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Monday, July 20, 2009

ASEAN welcomes U.S. impending accession to TAC

Foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Monday welcomed the United States' impending accession to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) in Southeast Asia.

A signing ceremony for the U.S. accession to the TAC will be held Wednesday as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will represent her country to sign documents with the ten ASEAN foreign ministers.

"We warmly welcomed the impending accession by the United States of America to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia as a strong signal of its commitment to peace and security in the region," said a joint communique issued Monday after the ministers' meeting.

The TAC, a peace treaty, was signed in 1976. It is the group's founding non-aggression pact aimed at promoting regional stability. It was amended on Dec 15, 1987 by a protocol to open the document for accession by states outside Southeast Asia.

The ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Source: Xinhua
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Cambodia Court Cases Against Opposition Mount

By SETH MYDANS


PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Cambodia’s courts have been busy in recent weeks with cases of defamation, disinformation and incitement brought by the government in what critics say is part of a broad assault on civil liberties.

“If you’re just walking into the situation, it seems like a series of ridiculous lawsuits,” said Sara Colm, a senior researcher for the New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch, who said at least nine suits had recently been filed against critics and political opponents by Prime Minister Hun Sen and his supporters.

But she and other analysts say the targets seem carefully chosen to send a chill through the free press, independent judiciary, political opposition and civic organizations that were introduced by the United Nations in the early 1990s.

The surge in lawsuits amounts to “a serious threat to democratic development which may undermine the efforts of the past 16 years to rebuild a tolerant and pluralistic environment in Cambodia,” the United Nations human rights office in Cambodia said in a statement last month.

In the most prominent cases, two opposition politicians have been stripped of their parliamentary immunity and sued for libel by Mr. Hun Sen and his associates. Threatened with a lawsuit and disbarment, their lawyer has abandoned the case, apologized to the prime minister and pledged allegiance to the ruling party.

The editor of one of the country’s last opposition newspapers was sent to prison last month for stories he had published and another, soon afterward, apologized and agreed to shut down his newspaper to avoid court action.

A young political activist was convicted last month of defamation and jailed for spray-painting slogans critical of the government on the walls of his house. An advocate for cultural preservation was sentenced on July 15 to two years in jail for warning of potential damage to the temple of Angkor Wat.

“The court has always been used as a political tool,” said Theary Seng, whose leadership of a human rights group, the Center for Social Development, is being challenged in what she says is a politically motivated court case. “But recently, there is a concentration of cases which seem to be very political and which seem to use the court as a political tool to silence opposition voices.”

Mr. Hun Sen dismisses, and even appears to parody, his critics, declaring earlier this month that he was acting in the interests of democracy by stripping the two lawmakers of their parliamentary immunity so that they could face prosecution in the courts.

“From now on we are strengthening democracy and the rule of law,” he said. “This is not an anarchic democracy. Democracy must have the rule of law.”

Together with land seizures that are driving tens of thousands of people from their homes, analysts say these actions demonstrate a sense of impunity in a government that has resisted efforts to strengthen the rule of law in Cambodia.

In the most recent evictions, about 150 poor families were forced from their homes on prime land in Phnom Penh on Thursday and Friday, part of what the World Bank called “a major problem” in Cambodia’s fast-growing cities.

The court cases come at a time when countries in the region are looking increasingly toward China as a political and economic model and questioning the democratic and humanitarian values of the West.

In recent years, China has become a major donor and investor in Cambodia in projects that do not demand the standards of good governance that generally accompany assistance from Western nations and aid organizations.

“We have been fearing all along that Cambodia’s government is looking eastward toward China and Vietnam as models,” with their strong central governments and intolerance of dissent, said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.

“Now there are a lot of activities recently that confirm our fear, and so it’s pretty scary,” he said. “What they are trying to do is to have only one strong party, and ultimately probably only one party.”

The aggressiveness of the government has been matched by what appears to be resigned acquiescence among many of its opponents to the dominance of Mr. Hun Sen and his ruling elite in the Cambodian People’s Party.

Nothing demonstrates this more sharply than the apologies that Mr. Hun Sen apparently requires as the price of leniency.

“I ask permission to demonstrate deep respect and bow down to apologize,” said Dam Sith, editor in chief of Moneaksekar Khmer, a pro-opposition newspaper, as he promised earlier this month to cease publishing his 10-year-old newspaper.

“I have in the past committed inappropriate acts again and again,” he said, adding that his only hope to avoid a defamation conviction is the “compassion and forgiveness” of Mr. Hun Sen — which he duly received.

Mu Sochua, a leading member of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, is fighting back, though she acknowledges the odds she faces.

In April, she filed a defamation suit against Mr. Hun Sen after he used a rude expression in criticizing her political activities. He countersued.

The courts dropped her original suit. This week, she faces a court hearing on his charge that she defamed him by bringing a defamation suit against him.

