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Thursday, November 12, 2009

China to help Cambodia reconstruct national road

STRUNG TRENG, Cambodia, An inauguration ceremony of reconstruction of Cambodia' National Road 78 was launched on Thursday in Strung Treng province, about 500 km northeast of capital Phnom Penh.

The road will be built by Shanghai Construction (Group) Company with the concession loan from China plus five percent of the Cambodian government's budget.

Prime Minister Hun Sen presided over the ground-breaking ceremony of the reconstruction of the National Road 78 linking O Porng Moan of Stung Treng province to Rattanakiri's provincial town.

Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia Zhang Jinfeng was also present at the ceremony. Zhang said, "This road will contribute to help transport network in northeastern part of Cambodia."

She said, "It will help to reduce the poverty for people, and reduce the gap between city and rural areas," and "it will also push the social and economic development as quickly as possible."

China and Cambodia will continue to strengthen bilateral cooperation in all fields to serve mutual benefit, and through building infrastructures to push Cambodia's economic growth and social development, she said.

The reconstruction of the 121 km-long road portion will last for 40 months and cost 73.3 million U.S. dollars.

"This road will link the economy from the country's northeastern area to central area," said Hun Sen, adding that "In 2010, we will have 11 road construction projects, of them seven are supported by China." "China has played key role in building infrastructure in Cambodia," he said.
On the occasion, Hun Sen expressed profound thanks to the Chinese government and people for their cooperation and financing, saying it not only helps Cambodia's socio-economic development, but also strengthens the Kingdom's political independence.

The prime minister said the loan from China is aiming at ensuring effective economic development and contributes to help reduce poverty for people and China respected Cambodia's decision in using this loan.

"We could note that China has a good habit of saying less and doing more," the prime minister added.
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Thaksin accusations from Cambodia

Former Thai PM Thaksin Shinawatra has accused the country's rulers of "false patriotism" in a speech in Cambodia.

The lecture, to about 300 business and government figures was part of his new job as economic adviser to the Cambodian government.

Cambodia has rejected a Thai extradition request for Mr Thaksin.

The Thai government is outraged at Cambodia's welcome to Mr Thaksin, who it sees as a criminal - and a powerful political opponent.

"I see a lot of synergy between your country and mine. What is good for you will also be good for my country. Of course not all my compatriots see it that way right now," Mr Thaksin said in the speech.

Hitting back

"I do not believe those who do not share our vision right now are myopic. Their domestic political compulsions force them to false patriotism," he said, without elaborating.

"Let's pray that they too will one day appreciate this partnership for the best," he added.

Reporters were evicted from the lecture, titled Cambodia and the World after the Financial Crisis.

Mr Thaksin is expected to visit the Angkor Wat temple and to play golf with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, but is believed to be staying only a few days and not setting up residence in Cambodia.

"I'll try my best to explain my experiences and share the knowledge that I gathered during my exile," he said.

Outrage

Mr Hun Sen has dismissed Thai government demands that Mr Thaksin be surrendered to serve a two-year jail term for corruption, citing his friendship with Mr Thaksin.

Thailand has frozen an Memorandum of Understanding regarding joint exploration of shared maritime areas, and says it is considering legal options following the extradition rebuff.

Some analysts say the Cambodian leader's belief that the Thai court that convicted Mr Thaksin was politically motivated has particularly angered the Thai government.

Mr Thaksin served as Thailand's prime minister from 2001 to 2006, when he was ousted by a military coup after being accused of corruption and showing disrespect to the country's widely-revered monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

He has been living in self-imposed exile ever since - mostly in Dubai - but has rarely been out of the headlines, giving a series of high-profile interviews and continuing to make contact with his supporters inside the country.

Relations between Thailand and Cambodia are already strained.

Thailand has withdrawn its ambassador from Cambodia, and there have also been series of disputes centred around the 11th-Century Preah Vihear temple complex near the two countries' border.
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Thaksin slams Thai govt in Cambodia speech

Fugitive former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra accused his country's rulers of "false patriotism" as he delivered a lecture in his new role as Cambodia's economic adviser Thursday.

The billionaire, ousted in a 2006 coup and living abroad to avoid jail for graft, addressed some 300 members of business and government at Cambodia's finance ministry amid tensions over Phnom Penh's refusal to extradite him.

"I see a lot of synergy between your country and mine. What is good for you will also be good for my country. Of course not all my compatriots see it that way right now," Thaksin said.

