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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Plot to assassinate Thai royal adviser uncovered

Is Thailand happy with the royal family or they are the obstacles for them?

BANGKOK - Thai police have arrested three men who they claim were plotting to assassinate an adviser to King Bhumibol Adulyadej at a time of rising political tension in the country, a news report said Wednesday.

The suspects allegedly told investigators that some military officers wanted to create turmoil ahead of Wednesday’s mass rally by supporters loyal to fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the Nation reported.

The supposed target was Chanchai Likhitjittha, a member of the royal Privy Council and former Supreme Court judge who Thaksin claimed was deeply involved in the decision to overthrow him in a September 2006 coup. Chanchai later served as justice minister in the military’s post-coup government.

The three men, including the alleged organiser of the plot, an army major, have all confessed, deputy national police chief General Jongrak Chuthanont said.

The would-be gunman, who was apparently hired for 130,000 baht ($3,600), was caught outside Chanchai’s home on the outskirts of Bangkok.


A mass demonstration by Thaksin’s Red-Shirt supporters Wednesday, is aimed at shaking up the political scene by targeting royal advisers who the group claims are meddling in politics.

Red Shirt leaders hope at least 100,000 people will gather outside the Government House, the cabinet offices, before moving on to the nearby home of former prime minister and army commander General Prem Tinsulanonda, the man they claim was the ‘mastermind’ behind the 2006 coup. Prem currently heads the Privy Council.


News of the alleged plot against the royal adviser was being treated sceptically in some quarters. ‘A very convenient plot,’ said a Red Shirt organiser, who asked not to be named.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said the authorities would act ‘decisively’ to protect the monarchy and maintain law and order during the protest but that no state of emergency would be called..

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From Cambodia to Columbia

By Nettra Pan


Through the phone, the voice sounded cracked and distorted, heavy with genuine concern, aged by more than enough traumatizing experiences for any one lifetime. Thinking of the crime, violence, and general danger present at the time in a war-riddled nation, my grandmother wasted no time making herself clear regarding an offer my father had received. She told him, “I want my granddaughter to still have a father.”

This was my grandmother’s reaction to my dad’s announcement that he would be accepting a position in Cambodia’s United Nations Transitional Authority in 1992. At a time when refugees were still fleeing from the postwar conflict in Southeast Asia, seeking life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness anywhere but home, my father was among those headed in the opposite direction—to help, toward home (if you could even call it “home,” seeing as he had not been there in 20 years). To my grandmother, I imagine that my father’s acceptance of this job encompassed many negative doubts and fears. Accepting meant to abandon his stable post at Unocal, an oil company now absorbed by the corporate giant Chevron. It meant leaving Southern California, the place where most of the surviving members on my father’s side had sought refuge from the Khmer Rouge genocide of 1975-1979.

For my mother, my father’s choice didn’t translate easily either. She had just recently moved to the United States from France, where her side of the family found protection from the war. For her, it was only after countless garage sales, selling our car and our house, and transits in France, Switzerland, and Thailand, that she and I, a wide-eyed toddler at the time, finally reunited with my father in Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh.

Here in New York, nearing the end of my first year at Columbia, I’ve been flattered to see a rise in the number of people curious about my past, especially given the great diversity on our campus. Like high school students will be asking themselves this month, I’ve had my share of the typical “Why Columbia?” question. True, a lot of students choose their colleges because of the distance between their school and home. New York City is the ultimate destination for students who may be habituated to a small town—students thirsty for more everything, especially more freedom. But my grandmother had a point when she spoke to my dad 30 years earlier. Isn’t moving halfway around the world a bit much?

The international student would know: College abroad means trading in real phone calls for Skype and IM at odd hours of the night. For some, this difference means sacrificing frequent visits from home for frequent packages from Lerner. It involves exchanging long transit hours at airports for even longer winters away from home. For my parents, their only child’s choice of college probably led to a more severe case of Empty Nest Syndrome and accentuated their characteristics as protective, demanding parents. (Yes, Cambodians fit the Asian stereotype as well.) My father seemed most convinced that the crime, violence, and general danger of a big city automatically dropped Columbia from the list from which I was choosing. He also preferred Stanford and Berkeley for the fact that I would be closer to family. Ironic, no?

Maybe not. As the sun, squirrels, and acceptance letters come out again, existential questions begin to resurface in the classic Columbia fashion as I ask myself how I got here. I remember the plane ride, the excitement, how new and not quite familiar everything felt at first but how natural and comforting everything ended up being. Columbia helped, of course, by arranging a dinner for international students on our first night at school. Six months later, the friends I made there are still some of my closest friends, hailing from Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East. These friends helped as well. I was lucky enough, as an international student, to be adopted by an American family for a weekend and get a chance to indulge in the American traditions of Thanksgiving and Christmas, or Hanukkah.

Looking back, perhaps the parallel between my father’s move to Cambodia and mine to New York is not that unexpected. It’s likely that the same thing that lured my father to Cambodia was exactly what I found in the City that Never Sleeps; a dynamic life, internationalism, and the ability to give back to our land of origin, still in dire need of assistance. I guess you could say the United Nations headquarters located here was also factor in my decision. But most importantly, another similarity is how well our seemingly arbitrary choices worked out. Raising me in the international environment of a developing country provided me with an interesting perspective. I feel lucky to have gotten the best of all three worlds, compared to American or French cousins whose parents did not return to Cambodia. Thinking of how strongly these three countries influence me now, I don’t know how I ever imagined myself elsewhere else. Riding the subway downtown, walking across campus, or even just sitting in John Jay, I realize New York is the one place where nearly everyone here is also from somewhere else. But the fact I cherish most is this: It feels like home.

