonstrators will reach the temple and cause problems with our people who live the near the temple," Hang Soth said.

Authorities will consider reopening the entrance "when the situation becomes normal and Thai demonstrators stop protesting in front of the temple," he said.

The 21-nation World Heritage Committee plans to consider Cambodia's application during its annual meeting next month in Quebec, Canada, he said.

The World Heritage list currently includes Cambodia's Angkor archaeological site, where Angkor Wat, the country's main tourist attraction, is located. World Heritage status helps attract funds for preservation of a site as well as raising its tourism profile.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The temple of gloom

Thailand's "active support" for the proposed inscription of Preah Vihear Temple as a World Heritage site is strongly highlighted in both words and pictures in Cambodia's main application document to Unesco.

The document, a copy of which was received yesterday by The Nation, features photos of Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama engaged in bilateral activities proclaimed to be progress towards reconciliation after decades of territorial dispute.

Disclosure of the document is likely to inflame the ongoing controversy, in which the besieged Samak government is accused of bypassing Parliament and the public alike in making crucial moves that carry possible effects on national sovereignty.

The document's key sections include Cambodia's insistence that the temple is under its sovereignty, the temple's cultural and historical value, international support for the temple's inscription and Thailand's virtual support for the nomination.

Whereas the controversy has centred on a joint communique between Thailand and Cambodia signed by Noppadon, the application document is likely to galvanise critics accusing the Samak government of either being naive and exploited by Phnom Penh or conspiring with the neighbouring government in exchange for political vested interests.

While critics have said the joint communique would put Thailand at a legal disadvantage if new territorial disputes arose in the area, the application document to Unesco could be perceived by some as a diplomatic embarrassment for Bangkok.

The Unesco document devotes considerable space to Cambodia's legal victory over Thailand in the International Court of Justice, detailing the court's rulings on why the contentious temple belongs to Cambodia. Then, only a few pages apart, the document goes on to highlight Thailand's "active support" for inscription.

Samak, whose photo taken during a visit to Phnom Penh in March was played up in the document, was cited as "confirming" Thailand's intention to support the inscription, as was Noppadon, whose photo was also given prominence in the document.

The Preah Vihear controversy will place the Samak government under fire in Parliament today, as the opposition Democrats are set to grill the decision virtually to give up Thailand's long-lasting sovereignty claims, which persisted even after the world court's ruling.

Key points in today's debate will likely include questions on whether the Samak government violated the Constitution in supporting the World Heritage-site push without consulting Parliament and whether it instead should have, for the inscription's sake, proposed a joint effort in which Thailand and Cambodia approached Unesco on more equal grounds.
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Cambodian King to visit Vietnam


Is King Norodom Sihamoni going to have palace in Hanoi?

VietNamNet Bridge - Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni’s official visit to Vietnam aims to tighten the traditional friendship and comprehensive cooperation relations with Vietnam.

At the invitation of Vietnam President Nguyen Minh Triet, the Cambodian King will start his three-day visit to Vietnam on June 24.

This is the second visit of the Cambodian King to Vietnam which also marks the anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations with Vietnam (June 24).

The Vietnam – Cambodia relationship has continued to be reinforced in the spirit of “good neighbourliness, traditional friendship, and long-term, durable and comprehensive cooperation”. In early 2008, many important activities were carried out between the two countries. The two Prime Ministers met on the sidelines of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) meeting in March 2008; the fourth meeting on cooperation and development of Vietnamese and Cambodian border provinces was held in February 2008, which made the cooperation more comprehensive and effective; and a successful exchange was held between the two Foreign Ministries in May 2008.

In 2007, diverse activities were held to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the diplomatic ties.

The exchange of high-ranking delegations between the two countries has been promoted. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen visited Vietnam in October 2005, Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni visited Vietnam in March 2006, Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet visited Cambodia in February 2007, and Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence visited Vietnam in March 2008.

The economic, trade and investment relations between the two countries have also been promoted, with trade turnover in 2007 of 1.17 billion USD and an expected amount of 2.3 billion USD in 2010. In the first four months of this year, the figure reached 552 million USD, an increase of 41.4% compared to 2007, and Vietnam’s investment into Cambodia in 2007 was estimated at 100 million USD.

