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Thursday, July 31, 2008

When Cambodia cries wolf

By The Nation

Cambodia knows exactly when and where to hit Thailand to inflict the most pain on its neighbour to the east. Repeated attempts by Phnom Penh to raise the Preah Vihear dispute at the international level in forums such as the United Nations and the Non-Aligned Movement - which were subsequently withdrawn - shows a lack of sincerity and ill intentions. At a meeting in Singapore, Asean took the unprecedented step of discussing the temple dispute but without any progress.

It was out of Asean goodwill and the good office of the previous chair, Singapore, that both sides were able to discuss the problem against the backdrop of the Asean meeting.

When members have bilateral problems, especially over sensitive issues concerning sovereignty, they should resolve them in an amicable way without being aggressive or using strong diplomatic language.

In Singapore, the Cambodian delegation left its mark with strong words of condemnation for Thailand over the controversy. The Thai delegation, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Sahas Banditkul, was calm and mature. Sahas did not respond to the Cambodian tirade. Several Asean members have expressed concerns over the rough way the Cambodian delegate dealt with the issue.

After the end of the Asean meeting, Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo wrote a letter to his Cambodian counterpart, Hor Namhong, expressing concerns about the creditability of Asean as Cambodia has insisted that it would seek the intervention of the UN Security Council. Since both countries are members of Asean, any dispute between them should be settled bilaterally. Instead, Cambodia has tried to score points internationally by portraying the country as a victim of intimidation by a bigger and more prosperous neighbour. Asean wants all of its members to discuss and solve problems in the spirit of the grouping.

Cambodia's desire to internationalise the issue helps to show its true intention to tarnish Thailand's reputation. Of course, there is nothing Thailand can do at the moment as its domestic situation in recent years has been rather damning. Cambodia's approach would work if Thailand really were a bully. Look around, Thailand has been reduced to a small and non-significant player since 2001. Our reputation overseas has sunk to its lowest level ever. Instead of helping Thailand to settle the dispute amicably, those in Cambodia's upper echelon have instead decided that now is the best time to teach Thailand a lesson.

Several Asean members and dialogue partners have confided to the Foreign Ministry that they do not support Cambodia's efforts to push the temple dispute to the UN level. A member of the Security Council said that any internationalised issue would impact on Asean as a whole.

For the next 18 months, Thailand will serve as the chair of Asean. Cambodia's attitude will be crucial and should be closely scrutinised, as it will have far-reaching ramifications for the future of Asean.

If Cambodia continues to threaten to use the UN and Non-Aligned Movement forums, it would certainly hamper the effectiveness of the Thai chairmanship of Asean.

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Cambodia establishes 14-member official delegation for Beijing Olympics

PHNOM PENH, July 31 (Xinhua) -- Cambodia has established a 14-member official delegation for the Beijing Olympics scheduled to open on Aug. 8, according to the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia (NOCC) Thursday.

The delegation, headed by Tourism Minister and NOCC President Thong Khon, also includes two officials, one secretary, one team leader, two swimmers and their coach, two marathon athletes and their coach, one doctor and two youths attending the Olympic Summer Camp.

The members will leave Phnom Penh for Beijing respectively on Aug. 6 and 7.

NOCC Secretary General Mea Sarun told reporters that during the Beijing Games, Cambodia aims to enhance the athletes' skills and the country's participation level of the international games.

Cambodia first attended the Olympics in 1959, then quitted for a long time due to civil war. It resumed its participation in 1996 to attend the Atlanta Olympics and later sent delegations to the Sydney Games in 2000 and the Athens Games in 2004. Read more!

Judges preparing for first trial on genocide in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: Cambodian and international judges are making final preparations to begin the trial of the former commander of a Khmer Rouge torture center who is charged with crimes against humanity, a tribunal official said Thursday.

The trial of Kaing Guek Eav, 65, alias Duch, who headed the notorious S-21 prison and torture center, is scheduled for late September, said Helen Jarvis, a spokeswoman for the United Nations-assisted tribunal.

The trial is a key step in Cambodia's long wait for justice for atrocities committed during the Khmer Rouge rule in the late 1970s. Some 1.7 million people perished.

"To have the director of that institution on trial for crimes committed will be of enormous importance in understanding the Democratic Kampuchea regime," Jarvis said, referring to the Khmer Rouge's official name at the time.

The prison in Phnom Penh was the Khmer Rouge's largest torture facility, and has now become the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

About 16,000 men, women and children are believed to have been held there. Only 14 are thought to have survived.

The tribunal has been set up under Cambodia's court system, which follows the French model in which case files are handled by investigating judges before being handed to other judges for the actual trial.

The five judges who will try Duch's case include three Cambodians and one Frenchman, Jean-Marc Lavergne, who took up their positions in July. A fifth judge from New Zealand, Silvia Cartwright, is to arrive in Cambodia later this week, Jarvis said.

Duch is one of five suspects being held for trial. The others are former top lieutenants of late Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, who died in 1998.

They are former head of state Khieu Samphan, former chief ideologist Nuon Chea, ex-Foreign Minister Ieng Sary, and his wife Ieng Thirith, who served as the Khmer Rouge social affairs minister.

They face charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes.
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Thailand waiting for Cambodia on temple pullback

Thailand is invading Cambodia and telling Cambodia to withdraw troops from Preah Vihea and surrounging area. Are those Siams ready to get cooked by those former Khmer Rough soldiers?

Reiterating that it is up to the Thai government as to when troops might be withdrawn from the disputed Preah Vihear temple site claimed by both Thailand and Cambodia, Foreign Minister Tej Bunnag said Thursday the Cambodian government has "not informed Thailand officially" when it will pull out its troops from the area.

It is not necessary for the Thai government to react because the Cambodian government has not shown any sign that it would withdraw its troops from the disputed area, Mr. Tej said.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said in Phnom Penh on Tuesday that Cambodian troops were ready to withdraw from the 4.6-square-kilometre disputed area adjacent to the 11th century temple.

He indicated that the timing of the troop withdrawal is up to Thailand to decide, as far as when the action is taken, as it is not a problem for Cambodia.

Mr Tej said what Hun Sen had said could be his personal opinion but that "so far there is no official reaction from Cambodia."

Senior Thai officials on Thursday held a workshop at the National Security Council and one major topic of discussion was expected to focus on the agreements made by foreign ministers of the two countries on Monday in Cambodia's Siem Reap province.

Thai and Cambodian foreign ministers called for the redeployment of troops in and around the new pagoda located in the temple complex, so that a meeting of the Joint Boundary Commission could be held to continue to demarcate the border line, to clear landmines around the ancient temple, and to avoid armed confrontation.

Mr Tej said the Thai military will have to follow the government's instruction and that a troop reduction could not be made at once due to official procedures. (TNA)

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Stability, sort of

After a dirty election, the prime minister tightens his grip

WHETHER Cambodia’s general election on July 27th was a success or a travesty depends on what you compare it with. A team of European Union observers said it fell well below international democratic standards. Tens of thousands of opposition supporters were excluded from the electoral register. There was widespread impersonation of voters, plus the usual vote-buying and glaring pro-government bias by broadcasters.

However, the election was also the least violent since the United Nations-sponsored one in 1993 that marked the end of decades of civil war. The victory of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and its leader, Hun Sen, means Cambodia is set for a further five years of corrupt and inept government but also, probably, of continued stability and rising prosperity.

Preliminary results suggest the CPP won around 90 seats (up from 73) in the 123-seat national assembly. The main opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, believes his party won around 27, up from 24 last time. The big losers were Cambodia’s once-powerful royalists. Divided and in disarray, the main royalist party, Funcinpec, shrank from 26 to perhaps just two seats; a splinter named after the exiled Prince Norodom Ranariddh did no better.

Though the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) wants the world to refuse to recognise the outcome, diplomats in Phnom Penh, the capital, believe the CPP has genuinely gained popularity thanks to Cambodia’s strong growth—10.3% last year, producing a boom in fancy office blocks and rural land prices. Mr Hun Sen also won some votes from his tough stance in an armed confrontation with Thailand over a patch of land near the ancient Preah Vihear temple, which a UN committee recently put on its “world heritage” list. The EU’s observers said that given the scale of the ruling party’s victory electoral fiddles seemed unlikely to have altered the outcome.

Until fairly recently Mr Hun Sen’s critics had a tendency to die violent deaths. As he has felt surer of his position, politics has become more peaceful. Patronage and pilfering are rife and the justice system almost non-existent. But foreign donors fill many of the gaps—in particular, building lots of roads and other infrastructure. Roderick Brazier of the Asia Foundation, a think-tank, says the devolution of money and powers to local communes seems to be improving ordinary people’s lives, and the appearance of a few capable technocrats in central government may help more.

Tired and angry after the election, Mr Sam Rainsy remains defiant. The collapse of the royalist movement, he says, means that now, “we are the only serious alternative. It makes the political game clearer.” He argues that the SRP, hitherto an urban party, is gaining support in the countryside. But if he were to present a serious challenge, would Mr Hun Sen revert to his old brutal ways?
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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Cambodia,Thailand loath to blink first over temple

By Ek Madra

PHNOM PENH, July 29 (Reuters) - Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Tuesday he would not withdraw troops and artillery from a disputed 900-year-old temple on the Thai border until Bangkok started to pull back its forces.

"It is a matter of when the Thais remove their troops," Hun Sen, who won another five years in power with a landslide election victory at the weekend, told reporters at Phnom Penh's Foreign Ministry.

