The land of heroes
Our heroes
Our land
Cambodia Kingdom

Friday, October 31, 2008

Cambodia to double military budget to 500 mln dlrs after clashes

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Cambodia will double its military budget next year to about 500 million dollars following a deadly firefight with Thailand at their disputed border this month, a lawmaker said Wednesday.

Parliament is set to approve the new military budget in a session in early November, said Cheam Yeap, head of the parliament's finance commission.

"We need our soldiers to have enough capacity to protect our sovereignty and territorial integrity and have proper equipment and weapons," he told AFP.

"We also want our soldiers to have better training and to be better equipped with weapons and other military tools," he said.

The lawmaker added that Cambodian soldiers also needed new bases and better pay from the government.

But the decision to vastly increase military spending will likely rankle many international donors, who provide about 600 million dollars per year for the impoverished country's national budget.

Many of Cambodia's Cold War-era weapons mis-fired during the October 15 firefight between troops on disputed land near the ancient Preah Vihear temple which left one Thai and three Cambodians dead.

While Thailand has a 300,000-strong armed force and a well-equipped air force, Cambodia's much smaller military is badly equipped, badly trained and disorganised, according to a Western military official in Bangkok.

Tensions between Thailand and Cambodia flared in July when the 11th century Preah Vihear temple was awarded United Nations World Heritage status, rekindling long-running tensions over ownership of land surrounding the temple.

Although the World Court ruled in 1962 that it belonged to Cambodia, the most accessible entrance is in Thailand's northeastern Si Sa Ket province. Read more!

Siam Cement delays Cambodia plant expansion

BANGKOK: Siam Cement PCL has delayed cement plant expansion in Cambodia and a new investment in Indonesia as cement demand falls due to a global economic slowdown, its cement division president said yesterday.

Thailand’s biggest industrial conglomerate also saw domestic cement consumption dropping 6%-7% this year from 25.6 million tonnes in 2007, and at least 10% next year, Pramote Techasupatkul told Reuters in an interview.

Rather than expansion, Siam Cement would focus on a 4 billion baht (US$115mil) investment plan to increase energy efficiency at its cement plants in Thailand and Cambodia, Pramote said.

“We are assessing the global situation. We have to be more prudent on spending,” he said.

The company’s domestic cement sales this year would fall to nine million tonnes, in line with the industry-wide decline, although exports would be 8.1-8.2 million tonnes, close to last year, he said.

Siam Cement has been producing cement at 80% of a full capacity of 23.2 million tonnes this year, Pramote added, but might cut production next year in response to weaker demand. – Reuters



Read more!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Thailand moves ASEAN summit to Chiang Mai amid Bangkok protests

BANGKOK (AFP) — Thailand has moved a December summit of Southeast Asian nations to the northeastern town of Chiang Mai, a government spokeswoman said Wednesday, as protests drag on in the capital.

Originally scheduled for Bangkok, the 14th annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit will now take place in Chiang Mai from December 15 to 18, deputy government spokeswoman Suparat Nakbunnum told AFP, citing the cooler weather up north.

"The prime minister told the cabinet meeting yesterday (Tuesday) that the summit would be held in Chiang Mai and the government had prepared venues for the meeting and accommodation," she told AFP.

"It will be comfortable and easier to organise the meeting there."

Although government officials have insisted that the change of venue was linked to the better climate, anti-government protests which began in May in Bangkok are also believed to be a key factor.

Protestors from the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) have occupied the prime minister's offices since late August, and have rebuffed government pleas for them to leave to save embarrassment during the summit.

The protests, aimed at overthrowing the elected government and supported by the country's urban elite, have forced the cabinet to work out of a disused airport terminal.

On October 7, PAD supporters clashed with police outside parliament, with two people killed and nearly 500 injured in the worst street violence in Thailand in 16 years.

Chiang Mai is in the northeast stronghold of the ruling People Power Party and is the birthplace of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thailand is currently chair of ASEAN, which comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Talks will also be held with Chinese, Japanese and South Korean leaders during the December summit, which is expected to focus heavily on how Asia can weather the global financial crisis and stave off a recession.
Read more!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

American arrested in Cambodia on child sex charges

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – An American man has been charged with soliciting sex from two Cambodian girls, officials said Wednesday.

Michael James Dodd of Washington, DC, was arrested at his rented house in the capital, Phnom Penh, on Sunday, said police Maj. Gen. Bith Kimhong.

He said police who raided the house found the two girls, ages 13 and 14, inside with Dodd.

Dodd was charged during a court appearance on Tuesday, said prosecutor Sok Kalyan. If convicted, Dodd could face up to 10 years in prison, Sok Kalyan said.

The suspect's Cambodian lawyer, So Dara, said his client denied the allegation against him.

Cambodia has long been a magnet for foreign pedophiles because of poverty and law enforcement undermined by corruption. But the country's police and courts have stepped up action against sex offenders in recent years.

A 59-year-old Michael James Dodd is listed as a sexual offender on a Web site of the Department of Law Enforcement of the State of Florida in the US. The listing gives his last registered address as Syracuse, New York.

It was not immediately clear if the man, who was convicted in July 2002 of sexual abuse of a child, was the same man arrested in Phnom Penh. - AP
Read more!

Thai parliament gives green light for border talks with Cambodia

BANGKOK (AFP) — Thai parliament has given the government the green light to launch talks with Cambodia aimed at settling a long-running border dispute which boiled over into violence, officials said Wednesday.

The next round of talks aimed at ending a military stand off on disputed land near Cambodia's ancient Preah Vihear temple will be held next month, after a border firefight on October 15 killed one Thai and three Cambodians.

"Parliament has granted the government two frameworks of negotiation," said Virachai Plasai, a foreign ministry official in charge of legal affairs.

"The two frameworks will allow the government to launch negotiations with Cambodia in order to solve the boundary and border issues," he told reporters.

Initial issues to be hammered out, beginning when the two sides meet from November 10 to 14, are the redeployment of troops on disputed land near Preah Vihear and removing landmines from the area.

In the longer-term, Virachai said, the two countries would try and settle ownership of patches of disputed land along Thailand and Cambodia's 798-kilometre (495-mile) shared border.

The Cambodian-Thai border has never been fully demarcated, in part because it is littered with landmines left over from decades of war in Cambodia.

Tensions between the neighbours flared in July when the 11th century Preah Vihear was awarded United Nations World Heritage status, rekindling long-running tensions over ownership of the surrounding land.

Two rounds of emergency talks after the October 15 clashes made little progress, with both sides only agreeing not to fire on each other again.
Read more!

Cambodia's first rock opera opens next month

By KER MUNTHIT

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia's first rock opera will premiere in Phnom Penh next month, a cultural milestone in the Southeast Asian country where performing arts were banned during the brutal Khmer Rouge years.

"Where Elephants Weep" is an East-meets-West blend of traditional Cambodian music and Western rock that is modeled after "Romeo and Juliet" and inspired by the Broadway musical "Rent."

Organizers said Wednesday the show will open a 10-day run Nov. 28 in a converted movie theater in the capital, Phnom Penh, a year later than its planned debut at the end of 2007.

The show was commissioned by Cambodian Living Arts, a project of the Boston-based nonprofit organization World Education, which seeks to revive traditional Cambodian performing arts and inspire contemporary artistic expression among Cambodians.

Charley Todd, a co-president of the CLA's governing board, said the opera had a successful preview last year in Lowell, Mass., which has a sizable community of Cambodian refugees. But producers needed extra time for fine-tuning.

It is expected to later tour in other countries, including the United States, South Korea and Singapore.

Arts and entertainment were banned when the Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia between 1975-79 and killed some 1.7 million people through starvation, disease, overwork and execution. Execution sites from the time now serve as grim attractions for tourists visiting Cambodia.

"Where Elephants Weep" is an operatic take on "Tum Teav," the Cambodian version of "Romeo and Juliet."

It tells the story a Cambodian-American who lost his father during the Khmer Rouge era and returns home after Cambodia's civil war to trace his roots. In Phnom Penh, he meets and falls in love with a Cambodian woman who works as a karaoke singer.

The music was composed by the Russian-trained Cambodian maestro Him Sophy. He was inspired by the musical genre of the rock opera "Rent," which he saw twice during a trip to New York City.

Cambodian musicians in the performance use electric guitars, electronic drums, keyboards and traditional instruments like buffalo horns, bamboo flutes, gongs and the chapei, a long-neck lute with two nylon strings.

After seven years of work, Him Sophy said he expected a celebration — both on stage and in the country.

"It is going to be a big national cultural event," Him Sophy said. "And the entire team is committed to making it happen flawlessly and perfectly."
Read more!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Parliament approves Cambodia border talks

By Manop Thip-Osod

Lawmakers at the joint parliamentary session gave negotiators authority late on Tuesday to hold talks with Cambodia to demarcate the land boundary in the disputed area between the two countries.

The endorsement is needed under the constitution ahead of the proposed talks of the Joint Boundary Commission (JBC) with Cambodia on Nov 10.

Phnom Penh has not responded to the schedule offered to Cambodian Prime Minster Hun Sen by Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat.

The JBC was set up in 2000. In the past it needed no endorsement from parliament. But Article 190 of the present charter requires that all talks affecting sovereignty be endorsed by senators and MPs. Any agreement emerging from the JBC's negotiations also needs parliamentary approval.

The joint meeting at parliament was held in secret due to concerns by Foreign Minister Sompong Amornvivat about the sensitivity of the issue.

But the endorsement was easily passed by the senators and MPs with a 409 to seven vote. One lawmaker abstained.

