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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

FBI could probe journalist's murder

T he US Federal Bureau of Investigation is ready to help Cambodian authorities probing the assassination of opposition-aligned journalist Khim Sambo, the US embassy said late Monday, warning that the brazen killing could scare people away from general elections in two weeks.

Khim Sambo and his 21 year-old son, Khath Sarin Pheata, were gunned down Friday evening outside Phnom Penh's Olympic Stadium in a drive-by shooting that has shaken the capital and raised fears for press freedoms ahead of the polls.

“Our family never had any enemies or disputes with neighbors. What happened to my father was unexpected,” Khat Sarinda, the victim’s 24 year-old daughter, told the Post on Monday.

Police have few leads, but the FBI "stands ready to provide assistance, if requested by the Cambodian government, in investigating the case," the embassy said in a statement in which it also urged Cambodian authorities "to take the necessary measures in order to bring the perpetrators to justice."

The 47 year-old, who submitted articles critical of the government written under pseudonyms to Moneaksekar Khmer, a newspaper affiliated with the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, died at the scene.

His son died in the early Saturday at Ketomelea military hospital, and the two were cremated Sunday at Wat Tuol Tumpong in a ceremony attended by several hundred people.

Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith, who has condemned the killings and called for swift justice, welcomed the FBI’s offer on Tuesday.

“It would be good if we could cooperate with the FBI in investigating this case. We could trade experiences. Either way, we would not be blamed if we could not find the killers, or if we found them [critics] would not say [the suspects] are the fake killers.”

Various journalist organizations, including the Khmer Journalist Friendship Association, the Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and the International Federation of Journalists, have expressed outrage over the killings.

Kek Galabru, president of Cambodian human rights group Licadho, also condemned the shootings as a bid to sow fear, saying “message is to scare the journalists from writing the truth” ahead of the July 27 elections.

She pointed out that Khim Sambo was the 12th journalist to be murdered since Cambodia’s first democratic election in 1993. None of the perpetrators has been convicted.

The US embassy, meanwhile, warned that the shootings, along with Sunday’s acid attack against Ngon Srun, a senior Cambodian People’s Party member, could keep people from the polls.

Ngon Srun was severely burned on the face and chest after being doused with acid by unknown assailants. Police say no criminal complaints have been filed.

“Violent, criminal acts such as this can have a chilling effect on the media, and ... risk undermining citizens’ confidence in their ability to fully participate in the electoral process in safety and security,” the embassy said.

According to Prampi Makara district police chief Yim Simony, Khim Sambo and his son were fired on five times by a man riding pillion on a motorbike as they drove away from the stadium on Monireath Boulevard.

Their motorbike kept upright for another 30 meters before crashing into a woman on a bicycle, according to several witnesses. Khim Sambo was struck twice, while Khath Sarin Pheata was hit by one bullet in the chest.

The attackers, who wore civilian clothing and made no effort to hide their faces behind sunglasses or helmets, circled back around to make sure they had hit their mark, said one witness who did not want to be named.

“After shooting, they turned around on their motorbike and looked down at his body to be sure he was dead,” the witness told the Post on Monday.

Others said they feared for their own security and refused to discuss the killings.

Khim Sambo’s murder was the first killing of a journalist since October 2003, when Chuor Chetharith, deputy editor for Funcinpec-aligned Ta Prum radio, was slain. That death was one in a slew of high-profile killings to occur in 2003 and 2004, all carried by two men on a motorbike in crowded areas.

At the time of his death Khim Sambo was also working with tycoon developer and government advisor Sok Kong, president of Sokimex, one of the largest Cambodian-owned companies.

He had extensive contacts among CPP-friendly officials in the judiciary and security forces, despite his regular contributions to the anti-ruling party Moneaksekar Khmer.

Friday’s shootings follow last month’s week-long detention of Dam Sith, Moneaksekar Khmer’s editor-in-chief and a Sam Rainsy Party candidate for the parliamentary elections.

