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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

UNESCO meet raises the stakes on Preah Vihear

Written by Thet Sambath


The favourable outcome for Cambodia in Spain could translate to more confrontation on the border, according to senior military officers.

THE meeting of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Seville, Spain, ended Tuesday without discussing Thailand's challenge to the committee's July 2008 decision to list the disputed Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage site.

But Cambodian military officials at the border say the committee's decision not to review the case could further heighten tensions and prompt another armed clash, following armed confrontations in October 2008 and in April of this year.

Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said last month that a joint listing of Preah Vihear temple would better promote peace and tourism around the 11th-century temple complex, according to Thai media.

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More Thai troops, tanks and artillery have been sent to confront our troops.

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He pledged that Thailand would use the 33rd session of the World Heritage Committee to challenge the inscription of the temple.

"I would like to see peace in the area and people from both sides benefit from a joint listing of this site," Abhisit was quoted as saying.

But Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said that Thailand's inability to get its objections onto the committee's agenda was a "diplomatic failure".

Yim Phim, the commander of Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) Brigade 8 stationed in Preah Vihear province, said that although he welcomed the committee's decision, he worries that Thai soldiers may be angry and start another border clash.

"We are on alert after the Thai failure to get it reviewed," he said. "I am told that more Thai troops, tanks and artillery have been sent to confront our troops."

Raising the stakes
Phorng Eung, a Cambodian soldier, said that Thailand has been evacuating villages near the Preah Vihear border, a sign Thailand could be planning something.

"Thai solders have asked their people to leave villages near the temple, but our villagers at Ko Muoy are doing business as usual," he said.

"Because the Thais did not get their way, they are not happy and might do something at the border. We are on alert 24 hours a day."

But Ros Heng, deputy governor of Chom Ksan district near the Preah Vihear temple, said that villagers in his district are preparing for the possibility of more conflict.

"Some of our people are digging trenches after we informed them in Ko Muoy and Sam Em villages near the front line to protect themselves from Thai shells," Ros Heng said.

"We alerted out people to prevent an accident from happening. It is better to take action first," he said.

The World Court ruled in 1962 that the temple belonged to Cambodia, although the most accessible entrance to temple is in Thailand.
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Hun Sen warns Thais against air incursions near disputed temple

Written by vong Sokheng and Thet Sambath


PM also says that in the event of war, Thailand will need up to 50,000 troops to subdue 10,000 of the Kingdom's own battle-hardened soldiers.

PRIME Minister Hun Sen sounded a belligerent note during informal talks with Thai Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon on Saturday, warning that if Thailand violates Cambodian airspace along the border Cambodia has the right to shoot down Thai aircraft, the premier said Tuesday.

"I told the Thai deputy prime minister and minister of defence frankly to be careful about not flying across the border into Cambodian territory," Hun Sen told an audience of new graduates at the National Institute of Education in Phnom Penh on Tuesday.

"I am afraid that I won't be able to control the shooting if the ground soldiers lose patience."

Hun Sen said he also told Suthep and Prawit that, if full-blown hostilities break out between the two countries, Bangkok would need to mobilise between 30,000 and 50,000 soldiers to match 10,000 of the battle-hardened troops stationed at the disputed Preah Vihear temple. He said that Cambodia did not want confrontation, but that Thailand must not violate the the country's territorial sovereignty.

"We are waiting to shoot because we are not invading [Thailand]. Cambodia is not showing muscle, but to defend the nation we will play it until the end," Hun Sen said.

Meanwhile, the situation on the border remains tense, with officers of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) saying they are ready to counter any Thai incursions.

"The situation at the front line is increasingly tense since I learned that Thai soldiers are scheduled for military exercises along the Thai-Cambodia border near Koh Kong province to Anses of Preah Vihear Temple on July 3," said Seoun San, an RCAF captain based at Veal Sambokhmum.

"If the rockets launched from the military exercises fall into Cambodian territory, we will open the fight without discussions."

Officials at the Thai embassy could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
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Photographer Hei Han Khiang, ‘Right Place, Right Time’

By VOA Khmer, Sothearith Im


After Hei Han Khiang survived a forced labor camp for children under the Khmer Rouge, he wanted little more than to live a life of peace. But innate talent and dogged pursuit enabled him to become an accomplished photographer.

Now living in the New York, Hei Han Khiang was born in 1968 to a family of six near Phnom Penh’s Damkor Market. His father was a teacher and noodle shop owner.

The Khmer Rouge pushed the family to Battambang province as the regime enacted Year Zero, and Hei Han Khiang lost an older brother and older sister. After the regime’s overthrow, the family sought refuge in the US, by way of Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia. Finally, in 1981, they arrived in New York.