A source at the meeting said MPs from the opposition Democrat party and some senators criticised the attempt to end the border dispute for fear a trade-off would benefit some individuals.

They said Thailand has always been forced on the defensive in the battle for sovereignty over disputed border areas.

Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said the negotiations must not put Thailand at a disadvantage, said the source.

But Mr Sompong assured them there will be no specific groups who will benefit from the talks.

The JBC talks will focus on the overlapping area of 4.6 square kilometres near the Preah Vihear temple, which was the root of the recent border spat. Thailand insists it is in Kantharalak district in Si Sa Ket province but Cambodia argues that it is in its territory.

Cambodian and United Nations officials plan to visit the historic temple to highlight the need to safeguard the site after it was damaged in an armed clash with Thai troops, Phai Siphan, a spokesman for Cambodia's Council of Ministers, said on Tuesday.

The visit to the 11th-century temple - which was designated a World Heritage site by Unesco in July - will take place on Nov 7, he said.

He said the trip was originally planned for late November but had been moved up following the Oct 15 clash between Cambodian and Thai soldiers over the disputed border area near the temple.

Cambodian officials have said a stone staircase and a Hindu deity sculpture were damaged by Thai troops. But the Thai Foreign Ministry and army strongly denied the accusation, saying Thai soldiers never used heavy weapons in the border fighting.

Unesco's office in Cambodia did not immediately respond to written questions seeking comment.

But its director-general, Koichiro Matsuura, voiced "grave concern" over the clash and urged Cambodia and Thailand to settle their border dispute peacefully, the agency said on its official website. (with reports from news agencies)


Read more!

Cambodia, UN seek to protect border temple

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: Cambodian and U.N. officials plan to visit a historic temple near the border with Thailand to highlight the need to safeguard the site after it was damaged in an armed clash with Thai troops, an official said Tuesday.

The visit to the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple — which was designated a World Heritage site by the United Nations cultural agency, UNESCO, in July — will take place on Nov. 7, said Phai Siphan, a spokesman for Cambodia's Council of Ministers.

He said the trip was originally planned for late November but has been moved up following an Oct. 15 clash between Cambodian and Thai soldiers over disputed border territory near the temple.

The fighting, which killed two Cambodians and one Thai paramilitary soldier who died later, has triggered fears of a broader conflict.

Cambodian officials have said a stone staircase and a Hindu deity sculpture were damaged by shrapnel from a grenade fired from the Thai side.

Phai Siphan described the damage as "scratches" but should be taken seriously because the temple is a monument of "universal value and unique achievement." He said his government submitted a report about it to UNESCO last week.

In Bangkok, a spokesman for Thailand's foreign ministry denied Monday that the country's soldiers were responsible for any damage to the temple.

Spokesman Tharit Charungvat said the Thai army has said it only used small weapons during the clash, and that Cambodian troops shot rocket propelled grenades from the grounds of the temple.

The recent gunfight was the latest flare-up in a long-running dispute over a stretch of jungle near the temple. The World Court awarded the temple to Cambodia in 1962, but sovereignty over surrounding land has never been resolved.

UNESCO's office in Cambodia did not immediately respond to written questions seeking comment.

But its director-general, Koichiro Matsuura, expressed "grave concern" about the recent clash and called on Cambodia and Thailand to settle their border dispute peacefully, the agency said on its official Web site.
Read more!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Hard Work Starts Now For Laos And Cambodia

Now that the qualification round is over and where Laos and Cambodia have proven themselves worthy, they have to start looking at upping the ante for the main event of the AFF Suzuki Cup 2008 in December.

But they will have little time to make drastic improvisation where the focus now must surely be on how to tweak on their overall performance to face up to the big boys in the region.

Following their qualification yesterday Laos, by virtue of being the winner, will be placed in Group B which is based in Bangkok, Thailand.

And apart from having to play against the runners-up of the last championship Thailand, the young Laotian side will also be up against Malaysia and Vietnam.

Cambodia will not have it any easier either where being in Group A meant that they will take on hosts Indonesia in Jakarta and defending champions Singapore and Myanmar.

“I believe that we have the team which can play well together as a unit,” said Veleriy Vdovin, the head coach for Laos.

“Now we have to make sure that they improve on their finishing and shooting as from this qualifiers, we were wasting far too many chances and we cannot afford to do that in the main tournament.”

While Laos struggle with the frontline, it will be defence which will be of concern to Cambodia.

They have given away valuable goals from headers and this is one area which has been a bane for the Cambodians throughout their qualifying campaign.

“Obviously, we could have defended better although on hindsight, I believe that the players we have now are the best set that we have at the moment,” said Prak Sovannara, the head coach for Cambodia.

“We have a month to work with and we hope that we will come up with some refinements.”

Whatever the misgiving at the start of the inception of a qualifying tournament prior to the main event of the AFF championship some years back, this year’s meet has certainly proven all the detractors wrong.

The competition was very close this time round and there were no stragglers where it took the final day of the meet to decide the two winners.

All the teams came very well prepared and the absence of high scores proved that the qualifier is an essential element for the future of the championship.

As far as the organization of the tournament was concerned, Cambodia have proven to be able to hosts major championships under the guidance of the Football Federation of Cambodia (FFC).

The Local Organising Committee have done a tremendous job in making sure that they meet with all marketing and technical requirements.

Although the one factor is that perhaps they should look into improving the facilities at the National Olympic Stadium.

The matches were well attended with an average of 10,000 fans per match day but it would have been a lot better had it been played at night under the glare of floodlights.
Read more!

FTI official says dispute poses long-term risks for Cambodia trade

VICHAYA PITSUWAN

The Preah Vihear dispute has so far only marginally reduced cross-border trade with Cambodia, but business is likely to deteriorate further in the long run, said Sommart Khunset, deputy secretary-general of the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI).

Until now, the appeal of Thai personal-care products in Cambodia meant bilateral trade worth 20 billion baht had not changed due to the dispute, he said.

"Some products such as electronic appliances may see fewer sales in Cambodia since the conflict erupted. Some operators thought it may cause a boycott of Thai products. But I think the level is very minimal and cannot be officially recognised as a boycott of our products," said Mr Sommart.
However, he added that fears of personal safety and difficulty in distributing products had disrupted Thai investment in Cambodia.

For example, Khon Kaen Sugar Industry Plc (KSL), Thailand's fourth-largest sugar producer, has had to postpone the launch of a sugar mill in Koh Kong. This has now been put back to next year due to safety concerns, said Mr Sommart.

He added that delays to investment projects had also put cost pressure on operators.

The FTI reports that most Thai business ventures in Cambodia are in garment manufacturing, shoe-making, tourism and agriculture. Most investors have been attracted by cheap land and abundant cheap labour suited to labour-intensive industries, said Mr Sommart.

FTI labour chief Thaveekij Japurajarernkul - who has been active in Cambodia for over 20 years - said his hotel in Siem Riep, 150 kilometres from the Aranyaprathet border post, had felt the impact from the conflict.

"My hotel occupancy rate has dropped 20-30% as tourists fear for the security of their lives," he said.

Mr Thaveekij said the impact is not yet at a worrying level. But he expressed a fear that unless the Thai government engages in effective negotiations, Thai ventures in Cambodia will be affected more than by previous conflicts.

"I said this because the current dispute is an international matter that looks to be deeper and to affect citizens of both countries psychologically," he said.

Also taking into account the global economic slowdown and domestic political conflict, both Mr Thaveekij and Mr Sommart said the private sector may have to struggle twice as hard to survive.

Read more!

‘The Amazing Race’ 13 - Where is Cambodia?

Heaven help our education system. Last night on the fifth leg of this season of “The Amazing Race,” not one but two of the contestants had no idea where Cambodia — the next destination — was. Both Dallas of the mother-son team of Toni and Dallas and Andrew of the Superbad frat brothers team of Andrew and Dan were absolutely clueless that the country was in Asia. I doubt that either had even heard of the country before. Andrew’s excuse to Dan was that he didn’t go to a fancy prep school like his frat brother. Oy vey.


So last evening, the seven remaining teams left the sheep farm at Summerhill, New Zealand, for Siem Reap, Cambodia. But even before they took off from Auckland Airport to Siem Reap, Terence and Sarah ran into trouble with the law when Terence was ticketed for speeding. The couple had a 30-minute delay at the Pit Stop because of the problem with the law. Also while waiting for their tickets to Siem Reap, Kelly and Christy made fun of Dallas, calling him “Teen Wolf” and his mom, Toni, Wolf Mother.

Back to Siem Reap. Once they landed at the airport, the teams had to take a taxi to a roadside pumping station and put 25 gallons of diesel fuel into a truck, which they then took to Siem Reap Harbor.

At the harbor, they took a marked boat to a restaurant where the groups got their Detour-Village Life or Village Work. In Village Life, they had to take their boat and collect three things: a set of a teeth at a dentist’s office, a doll from a seamstress and a basketball at a floating basketball court. Of course, each member of the team had to make a basket. Village Work had the teams getting into waist-high water and finding two fishing traps with fish, carrying them back to the boat and then putting them in a basket in order to get their next clue. Terence and Sarah’s boat was steaming ahead of everyone else on their way to the restaurant only to have it break down before they got to the restaurant. Terence ended up having to help the pilot manually guide the boat in, typically whining all the way.

After the teams completed their tasks, they had to make their way to the legendary temple of Angkor Wat, which is a symbol of Cambodia and the largest religious temple in the world. The massive temple was the location of the Road Block where one member of each team had to find a tiny echo chamber, thump his or her chest in order to hear an echo and then get the next clue to go to the pit stop at Bayon Temple. Most of the teams had a difficult time finding the small room, especially Tina of the estranged couple of Ken and Tina who actually was walking in and out of the room without knowing she was in the chamber. Her tardiness made the couple go from first to fourth at the Pit Stop.