In addition, cooperation in the educational, energy, medical and transportation sectors has continuously increased. In 2008, Vietnam pledged to grant 100 long-term and 450 short-term scholarships for Cambodian students. Cambodia gave 10 long-term and 20 short-term scholarships to Vietnamese students to study the Khmer language. Vietnam has continued to conduct medical check-ups for Cambodians. Cambodia highly praised Vietnam for its humanitarian eye surgeries based on a deal between President Nguyen Minh Triet and King Sihamoni.

The two countries have cooperated well in the security and defence sectors to address problems at border gates, ensuring security and stability in the region. They agree to complete border demarcation by 2012, and regularly work together to prevent crimes, drug trafficking, trade fraud and social problems.

The two countries have also cooperated closely in regional, sub-regional and multilateral groups, including ASEAN, the Ayeyawady - Chao Phraya - Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS) and GMS.

King Norodom Sihamoni’s visit to Vietnam will contribute to tightening Vietnam – Cambodia relations and addressing some existing problems.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Cambodia temporarily closes Preah Vihear temple

BANGKOK, JUNE 23 (TNA) - Cambodian authorities ordered the closure of an historic temple on the Thai-Cambodia border Monday, and deployed an armed military unit for added security at the site to guard the temple under consideration as a World Heritage site in the wake of continuing protest in Thailand over the issue, according to a senior Thai military source.

The source downplayed concerns that the move might affect bilateral relations, saying it was a precautionary measure for security reason to prevent ill-intentioned people cause any disturbances.

The Cambodian authorities made the move in light of continuing protests in Thailand's northeastern province of Si Sa Ket bordering Cambodia demanding the eviction of Cambodian souvenir vendors from the stairway leading to the ancient ruins of the temple and opposing Cambodia's move to apply for registration the temple as a World Heritage site.

The Phnom Penh government will apply for registration of the ancient temple as a World Heritage site during the upcoming UNESCO meeting in Canada between July 2-10 as both Thailand and Cambodia signed a joint communique last Wednesday endorsing the Cambodian application.

Thai Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama was taken to task in the Senate debate Monday for allegedly rushing through the temple deal with Cambodia.

Mr. Noppadon is among seven cabinet ministers in the Samak Sundaravej administration targetted by the opposition Democrat Party in a no-confidence debate scheduled on Tuesday.

He was accused of mishandling the Preah Vihear issue.

The foreign minister himself, however, dismissed the accusation and expressed confidence that he would be able to clarify all questions related to the issue.

Mr. Noppadon also shrugged off criticism that his plan to seek cabinet approval on applying for the reservoir and staircases leading to Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage site was merely an attempt to reduce pressure from many quarters in Thai society, saying the foreign ministry would issue a White Paper to explain its handling of the issue.

Bangkok Senator Rosana Tositrakul said a group of senators would petition the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) on Tuesday opposing Cambodia's registration of Preah Vihear as a World Heritage site. (TNA)

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New Generation of Mine-Clearing Dogs Born in Cambodia

By Rory Byrne

Puppies born recently in Cambodia are the first mine-clearing dogs to be bred and born in Southeast Asia. Most Asian dogs are unsuited for de-mining, so fully trained dogs are imported, mostly from Europe. But that could change if Cambodia's new breeding program succeeds, saving time, money and lives. Rory Byrne has this report for VOA from Kampong Chhnang, Cambodia.

These playful brown and white puppies are being trained for a deadly serious purpose. They will sniff out explosives so they can find hidden land mines and other unexploded bombs.

Cambodia is littered with millions of unexploded bombs and mines left over from three decades of conflict. Experts say between four and six million unexploded land mines lurk in the ground here, and they kill or maim over 400 people a year.

The puppies were bred from a pair of Belgian shepherd dogs imported from Bosnia. The parents were chosen because of their eager-to-please temperaments and good genetic history.

Local dogs are not suitable for clearing mines, or breeding mine-clearing dogs. Uk Rotha is a puppy trainer for the Cambodian Mine Action Center.