The two southeast Asian nations' foreign ministers agreed on Monday to resolve the spat peacefully and scale back a two-week military build-up around the Preah Vihear ruins, awarded to Cambodia in 1962 by the International Court of Justice, a ruling that has rankled in Thailand ever since.

However, Thailand's cabinet, which is reeling from court decisions against several ministers and a long-running street campaign to remove it from power, issued no directives to the military after a weekly meeting on Tuesday.

Army chief Anupong Paochinda told reporters he was waiting for a government order to pull out the troops after both sides agreed to "redeploy" out of the disputed area on the jungle-clad escarpment that forms the natural border.

"When the government says withdraw, we will immediately do so," Anupong said.

Hun Sen's election victory means he does not have to pander to a nationalist clamour to tough it out with Cambodia's larger neighbour, although the wily former Khmer Rouge guerrilla has little to gain by being seen as the first to blink.

The Thai government faces similar nationalist pressures and is in a considerably weaker position at home than Hun Sen.

The spat first started when anti-government protesters in Thailand seized on Bangkok's backing for Cambodia's bid to have Preah Vihear listed as a World Heritage site, whipping up a nationalist fervour in Thailand.

Monday's 12 hours of talks in the Cambodian resort town of Siem Reap helped assuage fears of the imbroglio evolving into a full-blown military clash between the two sides, which have been locked in a standoff since July 15.

"If they pull out, we will do, too," Cambodia's military commander on the scene, Chea Mon, told Reuters by telephone. "But this is our pagoda. We should not move far from this area."

Even if they manage to avoid direct conflict, the saga is unlikely to die down quickly as ancient temples are among the most potent symbols of national pride in both countries.

In 2003, a Cambodian mob torched the Thai embassy and several Thai businesses in Phnom Penh after erroneously reported comments from a Thai soap opera star suggested Cambodia's famed Angkor Wat actually belonged to Thailand. (Additional reporting by Nopporn Wong-Anan in Bangkok) (Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Alan Raybould and Valerie Lee) ((ek.madra@thomsonreuters.com; +855 23 216977; Reuters Messaging ek.madra.reuters.com@reuters.net))

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Election win fuels fears for Cambodian democracy

By KER MUNTHIT

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — The landslide election victory of Cambodia's ruling party puts the country under one party-rule and risks damaging its fragile democracy, rights groups said Wednesday.

Prime Minister Hun Sen's party claims it swept 90 of 123 seats in last weekend's parliamentary elections.

The result is expected to usher Hun Sen, who has ruled for 23 years, to a new 5-year term and give his party total domination of the lower house — a result that human rights groups are calling dangerous for democracy.

"We have long feared that the country was heading toward becoming a one-party rule," said Thun Saray, a prominent human rights activist and head of election monitoring group Comfrel. "The election results are only confirming our fears. The power of the ruling party is now so great that no one can challenge it."

Cheam Yeap, a senior ruling party member, dismissed the criticism, saying his party is not a "dictatorship."

The ruling party will use its victory to strengthen, not weaken, democracy and the rule of law "to win more support and trust from the people."

Official results from the election are expected later this week. But few dispute the tally issued by the CPP, which appears to have cemented a two-thirds majority in the lower house and increased its presence from the 73 seats it held in the outgoing chamber.

Hun Sen's government has often been accused of corruption, human rights abuses, curtailing people's rights to peaceful protests and forcibly evicting poor citizens off their land so that it can be used for commercial development. The government has dismissed the accusations.

Independent Cambodian election monitoring groups say the opposition Sam Rainsy Party appears to have won 26 seats — a two-seat gain from the 2003 polls — and back the ruling party's tally of 90 for the ruling CPP.

Hun Sen has been at the center of Cambodian politics since 1985, when he became the world's youngest prime minister at age 33. He has held or shared the top job ever since, bullying and outfoxing his opponents to stay in power.

Sunday's voting was the fourth parliamentary election since the United Nations brokered a peace deal for the country in 1991, a process meant to end decades of civil unrest that included the 1975-79 genocidal reign of the Khmer Rouge.

Martin Callanan, the head of an EU election monitoring team, said Tuesday that the elections fell short of international standards because of biases in favor of the ruling party. But he said alleged vote irregularities would have to be on a very large scale to invalidate the result, which is that Hun Sen's party "clearly has a very large majority."
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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

‘Cambodian troops ready to withdraw from Thai border’

* Cambodian PM says Thai troops will have to pull out first

PHNOM PENH/BANGKOK: Cambodian troops are ready to withdraw from a disputed border area, but Thailand will have to pull out first, said Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday.

“For us, there is no problem at all. It is up to Thailand to decide to act. For us, (we are ready) any time,” Hun Sen told reporters in Phnom Penh, adding, “The problem is the timing and how long it will take the Thai side to have a political decision from the government.” His comments came one day after the two countries agreed to consider a redeployment of troops from the area near the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple, where thousands of soldiers have been facing off for two weeks. The soldiers have been mobilised since July 15 around a small patch of land near the temple, which sits on a mountaintop overlooking the Cambodian jungle.

The ruins of the Khmer temple belong to Cambodia, but the most practical entrance begins at the foot of a mountain in Thailand, and both sides claim some of the surrounding territory. Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong and his newly appointed Thai counterpart Tej Bunnag held talks on Monday in Siem Reap with a handful of top military officials from both countries. After around 12 hours of talks, the foreign ministers said they would ask their governments to re-deploy troops. The International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that the Preah Vihear temple belonged to Cambodia. Cambodia had asked the UN Security Council to take up the latest conflict over the temple, but suspended its request to allow the current talks to proceed. Both sides have toned down their rhetoric after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice voiced concern about the conflict and called for a peaceful resolution.

Thailand: Meanwhile, Thailand said on Tuesday it might be weeks before it could re-deploy troops from the disputed border zone. The Thai army commander responsible for the border area confirmed that any withdrawal could be delayed. “The redeployment process takes time and it needs to pass a high-level process first,” Major General Kanok Netrakasana told reporters.
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Still, both countries agreed that the 12-hour talks in Cambodia’s Siem Reap had served to defuse tension surrounding the border issue. “The resolution from the meeting between Cambodia and Thailand will help relieve tension and improve the situation,” said army chief Anupong Paojinda, adding, “Lowering the troops at the border, however, needs to receive an order from the government first.” afp
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EU criticises Cambodia election

By Guy Delauney

Monitors from the European Union say Cambodia's recent general election fell short of international standards.

They said the governing party dominated the media and the National Election Committee (NEC), and tens of thousands of people were disenfranchised.

But they also praised the smooth running of what was described as a "technically good" election.

The EU observers were among 17,000 local and international monitors who observed the election.

While their findings were a mixed bag, there was certainly more criticism than praise.

The key issue was impartiality and the role of the governing Cambodian People's Party (CPP).

Large majority

The EU team said the CPP had made "consistent and widespread" use of state resources for its own campaigning efforts.

The party dominated media coverage to an unacceptable degree, and the presence of officials connected to the CPP on the NEC compromised that institution's independence.

The monitors said the NEC had disenfranchised 50,000 registered voters by allowing their names to be removed from the electoral roll.

But the EU's chief observer, Martin Callanan, said that had not affected the result of the election.
"Under the provisional results that have been published, the CPP clearly has a very large majority," he said.

"Therefore any irregularities which were proved would have to be on a very large scale in order to invalidate that result.''

The opposition parties beg to differ.

Four of them have rejected the provisional results, which give the CPP an overall majority.

They claim that hundreds of thousands of their supporters were unable to vote and that similar numbers of ineligible people were allowed to cast ballots.
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Monday, July 28, 2008

Thailand, Cambodia agree to pull back some troops

By SOPHENG CHEANG

SIEM REAP, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia and Thailand agreed Monday to pull back 1,200 troops stationed near a historic temple, but failed to end the long-running border dispute that has stirred up nationalist anger on both sides.

Foreign ministers from the two Southeast Asian neighbors agreed to hold further meetings on how to demarcate a slice of land near the 11th century Preah Vihear temple, but no date was set for the next meeting.

About 800 Cambodian troops and another 400 from Thailand stationed inside and around a pagoda near the temple complex will be pulled back. It is unclear, however, where those troops will be moved and when it will take place.

"We cannot solve all problems at one meeting. We need to take gradual steps," Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong. "The immediate task is to avoid clashes through the redeployment of troops."

Thai Foreign Minister Tej Bunnag agreed "the meeting would help reduce tension at the border."

Moving troops from the Keo Sikha Kiri Svara pagoda is considered significant, since that is where Thai troops first deployed earlier this month. Soon after, Cambodian moved troops into the area and the two sides engaged in a tense armed confrontation on July 17 when Cambodian monks sought to celebrate Buddhist lent in the pagoda.

The Cambodians eventually pulled back from the standoff and the two sides have since have managed to keep a lid on tensions.

The dispute over 1.8 square miles of land near Preah Vihear temple escalated earlier this month when UNESCO approved Cambodia's application to have the complex named a World Heritage Site.

Thailand sent troops to the border July 15 after anti-government demonstrators criticized Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej's government for supporting Cambodia's application to UNESCO. Cambodia responded with its own deployment.

A first round of talks on July 21 foundered over what maps should be used to demarcate the border. It prompted Cambodia to request a meeting of the United Nations Security Council before agreeing to the second round of talks with Thailand.

Hor Namhong said Friday he was hopeful the new talks would end the impasse, but also warned his government would pursue the case at the U.N. if negotiations failed again.

A French map demarcating the border generally favors Cambodia, and Thailand rejects it, saying it was drawn up by a colonial power to its own advantage.

Thailand relies on a map drawn up later with American technical assistance, but accepts a ruling by the International Court of Justice that awarded the disputed temple to Cambodia in 1962.