Winning last night’s leg were the brother and sister team of Nick and Starr — they had also won the first lap of the race — and they earned a vacation in St. John courtesy of the omni-present Travelocity.

The long-distance lovers Aja and Ty (pictured), who were the last to leave Summerhill, never caught up with the rest of the teams last night. Though the week before they were having issues with each other, the two seemed like they had reconciled their differences and played the race with gusto and determination.

Aja Benton, a makeup artist and actress in Los Angeles, and Ty White, who was based in Detroit, are now living together in L.A. since the end of the race. Ty works in payroll at a school district.
The hardest thing for Ty on the race was the long waiting in airports. “You can’t really prepare for waiting in airports and sleeping on the airport floor for 10 or 12 hours that never get shown in the show because it would get truly boring and get terrible ratings. ”

“What was surprising for me was how truly confusing the whole thing is,” says Aja. “You watch it on TV and it seems so simple. You open the clue, you read the clue, you go to the place. But it really is confusing. You read the clue and it seems practical — you go to a plaza where the next clue awaits but you go to the plaza and look for the clue box and you overlook it and get confused.”

Aja says they are “preparing” for eventual engagement and marriage. “We have discussed it,” she says. “But we are taking things one step at a time.”

— Susan King, Los Angeles Times staff writer
Read more!

Cambodian, Thai Leaders Seek Peaceful Solution to Temple Dispute

By Rory Byrne, Phnom Penh, Cambodia


The dispute between Cambodia and Thailand over an ancient temple complex continues to challenge both countries. Cambodia says Thai troops damaged an ancient temple during a recent military clash. The allegation comes after the two governments promised that negotiations to resolve a dispute will resume next month. Rory Byrne has this report from Phnom Penh.

Thailand says its troops are not responsible for damage at the Preah Vihear temple, which sits just inside Cambodia. Soldiers from the two countries clashed there almost two weeks ago.

Cambodia officials say the Thais damaged the temple with rockets.

The dispute over ownership of land leading up to the 900-year-old complex has heated up since July, when Cambodia successfully asked that it be designated a United Nations World Heritage site. On October 15, several soldiers on both sides were injured or killed when fighting erupted.

Late last week, the prime ministers of the two countries met on the sidelines of the Asia-Europe summit in Beijing, and pledged to find a peaceful solution to the crisis.

Cambodian Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh on Sunday described the meeting.

"It was very friendly...it was very friendly and both prime ministers have agreed together that we have to avoid further clashes among the military that are stationed along the border," Cham said. "And we have to again start increasing the cooperation and the negotiations at all levels."

In 1962, the International Court of Justice ruled the Preah Vihear temple lies in Cambodia, but land surrounding it remains the subject of rival territorial claims.

Cham Prasiddh says the two countries will resume talks on the dispute next week, after the Thai parliament approves a framework for the negotiations. The parliament is expected to discuss the matter Tuesday.
Read more!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Foreign minister claims border talks productive

(BangkokPost.com) - The efforts to work out the Thai-Cambodian border dispute have progressed considerably, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Sompong Amornvivat said on Sunday morning.

During the Government of the People programme on the state-run National Broadcasting Services of Thailand (NBT) channel, Mr Sompong said he planned to ask the parliament to consider the framework of the Thai-Cambodian Joint Border Committee (JBC) this Tuesday.

Mr Sompong said Prime Minister and Defence Minister Somchai Wongsawat had informal talks with Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen at the 7th Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem). He said both sides would like to cooperate and work out the border row peacefully through bilateral talks to spur investment of the two countries.

No forces will be used to solve the problem, the foreign minister added.

Meanwhile, he said the Thai premier had the opportunity to exchange views and ideas with foreign delegates at the Asem and they discussed ways to prepare for and deal with the global economic crisis.

As for the Asian Summit, which will be in Thailand in December, Mr Sompong said the meeting could be moved from Bangkok to the northern province of Chiang Mai, but this matter has not been concluded yet.

Commenting on ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra’s letter to foreign media to explain his cases while referring to a group of privileged elites in Thailand, Mr Sompong said he had not look into the details and it would take a week to examine the letter and gather more relevant information.
He said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will give a fair treatment to all sides. However, the ministry will not get involved with the extradition of Pol Lt-Col Thaksin, but it is ready to give full support to the Attorney-General, the minister said.

Read more!

Cambodia says trade will be unaffected by border spat with Thailand

Phnom Penh - Cambodia's trade with Thailand will remain largely unharmed by an increasingly tense border dispute because Cambodia is too attractive a market for Thailand to abandon to China and Vietnam, a minister said Sunday. Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh - addressing reporters at Phnom Penh International Airport on his return from the two-day Asia-Europe Meeting in Beijin - said he did not believe the Thais would "become stupid".

The meeting also saw bilateral talks between Thai and Cambodian officials dealing with fallout from the border dispute which has simmered since July, when the 11th century Preah Vihear temple was awarded World Heritage status by UNESCO over Thai objections.

"If Thailand is not here, Cambodia still has Vietnam and China, but for me, I do not believe Thailand will become stupid and give up a big market," he said, alluding to calls by some political groups to boycott bilateral trade amid nationalistic fervour on both sides.

Prasidh said conflict-related drops in cross-border trade were temporary, noting that in 2007, Thailand had imported more than 1.4 billion dollars of goods to Cambodia, while Cambodia had exported just 40 million dollars worth to Thailand - mostly raw materials.

Cambodia remained an attractive market to investors due to its continued healthy growth but relative under-development, he said, and did not feel threatened by threats of loss of trade from any one market.

"Even though we do not call China to come here, China still wants to come," he said, referring to one of Cambodia's most important trading partners and donors.
Read more!

Cambodia confirms ASEAN meeting moved from Bangkok

Phnom Penh - Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong Sunday confirmed reports that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting set for Bangkok in December has been moved to the northern city of Chiang Mai amid political unrest.

Hor Namhong was the first non-Thai ASEAN official to officially confirm the move, returning from talks with Thai officials on the sidelines of the two-day Asia-Europe Meeting in Beijing with a delegation headed by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Continued political disturbances in Bangkok have seen the nation's government house overrun. Chiang Mai is a major city with an international airport about 700 kilometres north of Bangkok.

Hor Namhong was speaking at a press conference at Phnom Penh International Airport.

The 10-member ASEAN bloc comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam and has forged strong diplomatic and trade links with India, South Korea, Japan and China.

The summit is scheduled for December 15-18, and Thailand has invited UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and the heads of the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, despite its internal woes.

Last month, Cambodia expressed doubt that the meeting could be held in Bangkok by Thailand, which currently chairs ASEAN in an annually rotated post. Hun Sen said Thailand's current political turmoil reflected badly on ASEAN, drawing fury from some Thai groups.

Thailand and Cambodia are currently engaged in a protracted border dispute which has several times threatened to turn into all-out military conflict since July, when an ancient Cambodian temple was named a World Heritage site by UNESCO over Thai objections.
Read more!

Cambodia: Grim history and black humour

We're sitting at the dining room table and no one is saying a word. We all have food balanced on our spoons, mouths open, but the stories from our host are so gripping and monumental that the two haven't quite met. Then all of a sudden: "Who wants to hear a landmine joke?"

Without missing a beat, our Cambodian tour guide and host of tonight's dinner party, Mr Lee, had switched from recounting his survival in the killing fields of the 1970s to a question our tour group was all certain we'd misheard.

We'd been sitting in respectful, awed silence as he told his brave, inspiring life, when suddenly we were immersed in some of that classic foreigner awkwardness as Mr Lee chortled on about Englishmen, Irishmen and Cambodians.

Still, it's fair to say he and his countrymen have probably earned a laugh or two, while we sat around him quietly enjoying food that puts even the delicious Thai and Vietnamese cuisines to shame.

We were in Cambodia's tourist capital, Siem Reap - a place we'd been told would be the highlight of any trip to South East Asia.

Fifteen years ago Siem Reap received 2000 foreign tourists a year, now that figure is two million.

Many step off the plane thinking they're coming to a town called Angkor Wat and just as many think Angkor is the only temple here. In fact, it has become the most famous due to its status as it is the world's single biggest religious building.

The other name never far from anyone's lips here is Angelina Jolie. The actress is revered here, thanks, not so much to her adoption of a Cambodian orphan or her charitable donations, but rather to the fact that 10 years ago her fun but rather silly movie Tomb Raider opened the eyes of the world's tourists to Cambodia.

But why the fuss? And how could a place with that kind of a ridiculous influx of tourists possibly still have any of its original charms?

Thanks to our freshly laminated Angkor temple passes we had three days to find out.

At the end of those three days our tour party is knackered. There have been countless steps up to stunning temples, glorious spires and beautiful carvings; not to mention the realisation that 1000 years ago man was advanced enough to build monuments such as these, yet just 30 years ago he was backward enough to commit the single worst genocide in any country's history.

As recently as the 1990s Cambodia was still reeling from years of war and genocide with a life-expectancy of under 50. While the country is still racked by corruption, high infant mortality and a depressing mistreatment of women, it has pulled itself out of a deep mire remarkably quickly.

People like Mr Lee attribute its new popularity with tourists to the fact that Cambodia is a beautiful, green, tropical country with one of the world's greatest historical and religious sites at Angkor.
Read more!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Oxfam America to Expand Community Finance Program in Mali and Cambodia

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation $11.7 million grant

International development and relief organization Oxfam America today announced it received an $11.7 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for Saving for Change, the organization's unique community finance program. Oxfam will continue to collaborate with Freedom from Hunger and Stromme Foundation to launch an unprecedented expansion of Saving for Change over the next three years.