"I do not believe those who do not share our vision right now are myopic. Their domestic political compulsions force them to false patriotism. Let's pray that they too will one day appreciate this partnership for the best," he added.

Security officials ushered reporters out of the room three minutes into the Thaksin lecture titled, "Cambodia and the World after the Financial Crisis".

Cambodia outraged Thailand on Wednesday by rejecting its request to extradite Thaksin, saying the charges on which the ousted Thai leader had been sentenced in absentia to two years in prison were politically motivated.

Cambodian Finance Minister Keat Chhon praised Thaksin's reduction of rural poverty and introduction of universal healthcare in Thailand as "eye-catching policies that distinguished him from his predecessors".

After his lecture Thaksin planned to visit the famed Angkor Wat temple and may play golf with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, said cabinet spokesman Phay Siphan.

He has been warmly received by close ally Hun Sen, although Cambodian officials have said he will only stay in the country for two or three days and is not intending to live there. Profile: Thaksin's political life

When Thai diplomats handed over papers for Thaksin's extradition on Wednesday, Cambodian officials promptly handed them back a formal refusal letter.

In Bangkok, around 120 protesters and 30 taxi drivers with their vehicles rallied outside the Cambodian embassy and delivered an open letter telling Hun Sen not to interfere in Thailand's judiciary, police said.

Dozens of police were deployed at the building.

Thailand and Cambodia recalled their ambassadors last week as the quarrel escalated. Bangkok also put all talks and cooperation programmes on hold and tore up an oil and gas exploration deal signed during Thaksin's time in power.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on Wednesday condemned Cambodia's refusal to send Thaksin back, and said he had halted aid programmes for the neighbouring country, which is still impoverished after decades of war.

Tensions were already high between the two nations following a series of clashes over disputed territory near an ancient temple and the row threatens to mar a weekend summit of regional leaders with US President Barack Obama.

Twice-elected Thaksin fled Thailand in August 2008, a month before a court sentenced him to two years in jail in a conflict of interest case. He had returned to Thailand just months earlier for the first time since the coup.

But he has retained huge influence in Thai politics by stirring up protests against the current government, and analysts said that in his close friend Hun Sen he had found a new way of pushing his campaign for a return to power.

Thailand's government upped the pressure on Thaksin this week by accusing him of offending the revered monarchy after he was quoted by the website of British newspaper The Times as calling for reform of royal institutions.

Defaming the monarchy, led by 81-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, is a crime punishable by up to 15 years in jail in Thailand. The king has been in hospital since September with a lung and chest infection.

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Modernity casts spell over magic tattoos in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, Nov 12 (AFP) - It's much harder to get a magic tattoo in Cambodia than it used to be, laments Chey Cham.

"I do have one tattoo of a python on my right upper-arm but it's for beauty, not magic," says the 30-year-old from the outskirts of Cambodia's capital.

"That's because I can't find anywhere in my town to get a magic tattoo."

Over centuries, Cambodians have endured hours of procedures to obtain hand-drawn mystical tattoos believed to give them magical powers, but the tradition appears to be fading in this increasingly modern country.

Miech Ponn, advisor on mores and customs at Cambodia's Buddhist Institute, says magic tattoos are believed to bring good luck or popularity but are mostly used by soldiers seeking to become invisible to enemies or repel bullets.

"Tattoos were really popular among Cambodian men in the past. Almost every Cambodian male was tattooed," Miech Ponn says.

These days, he adds, superstitious people in rural areas are usually the ones who believe in magic.

"Until now science can’t break this superstition. I don’t know why it cannot."

Tattooist Chan Trea notices the number of customers seeking him out in the belief they will obtain special powers has dwindled over the past decade.

"Usually, the Cambodian customers are police, soldiers, and fighters like boxers and martial artists," Chan Trea says.

"But there is a decrease of people coming for magical reasons. I guess, in the future, things like magic will be very rare in this country."

The tattoos usually feature images of supernatural creatures, Hindu gods or characters from Pali and Sanskrit. Cambodian fighters are often adorned with intimidating images of a dragon, tiger or the monkey king Hanuman.

Chan Trea notes the tattoos can be administered by any traditional healer or Buddhist monk who has strong spiritual beliefs, but only a few remain alive who know how to use traditional long needles and recite magical spells.

These esteemed tattooists draw magic tattoos by hand with two or three sewing needles tied together, poking black, blue or red ink into the skin.

But for those seeking powers, the process isn't as simple as getting poked by a few needles, says the Buddhist Institute's Miech Ponn.