Cambodia's ruling party tapped into growing nationalism over the border dispute to attract voters ahead of Sunday's parliamentary elections.

Political analysts in Thailand say Cambodia may be more willing to negotiate a compromise after the strong election showing by Prime Minister Hun Sen's Cambodia People's Party — something Cambodian authorities have dismissed.

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Report: No word of breakthrough from Thai-Cambodian border talks, military standoff to ease

BANGKOK, July 28 (Xinhua) -- Monday's day-long talk between Thailand and Cambodia on the disputed border around the Preah Vihear Temple, has produced no breakthrough by now, though two sides agreed to ease military stand-off along the border, reports here said.

The Nation news website quoted Cambodia's Foreign Minister Hor Nam Hong, who represented his country in the second round of bilateral talks on the border dispute, as saying that the two sides agreed to "adjust" the military deployment along the border, which has been strengthened in the past two weeks.

They agreed that both sides should exercise utmost restraint and seek further peaceful solution to solve the problem, according to Hor Nam Nong, without further elaboration. Both sides also supported de-mining and land demarcation in the disputed border area, the website said.

The military adjustment would not affect territorial sovereignty and has no implication to future border demarcation, the report said.

Hor Nam Nong had been engaged in a marathon meeting with Thai counterpart Tej Bunnag, who was just sworn in on Sunday, at a hotel in Cambodia's Siem Reap province on Monday.

The meeting lasted for some 12 hours. The atmosphere was reported to be tense, and Tej Bunnag went to consult with Thai delegation at the lunch time after the morning session. Both delegations had to postpone their flights, pending the negotiation.

Monday's talks was a follow-up to the first-round bilateral meeting which earlier took place in Thailand's central border province Sa Kaew, chaired by Thai Supreme Commander Gen Boonsang Niempradit and Cambodia's Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Gen Tea Banh.

The talks ended without any solution except for a mutual understanding about military restraint.

Monday's meeting was also the first task, and a hard start for Thailand's newly-appointed Foreign Minister Tej Bunnag.

Tej, a veteran diplomat, was appointed as the head of Thailand's Foreign Affairs after his predecessor Noppadon Pattama resigned earlier this month over the dispute concerning a long disputed 4.6-sq-kilometer area claimed by both countries, which is adjacent to the Preah Vihear temple on the Thai-Cambodian border.

The resignation came after a Constitutional Court ruling held that Noppadon's signing a Thai-Cambodian Joint Communique to endorse Thailand's support for Cambodia's bid to list the Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage Site was in breach of the Constitution.

The temple was listed as a World Heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)earlier this month.

The issue has arouse a wave of nationalist sentiment in the country. And the two countries has since been locked in a military standoff on the border between Kantharalak district, Si Sa Ket province in Thailand's northeast, and Cambodia's Preah Vihear province where the 11th century Khmer-style Hindu temple Preah Vihear is located.
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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Hun Sen Wins Cambodian Election and Probably Expands Majority

By Daniel Ten Kate

July 27 (Bloomberg) -- Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, a former communist who has ruled for two decades, won today's election and probably increased his parliamentary majority amid greater prosperity and a wave of nationalism over a border dispute.

Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party finished first in the voting, followed by opposition leader Sam Rainsy's party, named after himself, said Khan Keo Mono, a spokesman for the National Election Committee.

``Votes are still being counted but the CPP probably won more seats than it did in 2003,'' the spokesman said by telephone today. Official results are expected tomorrow.

The ruling party's victory may lead to more foreign investment. The economic expansion and a recent military standoff with neighboring Thailand over disputed land near the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple, a United Nations' World Heritage Site, have benefited the incumbent government.

``Political stability has been and will continue to be the most important contributor to Cambodia's rapid economic growth,'' said a July 21 note from the Cambodia Investment and Development Fund, one of several funds planning to spend about $450 million in the country.

In the 2003 election, Hun Sen's party won 73 of 123 parliamentary seats, or 59 percent, short of the two-thirds majority then required to form a government. In 2006, lawmakers changed the constitution to allow a party to form a government with a simple majority. Hun Sen said he expects to win 81 seats in this election.

Disenfranchised

Sam Rainsy, whose party won 24 seats in the 2003 election, said today that 200,000 voters in Phnom Penh were disenfranchised because their names were taken off voter lists. He called for a re-vote in the capital, where he outperformed Hun Sen in the previous election.

Election observers, who noted the missing names on voter lists, said the poll was cleaner than in previous years. Human rights groups have said political violence during this campaign season did not reach the level seen in years past.

``This election was better,'' Hang Puthea, executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, a non-governmental organization, said by phone Sunday night. ``We saw irregularities but they were fewer than we saw before.''

Sam Rainsy was probably exaggerating the number of people whose names were left off voter lists, Hang Puthea said. The National Election Committee has the authority to call a new election, an unlikely prospect at this point.

``The election went smoothly; we just had some problems with missing voter names,'' said Khan Keo Mono, the national election committee spokesman. He added that those people ``cannot vote anymore.''

Growing Support

For now, Hun Sen, 56, is enjoying growing support as foreign investment creates jobs in the energy, agriculture, tourism and garment industries and he rewards rural voters with new schools and paved roads. The ongoing troop buildup along the Thai border has stirred up nationalism that gave him a boost heading into today's election.

Thailand and Cambodia plan to meet tomorrow in Siem Reap, home to Cambodia's famed Angkor Wat temple complex, to try and resolve the row over 4.6 square kilometers of disputed land. Thailand appointed a new foreign minister yesterday to lead negotiations after the previous one was forced to resign over the issue.

Issue Resolution

New Foreign Minister Tej Bunnag said in a statement today that he is ``confident that on the basis of their close and long- standing friendship, the two countries will be able to find ways to resolve the issue together.''

Cambodia has started to rehabilitate its image as a corrupt beggar state after the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s killed most of the educated class. It received $763 million in foreign aid last year.

Foreign investment is set to double from $2.7 billion this year, according to the Cambodian Investment Board, a government agency. As the country prepares to open a stock market next year, foreign investment funds such as Leopard Capital are looking at banks, office buildings, luxury hotels and other projects.

To contact the reporters on this story: Daniel Ten Kate in Bangkok at dtenkate@bloomberg.net

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Cambodia’s ruling party claims victory at the polls

AGENCIES, PHNOM PENH

The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) claimed an expected victory in yesterday’s general election, giving another five years in power to former Khmer Rouge guerrilla Hun Sen, prime minister for the last 23 years.

Party spokesman Khieu Kanharith said the one-time communist, but now firmly free-market CPP, was on course to win 80 of the 123 seats in parliament.

But opposition leader Sam Rainsy of the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) called for a rerun of the elections in districts around the capital Phnom Penh, saying voters were wrongly struck from the rolls.

He also disputed claims by the CPP that it was leading in 80 of the country’s 123 constituencies.

“Neither party won more than two-thirds of the seats,” he told reporters.

Sam Rainsy, whose party held 24 seats in the last parliament, claimed that 200,000 of Phnom Penh’s 722,000 voters had not been able to cast ballots because of irregularities with the electoral lists.

“We don’t accept the result in Phnom Penh,” he said. “I demand a rerun of the election in Phnom Penh to bring justice to voters. I call for a demonstration in Phnom Penh. I appeal to all people whose names were unfairly deleted — please hold a huge protest in Phnom Penh.”

Election observers said they had confirmed cases of voters having their names removed from the rolls, but said they doubted the problem was as widespread as Sam Rainsy claimed.

“The atmosphere for the election day is better than past elections. But the most prominent point is that the turnout was low and a lot of names disappeared” from the rolls, said Hang Puthea, head of the group of election monitors. “I can’t believe that as many as 200,000 names went missing. I could believe the number is maybe 20,000.”

Full results from yesterday’s poll, which passed off largely without incident in a country where democratic politics have frequently been marred by violence, were not expected until late today.
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L.B. Cambodians rally against border dispute

By Greg Mellen, Staff Writer

LONG BEACH - Flags waved, music played and 50 to 100 members of the Cambodian community gathered at MacArthur Park on Saturday to stage a petition drive, collect donations and present information about a tense border dispute and military standoff between Thailand and their home country near an 11th century Hindu temple.

Leaders from a variety of Cambodian civic groups hastily put the event together to get the word out about worrisome events in Cambodia that have led to several narrowly avoided skirmishes between Thai and Cambodian military forces.

The local group gathered about 400 signatures on a petition asking the United Nations to intervene in the dispute. The nonprofit group Cambodian-Americans Stand United also asked for donations from residents to provide humanitarian aid to troops and residents in the remote area.

It is also calling for a boycott in the community of Thai products and imported foods.

Organizers were happy with the turnout, given the short notice. Richer San said KBN, a local Cambodian television station, did a three-hour segment on the dispute and was flooded by calls and interest in the issue.

Anthony Kim, an organizer, said more petitions would likely be circulated in coming days.
"We're very excited to see the turnout," Kim said.

He added that since the issue has been raised, he has been proud to see the local community pulling together and displaying patriotic interest in their
homeland.

While the information was circulated, a band played popular and patriotic Cambodian songs.

Darany Siv, Un Sophal, Oum Sovany and Hem Vanakl, singers from the popular Hak Heang Restaurant, stopped by to lend their backing and took time to perform a song for those who had gathered.

"We just came by to support this," Siv said.

San said the music and festive nature of the event was meant to exemplify the peaceful nature of the gathering and not to incite anyone.

The government of Cambodia recently postponed a request for U.N. intervention as the countries seek a resolution.