Oxfam's innovative approach to community finance breaks with that of traditional microfinance institutions. Saving for Change trains large numbers of savings and credit groups in the poorest regions of the world to save together and make loans to each other with their own resources instead of taking out a loan from a bank, credit union or microfinance institution.

"The first Saving for Change group was trained three years ago. Today, over 150,000 villagers in Mali and Cambodia have already joined savings and lending groups," said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America. "With the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we will reach close to 550,000 villagers in the next three years."

With this growth, Saving for Change will become the largest microfinance program in these two countries and the only one reaching the rural poor at this scale. Village groups act as their own community banks, providing villagers with a place to save and easy access to loans. As a result, poor people living in remote areas with little or no financial institutions can access self-managed financial services to build assets, increase incomes, and improve the livelihoods of their families.

"Not only is Saving for Change different because it is based on saving instead of borrowing, it also relies on person-to-person training and relationships instead of technology. This helps build trust and ultimately makes the savings and lending groups more sustainable," said Offenheiser.

Oxfam will use this grant to replicate its community finance model in communities throughout Mali and Cambodia. In addition, it will allow the organization an opportunity to explore further program growth in Latin America.

Millions of people in Asia and Africa live on one dollar a day or less, and few have access to savings or other financial services that can help them increase their financial security and improve their lives. Without places to save, it is difficult for families to build savings to pay for educational fees, medical bills, or emergencies. Others have little or no access to micro loans that could improve their incomes through investments like setting up a small sales kiosk, buying crop fertilizer, or acquiring an animal for breeding.

Funding to expand Saving for Change comes from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Financial Services for the Poor initiative, which works with partners to make savings and other financial services available in developing countries so the poor can better manage life's risks and take advantage of life's opportunities.

"The innovative savings and lending approach has been successful at bringing affordable financial services to people with very low incomes living in remote communities," said Bob Christen, director of the Financial Services for the Poor initiative. "We believe that Saving for Change's groups will open the door to opportunity and increased household financial security for many poor people."

The grant also supports program evaluation and research that will help document and fully measure Oxfam's impact on communities. Researchers will be asking key questions on the affect participating in Saving for Change has including:


Does it affect how-and how much-women save and borrow?

Does it improve risk-coping and food security?

Does it build crucial social networks and businesses?

And, does it improve agricultural production?


"The research component of this grant will help us fine tune our program so that it best meets the needs of the poor," concluded Offenheiser. "Documenting Saving for Change's success will also help build momentum for expanding savings-led community finance programs around the world."

Saving for Change is implemented by Oxfam America in collaboration with Freedom from Hunger and Norway-based Stromme Foundation. Freedom from Hunger's support includes developing training manuals, and contributing technical assistance for the planning, implementation and evaluation of the program. Stromme Foundation, along with The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, underwrites the costs for the teams training savings and lending groups in Mali.

Read more!

Thai, Cambodia 'friendly' but firm in border talks

SIEM REAP, Cambodia (AFP) — Thai and Cambodian military commanders on Friday concluded talks aimed at easing border tensions after deadly clashes last week, but staunchly maintained their front line positions.

The senior military officials, whose talks began over a round of golf a day earlier, met to defuse the border dispute near the ancient Preah Vihear temple, which erupted into a firefight on October 15 that left one Thai and three Cambodian soldiers dead.

"For the issue of Preah Vihear area, both sides vowed to exercise maximum patience in order to avoid confrontation or more military clashes," the leader of the Cambodian delegation, General Chea Mon, told reporters at the conclusion of meetings.

"Both sides will continue discussion to resolve the problem peacefully in order to ease the tension gradually," he added.

The Thai commanders, led by Lieutenant General Wiboonsak Neeparn, said there was a "friendly atmosphere" with the Cambodians but insisted Thailand's soldiers would stand firm.

"The Thai side strongly reiterates that the position of our troop deployments is clearly inside Thai territory," said a statement from Thai commanders released as the meetings began.

Cambodian Brigadier Bun Thean, a commander at the border, told AFP by telephone that "the situation remains calm at Preah Vihear, but our troops are still on high alert."

Thailand's terms of negotiation must be approved in parliament on Tuesday before the two countries can have further border talks.

Separately, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and his opposite number Somchai Wongsawat reiterated that their nations would prevent any more armed clashes over the dispute as they met in Beijing on the margins of a summit between leaders of Asian and European nations.

Cambodian and Thai military officials agreed to joint border patrols a day after last week's temple clashes.

But Cambodian commanders have since backed out, saying such patrols are not possible in disputed areas.

Tensions between Thailand and Cambodia flared in July when Preah Vihear was awarded United Nations World Heritage status, rekindling long-running tensions over ownership of land surrounding the temple.
Read more!

Thailand, Cambodia resolve to settle border feud

BEIJING (AP) — The leaders of Thailand and Cambodia resolved Friday to settle their countries' border dispute peacefully, foreign ministers from the two nations said.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Thai counterpart Somchai Wongsawat discussed the issue during bilateral talks early Friday on the sidelines of a 43-nation Asian-European summit in China's capital, Beijing.

Fighting near the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple last week killed two Cambodians and triggered fears of a broader conflict, and Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said the leaders were determined to prevent similar conflicts breaking out.

"What happened between us we have to solve peacefully, amicably, for the sake of our neighborliness," Hor Namhong said.

Thai Foreign Minister Sompong Amornvivat said it was imperative that the sides order their troops not to provoke or engage in fighting.

Sompong said last week's battle "happened instantly and was uncontrollable at that time," but he added that that now "the two sides must really advise our troops on each side not to have a confrontation any longer."

The Beijing meeting came as Thai and Cambodian military officials were holding talks in the Cambodian city of Siem Reap aimed at defusing tensions along the border.

Thai Lt. Gen. Wiboonsak Neeparn said in a statement that both sides plan on exercising restraint to prevent more violence.

Cambodian foreign ministry spokesman Koy Kuong says Cambodia wants both sides to redeploy their troops from the area to reduce tension.

The border talks ended with the two sides reiterating pledges to prevent more violence.

Thailand and Cambodia "are committed to exercising their utmost restraint to avoid confrontation or armed clashes," Cambodian regional army commander Maj. Gen. Chea Mon said.

Last week's fighting was the latest flare-up a recently revived dispute over a stretch of jungle near the Preah Vihear temple. The World Court awarded the temple to Cambodia in 1962, but sovereignty over surrounding land has never been clearly resolved.
Read more!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Cambodia appoints first female deputy premier

Phnom Penh (dpa) - Cambodia has appointed former soldier turned journalist Mem Sam An as its first female deputy prime minister, the politician confirmed Thursday.

The 55-year-old, who represents the south-western province of Svay Rieng, was a senior minister in the previous cabinet and said she is honoured by the promotion.

Mem Sam An became part of Cambodian folklore in the 1970s, marshalling troops on the Vietnam border against the Khmer Rouge with what her comrades describe as extraordinary bravery.

She subsequently became an important member of the ruling Cambodian People's Party, which was returned with an increased majority in national elections in July, and has also worked as a journalist for party publications.

"I became a soldier when I was 16. This honour shows that women can achieve anything if they have support," she said.

In Cambodia, seven deputy prime ministers jointly served under Prime Minister Hun Sen last term.

Democratic elections resumed in Cambodia in 1993 after nearly three decades of civil war and are held every five years.

Politics in Cambodia has traditionally been male-dominated, although there are a number of powerful female politicians, especially within Mem Sam An's own party.

Read more!

Cambodia recruiting militias on border with Thailand

PHNOM PENH, Oct. 23 (Xinhua) -- Cambodian provincial and military officials said they are recruiting militias along the border with Thailand to protect frontier villages if hostilities erupt again amid a territory dispute between the two countries, national media reported Thursday.

Some 2,400 Cambodians have already volunteered to serve in the paramilitary units in Oddar Meanchey province alone, Deputy Governor Loun An was quoted by the Phnom Penh Post as saying.

"We are in the process of recruiting people for militias to protect homes and ensure security for people if there is a war with Thai soldiers," Loun An said.

"Militia members receive no salary and do not register with the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF), although they will get some sponsorship money," he added.

The Cambodian government has called for calm following last week's border clash that has resulted in the deaths of three Cambodian soldiers and a Thai trooper.

The violence has only encouraged more Cambodians to come to their nation's defense, Chuong Praseuth of the Banteay Meanchey provincial administration told the Post.

In July, tensions ran high after the ancient Preah Vihear Temple was awarded world heritage status by UNESCO, angering nationalists in Thailand who still claim ownership of the site.

The tension later turned into a military stalemate, in which up to 1,000 Cambodian and Thai troops faced off for six weeks.

In early October, at least one Cambodian soldier and two Thai troops were wounded during sporadic exchange of gunfire and two other Thai soldiers were seriously injured after stepping on a landmine at the border area, the report said.
Read more!

Fresh talks on Thai-Cambodia row

Military officials from Thailand and Cambodia are preparing for a new round of talks aimed at easing tensions along their shared border after last week's outbreak of violence.

Nhek Bunchhay, the Cambodian deputy prime minister, said on Thursday that the move was part of efforts to "break the stalemate" that led to the clashes.

The two sides agreed on a joint border patrol last week following a gunbattle that left two Cambodian soldiers dead and three more wounded. Seven Thai troops were also injured.

The clashes near the 11th century Preah Vihear temple sparked fears that the two countries were headed for an outright war, prompting lengthy ceasefire discussions.

Both sides however said that they will maintain troops and artillery in the area.