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong pressed defamation and disinformation charges against Dam Sith for publishing comments by Sam Rainsy, who alleged Hor Namhong’s involvement in Khmer Rouge atrocities.

Prime Minister Hun Sen requested that Phnom Penh Municipal Court release Dam Sith on bail amid mounting international pressure, and Hor Namhong later dropped his suit.

But his arrest was condemned by the Sam Rainsy Party as another example of harassment of the opposition by the ruling party.

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Cambodia claims 170 Thais crossed border in dispute

It would be a big mistake if the Thai soldiers are trying to bully former Legendary Khmer Rouge fighters. Crossing the border into Cambodia is a dangerous move, making sure your legs are not missing and do not challenge Khmer Rouge soldiers.

By KER MUNTHIT
From Associated Press

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - Cambodia on Tuesday claimed that 170 Thai troops and civilians crossed into the country's territory amid rising tensions in a dispute over land near an ancient border temple.

Thai military officials denied any incursion, insisting its troops had simply deployed near a disputed border area "to protect our sovereignty."

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith, who is also the chief government spokesman, said 170 troops and Thai civilians had crossed into Cambodian territory. He could not say how many civilians were among the group.

The dispute has been stoked by Thai anti-government activists and escalated when UNESCO declared the temple a World Heritage Site earlier this month.

Khieu Kanharith's estimate was far higher than one provided earlier by Hang Soth, director-general of the national authority for Preah Vihear temple, who claimed that 40 Thai troops crossed the disputed border near Preah Vihear temple, center of a long-standing quarrel between the neighbors.

Hang Soth later confirmed the 170 figure, adding that the troops were all armed and refused to pull back because "they said they are waiting for order from their superior."

"Confrontation is occurring between Thai troops and our Cambodian troops, but there is no shooting yet," Hang Soth said, adding the two sides were in the midst of negotiations. "Our troops have been ordered to be on alert but not to fire first."

At least one Thai soldier was injured, losing his leg in a land mine explosion while patrolling the area, said Thai Army Deputy Spokesman Col. Sirichan Ngathong.

Stretches of the Thai-Cambodian border still seethe with land mines sown by various sides during the 1970-75 Cambodian civil war and the guerrilla conflict that followed the fall of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime in 1979.

Maj. Gen. Kanok Netakawesana, a Thai army field commander in the region, said earlier in a telephone interview that his troops were on Thai soil close to the disputed area. He declined to give the number of soldiers deployed. He could not be reached for further comment Tuesday evening.

"We are not violating the territory of Cambodia. We have every right to deploy troops here to protect our sovereignty," Kanok said.

Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat denied any incursion, saying the relationship between the two countries remained normal.

The Thai troop movements followed the arrest by Cambodia of three Thai citizens for allegedly crossing the border earlier in the day. Hang Soth said the three were released to Thai authorities in the afternoon.

Last week, UNESCO declared Preah Vihear temple a World Heritage site despite objection from Thai groups. The two countries both claim the land that surrounds the temple, and Thai activists have recently revived nationalist sentiment over the issue.

In 1962, the International Court of Justice awarded Preah Vihear and the land it occupies to Cambodia, a decision that still rankles many Thais even though the temple is culturally Cambodian, sharing the Hindu-influenced style of the more famous Angkor complex in northwestern Cambodia.

Cambodia's move to secure landmark status for the temple has angered political leaders in Thailand and sparked small protests by some Thais who feared it would jeopardize their country's claims to land adjacent to the site.

Domestic opponents of Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej also have seized on the issue in attempts to bring down his government.
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US boosts military ties with Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia

WASHINGTON (AFP) — The United States is stepping up military ties with Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia as part of a deepening relationship with Southeast Asia amid competition for influence from China, officials said.

The United States and Laos, they said, plan to exchange military attaches by the end of the year as part of the strategy aimed at beefing up defense links with the trio in the heart of a once central Cold War battleground.