The dispute focuses on a longstanding disagreement over 1.8 miles of land along the northern Cambodia border. The disagreement was heightened when the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, designated the Preah Vihear temple in Cambodia a World Heritage site.

Thailand sent troops to the border July 15 after anti-government groups claimed support by Prime Minister Sundaravej Samak's government for Cambodia's application would undermine Thai claims to nearby land.

Since the dispute began, Thai forces have taken up positions around the temple on disputed land. Cambodians say it is tantamount to an invasion.

The World Heritage designation could be an important step in turning the remote clifftop temple into a tourist site, like the immensely popular Angkor Wat complex near Siem Reap. And that increases the stakes for the land.

Local organizers said they are also worried about the health and welfare of residents and soldiers in the area. Reports have come from the area that water is particularly scarce. Because of the temple's cliffside location it is particularly difficult to reach from the Cambodian side and Thai troops have reportedly cut off other access routes.

Danny Vong, another organizer, said Cambodian residents in the area have been caught up in the dispute. Many depend on trade with Thai merchants for essentials.

Foreign ministers from both countries are scheduled to meet Monday in the Cambodian city of Siem Reap, according to The Associated Press.

"This is a new step in our good will to try to find a solution to the problem through peaceful negotiations," Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told the AP after meeting with ambassadors to Cambodia from the Security Council's five permanent members.

Cambodia uses a French colonial map to mark the border while Thailand relies on a map drawn up later with American technical assistance, but accepts a ruling by the International Court of Justice that awarded the disputed temple to Cambodia in 1962.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

greg.mellen@presstelegram.com , 562-499-1291

HOW TO HELP

To contribute: People interested in making donations for humanitarian aid to residents of the Preah Vihear area can send checks to the Cambodian Cultural Arts Association, P.O. Box 5001, Long Beach, CA 90805.

For information: Call Bunsorng Tay, 562-716-2506; Danny Vong, 562-760-9000; Peter Long, 562-572-7407; or Sweety Chap, 562-400-8233.


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Temple talks pose challenge for new Thai foreign minister

BANGKOK - THAILAND'S new foreign minister will face a tough challenge immediately after being sworn in Sunday, as he heads to Cambodia for talks on a tense border dispute that brought down his predecessor.

Incoming minister Tej Bunnag is determined to ease tensions with Cambodia, but his spokesman warned that a swift end to the military standoff near the ancient Preah Vihear temple was unlikely.

'The minister said he will try his best to talk to the Cambodia foreign minister', the spokesman, Mr Tharit Charungvat, told reporters on Sunday.

'It is his first task - we hope we can find a solution on some level, but this issue is sensitive and complex'.

Mr Tej, 64, will be sworn in by the king later Sunday. He will then travel early Monday to Siem Reap in northwest Cambodia for negotiations with his counterpart, Mr Hor Namhong.

'The sensitive and complicated discussion on Monday will definitely need more rounds of talks ... The boundary is a very important and complex issue and it needs time to solve, step by step and slowly', Mr Tharit said.

Thousands of Thai and Cambodia troops are currently stationed in 4.6 square kilometres of disputed land near Preah Vihear, which was granted UN World Heritage Status this month.

Thailand initially supported Cambodia's bid to have the 11th century Hindu ruins recognised by the UN, but nationalists and anti-government protesters said the move jeopardised Thai sovereignty.

The Constitutional Court ruled that previous foreign minister Noppadon Pattama and the cabinet should have sought parliamentary approval for the deal with Cambodia over the temple, and Mr Noppadon was forced to resign on July 10.

Mr Tharit said that Mr Tej - a British-educated career diplomat who has worked as an advisor to the king - was well qualified to negotiate with Cambodia at a sensitive moment in their relations.

'He is an experienced diplomat and he was chairman of the Thailand-Cambodia Cultural Committee', he said.

Talks between Thailand's head of the armed forces General Boonsrang Niumpradit and Cambodia Defence Minister Tea Banh ended last Monday without resolution, with neither side backing down on their territorial claims.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that the Preah Vihear temple belongs to Cambodia, but surrounding land remains in dispute. -- AFP

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Cambodian ruling party heads to poll win

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - Cambodians went to the polls Sunday in an election dominated by a tense border dispute with neighbouring Thailand that has fuelled national sentiment, strengthening longtime Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Hun Sen's reputation as a strongman who intimidates rivals has served him well, with voters rallying around the leader as Cambodian troops face off with Thai soldiers for a second week at a disputed 11th century Hindu temple on the border.

Dressed in grey safari shirt and pants, Hun Sen flashed a broad smile and displayed a black-inked forefinger to waiting cameras after casting his ballot Sunday in a provincial town outside the capital, Phnom Penh. He declined comment to reporters.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy called a midday news conference, claiming some 200,000 registered voters in the capital, where the opposition is strongest, were unable to cast ballots because their names had been left off voter lists.

The ruling party "is full of tricks. Scrap the election and do it again," he said. Allegations of vote fraud have plagued past Cambodian elections but never dented the ruling party's dominance.
Asia's longest-serving leader, the 57-year-old Hun Sen was forecast to win the vote even before the military standoff escalated earlier this month. But patriotic passions over Preah Vihear temple and Hun Sen's firm stance against Thailand have swayed many undecided voters in his favour, analysts say.


"Everybody now supports the government because this is a national issue," said Kek Galabru, a prominent Cambodian human rights activist and election monitor. "More people will vote for (Hun Sen) to give him more power to deal with Preah Vihear."

Chan Sim, a 72-year-old voter in the capital, cast his ballot for Hun Sen's ruling party "because of its good leadership and ability to keep unity."

A 24-year-old Buddhist monk, Chhuon Noeurn, said the standoff at Preah Vihear did not affect his choice for a leader, but added: "We Cambodians cannot afford to be divided on this issue."
More than eight million of Cambodia's 14 million people were eligible to vote in Sunday's election.
Buddhist monks and ordinary people, some holding toddlers with milk bottles, crowded polling stations when they opened at 8 p.m. EDT. Unofficial party results were expected a few hours after polling stations closed at 4 a.m. EDT. Official figures were expected later in the week.

Eleven parties are vying for seats in the 123-seat National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, with the winner forming a new government to run the country for the next five years.

Hun Sen himself has voiced little doubt that his ruling Cambodian People's party, which held 73 Assembly's seats during the past five-year-term, will return with an overwhelming majority.

Hun Sen has ruled Cambodia since 1985, when he became prime minister of a Vietnamese-installed communist government after the fall of the Khmer Rouge.

Internationally, he has faced criticism for alleged corruption and human rights abuses. But Hun Sen argues his tenure ushered in peace and stability after the Khmer Rouge's genocidal reign from 1975-1979, which killed an estimated 1.7 million people before being toppled by the invading Vietnamese army.

A former Khmer Rouge soldier himself, Hun Sen embraced free-market policies that have made Cambodia's economy one of the fastest growing in Asia, expanding at 11 per cent in each of the past three years.

"The economic growth helps. And in a time of crisis, people feel they have to be united behind the power that controls the army," said Benny Widyono, an independent observer and former United Nations official during Cambodia's UN-brokered peace process in the early 1990s.

The opposition Sam Rainsy Party, which held 24 seats in the lower house of parliament, campaigned for greater attention to human rights, the country's poor and an end to alleged corruption.

But standard election issues have been upstaged by the military standoff with Thailand, a controversy revolving around 1.8 square miles of land that has been in dispute since French colonialists withdrew from Cambodia in the 1950s.

The International Court of Justice awarded the temple site to Cambodia in 1962, but anger flared in Thailand last month after Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej backed Cambodia's successful bid for the temple to be listed as a U.S. World Heritage Site.

Thailand sent troops to the border July 15 after Thai anti-government demonstrators assembled near the temple. Cambodia responded by sending its own troops to the border.
The two countries plan to resume negotiations on the border row Monday.


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TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT

Border troops cope with cold, lack of water, slow meals

Story by WASSANA NANUAM

It was 1430hrs and his lunch was nowhere to be seen. So ranger Somnuek Khammungkhun decided to make do with grilled sticky rice to keep hunger at bay.

It was not the first time the ranger found himself munching on grilled sticky rice while waiting for his food to be served, since he and 500 rangers from the 23rd Rangers Regiment were deployed in the disputed 4.6sqkm border area next to the
temple of Preah Vihear.

They used to have lunch at 1500hrs and dinner at 2100hrs. On some days when they first arrived their food did not turn up and it was the freshly grilled warm sticky rice that they banked on.

"It is alright. If lunch does not come, I will reach for sticky rice and instant noodles I carry with me," he said.

Sticky rice seems to serve him and his colleagues well. Most of them are natives of the northeastern provinces, including ranger Somnuek, 46, of Mukdahan, who have thrived on sticky rice.

"And when the food comes, we will share it with Cambodian soldiers to show our good will," he said.

The support system is not yet effective because the troops were first deployed on July 15. Cambodian troops, on the other hand, have been around and are much more familiar with the terrain.

The rangers tolerate not only uncertainty over meals, but also scarcity of water supply for both drinking and bathing.

Soldiers had limited drinking water and several of them tried to save it as long as they could by taking a few droplets - just enough to quench their thirst.

Fetching clean water from natural resources is out of the question. Water resources on the Thai side are contaminated with untreated waste water released by Cambodian villagers who crossed the border and built shops and other structures on Thai soil.

Moreover, they cannot wander far to find fresh water sources because the surrounding areas are not yet cleared of landmines.

The hardest thing to tolerate for Thai troops is probably the weather.

They have only plastic sheets to protect themselves from the sharp cold when night falls. Their makeshift lodgings are also made of plastic sheets.