Border tensions escalated following increased rhetoric in recent weeks, with political and military leaders blaming each other for trespassing on to the others' territory.

The ancient Hindu ruin which is at the centre of the dispute obtained a UN listing as a World Heritage Site in July, a ruling that re-ignited a decades-old feud.

Both countries have long claimed the temple complex but the World Court awarded it to Cambodia in 1962.

Thousands of Cambodian villagers in the area near the Preah Vihear temple have fled their homes amid fears of more violence.

The international community including the US and UK has urged the two countries to show restraint over the standoff.

Cambodia and Thailand have deployed hundreds of troops to the border region, backed by heavy equipment and air support.
Read more!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Amidst Thai-Cambodia spat, Asem meets in China

By Bill Smith

NOTE: The Asia-Europe summit runs from Friday to Saturday

Beijing (dpa) - This week's largest ever gathering of Asian and European leaders was planned to focus on efforts to combat climate change and promote sustainable development, but those efforts now look likely to be overshadowed by the need to respond to the global financial turmoil.
The Thai and Cambodian prime ministers are expected to discuss their nations' recent border skirmish on the sidelines of the meeting.

Talks between the prime ministers of India and China, and between the leaders of South Korea and Japan, should be other highlights among the dozens of bilateral sessions expected.

But discussions on the financial crisis and economic recession are likely to dominate the two-day summit.

Talks on the financial crisis are expected to be "very intense" between leaders of the 27 European and 16 Asian nations at the seventh biannual Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem) in Beijing, Serge Abou, the EU ambassador to China, told reporters.

"The main thing is to come out with strong and united messages conveying confidence," Herve Ladsous, the French ambassador to China, said of the talks on global finance.

"China has made it very clear that they will contribute towards a common effort," Ladsous said.

Separate "clusters" of discussions are planned on banking and financial systems, he said.

Expansion of cooperation between Asia and Europe in trade and service industries could play an important role in resolving the financial crisis, Yi Xiaozhun, China's vice-minister of commerce, said on Monday.

"In addition to stabilizing financial markets, open, stable and fair international trade relations are very important for restoring confidence and getting over the economic difficulty," state media quoted Yi as saying.

Asia and Europe "really need an agreement on free trade," Abou said.

"We sincerely hope that this year's conference will give a push to the trade talks," he said.

This year's Asem summit includes several new members, notably India and Pakistan, meaning the delegates represent a combined 50-60 per cent of the global population and economy.

France, which holds the rotating European Union presidency, will present an Asem statement on climate change under the theme of "Vision and action: towards a win-win solution."

Host nation China has drafted another joint statement on the financial crisis, while the EU wants to mark the 60th anniversary of the universal declaration on human rights with a "summit commitment to implementing human rights," said EU officials in Brussels.

The officials said the EU would push for "the maximum commitment we can get" from Asia on signing up to a post-Kyoto deal on climate change at talks in Copenhagen in December 2009.

But China and other Asian nations appear unlikely to shift from their insistence that European and other developed countries must take the lead on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

"China is a big energy consuming power in the world, so we face lots of pressure," Zhang Haibing, an economist at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

The ruling Communist Party's promotion of leader Hu Jintao's "scientific outlook on development" reflects the importance that China attaches show to environmental issues, Zhang said.

China also wants to make more use of advanced environmental technology from EU nations, she said.

"The main difference between China and the EU is the idea of 'common but differentiated responsibilities'," she said, referring to China's support for the UN principle of different goals for developing and developed nations.

Despite the anticipation of several joint statements, Zhang said the Asem meeting was "not likely to reach any substantial achievement."

But she denied that bilateral meetings between the leaders would be more important than the main forum, except perhaps for "certain countries or under certain circumstances."

The Asian nations attending the summit are the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), China, Japan, South Korea and new members India, Pakistan and Mongolia.

"The recent turbulence in the international financial market has dealt a blow to the world economy and aroused the concern of the entire international community," Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said in a speech to an Asem forum last week.

"No country in the world can expect to stay away from such issues as global warming, environmental degradation, resource shortage and the increasingly grave international economic and financial situation or address them on one's own," Yang said.

"In this connection, strengthened cooperation between Asia and Europe not only serves the immediate need but also has a long-term strategic significance," he said.

Read more!

Thai-Cambodian border committee set to meet

(BangkokPost.com) - Thai army and government officials will attend Thai-Cambodian Regional Border Committee (RBC) meeting, aimed at seeking peaceful solutions to the ongoing border row between both countries.

The RBC meeting is scheduled to be held on Thursday and Friday in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

The previous meeting was held between Thailand’s Second Army commander, Lt-Gen Wiboonsak Neeparn, and Cambodia’s Fourth Army commander, Gen Chea Mon, following the armed clash between both sides near Preah Vihear temple on October 16.

Meanwhile, the Second Army deputy commander, Maj-Gen Veevalit Jornsamrit, said the Thai troops have beefed up security along the Thai-Cambodian border area to prevent armed confrontations with Cambodian soldiers from happening again.

Read more!

Cambodians Favor Diplomatic Solution to Temple Standoff With Thailand

By Rory Byrne
Phnom Penh

Nationalist fervor has been rising in Cambodia as anger mounts over what Cambodians consider to be an illegal occupation of their land around the Preah Vihear temple by Thai troops. However, with bitter memories of three decades of war still fresh in many people's minds, political analysts say the Cambodian government will continue to seek a diplomatic solution to the crisis. Rory Byrne has this report from Phnom Penh.

Buddhist services were held across Cambodia for the three soldiers killed in fighting with Thai troops around Preah Vihear temple on October 16.

Nationalist anger has risen in Cambodia since last week when Cambodian and Thai troops exchanged gunfire around the temple. Cambodians consider the dispute over land just the latest in a long series of arguments over land with their more powerful neighbor.

In 1962, The International Court of Justice ruled the 900-year-old temple lies in Cambodia, but a main access route to it is in Thailand. The dispute over the land was dormant for decades, however, until a few months ago, when Thai nationalists objected to Cambodia's petition to have the complex declared a United Nations World Heritage site.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen recently threatened to turn the area around the temple into a "life and death battlefield" if Thailand refused to withdraw its soldiers from what he says is Cambodian territory. The Thais deny crossing into Cambodia.

Chea Vannath is an independent political analyst in Phnom Penh. She says that in light of Mr. Hun Sen's victory in recent elections, he is anxious to prove his strongman credentials to the domestic audience.

"He [has] achieved a lot of things already in his political life and it's time for him to prove that he's really serious about protecting the integrity and sovereignty of Cambodia," Chea said. "It's just the right time, because he won 90 seats - a landslide victory, he got everything, so this one is the next stage."

However, some political analysts in Cambodia say the last thing the country really wants is a war with Thailand. Cambodia's economy is growing but the country remains poor and is still recovering from three decades of conflict.

Plus, the army is small and ill-equipped compared with Thai forces.

But, say some Cambodians, many of its troops are hardened fighters experienced in guerrilla warfare. Even Mr. Hun Sen noted that strength, saying "Ants can hurt elephants."

Chea Vannath says despite rhetoric, the government will search for a diplomatic solution.

"We have plenty of peaceful negotiation institutions such as [the] U.N. or ASEAN or the Paris Peace Agreement or the International Court," Chea said. "So we have plenty of mechanisms rather than focusing on force because when it gets to war both countries stand to lose."

Mr. Hun Sen and Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat are expected to discuss the dispute on Friday or Saturday while they attend a summit with European leaders in Beijing.

So far, peace talks have made little progress and Cambodian and Thai troops reportedly are digging in deeper around Preah Vihear, preparing for a long standoff.
Read more!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Child sex trade soars in Cambodia

Girls as young as 14 work in brothels' around Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, and while the industry is often shown as serving predatory foreign tourists, local men have been found to be the mainstay of clients.

Thousands of children are bought and sold for sex every day in Cambodia an investigation by Al Jazeera found.

Al Jazeera filmed secretly at several brothels, and in each case found much the same thing - rooms full of young women in their early twenties, as well as teenagers.

"For my virginity they gave me $200," Ya Da, a 16-year-old former prostitute, said.

Ya Da worked in a brothel for two years before she ran away. Now, she lives in a safe house with other former prostitutes and abused children.

"There were just a few foreign customers [at the brothel]," she said. "I never slept with any, I slept only with Cambodian men."

'Local customers'

Mu Sochua, a politician with the opposition Sam Rainsy Party and a former minister for women's affairs, told Al Jazeera that most of Cambodia's sex industry was supported "by local customers".

"And some of these local customers are high-ranking officials. You have the military, the police and civil servants. you have rich businessmen who have lots of money," she said.
The involvement of high-ranking officials has been one reasons, NGOs say, that the sex industry has thrived in Cambodia.

"Very often these brothels and criminal networks are being supported and protected by high ranking officials," Mark Capaldi, from Ecpat International, an orgnaisation working to eliminate child prostitution, said.

"The problem is not just as abusers but also the impunity and lack of law enforcement in closing down these brothels and karaoke bars."

Daniela Reale, an advisor from Save the Children, told Al Jazeera: "The reality is that we do know local demand is the force driving this abuse.

"We also know it is around 70 per cent of local demand rather than sex tourism."

But General Bith Kim Hong, from the Cambodian national police force, rejected allegations that the officials focused their efforts to curb prostitution almost exclusively on foreigners.

"The national police are concerned about anyone who commits a crime, who has sex with children, whether they are foreigners or Cambodian," he told Al Jazeera.

"We have a very high commitment to prevent child prostitution."

Few arrests

Last year, the Cambodian police arrested only 21 people for committing sex crimes with children - eight of those arrested were foreigners and 13 were Cambodians.