Rotha says the parents of these puppies are experienced mine-clearing dogs. Cambodian dogs are not looked after as well as foreign dogs - they normally run wild, so, he says, they are not good for breeding specialized dogs like these.

The puppies are isolated from each other most of the time so they build a strong bond with their human trainers. Heang Sambo has been training mine-detection dogs in Cambodia for 10 years.

Sambo explains that good land mine-clearing dogs must listen closely to their handler. They must have a good relationship with their handler because if they love him they will do what they are asked to do. Plus, he says, they need a sensitive nose which comes from good breeding.

The usual way to clear land mines in Cambodia is with metal detectors. But, says Sambo, this method is slow.

He says the difference between a metal detector and a dog is that the dog only smells explosives while the metal detector picks up the sound of anything metal, including rubbish.

If the puppies become successful de-mining dogs there are plans to expand the Cambodian breeding program as quickly as possible. Ngoun Thy is the senior dog instructor at the Cambodian Mine Action Center.

Thy says that importing trained land mine-clearing dogs is very expensive. One dog costs about $30,000, which is too much for a poor country like Cambodia. And, he says, because there are experienced dog trainers here it makes more sense to organize a local breeding program.

A successful breeding program in Cambodia will mean the country can field more dog teams, faster, and more cheaply, and that means more lives saved.


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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Police burn $7.6b worth of 'ecstasy oil'

A joint operation between Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Cambodian authorities has led to the destruction of one of the world's largest illegal stockpiles of the oil used as a precursor to manufacture ecstasy.

AFP officers are overseeing the burning of 33 tonnes of safrole-rich oil in Cambodia.

The oil is taken from the sassafras tree, a rare species which only grows in the Cardamom Mountains.

AFP Assistant Commissioner for Border and International Tim Morris says the oil is worth about $7.6 billion.

"That would have been manufactured into the precursor MDP2P in neighbouring countries, then in all likelihood into the production of MDMA or ecstasy tablets," he said.

"It would have produced, by our calculations, 245 million ecstasy tablets and a lot of those would have made their way onto the Australian market."

Assistant Commissioner Morris says six members of the AFP's Specialist Response Amphetamine Type Stimulants team are involved.

"We've moved [the barrels] to a remote area of western Cambodia in a disused quarry and essentially they're burnt," he said.

"This is the best practice way of disposing of these types of oils."

Assistant Commissioner Morris says the burning is the result of three years' hard work by the Cambodian National Police.

"The Cambodians are also trying to preserve their sassafras tree forests in this part of Cambodia which are actually destroyed while extracting the oil," he said.

"So there's a two pronged reason from the Cambodian perspective - saving the sassafras forests but also preventing the production of this safrole-rich oil."

The burn is expected to finish tomorrow.

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Sick of Thailand....as if!

And now the end, the end is near - and so i face a long bus journey..................more about that later.

Actually its the 21st June and i'm writing this in Phnom Penh, Cambodias Capitol, slowly updating 3 weeks worth of events - really I'd forgotten how long this took, I've just been and trained for the first time in that 3 weeks and feel quite ill - I've never been anywhere so polluted or poor for that matter. Its how I imagine india would be. People living on the streets and defacating on the streets, it makes me sad and actually unhappy at myself that i can complain about so many menial things. the Cambodians? I have never met a nation that complains less, I am yet to meet a Cambodian who hasn't been amazing in their own way! Actually I have been in tears at one point in the last 3 weeks and will eventually get round to why, but its also been an amazing place, that will never leave me, unfortunately for reasons of horror. However there have been some great times too, anyway back to where I left off...........

After leaving the muay thai camp and making the short flight to samui from phuket I wasn't feeling too good, so went pretty much straight to bed and hit the docs the next morning. The suspicion was Dengue fever so I bought a few DVD's and hit my bed for a few days. I said bye to the few people I wanted to say bye to and had a few farewell drinks and left on the longest journey of my trip so far.