"It is torture at night. It is cold and it gets worse when it rains. Our clothes are soaked and get dry only when the sun comes out," said ranger Likhit Kailuem.

Capt Katanyu Ruensamran, attached to the Buri Ram-based 26th Rangers Regiment, said that Thai troops have to be patient with provocation.

Cambodian soldiers have a way to provoke Thai troops, he said.

"Some asked us what we were doing on Cambodian soil. We bear with it. We can also claim that we are on Thai soil," he said.

According to Kanok Nettrakhawesa, commander of the Suranaree Task Force, the troops have meals late because they do not have food supplies with them. Food is sent on a daily basis and they are not allowed to cook.

Food is sent from a command post at Pha Mor E-daeng cliff which is about two kilometres away - but it is two kilometres over rough terrain and steep cliffs.

He said that sending food on a daily basis is a military tactic - to make Cambodian troops familiar with the sight of Thai troops walking up and down the disputed area.

"We need to move and make Cambodian troops familiar with our movements otherwise they will notice when we have rotations of forces," he said.

Second Army commander Lt-Gen Sujit Sitthiprapa has ordered rotations of troops every 7-15 days to ease stress.

Maj-Gen Kanok said he expects to discuss with local Cambodian authorities troop deployments to ease tension and confrontation.

Thai and Cambodian troops are too close for comfort, he said.

"An accident could happen. We have to take extreme precautions. But if something happens, I think our soldiers are ready to face it."

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Cambodianclaims being countered

By Wassana Nanuam

The army has stepped up its campaign to counter Cambodia's territorial claims over an overlapping border area around Preah Vihear temple.

The Suranaree military task force has set up a public relations and information dissemination centre at the office of the Preah Vihear national park, some eight kilometres from the temple ruins.

Veeravit Chornsamrit, deputy commander of the Second Army, has been assigned to oversee the divulgence of information.

An army source said previously the army did not allow reporters access to the disputed 4.6sqkm overlapping area for fear of possible leak of military secrets.

But they have now changed their position after seeing the Cambodian authorities permit their reporters into the area to report on the developments freely, the source said. Earlier, Thai reporters had been allowed into the area only twice- on July 20 and 24.

"This is a pro-active information operation. But Cambodian troops are now complaining. They don't want Thai reporters entering the area. We have refused to budge since the area also belongs to us," the same source said.

Maj-Gen Veeravit said media coverage on the issue generally lacked consistency, causing confusion among the people.

He said all is well and there is no tension. "Most importantly, there are no troop buildups. Even though the troops of both sides are standing face to face, they are on good terms."

They are acting on the orders of the the Thai-Cambodia General Border Committee (GBC), which has told them to maintain the spirit of brotherhood.

Read more!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

In Cambodia, Land Seizures Push Thousands of the Poor Into Homelessness

By SETH MYDANS

ANDONG, Cambodia — When the monsoon rain pours through Mao Sein’s torn thatch roof, she pulls a straw sleeping mat over herself and her three small children and waits until it stops.

She and her children sit on a low table as floodwater rises, bringing with it the sewage that runs along the mud paths outside their shack.

Ms. Mao Sein, 34, was resettled by the government here in an empty field two years ago, when the police raided the squatters’ colony where she lived in Phnom Penh, the capital, 12 miles away.

She is a widow and a scavenger. The area where she lives has no clean water or electricity, no paved roads or permanent buildings. But there is land to live on, and that has drawn scores of new homeless families to settle here, squatting among the squatters.

With its shacks and its sewage, Andong looks very much like the refugee camps that were home to those who were forced from their homes by the brutal Communist Khmer Rouge three decades ago.

Like tens of thousands of people around the country, those living here are victims of what experts say has become the most serious human rights abuse in the country: land seizures that lead to evictions and homelessness.

“Expropriation of the land of Cambodia’s poor is reaching a disastrous level,” Basil Fernando, executive director of the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong, a private monitoring group, said in December. “The courts are politicized and corrupt, and impunity for human rights violators remains the norm.”

With the economy on the rise, land is being seized for logging, agriculture, mining, tourism and fisheries, and in Phnom Penh, soaring land prices have touched off what one official called a frenzy of land grabs by the rich and powerful. The seizures can be violent, including late-night raids by the police and military. Sometimes, shanty neighborhoods burn down, apparently victims of arson.

“They came at 2 a.m.,” said Ku Srey, 37, who was evicted with Ms. Mao Sein and most of their neighbors in June 2006.

“They were vicious,” Ms. Ku Srey said of the police and soldiers who evicted her.

“They had electric batons” — and she imitated the sound made by the devices: “chk-chk-chk-chk.” She said, “They pushed us into trucks, they threw all our stuff into trucks and they brought us here.”

In a report in February, Amnesty International estimated that 150,000 people around the country were now at risk of forcible eviction as a result of land disputes, land seizures and new development projects.

These include 4,000 families who live around a lake in the center of Phnom Penh, Boeung Kak Lake, which is the city’s main catchment for monsoon rains and is being filled in for upscale development.

“If these communities are forced to move, it would be the most large-scale displacement of Cambodians since the times of the Khmer Rouge,” said Brittis Edman, a researcher with Amnesty International, which is based in London.

That, in a way, would bring history full circle.

Like other ailments of society — political and social violence, poverty and a culture of impunity for those with power — the land issues have roots in Cambodia’s tormented past of slaughter, civil war and social disruptions.

The brutal rule of the Khmer Rouge, during which 1.7 million people are estimated to have died, began in 1975 with an evacuation of Phnom Penh, forcing millions of people into the countryside and emptying the city. It ended in 1979 when the Khmer Rouge was driven from power by a Vietnamese invasion, sending hundreds of thousands of refugees into Thailand.

Many of the refugees returned in the 1990s, joining a rootless population displaced by the Khmer Rouge and the decade of civil war that followed in the 1980s. Many ended their journeys in Phnom Penh, creating huge colonies of squatters.

Now, many of these people are being forced to move again, from Phnom Penh and from around the country, victims of the latest scourge of the poor: national prosperity.

Whichever way the winds of history blow, some people here say, life only gets worse for the poor. If it is not “pakdivat,” revolution, that is buffeting the poor, they say, it is “akdivat,” development.

The Cambodian economy has at last started to grow, at an estimated 9 percent last year. And Phnom Penh is starting to transform itself with modern buildings, modest malls and plans for skyscrapers. It is one of the last Asian capitals to begin to pave over its past.

From 1993 to 1999, Amnesty International said in its report in February, the government granted commercial development rights for about one-third of the country’s most productive land for commercial development to private companies.

In Phnom Penh from 1998 through 2003, the city government forced 11,000 families from their homes, the World Bank said in a statement quoted by Amnesty International.

Since then, the human rights group said, evictions have reportedly displaced at least 30,000 more families.

“One thing that is important to note is that the government is not only failing to protect the population, but we are also seeing that it is complicit in many of the forced evictions,” Ms. Edman, of Amnesty International, said.

The government responded to the group’s report through a statement issued by its embassy in London.

“Just to point out that Cambodia is not Zimbabwe,” the statement read. “Your researcher should also spend more time to examine cases of land and housing rights violations in this country, if she dares.”

Here in Andong, the people have adapted as best they can.

Little by little, they have made their dwellings home, some of them decorating their shacks with small flower pots. A few have gathered enough money to buy concrete and bricks to pave their floors and reinforce their walls.

But this home, like the ones they have known in the past, may only be temporary. The outskirts of Phnom Penh are only a few miles away. As the city continues to expand, aid workers say, the people here will probably be forced to move again.

Read more!

Observers: Cambodia's Pre-Election Mostly Peaceful

By Rory Byrne, Phnom Penh

Foreign observers keeping a close eye on Cambodia's upcoming general elections have reported a more peaceful pre-election period than for previous campaigns. However, rights groups and opposition parties accuse the government of trying to steal the elections through threats and cheating, accusations the government denies. Rory Byrne has this report for VOA from Phnom Penh.

This is Cambodia's fourth general election since democracy was reintroduced by a United Nations mandate in 1991.

Most observers expect the ruling Cambodian People's Party led by Prime Minister Hun Sen to sweep to an easy victory.

In the past, two-thirds of parliamentarians were needed to form a government. But a recent change in Cambodia's election law means that a simple majority of 50 percent plus one are now all that is needed.

That means that for the first time, the ruling CPP is likely to be able to govern without the support of smaller parties.

While the run-up to polling day has been more peaceful than in previous elections, it has been marked by a spate of politically motivated killings and other alleged abuses, such as vote-buying and intimidation.

Kek Galabru, head of the local human rights group Lichadho, says that ruling party activists are threatening voters.

"We continue to see intimidation everywhere, everywhere," said Galabru. "Like they say: we need your ID to be able to...I don't know what to do, so people are scared. Why they want my ID? Sometimes they come [and say]: if you join us you will have a good future. If you don't: be careful - look at the land-grabbing etc."

Parliament member Son Chhay is a spokesman for the main opposition Sam Rainsy Party. He accuses the ruling Cambodian People's Party of trying to steal the election.

"If you have a free and fair election without vote-buying, without intimidation, without cheating, I doubt that the CPP would be able to get more than 30 percent of the vote," said Chhay. "So it's quite a big problem here. We're never going to be able to have a free and fair election. You know, you can compare Cambodia with Zimbabwe, if not worse than that."

The government denies that widespread electoral abuses have occurred, pointing to the reduced number of politically-motivated killings reported during the pre-election period. Ke Bun Khieng is the Campaign Deputy Director for the ruling Cambodian People's Party.