The police also admit that the brothels they shut down in high-profile raids often reopen a few weeks later.

In 2002, Gary Glitter, the British pop star, was expelled from Cambodia amid child-sex allegations.

But while the arrest and conviction of foreigners make the headlines, most child sex trafficking supplies local demand, Mu Sochua said.

"It is easier to catch a foreigner and also the government wants to have showcases to make itself look good - that Cambodia is actually taking care of this problem of human trafficking, which is really not the truth," she told Al Jazeera.

Reale said that governments need to combat the worldwide problem: "They need to address their legal system and their law enforcement."

To tackle the poverty that forces girls into prostitution, Reale said that governments must provide support systems to help families match their needs.

She said that the 3rd World Conference on Sexual Exploitation of Children in Rio de Janeiro next month will be as a big opportunity to make real and genuine committments.
Read more!

Malaysia to ask for Thailand, Cambodia to settle conflicts peacefully

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia is expected to ask for Thailand, Cambodia to solve their conflicts peacefully in the spirit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a senior official said on Tuesday.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Dais Yatim made this remark at a hotel in Putrajaya, administrative center of the Malaysian Federal Government, after he had a luncheon with the heads of missions of Americas in Malaysia.

Dais said that he would travel to Bangkok and, if possible, to Cambodia, to convey a message from Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi suggesting the two countries solve their conflicts without resorting to the use of arms.

He also hoped that more ASEAN countries would join to ask for Thailand and Cambodia to discuss ways to solve the problem between them without involvement of arms.

Dais told reporters that he believed that the conflict between Thailand and Cambodia would not widen.

Dais was scheduled to visit Thailand late Tuesday and Wednesday, according to the Malaysian Foreign Ministry.
Read more!

Thai soldier injured in Cambodia border clash dies: doctor

BANGKOK (AFP) — A Thai soldier who sustained shrapnel wounds to the head during a firefight with Cambodian troops along their disputed border died on Tuesday, the doctor treating him said.

Boonyarit Khanti, 40, had been in a coma since October 15, when gunfire erupted on patches of disputed land near Cambodia's ancient Preah Vihear temple, a UN heritage site at the centre of long-standing bilateral tensions.

"He died (Tuesday morning) from sudden kidney failure, which was one of the complications," said Monchai Wiwatanasithipong, a doctor at Suppasithiprasong Hospital in northeast Ubon Ratchathani province.

Two Cambodian soldiers died during the shoot-out, while a third died a day later of smoke inhalation and illness which authorities said was linked to the clashes.

Six Thai soldiers were also injured.

Tensions between Cambodia and Thailand flared in July when Preah Vihear was awarded UN World Heritage status, rekindling long-simmering tensions over ownership of land surrounding the temple.
Read more!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Thai, Cambodian PMs may talk at Asem summit

(BangkokPost.com) - Prime Minister and Defence Minister Somchai Wongsawat said he will attend the Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem) in Beijing from Oct 23 to 25, and he may hold informal talks on the Thai-Cambodian border dispute with Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen there.

"If there is an opportunity for bilateral talks, then it would be held, but it also depends on the coordination between both countries’ foreign ministries. The matter should not be raised at the Asem," Mr Somchai said.

According to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s advisor, both premiers could meet and seek solutions to the border conflict, and they may hold informal talks at the Asem in Beijing on Friday.

The Foreign Ministry of Cambodia disclosed that the border row between the two countries will be Cambodia’s main informal agenda. The Thai Foreign Ministry has not responded to this report yet.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Department of Asean Affairs director-general Vitavas Srivihok affirmed that Thailand is ready to host the Asean Summit this December, and Prime Minister Somchai will remain as the Asean chairman despite facing a political crisis.

Read more!

Malaysia seeks to diffuse Thai-Cambodia border row

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Malaysia's foreign minister said Monday his planned visits to Thailand and Cambodia are a friendly effort to help diffuse a border dispute between the neighbors, and not interference in their affairs.

Rais Yatim said Malaysia and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, have an interest in ensuring the border conflict does not intensify and jeopardize regional peace.

The dispute, if not checked, could embarrass ASEAN and mar its credibility as a regional bloc, he warned.

A brief but deadly gunfight erupted between Thai and Cambodian soldiers last week over disputed land near the centuries-old Preah Vihear temple, sparking fears of war.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has rejected outside help in the conflict.

"We don't consider ourselves as (outsiders). We consider ourselves within ASEAN and if we cannot play the role of a neighbor, the role of a good friend, then what are we for?" Rais told reporters.

"This is not a positive dot for ASEAN. This could be looked at as a very questionable development ... we have to convince the world that we can take care of our problems and relationship with each other," he said.

Malaysia, Cambodia and Thailand are all members of ASEAN, which has a policy of noninterference in member nations' domestic affairs. ASEAN also includes Brunei, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam.

Rais Yatim said he would fly to Thailand on Tuesday or Wednesday, and to Cambodia later this month, to urge both parties to resolve the conflict through peaceful negotiations.

He said he would submit a letter of concern from Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to the Thai and Cambodian leaders and urge them not to "resort to physical or military means."

The World Court awarded the 11th century temple to Cambodia in 1962, but sovereignty over surrounding land has never been clearly resolved.

Hun Sen is expected to meet Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat later this week in their first face-to-face meeting since the deadly gunbattle erupted Oct. 15, killing two Cambodian soldiers and wounding 10 from both sides.

Rais said his visits are partly in response to a request by ASEAN Secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan for member nations to make "friendly overtures so that the skirmish is undertoned."
Read more!

Local people flee amid concern of Cambodian-Thai armed confrontation

By Xia Lin, Liu Lu, Long Heng

PREAH VIHEAR, Cambodia, Some local residents have been fleeing from the area near Preah Vihear temple amid concern of armed confrontation between Cambodia and Thailand after a deadly clash on the border last week.

"Three members of my family have moved back to Kandal province and I stay here to look after my small souvenir shop in front of the temple," local businessman Srun Sokhorn told Xinhua on Monday.

Some people living at the bottom of the mountain also fled, but some others did not. They watch movies and boxing matches on TV at small cafes, Srun Sokhorn said, adding that about 200 of 319 families still stay here.

"We hope the situation will be normal soon so that I can run my business again," he said.

Local residents are facing shortage of clean water, he said, so they made tent reservoir to collect rain water.

Some children are facing flu from bad weather at the mountain area near the Preah Vihear temple, Kim Ratana, said a doctor at the Preah Vihear provincial health office.

"We are treating a soldier who was infected with malaria," she said.

Meanwhile, the Cambodian and Thai troops have become friendly to each other, after the armed clash killed two Cambodian soldiers and wounded more Thais on Oct. 15 near the Preah Vihear Temple at the border area, officers told Xinhua on Monday.

"They are shaking hands, talking to each other and asking about daily food," said Thol Sovan, deputy military commander of the Cambodian side at the Keo Sikha Kiri Svara Pagoda, which is situated on the only way leading to the temple.

They have good relationship and both troops at the pagoda didn't exchange gunfire on Oct. 15, he said.

"The Thai side didn't (dare to) shoot at us here, because we were all around them at that time," he said.

But Thai soldiers elsewhere shot at us, he said, while pointing at newly fired branches of the jack fruit tree in front of the pagoda.

Meanwhile, Thai military major Apichaut Poo Paud told Xinhua that the troops themselves are like brothers and don't have problem with each other.

"We have good cooperation and relationship," he said, adding that 10 Thai soldiers and two interpreters stay in the pagoda compound.

In other places, Cambodia and Thailand are keeping the same number of soldiers, he added.

Srey Doek, regional military commander of Cambodia, told Xinhua that the situation near the temple is now normal and clam.

However, the number of both troops within the territory is roughly estimated at more than one thousand, he added.

After the Oct. 15 armed conflict, both troops have agreed to conduct joint patrol of the border area, but the two governments have postponed their talks from Tuesday (Oct. 21) to Friday (Oct. 24) to find peaceful solution for their border dispute.

In other developments, the engineering unit of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) is rebuilding and expanding the current road to the Preah Vihear Temple.

"They are rebuilding the road single direction first to provide easiness for travelers and will also construct a few small bridges over the streams at the area," said Chan Thoern, receptionist working at a neighborhood hotel near the temple.

As the renovation ends, the road is expected to become double direction and remains the only way running along the mountain to the temple, Chan told Xinhua.

"With the road completed, it will be much easier for us and tourists to access the temple, although there are still some steep places," said Chan, who came from Kampong Cham province to help his uncle run his business.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, the government and some charitable people have funded the reconstruction, according to the reports of Chinese-language daily newspaper the Commercial News.

Tourists used to arrive at the 900-year-old temple from the Thai side, as the traffic facilities there are well-built.

In addition, the land price at the bottom of the mountain where the 900-year-old Preah Vihear Temple is situated atop, has been increasing rapidly, since it was awarded world heritage status by UNESCO in July, residents said.

"Here will be another popular destination for tourists," said taxi driver Sean Kim on Monday.

A piece of land measuring 1,000 square meters used to sell at 2,000 U.S. dollars, but now is up to 10,000 U.S. dollars, he said.

"I hope the government will build a market here soon," said Sean, adding that there is no bus station, either.

It is difficult to find a taxi car here leaving for the town or nearby province Siem Reap, he said, adding that current taxi car service and food are all expensive.

Local food vendor Neang Kheng said that the price is high because everything is brought from other provinces and the road is poor for transportation.

"Food is simple here, just drinks, rice, instant noodles, pork, fish and vegetables," she said.

The current military face off between Cambodia and Thailand has almost stalled the life at the foot of the mountain, she added.