It was her lawyer, Kong Sam Onn, who dropped her case under pressure, apologized and joined the ruling party. Ms. Mu Sochua acknowledged the overbearing power of the prime minister and she said she did not blame her lawyer for giving in. “I understand and respect him,” she said.

Unable to find another lawyer to step forward in his place, she said she would proceed in her case alone.


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Influenza A/H1N1 continues to threaten Asia-Pacific region

Hong Kong, Influenza A/H1N1 has continued to threaten the people in Asia and Pacific region as more than 200new flu cases were confirmed on Sunday in the region.

Singapore's Health Minister said on Monday that 53 percent of the new flu cases are A/H1N1 positive.

The number spiked from 13 percent in a span of just four weeks, according to Singapore's Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who was quoted by local TV broadcaster Channel News Asia in his update in Parliament.

He also warned that A/H1N1 flu prevalence in Singapore should peak within a week or two, adding that more Singaporeans will get infected, reaching a peak before the numbers start to decline.

He explained Singapore remains in yellow alert because unlike seasonal flu, the at-risk groups involve younger adults with underlying medical problems.

According to Philippine's TV network GMA News reported on Monday, more than 100 inmates in two Philippine jails were quarantined for suspected A/H1N1 influenza, raising fears that an outbreak might occur among the confined population.

Over 60 inmates have developed flu-like symptoms in the central Philippines' Mandaue city jail, where 100 inmates were placed under observation.

In northern Bulacan provincial jail, ten inmates were quarantined after showing sings of A/H1N1 influenza, the report said.

The suspected outbreak has prompted jail officials to shorten families' visit hours and to conduct thermal scanning on visitors before they enter the jail.

The Philippines is among the worst-hit by the A/H1N1 influenza in Southeast Asia as the authorities confirmed 2,688 cases by July9, with four deaths.

On the same day, Vietnamese Ministry of Health confirmed 45 more influenza A/H1N1 cases, bringing the country's tally to 383.

All the newly confirmed cases are in the southern provinces, said the ministry.

So far, 299 patients have recovered and been discharged from hospitals. The rest are being quarantined and treated in stable conditions.

China's Hong Kong confirmed 76 new cases of A/H1N1 flu infection in the 24 hours up to 2.30 p.m. on Monday, medical authorities said.

According to a spokesman of the Center for Health Protection, the new cases involve 36 males and 40 females, aged between one and 81.

This brings the total number of confirmed cases to 1,886 in Hong Kong, the spokesman said.

The city's Hospital Authority said in a release later in the day that currently a total of 41 confirmed patients are staying in public hospitals for treatment and five of them are in critical condition.

Meanwhile, the neighboring Macao Special Administrative Region (SAR) said that six newly cases of Influenza A/H1N1 were confirmed, bringing the total number of such cases to 127 so far.

The newly confirmed cases included three men and three women whose ages ranged from eight to 42, according to SAR's Health Bureau.

The Indonesian Health Ministry announced 15 new positive A/H1N1cases on Monday. Of the 15 patients, five were male and ten were female.

"Five of them have a history to go overseas, one to Malaysia, two to the United States, and another two to Singapore," said Prof. Tjandra Yoga Aditama, a disease control official of the ministry.

By now, the cumulative cases of positive influenza A/H1N1 in Indonesia amounted to 172, involving 86 men and 86 women.

Malaysian Health Minister Liow Tiong Lai said that 862 out of the total patients of the disease had recovered, seven were still under treatment in hospitals, while five of them were receiving out-patient treatment.

Liow said the total cases of the flu comprising 567 imports and307 local transmissions.

He said his ministry would continue in monitoring cases of the disease being brought to the hospitals, including cases of cluster "influenza-likeness illness".

Owing to a sharp rise in the number of influenza A/H1N1 cases in the world and the region recently, Cambodia government on Monday called on its citizens to avoid traveling to its neighboring country of Thailand.

The Cambodian Health Ministry made the call in order to prevent the large scale outbreak of A/H1N1 flu in the country.

"Without the need for the time being, Cambodian citizens should avoid traveling to Thailand in order to prevent the wide-spreading of the epidemic in Cambodia," the Health Ministry's statement said.

According to local media reported that as of July 19, Thailand had found at least 4,000 cases of confirmed influenza A/H1N1, while 24 people died of the flu.

Cambodia now has a total of 14 confirmed cases of A/H1N1 flu, but most of them were imported and no one died of the virus so far in the country.
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Criticism of Asian rights body rebuffed

By Tim Johnston in Bangkok


South-east Asian foreign ministers have rejected criticism that a new human rights commission in the region will be toothless.

Members of the Association of South East Asian Nations set out plans on Monday at a meeting in Phuket, Thailand, for a regional human rights body, putting an emphasis on rights promotion rather than rights protection.