The author is a Columbia College first-year.


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Large anti-government protest in Bangkok

Bangkok, Tens of thousands of supporters of coup-ousted Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra rallied here today, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and the top advisor to Thailand’s revered King.

Waving red coloured, foot-shaped clappers, the protestors, wearing red shirts, under the banner of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), surrounded the official residence of the influential Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda whom Mr Shinawatra accuses of having masterminded the September 2006 coup d’etat that toppled him.

An estimated 60,000 UDD members from across the country had gathered by mid-day in the heart of the Thai capital’s government zone, announcing they would remain there till the government quits.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister announced that the Southeast Asian nations summit scheduled from April 10-12 in the nearby resort town of Pattaya would go ahead despite a physical assault by UDD cadres on his motorcade there yesterday.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders are scheduled to meet their counterparts from India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand during the ASEAN Plus One Summits, the ASEAN Plus Three Summit and the East Asia Summit.

Thousands of red-clad anti-government protestors have been besieging the Prime Minister’s Office for the past fortnight and listening to live video messages and phone calls from Mr Shinawatra from abroad every night.

The ousted leader has upped the stakes in his confrontation with what he calls the aristocratic-elite establishment which he accuses of toppling him because he was working to empower the rural poor.

Mr Shinawatra has fired up UDD passions by directly naming the Privy Council chief of instigating the 2006 coup and calling on Thai people to topple the old order to bring about a historic change for their children’s future.
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Cambodian, Thai PMs to meet on border disputes

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Senwill meet with his Thai counterpart Abhisit Vejjajiva in order to solve both sides' border disputes and avoid further armed clash, a Cambodian spokesman said here on Tuesday.

"They will meet for bilateral talks during the ASEAN summits from April 10 to 12 in Thailand," said Phay Siphan, secretary of state and spokesman of the Council of Ministers.

Cambodia welcomes talks anywhere and anytime to avoid further armed clash between Thai and Cambodia troops in the areas near the Preah Vihear temple, he said.

Two rounds of armed confrontations took place last Friday after Thai troops with weapons intruded on Cambodian land near the 900-year-old temple, and resulted in death and casualty on the Thai side, according to a statement issued by the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

Since July 2008, troops from both sides have stationed near the Preah Vihear temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and two armed confrontations last year sparked brief concerns of war.

The two neighboring countries have never fully demarcated their disputed border, mainly due to different interpretations of historical maps, as well as the landmines left over from decades of civil war in Cambodia.
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Cambodia: A street food experience

By Jeffrey Fournier/51 LINCOLN


The relationship between a person and the food that they eat is very personal and powerful. Just as strong is the connection between a culture and its food. My first experience with Khmer food was a nervous and sublime one that will stay with me forever.

My first day in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, brought me to the Kandal Market. Food stalls created a river of activity into which a multitude of people flowed. Boston-based photographer Heath Robbins and I negotiated through this chaos, our senses overwhelmed by pungent odors and bright colors.

As we waded carefully through the throngs of locals, my experiences as a chef piqued my intuition that these are a people who take pride in their food, serving fresh and delicious products.

After allowing myself to absorb the environment, I found an intriguing food stall on the outskirts of the market. Stacked high with fresh basil, plates and jars of sauces I had never seen or tasted before, skewers of cuttlefish and head-on prawns smoked away over wood charcoal, tantalizing my tastebuds. Small children smiled at me and bit into the cuttlefish like it was a fruit roll-up.

I knew this was the place for me. Getting the attention of a young Khmer woman, I pointed at the shrimp and she quickly motioned me to sit a stool at her table.

My host presented me with a plate of fresh basil leaves (more powerful than any basil I have had in recent memory), crisp bean sprouts and a sweet, pungent ginger sauce. When the skewer of shrimp was delivered, the young woman smiled with pride, seeming to know that I was about to experience something unique and personal.

Everything around me disappeared as I bit into the crispy, salty head of the first shrimp. I found myself lost in the sweetness of the ginger sauce mingled with the strong flavor of the sea - a reminder of the simple pleasures of food.

There is no sense criticizing honest food. It was produced with no pretence and allowed me to dine without inhibition. These few bites felt like welcome into Cambodia and invited me to start my culinary adventure.

The flavors of Cambodia touched me deeply and I have paid homage to the street vendors by including some Cambodian dishes on my spring menu. Below is a recipe for Cambodian Skewered Shrimp.

Jeffrey Fournier is the executive chef and owner of 51 Lincoln in Newton. For reservations, call 617-965-3100 or go to www.51lincolnnewton.com.

CAMBODIAN SKEWERED SHRIMP WITH GINGER SAUCE

INGREDIENTS:

For the shrimp:

2 pounds U-10 shrimp (10 shrimp per pound), shell on

8 bamboo skewers

1/4 cup kosher salt

1 bunch basil

2 cups bean sprouts

For the Ginger Sauce:

1/4 cup chopped garlic

1/3 cup simple syrup

Salt and pepper to taste

Juice of two limes

Pinch to 1 teaspoon of chili flake (depending on desired spiciness)

DIRECTIONS:

To make the shrimp: Place shrimp (in shell) in a bowl and sprinkle with salt.

Fill bowl lightly with water until shrimp are covered. Refrigerate and leave for 1 hour.

Remove shrimp from the water and skewer five shrimp on a double skewer (one going each direction through all shrimp).

Grill over charcoal, about 2 to 3 minutes per side.

Serve with basil and bean sprouts.

For the Ginger Sauce: Mix the garlic, simple syrup, salt and pepper, lime juice and chili flake, and serve in bowl for dipping.

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