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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Cambodia, Thailand: ilovethailand website sparks controversy

By Global Voices Online

The recently launched website ilovethailand.org is causing a stir online. Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva announced that the website is intended to restore the country’s image and unify the nation in light of recent unrest. The controversy stems from the website’s claims about Thailand’s “lost territory” — territory that is present day Cambodia.

KI Media reports:

The major English daily Phnom Penh Post reported that Cambodian officials are scurrying to investigate the claims. It quoted Mr. Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, as saying that “they (the Thai) are twisting the facts of history
. It is completely exaggerated.”

According to Phnom Penh Post, in 1794, Thailand – then known as Siam – annexed Siem Reap and Battambang provinces from the declining Khmer kingdom, but the territories were returned following a March 1907 treaty between Thailand and France.

Khmerization, posting at KI Media, informs us that ilovethailand.org has resulted in

the birth of ilovekhmer.org, a Khmer website created with the sole intention of countering the “provably false accusations” made by the Thai PM’s website, ilovethailand.org. The site proved an instant popularity with internet users, with its site metre hotly counting the numbers of visitors.

Thailand’s “lost territory” is illustrated in a video on the website. The Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok has requested the video’s removal from the website. Details are Sketchy, with comments from ThaRum, reports that ilovethailand.org is blocked in Cambodia, but it is unclear which side is censoring the site.

At Thai Intelligent News Weblog, there is news that the “site was also reported to have been hacked and down around the globe at many countries-as angry pro-democracy internet savvy Thais attacked the site.”

Thai Intelligent News Weblog goes on and balances nationalism against other concerns, stating:

For many reasons, Thailand has a very bad global image problem. The [Abhisit] solution is the global “I Love Thailand” Campaign. Thailand has gotten itself into trouble with neighbors before over this type of cultural and historical Nationalism-like with Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. Nationalism is good, as a way to build love and unity for the country, but when it means conflict with neighbors-that is taking Nationalism too far.

Another Thai blogger, Thai 101, points out that ilovethailand.org’s terms and conditions require self-censorship:

Looks like this site is a national “stimulus” program of a non-economic variety. A government-sponsored website on which only those who admit that they love the country more than their own lives are allowed to come and express nothing but adulation and praise for the country. I’m sure this will do wonders for encouraging open and thoughtful dialogue. Especially that veiled threat at the end. Just lovely.

The video is shown here and on Bangkok Crimes, which notes that the “fourteenth slice of lost territory is Preah Vihear.”

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Chinese FM meets with U.S. Secretary of State

PHUKET, Thailand, China and the United States need to maintain high-level contact and deepen cooperation in various areas of common concern, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said here Wednesday in his meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Yang said the two countries should also keep close communication and collaboration on global issues and properly handle disputes and sensitive issues in order to push forward bilateral ties.

Both Yang and Clinton are in the southern Thai resort Phuket to attend ASEAN Regional Forum scheduled on Thursday. The ASEAN, or Association of Southeast Asia Nations, groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Clinton said that the U.S. hoped to closely cooperate with China in dealing with challenges and threats such as the global financial crisis and international terrorism to maintain world peace and security.

During the meeting, the two sides also mentioned the upcoming first U.S.-China strategic and economic dialogue.

The dialogue will be held in Washington, D.C. from July 27 to 28. Clinton and U.S. Treasure Secretary Timothy Geithner will be joined for the dialogue by their respective Chinese Co-Chairs, State Councilor Dai Bingguo and Vice Premier Wang Qishan.

The dialogue will focus on addressing the challenges and opportunities that both countries face on a wide range of bilateral, regional and global areas of immediate and long-term strategic and economic interests.

On Wednesday, Yang also met with his counterparts from Russia, South Korea and Pakistan.
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Former Khmer Rouge interrogator recounts torture techniques

A former interrogator at the main Khmer Rouge prison told Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes tribunal on Tuesday staff were taught to torture prisoners using electric shocks and suffocation.

Prak Khan, 58, recounted the grisly details during testimony against prison chief Duch, who is accused of overseeing the torture and execution of around 15,000 people held at Tuol Sleng prison in the late 1970s.

"We were taught how to torture the prisoners and to avoid the prisoners dying, otherwise the confession would be broken and we would be punished," Prak Khan told the court.

The witness, who became an interrogator in late 1976 after initially being assigned to work as a prison guard, said Duch and other high-ranking Khmer Rouge cadres often taught torture methods.

"We were trained how to whip the prisoners with the sticks, on how to electrocute, (and) how to use the plastic bag to suffocate them," Prak Khan said.

He said the court interrogators were also taught a "light but painful" torture method in which they inserted a needle under prisoners' nails, and that sometimes inmates were forced to eat excrement.

"Detainees would be told not to make loud noises, not to curse or exchange swear words, or to shout slogans. And they were also warned not to scream while being tortured," he said.

He said also he occasionally witnessed medics extracting blood from prisoners until they died.

"As I noted, there were five bags of blood taken from one detainee until the person was dying. After blood was drawn, no one could ever live because they were dying already while their blood was being taken," said Prak Khan.

Prak Khan said interrogators would torture prisoners until they confessed to spying on the Khmer Rouge regime and provided names of others in so-called espionage networks.

In earlier testimony, Duch admitted he did not believe that confessions obtained through torture were accurate.

Prak Khan recalled that children were separated from adult prisoners and exterminated, adding that he once saw a Tuol Sleng guard kill a seven or eight-month old infant.

"(A guard) took the baby from the mother and he dropped the baby from the upper floor to the ground and later on I was ordered to bury that dead baby," Prak Khan said.

The 66-year-old Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, has accepted responsibility for his role governing the jail and begged forgiveness near the start of his trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

But the defendant has consistently rejected claims by prosecutors that he held a central leadership role in the Khmer Rouge, and says he never personally killed anyone.

Led by Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the Khmer Rouge emptied Cambodia's cities in a bid to forge a communist utopia. Up to two million people died of starvation, overwork and torture or were executed during the 1975-1979 regime.

Four other former Khmer Rouge leaders are in detention and are expected to face trial next year at the court, which was formed in 2006 after nearly a decade of wrangling between the UN and the Cambodian government.

The troubled tribunal faces accusations of interference by the Cambodian government and claims that local staff were forced to pay kickbacks for their jobs.

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