But there is no provision for Asean citizens to complain to the new body, which in turn will lack any power to investigate or prosecute purported abuses. “There are a few countries in Asean that are among the most repressive in Asia, if not the world,” said Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “I could never see how this group could ever agree on anything with teeth.”

Enrique Manalo, Philippine deputy foreign minister, responded by saying: “I don’t think it’s toothless . . . The important thing is everyone’s prepared to recognise it’s a process. What’s there is not final.”

Abhisit Vejjajiva, the Thai prime minister and Asean chairman, said: “Progress will first be made on the front of promotion.” He did not detail how the Inter-Governmental Commission of Human Rights would promote rights. “But the protection side is not going to be ignored. It is better to make a start.”

Asean’s democratic members, including Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines, had been pushing for a more robust human rights body, while more repressive members including Burma, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam had sought to water down its role.

Kasit Piromya, Thailand’s foreign minister, said the body was born of compromise.

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ASEAN welcomes China's increasing role in Asia-Pacific region

China can play an important role in the peace and security of the Asia-pacific area, which the ten-member Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) welcomes, Thai Foreign Minister said Sunday.

China can play a role in the peace and security of the Asia-pacific area and it can also help economic development in the Asia-Pacific at large, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya told reporters.

Kasit made the remark in the press conference held after foreign ministers of ASEAN convened for the first time in their annual ministerial level meet. Their meeting focused on the human right issue and dispute-settlement mechanism among ASEAN nations.

"China's position is very important. It's reemerging as a world power. Its position has a positive aspect in the sense that it has become a very important market for the ASEAN countries," he added.

"So we welcome the increasing role of China as a very important member of the international community," the Foreign Minister said.

Ministers of ASEAN and China are scheduled to meet on Wednesday.

The ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Source:Xinhua
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48 hours in Kampot, Cambodia

Got 48 hours to explore Kampot? The quaint, riverside town in southwestern Cambodia is attracting more tourists with its relaxed atmosphere and run-down yet fine French architectural legacy.

FRIDAY

6pm: Relax with a drink at one of many bars on Riverside Road, which runs along the Kampong Bay River. The east bank has spectacular views of Bokor Mountain.

7pm: Dine at Ta Eou, a charming place built on stilts over the river. The menu is extensive and includes lots of seafood. Crab with peppercorns is a favourite.

8pm: Drop by the Kampot Traditional School of Music for Handicapped and Orphaned children - near the old market - which teaches children traditional music and dance. The performances are free but donations are welcome.

SATURDAY

7am: After a quick breakfast, head out for a day-long jungle trek in Bokor National Park, the main reason most travelers venture into Kampot. There is a road up to Bokor Mountain but it is sometimes closed to visitors. Check with local guides first.

Most tours consist of a challenging three-hour trek and then a drive up to the top, where the first stop is the Black Palace, the remains of the residence of former King Sihanouk.

Other attractions include the abandoned buildings of Bokor Hill station - a Catholic church and the eerie French hotel and casino. Some locals say that gamblers who had lost everything at the casino often jumped to their death from the mountain.

In its heyday, Bokor was a getaway for French officials, who headed up the mountain to escape the tropical heat. But years of neglect have left ghostly ruins, often shrouded in fog and clouds. If the clouds pass, admire the spectacular view of the coast and the cool mountain air.

Bokor National Park is also an important wildlife reserve - however the average visitor is unlikely to see much. Tigers are present but very rare, although gibbon can often be heard.

The two-hour trek back down includes a stop at a waterfall for those who want to refresh themselves with a swim.

7pm: Back in Kampot, head to one of the town's massage parlours where blind masseurs will help take away the aches of the day's trek.

8.pm: Enjoy a well-deserved drink at the rooftop balcony bar Rikitikitavi, which also has a charming restaurant that serves a mix of Khmer and international food.

SUNDAY

9am: After breakfast, head out to a pepper plantation. In Cambodia's colonial days, Kampot pepper was the king of spices in Parisian kitchens but during the rule of the Khmer Rouge, most plantations were destroyed. Today, local farmers have started to grow and sell black peppercorns again.

Ad Feedback 11am: Limestone caves dot the landscape around Kampot. Some have exotic rock formations and Buddhist shrines and are worth a visit. The Phnom Chhnork caves shelter a pre-Angkorian ruin.

2pm: In town, stop off at the Epic Arts cafe to enjoy cakes, bagels and shakes -- the homemade chutney and banana jam are a must-try. The cafe, which employs disabled staff, also sells cards and handicrafts.

3pm: Take a walk around town and soak up the relaxed atmosphere. Although small, Kampot has charming quiet lanes, and architecture influenced by both the Chinese and the French.

4pm: Set sail on the Kampong Bay river, and stay on the water to catch the sunset. If the water level is high enough, head to the Tek Chhou rapids, a popular swimming area.

Passing by lush green scenery, watch fishermen getting ready to go out to sea and sail pass dozens of huts on stilts.

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