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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.

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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.
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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.
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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.
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