Khieng says he believes the campaign to choose party candidates for the fourth term in parliament went smoothly. He says incidents of politically-motivated violence were very low and that electoral monitors have reported big improvements since the last election.

While International monitors in Cambodia have reported an improved election environment this time around, they point to what they call "critical problems" in Cambodia, such as the governments monopoly on TV broadcasting.

Tom Andrews is a spokesman for the National Democratic Institute which just released a report on the pre-election period.

"Cambodia has made some improvements - I think you have to recognize that," he said. "I was here in 1995 and again for the elections in 1998 - there are clear improvements, That said, are voters in Cambodia getting a clear opportunity to hear all sides in the election, no. Is the ruling party using the apparatus of power vis-a-vis the government to maximize it's advantage - yes."

With one day to go before voting begins, active campaigning has now come to an end.

The government has introduced a 24-hour alcohol ban to coincide with voting which begins early Sunday morning.

First results are not expected for a few days.
Read more!

Tej Bunnag appointed as new Foreign Minister

A retired career diplomat was appointed foreign minister Saturday in time to lead fresh talks with Cambodia over a bitter border dispute.

Tej Bunnag is widely considered a "professional choice" following the resignation of his successor Noppadon Pattama earlier this month, according to local reports.

Noppadon, the former lawyer for controversial former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, became tripped up by appearing to give ground to Cambodia in exchange, it is rumoured, favours for his old boss.

The countries are holding urgent talks Monday in Siem Reap in a bid to defuse a row over joint claims to land adjoining an ancient Hindu temple on their border that threatens to escalate out of control.

Opposition activists have used the temple dispute as a stick beat the government with in a country where nationalist claims lie near the surface of political life. Cambodian reaction has been equally stubborn as a general election nears.

Tej Bunnag, 65, educated at Malvern College and Cambridge University in Britain, has served as ambassador to China, France, the United Nations and the United States.

Preah Vihear, an 11th-century Hindu temple built on a 525-metre- high cliff on the Dongrak mountain range that defines the Thai- Cambodian border, has been the cause of a border conflict between Thailand and Cambodia for decades.

In 1962, the two countries agreed to settle joint claims to the temple at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Cambodia won, but the court stopped short of defining the border in the area.

Thailand claims that a 4.6-square-kilometre plot of land adjoining the temple is still disputed.

The ancient spat got a fresh start earlier this month when UNESCO agreed to list Preah Vihear as a World Heritage Site. The inscription excluded the 4.6 square kilometres of disputed territory, and Thailand protested the listing.

Noppadon, who first backed the Cambodian proposal and then reversed his position, was forced to resign after failing to block the listing of Preah Vihear.

The spat escalated from a diplomatic row to a potential military conflict last week, when three Thais were detained for entering the disputed temple territory.

Although the threesome were quickly released, troops were called in from both sides to protect their border.

While Cambodia first appealed to the Association of South-East Asian Nations and then the UN Security Council to get involved in the border standoff, both bodies have urged the two countries to settle the matter bilaterally.

A bilateral meeting Monday between Cambodian Defence Minister Teah Banh and General Boonsrang Niempradit, supreme commander of the Thai Army, in Sa Kaeo province, Thailand, 270 kilometres east of Bangkok, failed to find a quick fix to the joint claims on the temple's surrounding area.

The temple sits on the border between Si Sa Khet and Phrea Vihear provinces in Thailand and Cambodia, respectively, and is about 400 kilometres north-east of Bangkok.

The border spat has come at a sensitive time politically for both Cambodia and Thailand. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen faces a parliamentary election Sunday, and Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej is under mounting pressure to resign, in part over his government's alleged mishandling of the Preah Vihear affair.

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Thai king endorses new foreign minister

BANGKOK - THAILAND King Bhumibol Adulyadej on Saturday endorsed Tej Bunnag as the country's new foreign minister, a royal statement said.

Mr Tej's appointment comes after his predecessor, Mr Noppadon Pattama, was forced to resign on July 10 for signing an agreement with neighbouring Cambodia later ruled unconstitutional.

'The king has endorsed the appointment of Tej Bunnag as foreign minister,' the royal command stated.

British-educated Tej, 64, is a career diplomat and has been working as an royal advisor since he retired in 2004.

His first crucial task will be to represent Thailand in peace talks with Cambodia in Siem Reap on Monday, in a bid to end a tense stand off by thousands of troops on the border.

The territorial dispute centres on a section of land surrounding the 11th century Preah Vihear temple.

Former foreign minister Noppadon ran into trouble with Thai nationalists when he signed a joint communique endorsing Cambodia's application to have the temple listed as a World heritage site.
That controversy eventually led to the current deployment of soldiers stationed there.

Mr Tej joined the Thai foreign ministry as second secretary at the department of information in 1969 after gaining a doctorate from Oxford University. He also has a Master's degree from Cambridge University.

Mr Tej took his first ambassadorial role in 1986 at the Thai embassy in China and in 1990 was named ambassador to the United Nations office in Geneva.

In 1996 he served as ambassador to France until he was named ambassador to the United States in 2000.

He worked there for only one year before returning to the foreign ministry in 2001. -- AFP


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Tej tipped to be new foreign minister

Former permanent secretary for foreign affairs Tej Bunnag has been nominated to be the new foreign minister with his first mission to end the border row with Cambodia, sources said yesterday.

Mr Tej accepted the invitation on Thursday after being approached by Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, a source said.

The source considered Mr Tej a ''wise choice'' given his credentials in handling diplomatic pressure, and expected tough negotiations with Cambodia centred on the overlapping zone at the border between Kantharalak district in Si Sa Ket and Preah Vihear, the Cambodian province where the 900-year-old temple is located.

The retired career diplomat is not in the country at present.Mr Samak is expected to announce the new foreign minister this weekend.

The selection of the new minister came one day after Mr Samak and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen agreed to a meeting chaired by their foreign ministers in a renewed effort to end the military stand-off in the disputed area.

After Noppadon Pattama resigned from the post early this month for his handling of the temple issue, the name of former ambassador to the United Kingdom, Vikrom Khumpairoj, was mentioned as a strong candidate to succeed the former lawyer to ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

But a source said Mr Vikrom ruled himself out of contention.

Mr Tej's first job is to lead Thai negotiators to the Siem Reap meeting Monday.

Thailand and Cambodia were optimistic about the Monday meeting, which came one week after talks between the two countries led by Supreme Commander Gen Saprang Niempradit and Cambodian Defence Minister Tea Banh to settle on the contested area and withdrawal of their troops collapsed.

''My hardest lesson so far has been the Preah Vihear problem but I think we can defuse it somehow,'' Mr Samak said.

Read more!

Thailand and Cambodia vie for the high ground in temple standoff

Ian Mackinnon ins Ban Phumsaral


In the capital cities of Thailand and Cambodia, the military standoff that has seen hundreds of troops line up along their border over the past two weeks is widely believed to threaten war. At the heart of the dispute is a 900-year-old temple to which both sides lay claim - and with a Thai government mired in political crisis and its Cambodian counterpart facing elections tomorrow, neither side has been willing to stand down.

But for opposing soldiers patrolling the border just feet apart from each other, the mood was a little lighter as Cambodian troopers joke about their inferior equipment. Over swapped cigarettes, ageing hand-grenades take particular stick. The pins have a lethal habit of falling out, and the soldiers point mockingly at rubber bands that serve as a fail-safe.

In nearby Ban Phumsaral, on the Thai side of the border however, the two-week build-up is no laughing matter. Frightened villagers just a few miles from the Thai exclusion zone that has sealed off the Preah Vihear temple site gather around radios for the latest word, hopeful that Monday's ministerial meeting will offer hope of an end to the dispute.

Nothing is being left to chance, though. As the still of night envelops the village of 520 families, vigilantes armed with crude rifles handed out by district authorities begin their first patrols of dusty roads flanked by rice paddies.

Earlier they were informed of the Thai army's emergency plans to evacuate to another village 10 miles away, along with the safest route to take if the artillery and tanks newly dug in on both sides of the disputed border open up.

"This whole thing is a big political game," said a 46-year-old former soldier who now runs a meat stall. "All we can do is prepare ourselves. When the first shell lands I'll put wife and three children in the car and drive. Then I'll come back to mind my business."

Both sides hope it will not come to that. The Cambodian prime minister, Hun Sen, and his Thai counterpart, Samak Sundaravej, agreed that their foreign ministers should meet in Siem Reap - home of the fabled Angor Wat temple complex - to try again to resolve the escalating dispute.

Hun Sen said Cambodia had asked to the UN security council to postpone any review of the dispute to allow them to work out their differences, as Thailand had requested. This followed Phnom Penh's plea to the UN to intervene, arguing that "Thai behaviour gravely threatens the peace and stability of the region".

Once tomorrow's elections in Cambodia are out of the way, the hope is that some of the heat may go out of the row. The poll served as a catalyst that stoked nationalist sentiments over the long-running Preah Vihear border dispute and fuelled the latest tensions.

The broken pillars and sweeping roofs of the ornately-carved temple, built between the 9th and 11th centuries, are dramatically sited high on a bluff. Originally consecrated as Hindu, it became Buddhist during the Angor dynasty and is a reminder for Cambodians of the last flowering of Khmer greatness, ended by a 15th century Thai invasion.

Cambodia's French colonial masters claimed the temple using a disputed 1907 map that marked the frontier. But when the French left in 1954, Thai troops seized the ruin. They only grudgingly left after the international court of justice in The Hague awarded it to Cambodia in 1962, but they held onto an adjacent 1.8 square mile (4.6 square kilometre) patch of disputed scrub.