“When I first came here I had no clue what the city was going to be like,” Hei Han Khiang told VOA Khmer in a phone interview. “I came here with a pair of sandles, and it was cold, but I was so amazed to see the streets, big buildings, and we lived near the bridge here. It was just amazing, George Washington Bridge, how long it is. And there was just so much to buy, so much selling in the stores, so many kinds of food here, different kinds of people. You know, when we first came here, we ate a lot of meat.”

When he first arrived in the United States, he had few ambitions, having survived his ordeal in Cambodia.

“It was still fresh in my memory, war, evacuation, and escaping from one place to another in refugee camps,” Hei Han Khiang said. “We didn’t have much of anything, so we didn’t really see very far. I think maybe it was just culturally shocking to me to see, you know, a new world.”

As time passed, his interests grew: he wanted to be a teacher, or doctor; his parents wanted him to go into business. In the end, he realized his interest was in the arts. He began snapping pictures of his family, who had never had photographs before. His love of the art form grew from there.

He began taking classes at the Cooper Union School, on Saturdays.

Marina Gutierrez, director of Cooper Union’s Saturday Arts Program, said still remembers him.

“Khiang mentioned us as helping open his eyes to art, but he also helped us open our eyes to a larger world,” Gutierrez said. “When he was a student with us, I can’t say he showed much promise in drawing or painting, but he has an incredible spirit, and I think that’s something that you cannot teach somebody. That’s what really makes the artist.”

Hei Han Khiang’s art, temperament and spirit are interchangeable, she said, contributing to a successful career.

“When he was my student I thought that he was a wonderful person,” Gutierrez said. “I didn’t have any idea that he would become a wonderful photographer and artist, because the work he did was OK. It was not notable. As a teacher, you can never imagine a limit on somebody. Only they can define their own limit.”

Hei Han Khiang went to State University of New York, in Buffalo, in 1988. He was sent by the university to study Chinese language, culture, history, political science and paintings in Beijing, from September 1988 through June 1989. Just then, the Tiananmen Square demonstrations broke out.

Hei Han Khiang photographed the unrest, proving his mettle as a photographer.

Dee Wedemeyer, a former employer, recalled Hei Han Khiang as a courageous, dedicated, and talented photographer.

“He makes sacrifices to make this trip abroad to take photographs, and he is a documentarian,” Wedemeyer said. “He documents anything that other people have not found. You know, walking the Ho Chi Minh Trail is not something that everyone has done.”

Thirty of his Tiananmen photographs were displayed at Christonpher Henry Gallery, New York, from May 29 through June 28, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the crackdown.

The gallery’s owner, Christopher Henry, told VOA Khmer he selected the photographs from thousands of applicants.

Henry said sometimes photojournalists can be too good at taking pictures: their images can look unreal. Hei Han Khiang’s photos were honest and real, and the exhibition was a success.

The images were visually striking and iconic, he said, and, coming from a student, came from a different perspective.

“It really has a much more honest impression,” Henry said. “Any images therefore were much more [like] somebody just happened to be at the right place at the right time, rather than somebody that was sent there to chronicle or document an event.”
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UN rights expert concerned at restriction of lawyers’ freedom in Cambodia

A United Nations independent human rights expert today voiced concern at attempts to curtail lawyers’ freedom to effectively represent their clients in Cambodia, with criminal charges being leveled recently against attorneys in the South-East Asian nation.

“To be able to represent their clients effectively, lawyers should not be subject to threats or intimidation, nor should they be targeted for prosecution or disciplinary action merely for having acted in the interests of their clients,” said Leandro Despouy, the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers.

“Lawyers play an important role as defenders of human rights and must be free to represent their clients as they see fit in accordance with professional standards and the rule of law.”

Last week, he said, a lawyer, working for an opposition member of the National Assembly who alleged that she has been defamed by the country’s Prime Minister, was himself charged with criminal defamation and could be expelled from the Cambodian Bar Association.

This January, he added, defense lawyers representing defendants at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) – the UN-backed tribunal trying Khmer Rouge leaders accused of mass killings and other crimes three decades ago – were threatened with legal action by Cambodian judges for having called for corruption allegations at the tribunal to be properly investigated.

Further, Mr. Despouy noted, in June 2007, attorneys representing indigenous communities in Ratanakiri Province, involved in a land dispute with a businesswoman with ties to the Government, were threatened with criminal charges and disciplinary action for having allegedly “incited” communities to file a suit to reclaim their land.

The expert cautioned that these recent moves against lawyers seem to indicate a worrying new trend which could have a chilling effect on the legal profession, expressing his support and encouragement for the Bar Council and its President “in their efforts to strengthen the legal profession in Cambodia and to defend lawyers against attempts to undermine their independence.”

In a press release, Mr. Despouy, who reports to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council in an independent and unpaid capacity, underscored that Cambodia’s obligations under international law, as laid out in the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, say that “lawyers should not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions.”
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