Those who drink alcohol or have extramarital affairs risk decreasing the magic from their tattoos, he says.

He adds that people getting the tattoos also must refrain from eating purple potatoes, gourds or star fruit to ensure the spells work -- while for soldiers on the battlefield, stealing breaks a tattoo's magic.

A national hero, Cambodian heavyweight kickboxing champion Ei Phuthong, says he owes part of his decade-long reign to his magic tattoos.

With a mystical flying creature and the Hindu god Vishnu on his back, as well as a "Great Weight" Pali symbol on his right hand, he believes he gets more power in his punch.

"Of course I believe in magic tattoos, though it is inexplicable," he says. "They have helped me win. With them, I feel more than a match for my opponent in the ring."

The belief in the power of tattoos is most evident among hardened Cambodian troops stationed near the Thai border, where a territorial dispute over the past year has erupted into skirmishes which have killed seven soldiers.

One soldier near the area at the centre of the dispute, a 46-year-old who gives his name only as Oeurn, says he and most of his comrades have magic tattoos for protection.

The value of the magical Sanskrit patterns tattooed on his back and chest was proven, he says, during an April gunbattle which killed three Cambodian troops.

"At that time, many bullets were showered toward me," Oeurn claims, "but magically they were averted away." (By Kounila Keo/ AFP)
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Thaksin gives lecture for his role as adviser of Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, Ousted former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Thursday took his role for the first time as adviser of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Royal Government of Cambodia to give a lecture to more than 300 Cambodian economic experts at the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

Thaksin's first lecture focused on "Strategy to Fight Financial and Economic Crisis."

Keat Chhon, deputy prime minister and minister of economy and finance, said in his welcome speech that "He (Thaksin) initiated many eye-catching policies ... They affected the economy, public health, education, energy, social order, drug suppression and international relations."

"I think that there are a lot of things we can learn from Thaksin's very recent and distinctive experiences in order to design our own policies to address the challenges posed by the crisis and bring our economy back to its high growth record.

Relations between the two neighboring countries were further strained recently after Cambodia named ousted former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra its economic adviser. Thailand recalled its ambassador Thursday, and Cambodia followed suit.

Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 military coup for alleged massive corruption and other charges. His supporters say he should be pardoned and returned to power. Since the coup, Thaksin has lived abroad to escape a corruption conviction and two-year prison sentence.

Thaksin arrived here on Tuesday. After his arrival, Thailand government asked Cambodia to "provisional arrest for the purpose of extradition of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, but was turned down by Cambodian government saying it "considers the prosecution and legal process against Thaksin Shinawatra as a politically motivated proceeding."

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Hun Sen held talks with Thaksin for nearly two hours at his Takhmau surburb residence. Hun Sen also said that he has no plan to discuss Thaksin's visit in Cambodia during Saturday's meeting between ASEAN leaders and U.S. President Barack Obama in Singapore on the sideline of APEC meeting.
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Business community hopes Thai-Cambodian rift to be solved peacefully

BANGKOK, Businesspersons who have invested in Cambodia are expressing hope that the rift between Thailand and Cambodia will not lead to the border closure and expect the tensions can eventually be resolved peacefully.

In a seminar on "Thai feelings and business in Cambodia" held at Thammasat University in Bangkok, Somsak Rinruengsin, chairman of the Thai Business Council of Cambodia, said the problem between Thailand and Cambodia was the rift between the two countries' governments.

The Thai government had reiterated that it will not let the problem affect people-to-people relations and the investments of the business community, he said.

Mr Somsak said he wished to convey the message to fellow businesspersons investing in Cambodia not to panic over the problem and said that Thai businesses are still operating in Cambodia as usual, though with some concern.

"The private sector believes the government of Thailand and Cambodia are able to finally find a joint solution. I have been doing business in Cambodia for 10 years and have sailed through various incidents in Cambodia. I therefore believe that the problem will not accelerate but I worry about spreading rumours which could incite both sides," he said.

However, he said, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam are all neighbours they could escape to nowhere when they have problem but should living together with happiness.

Preeda Samkaew of PD Intertrade 92 said that his company had been doing business in Rong Klua border market for quite a long time and he sees Cambodians as important customers.

He did not want to see the border closure as it could affect people in business there.

Wichai Kulwutvilas of Smilephun said the diplomatic spat between Thailand and Cambodia could restrict sales opportunities for Thai products in the Cambodian market as there will be more competition from Vietnamese and Chinese companies. (TNA)

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