The court's ruling has rankled with Thai nationalists since. So when on June 17 the UN granted Preah Vihear "world heritage site" status it once again became a flashpoint.

Vociferous opponents of the Thai government feared it would undermine any claim to the adjacent disputed territory. They claimed the scalp of the foreign minister Noppodol Pattama, who was accused of overstepping the constitution when he supported Cambodia's application without seeking parliamentary approval.

The accusation was that Pattama, the ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's one-time lawyer, had let the bid slip through as a backroom deal related to his former boss's financial and business interests in Cambodia.

Thai demonstrators were arrested after invading the site, which in turn prompted Thai troops to enter the site to secure their freedoml, leading to an escalation that saw opposing soldiers level their weapons at one another.

Both armies are, however, at pains to demonstrate their good relations at all levels. Many of the Thai soldiers hail from the border area and speak the Khmer language of their Cambodian counterparts.

"Many of the Cambodian soldiers were stallholders in the village near the temple before this happened, so the Thai troops know them well," said the Thai army regional deputy commander, Weewalit Jonsumrit. "They speak the same language, so there little chance of a misunderstanding."

The same is true for the villagers of Ban Phumsaral, who resent the anti-government activists who came to stir up trouble for their own cynical ends, leaving emotional turmoil and suspicion in their wake.

"My ancestors were here, my family lives here," said Bonkend Tactong, 45, a villager preparing for night patrol. "The outsiders came with their propaganda and left the gullible paranoid. We're patrolling as a precaution, but more to restore confidence."
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Opposition makes headway in Cambodia

Cambodia's long-ruling Prime Minister Hun Sen looks set to notch up another election victory tomorrow.

He is expected to take more seats in the national parliament.

Hun Sen is still popular even after 23 years in power. But the main opposition party is making headway.

The Cambodian People's Party (CPP) boasts that it has five million signed up members.

That is impressive when there are only eight million registered voters.

With so much flag waving and patriotic music, electioneering in Cambodia can feel like a big street party, but for many, campaigning is dangerous.

Sam Rainsy is the leader of the main Opposition party that bears his name.

At a campaign stop in Sang Ke District in the western province of Battambang, he finds himself literally unable to go on.

"They are deliberately blocking our way," he said.

Mr Rainsy says the CPP are trying to block change in the country it has ruled for 23 years.

"They don't want us to spread our message," he said.

"They are afraid of our message. They don't want the Cambodian people to hear the message of change from the Opposition."

Election violence

At least 12 people have been killed in this election campaign, including an Opposition journalist.

The president of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), Thun Saray, worries about a general rise in lawlessness at this time, because government officials, the military, and police are engaged in campaigning.

"We observed in the recent week there were also the increasing robbery, the ordinary crime, killings, something that is happened," he said.

"We worry about people who be frightened by this atmosphere."

While his supporters have been out in force, Prime Minister Hun Sen has done little in the way of campaigning.

His Government is being criticised for the huge spike in fuel and food prices and cannot shake corruption allegations relating to misuse and abuse of public land and forests.

But foreign investment is strong and the Government is benefiting from a wave of nationalistic pride because of its tough stance in the Preah Vihear Temple dispute with Thailand.

The ABC was denied an interview with the Prime Minister, but Cheam Yeap from the Central Committee of the Cambodian People's Party did speak to us.

Mr Cheam says that Sam Rainsy's push for change is a trick on the people.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Democracy thrives despite CPP dominance

Written by Sebastian Strangio and Khouth Sophak Chakrya

Cambodia goes to the polls on July 27 for a national election that is likely to see the Cambodian People’s Party abandon a long-standing coalition government arrangement and take total control of government, but analysts remain upbeat that a single-party government will not deter democracy in the long-term.

“The CPP will definitely win an outright majority,” said Benny Widyono, a former representative of the UN secretary general in Cambodia and author of Dancing in Shadows: Sihanouk, the Khmer Rouge, and the United Nations in Cambodia.

“But the possibilities are there for change. I don’t think Cambodia will go back to a monolithic communist model,” Widyono added.

According to Widyono, the experience of other Asian nations such as Japan and India – both of which were effectively one-party states for decades but now boast viable, vocal opposition parties – should give Cambodian democrats hope, despite the obvious gulf between the ruling CPP and its challengers.

The National Assembly in 2006 pushed through a constitutional amendment replacing Cambodia’s two-thirds majority electoral system with a simple majority system that is expected to give the CPP, which controls 73 of the assembly’s 123 seats, the ability to rule alone.

While a single party state could “narrow democracy” in the short-term, it could in the long-run lead to a stronger opposition, said Koul Panha, executive director of the election monitoring group Comfrel.

“It could lead to a more effective implementation of reforms and respect for democracy,” he told the Post. “There is some risk of narrowing democracy, but I can see the opposition improving as well.”

Others said that single-party rule will in reality weaken the CPP over time, as it grows too complacent with its political dominance, opening the door to a stronger opposition.

“There may be problems of over-confidence on the part of the CPP once it no longer has to look over its shoulder at opponents,” said David Chandler, an author and leading scholar of Cambodian history.

Rising political awareness in the rural areas – historically CPP bastions – could also impact on the ruling party’s control, said Widyono.


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There may be problems of over-confidence on the part of the CPP once it no longer has to look over its shoulder at opponents.

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Following the ouster of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, the CPP – then known as the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kampuchea – had 11 years to entrench itself at the grassroots level before the arrival of UNTAC, a historical advantage that still gives it an edge over today’s opposition parties.

“In 1979, you had Hun Sen, Heng Samrin and Chea Sim in charge, and now you have the same trio,” Widyono said. “It’s amazing that despite the UN intervention and the close involvement of the international community, Cambodia is still at square one.”

But the seeds for change lie in the countryside, he said. “The villages are much more vibrant now. They are not as docile as they once were. Because of decentralisation, the rural areas now have more power.”

That, however, is in the future, he acknowledged, saying that Cambodia’s rising economy and a rash of defections from the opposition would greatly bolster the CPP in this election.

“This election is all about economics, and now that the economy is vibrant, at the village level especially, it will favour the incumbents,” he said.

Also working to the CPP’s advantage is the disappearance of the royalist parties as a significant political force, Widyono said.

Funcinpec, the CPP’s coalition government partner since the UN-brokered elections in 1993, has suffered repeated internal upheavals during the past two years, including the ouster of its leader, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who went on to form his own self-named party.

But the royalists remain in disarray, while Ranariddh sits in self-imposed exile after a number of legal cases against him, including a fraud conviction and pending adultery charges, chased him from Cambodia.

“I don’t have a crystal ball, but I think this will be the end of Funcinpec, and I think the Norodom Ranariddh Party will be ineffective,” Widyono said. “From now on there will be just two main parties: the [Sam Rainsy Party] and CPP.”

Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Yim Sovann said that his party would try to form a coalition in the event of an SRP victory on Sunday. “We welcome all parties to rule in coalition with us because we need their help and their resources, but we will rule alone if they refuse to work with us,” Yim Sovann said.

Minister of Information and CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith also said his party would be willing to consider coalition partners, saying: “We plan to rule in coalition with other parties when we win, but only if they want to join us. We really need the human resources of a coalition, because it is very difficult to develop the country when ruling alone.”

A number of civil society groups, meanwhile, were continuing to raise questions about whether the upcoming elections could be considered free and fair given the overwhelming media dominance of the CPP, accusations of intimidation and the allegedly politically motivated killing this month of Moneaksekar Khmer journalist Khim Sambo.

The US Embassy has also condemned the “chilling effect on the media” of acts such as Khim Sambo’s killing, which “risks undermining citizens’ confidence in their ability to fully participate in the electoral process in safety.”

“Political violence, particularly against non-ruling party activists at both the national and the local level, has threatened the freedom to fully participate in the upcoming elections,” said the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee.
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Thai-Cambodia border row exposes ASEAN's Achilles heel

By John Grafilo

Singapore - The failure of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to settle an escalating border row between two of its members has sorely exposed the bloc's weakness in resolving disputes within the organization.

Fresh from its successful work in spearheading an international humanitarian mission into cyclone-devastated Myanmar, the 10-country ASEAN abdicated from mediating in the dispute between Thailand and Cambodia.

Cambodia had sought the group's help this week, but ASEAN's foreign ministers maintained that the 'bilateral process must be allowed to continue,' referring to efforts by Thailand and Cambodia to negotiate.

Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo said that during the just concluded ASEAN ministerial meetings in the city-state, Cambodia had proposed the creation of an ASEAN contact group that could help resolve the problem.

'The proposal found favour with a number of foreign ministers, but there was also a general view that the bilateral process should be allowed to continue, and there is still no consensus for the formation of such a group,' he said.

Diplomatic sources said Thailand rejected ASEAN's mediation and was adamant the issue has to be resolved bilaterally.

Hours after ASEAN turned down Cambodia's plea, a disappointed Phnom Penh turned to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to intervene in the dispute.

The row over the land near the roughly 1,000-year-old Preah Vihear Temple worsened this month when UNESCO approved Cambodia's application to have the complex named a World Heritage Site.

An estimated 2,000 Thai and Cambodian troops are now facing each other across the border around the temple, situated between Si Sa Khet and Preah Vihear provinces in Thailand and Cambodia, respectively, about 400 kilometres north-east of Bangkok.

While soldiers from both sides were shown on television sitting side by side and talking to each other amiably, the situation remained uneasy.