In July, tensions ran high after the ancient Preah Vihear Temple was awarded world heritage status by UNESCO, angering nationalists in Thailand who still claim ownership of the site.

The tension later turned into a military stalemate, in which up to 1,000 Cambodian and Thai troops faced off for six weeks.

In early October, at least one Cambodian soldier and two Thai troops were wounded during sporadic exchange of gunfire and two other Thai soldiers were seriously injured after stepping on a landmine at the border area.  
Read more!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

US meltdown boosts Russia's place

By Kavi Chongkitthavorn
The Nation

The US financial meltdown and its global fallout have boosted Russia's place in the world, especially in Southeast Asia. The crisis came at just the time when Russia had made it clear it is a great power to be reckoned with in the new global scheme of things. It was no longer the broken empire it once was. With booming oil and gas sales and huge foreign currency reserves, Russia is resurrecting. Its growing politฌical and economic clout is gradually being felt in the region after a nearly 17-year absence.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disintegration of the former Soviet Union in 1991, the overall Russian influฌence in Southeast Asia receded rapidly. Military ties and developmental assisฌtance, which used to be the cornerstone of Moscow's ties with countries in the region such as Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos were no longer there.

So far, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev's latest pronouncement of a fivepoint foreign policy has escaped close scrutiny within the region, which was the hotbed of the fivedecade Cold War confrontation.

Russia has rightly emphasised the importance of adherence to internationฌal law as the first priority. Following the Russian troops crossing the Georgian border and recognising Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent, suspicions were high the world over of Moscow's intention. The rest of its diplomatic thrusts focused on the imperative of a multipolar world and the desire to be friends with all countries in the world because Russia does not want to live in isolation.

The most interesting aspects of Russian new foreign policy are the great emphasis on its "privileged interests" in regions outside its borders and the proฌtection of Russian citizens and business interests worldwide. Obviously, most of the Western analysts have so far zeroed in on the countries which broke away from the former Soviet Union such as Ukraine, Georgia and others in Central Asia. Some of them have allied themฌselves with the US and European defence cooperation schemes.

Asean leaders have generally viewed the latest Russian assertiveness primaฌrily as direct reactions, mainly towards the West, especially on the crisis in Georgia and the planned expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. They do not see the possibility of a return of the Cold War because of late AseanRussia relations have been focused on economic and business affairs.

At a joint AseanRussian cooperation committee meeting held in St Petersburg early this month, both sides discussed ways to strengthen their cooperation at all levels including sciฌence and technology and culture. They did not touch on any security issues or concerns. Asean also thanked Russia's contribution of US$500,000 for the AseanRussian Dialogue Partnership Fund, which showed Moscow's firm commitment to promote the AseanRussia dialogue.

In more ways than one, Asean has yet to fully assess - or look into the eyes of Moscow, as one Thai diplomat put it - Russia's new diplomatic clout and its short and longterm impacts on the region as a whole. That helps explain why Asean still does not have any common approach towards Russia. In the past, such strong words would have sent a chill through the grouping's spine.

Judging from past security involveฌments and policies, Moscow has a clear objective to counter US influence in the region (which is also quite similar to China's).

During the Cold War, the regional concerns among the noncommunist countries were the Soviet Union's supฌport of proxy wars in Vietnam and Cambodia, including Moscow's military outreach in Cam Ranh Bay. Now Southeast Asia has been brought together under the Asean umbrella. This obviously represents the region in which Russia has privileged interests.

In the past five years, after the Asean summit in Phnom Penh in 2003, Russia has quietly and confidently been buildฌing up ties with Asean, which subseฌquently led to its accession to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation a year later.

The first AseanRussian summit was held in Kuala Lumpur in 2005 followed by President Vladimir Putin's dramatic appearance as the guest of honour at the East Asian Summit (EAS), which was considered a preview of Russia's ambition in this region. Moscow has made no qualms about wanting to join EAS. But Asean has been reluctant as it does not want to alienate the US. The plan to institutionalise the AseanRussian summit has also been delayed.

At present, Russia has established more dialogue mechanisms to strengthฌen the whole gamut of the 11year old AseanRussia relations than the 31yearold AseanUS relations. After all, the leaders of Asean and the US have yet to meet exclusively.

Within Asean, it must be reiterated here, Thailand would be most affected by the new Russian assertiveness. Apart from being one of the closest allies of the US, Thailand also has extensive ecoฌnomic and trade relations with Russia. It has been Russia's largest trading partner in the past years with the balฌance of trade hugely in Russia's favour. In recent years, the numbers of Russian tourists have swollen to nearly 300,000 including those who have taken resiฌdence over here.

In the coming months, the fate of Viktor Bout, the infamous Russian arms trader arrested by the Thai authorities in March, could determine the state of powerplay in the region between the US and Russia. Both countries want Bout extradited. It will be the first test to determine whether Russia is willing to walk the talk on protecting its citiฌzens, even ones as notorious and danฌgerous as Bout. Thailand's decision, which has been slow in coming, would be scrutinised by other Asean countries.

As the Asean chair, what Thailand does would have a great ramification for years to come.

Read more!

Thai-Cambodian border resolution meeting postponed

BANGKOK, Oct. Cambodia has postponed the meeting to resolve the border dispute between Cambodia and Thailand without giving any reason, Thailand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced Sunday.

Thailand's Second Army Chief Wibulsak Neepal was scheduled to lead Thai delegates for bilateral talks at Cambodia's Siem Reap province next Wednesday and Thursday.

Thailand's ministry of foreign affairs revealed that it was informed by the army that Cambodian deputy prime minister and defense minister Tia Banh asked to postpone the Regional Border Committee meeting between the two countries.

According to reports from the Thai News Agency, it is believed that the postponement resulted from concern that the meeting, if held according to the original schedule, won't be able to reach any agreement to settle the border dispute focused on the 11th century Preah Vihear temple without a negotiation framework approved by the Thai parliament.

Bilateral talks to discuss withdrawing troops from around the temple were postponed late August amid political turmoil in Thailand.

In early October, at least one Cambodian soldier and two Thai troops were wounded during sporadic exchange of gunfire and two other Thai soldiers were seriously injured after stepping on a landmine at the border area.
Read more!

Giving young dancers a break

By Greg Mellen, Staff Writer


LONG BEACH - Images of b-boys, break dancers and crew battles don't necessarily equate to social activism in many minds.

The slums of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, may not seem like the breeding ground for a new wave of world class hip-hop dancers.

But if a seemingly mismatched combination of a b-boy artist from Seattle, several Long Beach activists and a deportee former gang member turned teacher have their way, those preconceptions will soon end.

Phanna Nam, or Peanut as he is known in dancing circles, is a Cambodian-American member of the renowned Massive Monkees dance group in Seattle. A year ago, he traveled to Cambodia for the first time and had a life-transforming experience.

After graduating from high school Tan, 24, was attending college when he says, "I had a revelation, a calling to go to Cambodia."

While overseas, Nam met another talented break dancer, a teacher and former gang member from Long Beach named Tuy Sobil, and a bond was formed.

Tuy, better known as KK in dance circles, was deported to Cambodia after being convicted of armed robbery and completing his jail sentence in the United States.

Tuy soon drew the notice of admiration of local children for his dance moves and before long they were flocking to watch and learn his techniques.

Seeing break dancing as an effective tool to engage children from the impoverished area in a constructive pursuit, Tuy founded Tiny Toones in 2004.

Since its formation, the group has become a spectacular success and springboard to offer education and social services to the children, many of whom are the children and siblings of sex workers, drug users and dropouts.
Now, in addition to learning windmills and head spins, kids also learn about HIV/AIDs and receive access to a variety of mental and physical health services. Many are also given food and shelter.

After teaching classes in his home for the first few years and picking up expenses, Tuy is moving Tiny Toones to a new center that will continue to offer dance classes plus myriad drop-in services and language training in English and Khmer.

When Nam met Tuy and saw the kids of Tiny Toones, he knew he had to be a part of it.

"We just connected," Nam says of his relationship with Tuy. "We had a lot in common, although he's a little more severe with the gang stuff. He's given me an opportunity and a dream."

What impressed Nam was the organic way in which Tiny Toones came together.

"The thing that drew me was this was asked for by the people. It wasn't a church or someone that came in and told the people what to do," Nam says. "It's not telling them what to do, it's working with them and growing with them."

Nam has been dancing since he was a child and became a founding member of Massive Monkees, which has earned world acclaim.

Now, Nam wants to bring that to Cambodia. The young dancer plans to move to Cambodia in November and start working with the kids in earnest.

With the help of several Long Beach residents who are helping put together a nonprofit in the United States, Nam sees Tiny Toones as having the chance to become a major player in the international break dancing scene and produce world-class talent.

"Can you imagine bringing a kid from a village (in Cambodia) to London to compete?" Nam says. "Eventually we'll get Tiny Toones out there."

Ryan Tong, a recent Cal State Long Beach graduate who is helping with the business side of Tiny Toones, says the goal of Tiny Toones is also to teach the kids to manage and oversee finances and eventually let them run the nonprofit.

"As much as art is important, so is money." Tong says. "That's freedom."

Although not a dancer himself, Tong is eager to learn.

"I'll be one of the first guys who learns break dancing to do social work," he says with a laugh.

A step down that path will occur tonight at Cal State Long Beach with a break dancing contest and benefit titled "Beyond the Mats 2," which will raise funds for Tiny Toones.

Nam expects upward of 400 or 500 spectators and participants.

In addition to putting on a good show with hot music and dancing, Nam and Tong hope to also get the message out to the b-boy and b-girl culture that they are part of something global and important and they can make a difference.

