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Friday, February 27, 2009

Cambodian opposition leader loses immunity

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - A Cambodian parliamentary committee has suspended the immunity of opposition leader Sam Rainsy, a move he condemned on Friday as unconstitutional and intended to silence criticism of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The French-educated former finance minister, who leads a party named after himself, was stripped of his immunity for refusing to pay a $2,500 fine for defaming Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party during last year's election.

Rather than paying the fine to what he says is a systemically corrupt government, he had offered to give the same amount to a hospital.

Under Cambodia's constitution, only the full National Assembly, not its Permanent Committee, can strip a sitting Member of Parliament of immunity from prosecution.

"They are definitely taking a short-cut. They definitely violated the constitution, which means that they want to silence me," Sam Rainsy told Reuters.

When stripped of his immunity in the past, he has often fled Cambodia shortly afterwards, normally to France.

A former Khmer Rouge soldier who has been in charge for the last 23 years, Hun Sen won a landslide in July's election but remains vulnerable in Phnom Penh to Sam Rainsy, who commands support from the capital's increasingly educated youth.

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Thai, Cambodian PMs meet as border tension eases

HUA HIN, Thailand, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva met his Cambodian counterpart on Friday as tension along their disputed border has eased, vowing to start energy cooperation in the overlapping Gulf of Thailand.

Abhisit said both countries had agreed to set up panels of technical experts to work on demarcation of the gas-rich area.

"Our understanding has been improved a lot recently and we are looking into possibilities to start our energy cooperation," Abhisit told reporters.

Cambodia's exploration area covers 37,000 square km (14,300 sq miles), while another 27,000 square km are disputed with Thailand.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said this month his government was preparing a framework to manage its energy revenues when offshore oil fields start producing from 2010.

In November last year, U.S. major Chevron Corp (CVX.N) and operator of Block A in the Gulf of Thailand, said Cambodia's first oil was unlikely to be onstream before 2010 at the earliest.

Chevron operates the block with a 55 percent interest, while Mitsui Oil Exploration, a unit of Mitsui & Co (8031.T), holds a 30 percent stake and South Korea's GS Caltex a 15 percent stake. Abhisit said he would expand cooperation with Cambodia to trade and tourism, aiming for a one-visa-two-country project for tourists who want to visit both countries at once.

Phnom Penh and Bangkok agreed earlier this month to withdraw the remaining troops on their disputed border to avoid a repeat of last year's armed clashes near a 900-year-old Hindu temple.

Hun Sen told reporters this month both countries would jointly demarcate the jungle-clad area where four soldiers died in a firefight last October.

The Preah Vihear temple, or Khao Phra Viharn as it is known in Thailand, sits on an escarpment that forms the natural border between the two countries and has been a source of tension for generations.

The International Court of Justice awarded it to Cambodia in 1962, but the ruling did not determine the ownership of 1.8 square miles (4.6 sq km) of adjoining scrubland, leaving considerable scope for disagreement. (Reporting by Nopporn Wong-Anan; Editing by Valerie Lee)
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US: drug problems in Cambodia, Philippines

By FOSTER KLUG

WASHINGTON - The United States on Friday praised Beijing for its efforts to fight drug smugglers but said China remains a major transit point for international drug markets.

The State Department, in its annual survey of global counter-narcotics efforts, also described substantial drug problems facing Asia, including in Cambodia, the Philippines and Myanmar; progress was seen in Laos and Vietnam.

While Beijing recognizes drugs as a major threat to its security and economy, "corruption in far-flung drug-producing and drug transit regions of China limits what dedicated enforcement officials can accomplish," the report said.

North Korean drug activity, the report said, "appears to be down sharply. There have been no instances of drug trafficking suggestive of state-directed trafficking for six years."

But, the State Department said, not enough evidence exists to determine if state-sponsored trafficking has stopped. The State Department has previously raised suspicions that Pyongyang derived money from drug production and trafficking.

In the report, the United States also said that drug runners have increasingly looked to move their products through Cambodia because of Thai and Chinese crackdowns.

The report noted "a significant and growing illegal drug problem" in Cambodia. It praised the country for destroying seized drugs and stiffening penalties for drug use and trafficking but said corruption hampers government efforts.

The State Department called the scope of the drug problem in the Philippines "immense," despite law enforcement efforts to disrupt major drug organizations. Still, the report said, the government had some success enforcing counter-narcotics laws.

Laos has made "tremendous progress" in reducing opium cultivation, but, the report said, the country's momentum is "stalling, and gains remain precarious."

Vietnam was said to have continued making progress in fighting drugs, improving its pursuit of drug runners and its cooperation among state agencies and with the United Nations.

The report said that, in 2007, rising opium values pushed poppy cultivation into new regions of military-run Myanmar. The State Department did not receive 2008 U.N. statistics on Myanmar in time for the annual report.

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