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Saturday, February 07, 2009

Thailand 'won't withdraw' from temple

Thailand denied on Saturday a statement by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen that it had agreed to a proposed troop withdrawal plan from disputed territory surrounding the Preah Vihear temple.

Lt-Gen Wibulsak Neepal, commander of 2nd Army Region, said no agreement on troop pullout was reached in a Friday meeting between Mr Hun Sen and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan during the latter's visit to Phnom Penh.

"There is no agreement. The matter has been raised during the defence minister's self-introduction visit to Cambodia after assuming office,'' he said.

He said that a troop withdrawal proposal would be developed by a working committee set up to handle border demarcation disputes and that he expected an outcome soon.

However, the Thai-Cambodian Joint Boundary Commission, which is working to resolve the outstanding issues, met in Bangkok this week without making any progress. The delegations could not agree on the name of a military team which will monitor the border area and on the name for the temple.

Lt-Gen Wibulsak stressed that even if a troop pull-out agreement was reached, Thailand was unlikely to withdraw all forces from the disputed areas. Those in charge of coordination would remain in place.

He also said troop withdrawal would not put Thailand at a disadvantage, saying the military has procedures to follow to uphold sovereignty.

Lt-Gen Wibulsak noted that the army was considering reopening Pha Mor E Daeng in Kantharalak district in Si Sa Ket province to tourists. The area was off limits following border tension.

A source said Saturday the Cambodian prime minister demanded Thailand pull its troops out from the disputed area along the border.

"We never agreed. If we do, it will not be easy to send them back in again,'' said the source.

Supreme Commander Gen Songkitti Jaggabatara said Saturday border disputes were raised during the meeting but no agreement was reached.

He said the issues would be worked out by joint committees set up to demarcate and develop the Thai-Cambodian border.

"But we do agree there should not be any incident in the border areas,'' said the supreme commander.

Gen Songkitti was apparently referring to clashes between Thai and Cambodian troops in October last year which left four soldiers dead.

Tension along the border flared up last July when Cambodia moved to have the temple of Preah Vihear listed as a world heritage site.
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Cambodian leaders have squandered rich resources: NGO

Cambodia’s political elites have put the country’s economic future at risk by squandering its rich natural resources, an international environmental and anti-corruption group said yesterday.

A report released by London-based Global Witness said international donors had turned a blind eye to the widespread corruption, mismanagement and nepotism that has positioned political elites as the only beneficiaries of Cambodia’s oil, gas and coal reserves.

The report accused Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party of allocating contracts “behind closed doors” to members of the political elite and their families.

“The Cambodian government does not have a process for allocating resources outside of patronage,” Global Witness campaigns director Gavin Hayman said in a statement.

“The same political elite that pillaged the country’s timber resources has now gained control of its mineral and petroleum wealth,” Hayman said. “Unless this is changed, there is a real risk that the opportunity to lift a whole generation out of poverty will be squandered.”

The report called on the government to enforce a moratorium on further mineral and petroleum contracts and launch a review into the environmental, financial and technical credentials of existing contractors.

More than 75 companies, including multinationals Chevron Corp and BHP Billiton PLC, are currently working in Cambodia’s resources sector, and the report says some have already made undisclosed, upfront payments to the government.

“Companies need to come clean on what they have paid to the government to secure access to these natural resources or risk becoming complicit in a corrupt system,” Hayman said.

The report also called on international donors — which last December pledged a combined US$1 billion of aid — to use their funding as leverage to “demand new governance measures for the industries.”

It said that Cambodia’s mineral reserves could be the key to the country’s economic future and help end its reliance on foreign aid.

The group said its findings were based on fieldwork and interviews with industry insiders.

Global Witness representatives were expelled from Cambodia in 2005, and in 2007, the government banned the publication of one of its reports that accused a “kleptocratic elite” of illegal logging and corruption.

Government spokesmen were unavailable for comment yesterday, but Cambodian Minister of Industry, Mines and Energy Suy Sem was quoted in the Cambodia Daily newspaper as saying that mineral-exploration licenses were subject to competitive bidding and open to all companies.

“There is no principle to charge any companies money before exploitation,” he said. “The company won’t pay before they find minerals.”
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Cambodian PM denies rumors of ruling party infighting

PHNOM PENH, The recent replacement of Royal Cambodian Arms Forces' (RCAF) commander-in-chief was not indicative of any leadership infighting of the major ruling party of the kingdom, said national media on Saturday.

Internal conflict of the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) had nothing to do with the Jan. 22 decision to oust long-serving Ke Kim Yan, English-Khmer language newspaper the Cambodia Daily quoted Prime Minister Hun Sen as saying.

Speaking to reporters here on Friday at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the premier denied that there was any conflict, adding that whether RCAF commander-in-chief had been removed or not, CPP would be free of conflict.

"They say this removal was just to beef up Hun Sen's forces and weaken (CPP President and Senate President) Chea Sim's force. I would like to assert that, if we hadn't removed Ke Kim Yan, there would still be no problem inside CPP," he said.

"I would like to clarify things with the opposition who have endlessly commented that I wouldn't dare to touch the important army commanders, but when I removed him, you commented that it was the result of internal conflict of CPP," he said.

"I would like to assert that CPP doesn't have such a tradition of conflict on this issue, because this is the right of the premier to manage and control the military, police and other public administration," he said, adding that the removal aimed at "speeding reform" within the armed forces.

As the background of its reports, the Cambodia Daily said that "many have seen the abrupt removal of Ke Kim Yan as indicative of infighting within the leadership of the ruling party, with many rumors circulating about a behind-the-scenes battle between Hun Sen and Chea Sim."
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