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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Cambodia presses Asean for anti-drug cooperation

Phnom Penh (dpa) - A senior Cambodian official said Wednesday that methamphetamines were an increasingly serious regional problem and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations should fight them together.

Lou Ramin, secretary general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, said Cambodia believed it had virtually eradicated marijuana and heroin trafficking, production and processing but methamphetamines were a much more invasive problem.

"People can make methamphetamines with very basic, easily acquired ingredients," he said. "We have had success, but policing against this drug is the biggest challenge we have ever faced because you can buy ingredients at a shop and make it in a small place."

He said Asean anti-drug chiefs would meet soon to discuss ways to combat trafficking in the region.

"Cambodia is very proud of its achievements, but no country can fight this alone," he said.

Ramin was speaking after the release of an annual report on illicit drug data and surveillance systems.

In April 2007, Cambodian authorities seized 3 tons of chemicals used to produce methamphetamines during a raid on a farm in Kampong Speu, around 40 kilometres southwest of Phnom Penh.

The operation inflamed fears that Cambodia might be becoming a new regional hub for manufacturing the drug after neighbouring countries, including Thailand, cracked down on drug smuggling and tightened border surveillance.

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Thailand, Cambodia agree to reduce troops at border temple

BANGKOK, Aug. 13 (Xinhua) -- Thailand and Cambodia on Wednesday agreed to reduce the number of their military personnel guarding the disputed border temple of Ta Moan Thom after a bilateral defense meeting in Thailand's northeastern province Surin.

The agreement was reached following a meeting between Lt-Gen. Suchit Sitthiprapa, Thailand's Second Army commander, responsible for security affairs in northeastern Thailand, and Cambodian Deputy Defense Minister Gen. Neang Paht at a hotel in Surin province bordering Cambodia, according to a report by Thai News Agency.

Both sides agreed at the meeting to reduce the number of armed forces personnel guarding the Ta Moan Thom, 13-century Khmer-styletemple ruin which is located between Surin's Phanom Dong Rak district and Cambodian province of Uddor Meanchey.

Thailand and Cambodia also agreed to open the barbed wire installed at the ruin early Thursday so that military and residents of both countries could communicate with each other and visit the temple. Thais will also be allowed to visit another ruin about a km deeper inside Cambodia.

Tensions in the area heightened after Thailand's Supreme Commander Gen. Boonsang Niempradit, on Aug. 4 asked Cambodia to withdraw its soldiers from the environs of the temple.

A Thai foreign ministry spokesman has said the Ta Moan Thom ruin is only one of a number of sites along the yet-to-be-demarcated boundary between the two countries.

Both countries have agreed to hold another meeting next Monday in the Thai central resort town of Hua Hin.

On Monday and Tuesday, foreign ministers from both countries will also hold their second-round talks regarding the long-disputed border area around the Preah Vihear Temple.

The 11th-century Preah Vihear Temple was awarded a World Heritage site honor after the UNESCO last month approved Cambodia's application, which has sparked nationalist sentiment in Thailand amid its recent domestic political turmoil.

Thai and Cambodian military have beefed up military presence along the disputed border since July 15 after three Thais including a monk was briefly detained by Cambodian soldiers for breaking into the temple, which had been closed for public by Cambodian authorities to public as border tension rose.

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Khmer Rouge survivors say justice nears in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH - Survivors of the Khmer Rouge's notorious Tuol Sleng prison on Wednesday hailed the indictment of their former chief tormentor, Duch, saying justice was one step closer for victims of the regime.

Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, became the first suspect indicted by the UN-backed genocide tribunal on Tuesday.

The 65-year-old was charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity for allegedly overseeing the torture and extermination of more than 12,000 men, women and children when he headed Tuol Sleng.

Investigations are still underway into four other former Khmer Rouge leaders detained by the court for crimes committed by the bloody 1975-1979 communist regime, under whose rule up to two million people died.

"We are happy to see this outcome. Justice is getting closer for us," said artist Vann Nath, one of 14 survivors of Tuol Sleng. "I have been waiting for justice for 30 years. This time, I have high hopes for justice."

Fellow survivor Chum Mey, a mechanic who like other Tuol Sleng survivors was spared only because he had a skill that was useful to his captors, echoed Vann Nath's sentiments, saying: "Justice is nearer."

"I am very pleased with the indictment. I am happy. I have been waiting for justice for so long," he told AFP.

Chum Mey, however, warned that the cash-strapped court may not be able to try all of the ageing Khmer Rouge leaders, who are suffering from poor health.

"I am very concerned... I am afraid that the court will not be able to bring all five leaders to justice because they are very old."

Duch's trial is expected to open in late September or early October and could last up to four months, tribunal officials have said.

Duch, a former mathematics teacher, has been in prison since 1999 for his role at Tuol Sleng.

He was transferred to the custody of the UN-backed court in July last year, becoming the first top Khmer Rouge cadre to be detained by the tribunal.

The indictment order, posted on the tribunal website, said more than 12,380 people were executed at Tuol Sleng -- also known as S21 -- most after suffering inhuman detention conditions and prolonged mental and physical torture.

Thousands of inmates were also taken from the centre for execution at Choeng Ek, now known as the Killing Fields.

Established in 2006 after nearly a decade of negotiations between Cambodia and the UN, the long-stalled tribunal seeks to prosecute crimes committed 30 years ago by senior Khmer Rouge leaders.
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Graft allegations hit Cambodia's Khmer Rouge trial

PHNOM PENH, International donors have been withholding payments to Cambodia's Khmer Rouge "Killing Fields" tribunal because of concerns about corruption, officials said on Tuesday.

Helen Jarvis, an Australian working on the Cambodian side of the joint Cambodian-U.N. tribunal, said 250 Cambodians had not been paid a total of $700,000 since June, threatening the future of the long-awaited court, which is running over time and budget.

"It is becoming increasingly difficult for Cambodian staff," Jarvis told Reuters.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which has been managing donor funding for the trial, said it had decided to freeze payments last week following a renewed series of allegations of kickbacks involving local staff.

"UNDP is taking the matter very seriously. We have met with donors to keep them informed," UNDP official Aimee Brown said.

The tribunal is in the middle of trying to secure an extra $87 million in funding to supplement the initial budget of $56 million, and allow the procedings to run until 2010.

Five top Khmer Rouge cadres have been charged with war crimes or crimes against humanity for their part in the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people under Pol Pot's four-year reign of terror. (Reporting by Ek Madra; Editing by Ed Cropley and Paul Tait)
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