Analysts said the dispute and the subsequent failure of ASEAN to help bickering members settle their disagreements underscored the need to flesh out a dispute-settlement mechanism provided for in the newly drafted charter for the organization that consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

The charter, which was approved during the 2007 leaders summit, also held in Singapore, would make the bloc a legal entity and a rules-based organization. It also provides for the creation of a human rights body and a dispute-settlement mechanism.

But a high-level panel of senior ASEAN officials was not due to present their recommendations on the subject until the leaders summit in Bangkok in December.

'Thailand and Cambodia have slapped ASEAN right in the face,' Indonesia's Jakarta Post newspaper charged.

'The military standoff between the two countries has embarrassed their neighbours, who take pride that their organization is one of the few with an effective mechanism to maintain regional peace,' the newspaper said in an editorial.

'Placing this dispute in the UNSC hands put ASEAN in an awkward position and makes it more difficult to find a regional solution,' it added.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the Thai-Cambodia row underscored the need for ASEAN members to ratify the charter - Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines have yet to do so - so the organization could have a 'rules-based governing framework' to address such issues within and outside ASEAN.

'ASEAN could not sit idly by without damaging its credibility,' he said. 'As a region, it is vital that we continue to move forward on ASEAN cooperation and integration.'


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Cambodia promises Thai safety

Phnom Penh (dpa) - Cambodia imposed extra security and will make it a priority to ensure all Thais and their businesses are safe during weekend elections.

Tensions are high between the two neighbours after the border temple of Preah Vihear was listed as Cambodia's second World Heritage site earlier this month.

Thailand mobilized troops on the border into what it claims is disputed territory and Cambodia claims is sovereign soil shortly thereafter. Cambodia responded in a military standoff that has dominated the news on both sides and stirred up nationalistic fervour.

"This is a political problem, so civilians should not be involved or suffer," Kanharith said by telephone. "We have security in place and Thailand has also advised its citizens through the embassy."

Kanharith also urged Cambodians not to join a boycott of Thai-made products, saying it was counter-productive.

The boycott campaign has been spread by text messaging and anonymous advertisements in leading Khmer-language newspapers urging true Cambodian patriots to leave Thai products on the shelves.

In 2003 an angry Cambodian mob torched the Thai embassy and a number of Thai businesses over a false rumour a Thai actress had claimed Cambodia's other World Heritage site, the Angkor Wat temple complex, was Thai.

Kanharith said he was confident that would not happen again when Cambodians went to the polls in a national election Sunday.

On Thursday, the Thai embassy in Cambodia advised its nationals on evacuation strategies in case the situation worsened.

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Cambodia: UN help if border talks fail

By KER MUNTHIT

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia will pursue U.N. intervention to avoid a military confrontation with Thailand if talks between the two countries fail to produce a breakthrough, the Cambodian foreign minister said Friday.

Cambodia is only postponing — not canceling — its request for the U.N. Security Council to hold an emergency meeting on the dispute over contested land near a historic temple, Hor Namhong told reporters.

Foreign ministers from both countries are scheduled to meet Monday in the Cambodian city of Siem Reap.

"This is a new step in our goodwill to try to find a solution to the problem through peaceful negotiations," Hor Namhong said after meeting with ambassadors to Cambodia from the Security Council's five permanent members.

The session was called to inform diplomats about the Monday talks.

He said he was "quite hopeful" that the Monday meeting could resolve the standoff near the 11th century Preah Vihear temple. However, if the talks fail, "resorting to the United Nations is still more preferable than waging a war."

The comments came a day after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen issued a statement saying he had advised the Security Council to "temporarily postpone its meeting while awaiting results of the negotiations between Cambodia and Thailand."

Military tensions between the two countries over 1.8 square miles of land intensified earlier this month after UNESCO approved a Cambodian application to have the temple designated a World Heritage Site.

Thailand sent troops to the border July 15 after anti-government demonstrators lashed out at Samak's government for supporting Cambodia's application. They claim the temple's new status will undermine Thailand's claim to land around the temple.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej spoke by telephone Thursday and agreed to schedule the meeting next week between their foreign ministers.

Political attempts earlier this week to resolve the crisis failed, prompting Cambodia to take the issue to the U.N.

Thailand opposes the involvement of the U.N. or ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which both countries are members of. Thailand's U.N. ambassador, Don Pramudwinai, has accused Cambodia of bringing the quarrel before the Security Council because "the Cambodian target is not only Preah Vihear but the entire common border."

Don said Cambodia was trying to force Thailand to accept a French colonial map's demarcation of the border.

Thailand relies on a different map drawn up later with American technical assistance, but accepts a ruling by the International Court of Justice that awarded the disputed temple to Cambodia in 1962.
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Hun Sen Likely Will Expand Majority, Power in Cambodia Election

By Daniel Ten Kate

July 25 (Bloomberg) -- Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, a former Communist who has ruled for two decades, probably will expand his parliamentary majority and grip on power July 27 after boosting prosperity by welcoming foreign investment.

The second-smallest economy among 10 Southeast Asian countries has averaged 10.6 percent growth during the past five years. Money has poured into Cambodia, as an overheating economy in Vietnam and political turmoil in Thailand triggered stock declines in those countries.

The economic expansion has increased the popularity of Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party, allowing it to weather a surge in fuel and food prices. Pheavy Vy, 27, said her mobile phone shop in the capital Phnom Penh is doing a brisk business and plans to vote for him.

``Hun Sen can solve the country's problems,'' she said. ``I'm sure he will find a solution to the rising prices.''

Inflation is putting a drag on growth and may eventually prompt a backlash against the prime minister's foreigner-friendly policies. The government allows outsiders to buy 99-year leases for pieces of agricultural land and encourages energy companies to bid for rights to tap oil and gas reserves discovered offshore in the Gulf of Thailand.

The International Monetary Fund forecast in June that economic growth in the country of 14 million would fall to about 7 percent this year, from 10.25 percent in 2007, and the government expects inflation to almost triple to 15 percent.

Growing Support

For now, Hun Sen, 56, is enjoying growing support as foreign investment creates jobs in the energy, agriculture, tourism and garment industries and he rewards his rural voters with new schools and paved roads.

``Average people, for economic and selfish reasons, not intimidation, will vote for the CPP,'' said Robert Broadfoot, Hong Kong-based managing director of Political and Economic Risk Consultancy Ltd.

Cambodia has started to rehabilitate its image as a corrupt beggar state with depleted human resources after the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s killed most of the educated class.

Foreign investment is on pace to double from $2.7 billion this year, according to the Cambodian Investment Board, a government agency. As the country prepares to open a stock market next year, foreign investment funds such as Leopard Capital are looking to spend about $450 million on banks, office buildings, luxury hotels and other projects.

``The word got out that this election is already a preordained conclusion, so new business is still coming in,'' said Bretton Sciaroni, a Phnom Penh-based lawyer who has advised foreign investors in Cambodia for about 15 years.

Political Evolution

In late 1978, Vietnam invaded Cambodia to stop Khmer Rouge incursions and set up a client state with Hun Sen serving as foreign minister. He became prime minister in 1985 and helped negotiate a United Nations-brokered peace deal six years later that ended factional fighting and led to the country's first democratic election in 1993, Cambodia's first in 20 years.

In the 2003 election, Hun Sen's party won 73 of 123 parliamentary seats, or 59 percent, short of the two-thirds majority then required to form a government. In 2006, lawmakers changed the constitution to allow a party to form a government with a simple majority. Hun Sen said he expects to win 81 seats in this election.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy's eponymously named party won 24 seats in the 2003 election. He said the government is manipulating voter lists and threatening civil war if it loses, leaving many rural Cambodians afraid to vote for him.

`Time Bomb'

Sam Rainsy said resentment against foreign investors is building because the 99-year leases encourage land grabbing and speculation. Unemployment among youth is a ``time bomb,'' he added. He said Hun Sen's plan to open a local stock exchange next year would be ``ridiculous'' because the country lacks a strong judicial system.

Multinationals in Cambodia include Chevron Corp., the second- biggest U.S. oil company, BHP Billiton Ltd., the world's largest mining company, and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd., Australia's third-biggest bank.

``We are three times bigger than what we thought we would be'' when entering Cambodia in 2004, said Stephen Higgins, chief executive officer of ANZ Royal, a joint venture with the Royal Group, a Cambodian conglomerate.

The International Monetary Fund estimates that banks now hold 20 percent of the country's money supply, up from about 10 percent five years ago, despite what Higgins called a ``noticeable'' drop in deposits at ANZ Royal in the month prior to the election. The same thing happened during the past two elections amid fears that violence might break out.

Improved Yields

The government says its policies to allow foreign-run large- scale agriculture investments will lead to improved yields. Cambodia shipped 450,000 tons of rice last year, much less than the 8.5 million tons sold by neighboring Thailand, the world's largest rice exporter.

``We cannot develop on our own,'' said government spokesman Khieu Kanharith. ``The CPP is popular because people are starting to see the economy grow. They appreciate the normalcy of life.'' He added that Cambodia also is ``reaping the benefits'' of joining the World Trade Organization in 2004.

New foreign investment will help widen Cambodia's growth, which is concentrated largely in garments and tourism. Oil and gas revenue from concessions in the Gulf of Thailand still in the exploration phase may reduce the need for foreign aid. Cambodia received $763 million last year.

Transparency International, a global non-governmental organization, ranked Cambodia 162 out of 179 countries in its 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Competition remains stifled as executives work with government officials to protect their turf, says Kang Chandararot of the Cambodia Institute of Development Studies in Phnom Penh.

``The government hasn't taken any strong role in the economy so the private sector has enjoyed full freedom,'' he said. ``This is largely because government officials are heavily involved in business.''

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