10am my bus pickes me up to take me to the pier, for the 11am boat to donsak. At 1.30pm I board a coach for what was about a 3 hour drive to Surat Thani Train Station my overnight train to bangkok. I had a few hours to kill and arrived back at the trainstation only to find my train was delayed for what would eventually be 5 hours due to an accident. There isn't much to do in Surat Thani and still not feeling myself I was just wanting a bed and some sleep.......instead I was watching everyone in the station board trains headed for the same place i wanted to go and get to their beds while I waited in a deserted train station in a deserted town - Surat Thani is not a good place to get stuck! Really it couldn't have been planned better - my Ipod had broken the day before and I didnt have a book I hadn't read, it was a looooooong wait!

Well it eventually arrived and i had a nice comfortable bed made up for me in a dorm style carriage, on the lower bunk with my own window and a fan close by. It was noisy and, in truth, a bit smelly but I slept like a baby until about 8am when the noise from other passengers waking forced me to open my eyes! The remainder of the journey was spent watching the countryside pass bye, trying to photograph temples in the distance, and getting excited knowing I was about to return to Bangkok - a place I love, in small doses.
The train ride itself is an event, at each stop traders jump on with an array of food and drinks and are happy to have a bit of a laugh and a joke - you have tounderstand they can seem quite forceful but in reality there doing what they have to, just to stay alive in many cases. Engage them, have a joke - tyhe Thai people really know how to smile.

Eventually around noon I reached my hotel and just in time too, a thunderstorm of massive noise hit as soon as I got to my room, I had a bath! My first bath in 3 months, and i do love my baths, it was heaven and slept off the last of the groggyness either from the Dengue or the 24 hours of travelling and waiting around.

The Reclining Buddah was on my agenda for the next day, and you'll have to excuse me 'cos i have no idea what day it was, nor what day it is now, but beleive me thats not even a slight issue. The philosphy of Buddhism amazes me and i've had time on this trip to read alot about it, it was nice to see such an iconic statue and learn about the history of the temple (pictures will follow). My guide had me bowing and kissing floors all over the place. I had a nice end to the day, getting my fortune told by a Buddhist Astronomer, apparently my favourite colour is pink! I am sure anyone who knows me could of told him that! He was quite accurate in some things tho, I need to keep moving around until late 2009 (I had told him nothing of my trip) then find a job, but not in my home country and amongst other things i'll live till 81 - good to know eh?

Later on that day I was introduced to what have turned out to be a great group of people, who have made the time I have spent in Cambodia more special than I am sure it woould have been had I came alone. We went out for a good first night meal seen a baby elephant and after mentioning I was interetsted in an eye brow piercing and was promptly led into the next piercers we passed! (pierced eyebrow picture to follow). We had a few beers, and called it a night.

Early start the next day for our journey to the border of Cambodia, we had 2 minibuses between 14 of us, BIG leather seats, lots of room to stretch out and air con to keep us cool, I wondered what we'd be travelling in on the Cambodian side of the border........................
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Summer in Cambodia changed her life

BY LAURA ALBANESE

Willi Rechler admits that, before last summer, she had been a little selfish. The Jericho High School senior lived a moderately comfortable existence and, while always involved in philanthropy, hadn't so much seen how the rest of the world lived. All of that, she said, changed.

Rechler, who helped to found the Amnesty International Club in tenth grade, wanted to see firsthand the situations that concerned her. She joined a travel program with Putney Student Travel and booked a ticket to Cambodia, a country still recovering from the genocidal reign of the Khmer Rouge, not knowing what to expect.

"I went there with an open mind," she said. "What I learned in Cambodia changed me. I have a different perspective on the world."

She learned about the effect of genocide and was particularly struck by the lack of medical care. She also saw a community struggling to grow out of its past difficulties and progress toward modernization.

"It really gives me a lot of hope," Rechler said. "Before I went, I tried to be compassionate and watch documentaries, but this is a whole other perspective."

What she saw, she said, has made her involved in the situation in Darfur and motivated her to petition for inclusion of genocide studies in the curriculum. Jericho recently started offering the class.

"One of the best moments was my brother coming home and yelling at me because he had a test on the curriculum," she said. "When I have a decision to make on anything, I just think about what I learned and it makes me want to make the world a better place."

Similar sentiments have also led her to organize the Cambodian Children's Fund, a fundraiser that raised over $4,000. Rechler also hopes to continue her studies of different cultures at Yale, where she'll be attending this fall.

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