Three years after resuming full military ties with Indonesia soured by human rights concerns, "we are beginning to develop those same kind of ties with Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia," deputy US assistant secretary of state Scot Marciel said.

"We are starting off small -- doing some training, some exchanges which we think are very useful," he said.

"And by the end of this year, we and the Lao government will open defense attache offices in each other's capitals, which is a big step, an important step," Marciel, the US ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said at a Washington forum last week.

Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were latecomers to ASEAN together with Myanmar.

The other ASEAN states are Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

US officials rejected any notion that the move to build military ties with Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos was to check China's rising influence in Southeast Asia, saying it was part of broadening the overall relationship.

"It doesn't really signify more than that," said a senior State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

China is rapidly building up its military and could challenge traditional US naval dominance in the region, experts say, citing among other examples, Beijing's setting up of a new underground nuclear submarine base on the southern tip of Hainan Island, close to vital sea lanes in Southeast Asia.

Unlike many other Southeast Asian states which have substantial military ties with the United States, "we havent had that so much with Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia because of the history," the State Department official said, referring to the Vietnam War.

As the conflict escalated between the United States and Vietnam, neighbors Laos and Cambodia became increasingly involved in the war.

The Ho Chi Minh Trail -- a supply route from North to South Vietnam that the United States wanted to cut -- passed through both countries.

US officials said they were looking at expanding an international military education and training program in Vietnam, now confined largely to ship visits and a modest English language teching project for Vietnamese military officers.

The former battlefield enemies exchanged defense military attaches in the mid 1990's after Hanoi cooperated in accounting for missing Americans from the Vietnam War.

US defense ties in Laos also centered on the recovery of soldiers missing.

China is fast emerging as a top economic player in Cambodia and Laos.

In Cambodia, where the 1975-1979 communist Khmer Rouge regime was backed by Beijing, China is the largest foreign donor.

"It is a fact that China is growing economically and playing a more active role in much of the world, certainly including in Southeast Asia, but we don't see this as a zero sum game," Marciel said.
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Thai foreign ministry dismisses reports that Thai military personnel entered Cambodia

BANGKOK, July 16 (Xinhua) -- Thailand's Foreign Ministry late Tuesday issued a statement, denying reports that some Thai military personnel went into Cambodian territory in the vicinity of the Temple of Preah Vihear which stands in a disputed area nearThai-Cambodia border.

Tharit Charungvat, the ministry's spokesman, said in the statement that Thailand would like to dismiss rumors that Thai military personnel entered into Cambodian territory.

"It is true that we introduce a few para-military personnel into the border area within Thai territory today (Tuesday). But this is only to ensure that the current protest by a group of Thai people in the area, about their beliefs on territorial claims, be done in an orderly manner," Tharit responded in the statement.

"The Royal Thai Army in the region has already coordinated closely with their Cambodian counterpart to prevent any misunderstanding," he said.

Earlier Tuesday, three Thai protesters were arrested by the Cambodian authorities as they were claimed illegally crossed the border into the Preah Vihear Temple. After the arrest, tensions rose as some reports said dozens of Thai armed personnel have entered into the Preah Vihear Temple.

Cambodian authorities earlier said the trio would be prosecuted for illegal entry. However, they were released by the Cambodian authorities hours after the arrest.

The border has been tense since Cambodia's successful registration of Preah Vihear Temple, which straddles the Thai-Cambodian border atop the Dangrek Mountain, as a World Heritage site this month.

Thailand's Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama resigned Thursday after the Constitutional Court ruled that he had overstepped his authority in supporting Cambodia's application to have the temple classified as a World Heritage Site.

Cambodia started seeking the status of World Heritage Site for the temple in 2001, hoping for influx of tourists and international funding that normally accompanies the designation.

In 1962, the International Court of Justice awarded the 11-century classic Khmer-style temple and the land it occupies to Cambodia, a decision therefore rankling Thais.
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