"We want to raise the consciousness of people here," Nam said. "We want to connect b-boys with issues of importance."

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

BEYOND THE MATS 2

What: Break dancing contest benefit for Cambodia

When: Today, 3-10 p.m.

Where: Cal State Long Beach Student Union Grand Ballroom

Tickets: $10, $7 with CSULB ID.
Read more!

Thai PM seeks direct talks over Cambodia border row

KANTARALAK, Thailand –– Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat said on Saturday he would seek face-to-face talks with Cambodian leader Hun Sen after a border clash near a 900-year-old temple this week.

“I am looking for the right time to talk with him. We should have an opportunity to talk,” Somchai told reporters after visiting Thai troops facing Cambodian forces along the border.

The Thai leader echoed Hun Sen’s comments on Friday that outside mediation was not needed to resolve the dispute. “This is an issue between Thailand and Cambodia. We should not let other countries get involved,” Somchai said.

Both sides have sought to ease tensions since three Cambodian soldiers were killed in Wednesday’s 40-minute firefight. Two Cambodians and seven Thais were wounded.

Both leaders were expected to attend a Southeast Asian meeting in Beijing next week to discus the global financial crisis, but it was not clear whether they would meet then on the sidelines.

“At this moment, there is no change in schedule. After talking to him late yesterday, the prime minister will go to Beijing as planned,” government spokesman Nattawut Saikuar told Reuters.

On Saturday, a Thai soldier died after slipping while on patrol and accidentally shooting himself, an army spokesman said.

The armies have agreed to conduct joint border patrols and to hold more talks on reducing their forces around the Hindu temple, a source of border tension for generations.

Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge commander who has ruled Cambodia for more than two decades, said on Friday the stand-off would not escalate into a wider and more serious conflict.

Some analysts link the eruption of fighting on the border to the political instability that has roiled Thailand for the past three years, and reached another climax this week when Somchai faced calls from his own generals to quit.

Army chief Anupong Paochinda’s televised interview on Thursday, in which he said Somchai should step down after bloody clashes between police and anti-government protesters last week, ignited fresh coup rumors two years after former premier Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a bloodless putsch.

But Somchai refused on Friday to resign or call a snap election, saying Anupong was expressing “one opinion”.

Somchai said an investigation of the Oct. 7 street clash, which killed two protesters and injured nearly 500, would be completed in 15 days and decide who was responsible.

Read more!

Thai PM: Thailand, Cambodia can settle border disputes through talks

BANGKOK, Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat said Saturday he believes negotiations with the Cambodian government aimed at settling border disputes between the two neighboring countries are now possible and that there is no need to ask ASEAN for help in mediation.

Somchai made the remarks in Thailand's northeastern province of Si Sa Ket when he visited soldiers wounded in gun fight with Cambodia on Wednesday around disputed area near Preah Vihear temple, according to the Thai News Agency.

Somchai said Thailand and Cambodia shared the same idea that differences could be settled through negotiations as the two countries are neighbors.

Negotiations are expected to be held soon, said Somchai.

Thailand's Second Army Chief Lt-Gen. Wibulsak Neepal was scheduled to lead Thai delegates for bilateral talks at Cambodia's Siem Reap province next Wednesday and Thursday.

Somchai said that Thailand has never trespassed on other countries' territories and the two countries agreed to hold talks under the agreed-upon mechanisms to settle the border disputes.
Read more!

Friday, October 17, 2008

UN asks Thailand, Cambodia to expedite peace talks

United Nations (PTI): Expressing concern over the exchange of fire along the Thai-Cambodian border, the United Nations has asked both the neighbours to expedite talks to resolve differences.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed "deep concern" over Wednesday's gunfire between the soldiers of the two countries near a disputed ancient temple.

"He calls on both parties to exercise utmost restraint and urges them to expedite bilateral talks so that their differences can be resolved peacefully," Ban's spokesperson said.

Media reports say two people were killed during the exchange of fire between Thai and Cambodian soldiers near the Preah Vihear Temple, which was enlisted among the World Heritage Sites by the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) in July.

Since then the military forces have been build-up from both sides along the border. Ban had called for restraint earlier also.

The 11th century temple was recognised by the World Heritage Committee for "its natural situation on a promontory, with sheer cliffs overlooking a vast plain and mountain range; the quality of its architecture adapted to natural environment and religious function of the temple and finally the exceptional quality of the carved stone ornamentation of the temple."

Read more!

Thai-Cambodian border quiet as two sides meet

Bangkok (dpa) - The Thai government Thursday rebuffed a Cambodian claim that it was an unreliable and biased chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) as the two sides are locked in a bitter border dispute.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat said other members of the 10-country body would understand Thailand's restraint and probity on the issue.

Two Cambodian soldiers were reportedly killed in an exchange of gunfire and 10 Thai soldiers allegedly captured Wednesday afternoon after the two countries accused each other of stepping over previously agreed lines around a 900-year-old Hindu temple, ownership of which has been disputed for decades.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said Wednesday that his country had been forced to bypass Asean in seeking an impartial mediator because Thailand was currently in the chair, which is held by rotation. He accused Thailand of provoking Wednesday's brief firefight about 3 kilometres from Preah Vihear temple.

Thailand's troubled government, under siege by opponents who accuse it of corruption and undermining the monarchy, is scheduled to host Asean's annual meeting in December.

Mr Hor Namhong hinted the association chair might be taken away from Thailand. Cambodia last month said Thailand's political instability and bias might make it an unsuitable chair.

Mr Tharit said that Thailand had overwhelming military superiority but had nevertheless acted in a sober and responsible manner. The 40-year-old organization surely did not expect its members to agree on everything, he added.

Foreign diplomats eyeing the spat said the Thai government is under intense pressure to flaunt its patriotic credentials to blunt the claims of its opponents who claim it is a puppet of the controversial exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The Cambodian government is similarly steeped in prickly nationalist rhetoric under the rule of its authoritarian Prime Minister Hun Sen, the diplomats added.

The border conflict was calmed in August when both sides agreed to settle the matter through bilateral talks held by a joint border committee, but those talks have since stalled amid Thailand's chaotic domestic political situation.

The Thai foreign ministry this week urged Thais to leave Cambodia for fear of a repeat of riots in 2003 that saw the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh burnt down in a nationalist upsurge triggered by alleged insults made by a Thai actress about Cambodia.

Read more!

Thais claim Cambodia laying landmines

The Thai opposition Democrat Party says the cross border conflict is a direct result of the UN's granting Cambodia sole recognition over the temple site, whose main access route lies on the Thai side of the border. And Thai Foreign Ministry officials are very concerned over the recent discovery of new land mines - now banned by both countries - being uncovered inside Thai territory near the disputed area.

Presenter: Ron Corben
Speakers: Virachn Plasai is the director general of the Treaties and Legal Affairs Department with the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Democrat Party Korn Chatikavanij, Deputy leader of the Democrat Party Korn Chatikavanij

CORBEN: Thai foreign ministry officials in a briefing to foreign diplomats Thursday raised the accusation of Cambodian troops laying landmines inside Thai territory. While some areas of the Thai Cambodian border are still to be demined - from the Cambodian war of the 1970s into the 1990s, the mines found after the injury to two unarmed Thai rangers were new.

The mines, Russian made PMN-2 anti-personnel mines used in wars from Afghanistan to Ethiopia, were laid in an area already cleared when the unarmed Thai rangers entered the region on October 6 - three days after a fire fight with Cambodian troops that left injured on both sides. Two Thai rangers survived but lost the lower part of their legs to the mines.

Virachn Plasai is the director general of the Treaties and Legal Affairs Department with the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Virachn says the chief concern from all the recent developments was the discovery of laid landmines, in contravention of the 1997 Ottawa Convention banning landmines.

VIRACHN: What we find of grave concern is the discovery of these landmines newly planted, newly planted. So we believe that this is a grave threat for the international community as a whole because we believe that we had banned them; now they're back and used in a way that is quite expert and clever with a view to killing. So we think it's a grave concern we should alert the international community to work together in order to find who did it and take whatever measures we have to.

CORBEN: What do you see diplomatically as the next step for both countries?

VIRACHN: The next step for both countries is to let the steam out by having meetings of the military through the mechanisms on the Thai side - which is the regional border committee - on their side - the task force - that will help tremendously.

CORBEN: Going forward now is there an expectation that diplomatically things can return to normal?

VIRACHN: Oh yes I very much hope so. And I think, I personally believe it will return to normal. The only thing that worries me really is these mines - the land mines worry me most because it's something that is unthinkable that could happen in the year 2008. For the boundary question ... if our Cambodian friends are ready to be patient .. just let the democratic internal process take its course -- in due time we'll be able to sit down and negotiate meaningfully with them.


Thailand's opposition Democrat Party earlier this year led a fierce attack in parliament against the government of former Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej after the Cabinet agreed to allow Cambodia to make a sole application to the United Nations Education and Scientific Organization for the temple to be recognized as a world heritage site. The then foreign minister was then forced to resign after a Thai court found he had failed to present the agreement before parliament.

Deputy leader of the Democrat Party Korn Chatikavanij says part of the blame for this week's fighting lies with the Thai government itself

KORN: The whole incident is entirely unnecessary and it really emanates from the attempt by the Cambodian side to list the Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage Site and we as a party had previously forewarned the World heritage Organization UNESCO.. That their participating in the proposal by Cambodia could actually lead to exactly what's happening. Once the temple site was accepted as a World heritage site with preconditions on the removal of military forces from the site it was always going lead to this because now Cambodia needs for the Thai military to withdraw and have it done by February otherwise the approval lapses.

Read more!