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Monday, June 22, 2009

Khmer Krom in asylum talks


Written by NETH PHEAKTRA

62 refugees arrested by Thai police on June 12 say they are holding discussions with UN officials and Thai authorities in order to avoid deportation .


KHMER Krom detainees languishing in a Thai detention centre since their arrest last week say they have held meetings with officials from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and Thai immigration officials in an attempt to avoid being deported back to Cambodia.

On June 12, Thai authorities arrested 62 Khmer Krom who claim they were seeking political asylum after fleeing persecution in southern Vietnam.

"At the moment, UNHCR is interviewing Khmer Krom people who are detained at the Thai immigration centre," said Soeun Savang, 50, one of the detainees captured in the June 12 sweeps.

Originally from Vietnam's Ca Mau province, Soeun Savang took refuge in Takeo before fleeing to Thailand in March 2007, after being accused of fabricating legal documents in an attempt to form a Khmer Krom group in the province.

"I have already received refugee status from UNHCR, and I am looking for a third country that will grant me political asylum. But the Thai authorities don't recognise the UNHCR letter - they still arrested and detained us."

Ang Chanrith, executive director of the Khmer Krom Human Rights Association, said he would travel to Thailand in July to speak with Thai authorities and UNHCR officials about the detainees.

"We will request that the Thai authorities do not deport these people to Cambodia or Vietnam," he said Sunday.

"If they do, these people will not feel safe. They fled from Kampuchea Krom because of political pressure and human rights violations ... by the Vietnamese authorities."

Buddhist monk Tim Sakhorn, who fled to Thailand in April after being briefly released from his Vietnamese house arrest, said he was still awaiting the result of his own refugee application amid the crackdown by Thai immigration officials.

"After a mass arrest of Khmer Kampuchea Krom by Thai police, I am concerned about my security even though I have a grant from UNHCR to stay in Thailand. I am living under Thai law," he told the Post.

Kitty McKinsey, public information officer for UNHCR Asia, could not comment in detail, except to say that the Bangkok office was "closely following up this issue with the Thai government".
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PM halts market development

A directive signed last week temporarily bans market projects amid protests by vendors fearing eviction, but not all are happy.

FOLLOWING a string of high-profile evictions of inner-city market vendors, the Council of Ministers has issued a directive temporarily halting all market-development projects in the capital, earning a mixed response from vendors, some of whom say they are happy with the move, while others remain fearful of future evictions.

The directive, signed on June 15 by Prime Minister Hun Sen, says both he and City Hall call for a halt to market developments, allowing vendors to continue their operations.

"I was very happy when I got this news. Now I am dancing," said Lay Silo, a vendor at Serei Pheap Market in Prampi Makara district.

"By doing this, it means he [Hun Sen] cares about us, and that he wants us to have good feelings when we do our business."

Lo yuy, the governor of Chamkarmon district where the Russian Market is located, said he was also relieved to hear about the government's decision.

"It will be very comforting for vendors when they are doing their business," he said.

On June 12, vendors from the Russian Market went on strike after rumours circulated that the popular tourist site would be turned into a 12-storey shopping mall. The district governor had to promise the protesters that City Hall had no plans to rebuild and modernise the site.

After initial scepticism, Russian Market vendor Chhun Leng said, vendors are now more optimistic that the market is not slated for development.

"Now I feel confident to do business because I am not afraid I will be moved. When my district chief promised us, I didn't believe it 100 percent, but now, I believe it 100 percent," he said.

However, according to an Olympic Market vendor, doubts remain with some stall owners.

Muth Phong told the Post that Hun Sen's decree was designed to stop people from protesting market-development projects, which he says are inevitable.


"Developing countries can't keep their old markets ... so they will continue," he said.
"The reason they stopped the market-development project was because vendors always protest when authorities want to develop.

"I do not believe the news [that development of markets has been stopped]. They just do this to make us feel confident for a while and later, they'll start [developing] again," he said.

In 2009, vendors have protested at Serei Pheap Market and Russian Market and at Boeung Chhouk Market and Mong Russey Market in Battambang after hearing about development plans.
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Tensions mount on border

Written by CHEANG SOKHA AND THET SAMBATH


Thai PM refuses to back down over Preah Vihear comments.

THAI Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on Sunday defended his request that UNESCO reconsider its listing of Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage site after being harshly criticised by Cambodian officials and accused of bolstering Thai military forces along the border.

"We are concerned that the moves by UNESCO may speed up conflicts, tensions or a border clash," Abhisit said during his weekend television programme.

But Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said that if UNESCO's World Heritage Committee decides to de-list the Preah Vihear temple complex, it would heighten border tensions, where gunbattles between Thai and Cambodian soldiers have left at least seven people dead over the last year.

"We don't understand these comments, whether they want to threaten Cambodia or want to send a message to the UNESCO committee, which will meet on June 23 in Spain," Hor Namhong told reporters at a press conference on Saturday. "I do not understand whether these speeches were made with a lack of thought or out of ignorance or because they want to cause trouble."

Cambodia and Thailand have never fully demarcated their 805-kilometre-long shared border, in part because the area is littered with land mines.

Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya told Thai media Saturday that Thailand's objection to the unilateral World Heritage listing of the 11th-century temple is an issue between Thailand and UNESCO, and does not involve Cambodia.

Abhisit also said on Friday he would send his deputy prime minister, Suthep Thaugsuban, to meet Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to explain their objections.

Hor Namhong said that the Thai comments have been backed up by a Thai military buildup, and that if the border dispute requires a military solution, Cambodia is ready.

"I heard that the Thai commander of Region 2 added more troops along the border, and they are on alert. I would like to stress that Cambodia is also prepared. If they want to seek a political resolution peacefully, if they want to use international laws, or if they want to seek a military resolution, we are already prepared in all ways." he said.

"Border fights have occurred twice, and if they want to send their troops to Cambodia for a third time, we welcome it," he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Sok An departed for Seville, Spain, on Saturday to attend the UNESCO meeting.

Colonel Om Phirom, chief of Heritage Police for Preah Vihear temple, said Sunday that tensions were growing along the border as Thai soldiers prepared heavy weapons and tanks.

"We can't conclude what will be happen at the front line because both sides are full of heavy weapons and ammunition. We are concerned that the explosions will be bigger this time, if a clash does occur," Om Phirom said.

"We are worried about the temple's safety because it was damaged by Thai soldiers' bullets in many places in the clashes between Thailand and Cambodia over the last year," he added.

Sao Socheat, deputy commander of military Region 4, said the activity started about two weeks before Abhisit's request to delist the temple.

"The Thai military right now at the front line and behind their front line is busy in their territory. Their activities for the last two weeks have been strange in this area, but we know what they want to do here," Sao Socheat said.

The World Court in 1962 ruled that Preah Vihear temple belonged to Cambodia, but 4.6 square kilometres of land surrounding the ruins remains in dispute.
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