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Friday, November 20, 2009

Thai-Cambodia JBC meeting next week

The Thai-Cambodia Joint Border Committee (JBC) will meet on Nov 27 at 28 at the Dusit Thani hotel in Pattaya, defence ministry spokesman Col Thanathip Saengsawang said on Friday.

“It will be a ministerial level defence meeting to discuss border security and military cooperation,” Col Thanathip said.

Defence Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwon would use his ties with Cambodian military leaders to help ease the current tension between the two countries.

The spokesman said that military relations between the two countries remain intact despite the diplomatic row between Bangkok and Phnom Penh.

The Defence Ministry hopes to help settle the dispute between the two governments and at the same time to strengthen ties and trust on both sides, Col Thanathip said.

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Ecstasy factories destroyed in Cambodian rainforests

PHNOM PENH, Ten ecstasy laboratories operated by local drug cartels were destroyed Wednesday in one of Cambodia's most impenetrable and remote jungle areas in the country's southwest Cardamom Mountains, according to a statement released Friday by Wildlife Alliance.

The raid was carried out by an anti-drug task force led by Wildlife Alliance and in close cooperation with forest rangers from Cambodia's armed services and Ministry of Environment.

"At least 35 tons of safrole oil, a main ingredient used in the methamphetamine production of ecstasy, could have been used to make over five million ecstasy pills with a street value of over 100 million U.S. dollars," according to local officials.

Wildlife Alliance-sponsored ranger team from Cambodia's Ministry of Environment and managed by Fauna and Flora International, came across the ecstasy labs several months ago during a routine foot patrol through Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary, 200 miles northwest of Phnom Penh.

Wildlife Alliance Technical Advisor and former French Legionnaire, Eduard Lefter, who planned the complex and dangerous raid with Cambodian Forest Rangers, commented on the operation, saying "The mission was very difficult to organize and the conditions extremely tough. The mountain terrain and dense forest made a helicopter insertion virtually impossible, so we went in by foot."

According to Lefter, the team spent 12 days in the jungle battling leeches and the resulting wound infections, as well as skirting landmines which made forward progress extremely difficult. By the end of the mission much of Lefter's ranger teams were suffering from dehydration from dwindling water supplies.

The teams also carried explosive ordnance in the form of landmines, provided by the Cambodian Military, to destroy the ecstasy labs and safrole distillation equipment.

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Thai, Cambodian military leaders to meet

BANGKOK, Thai and Cambodian military leaders will meet next week amid growing tensions over Phnom Penh's appointment of a fugitive former Thai premier as an adviser.

The Thai-Cambodia Joint Border Committee will have a two-day meeting starting Nov. 27 at the Dusit Thani Hotel in Pattaya, according to a report in the Bangkok Post newspaper.

"It will be a ministerial level defense meeting to discuss border security and military cooperation," a Thai defense ministry spokesman said. Defense Minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwon would use his ties with Cambodian military leaders to help ease the current tension between the two countries, the spokesman said.

The meeting is important because it could avoid spontaneous armed clashes by patrols in the Preah Vihear mountains, around 300 miles north of Bangkok. The two armies have been facing each other for months over a disputed area surrounding an 11th-century Hindu temple. The international court of justice ruled in 1962 that the temple was on Cambodian land. But the only access to the mountaintop building is on the Thai side, which Thai troops sealed off last summer.

A military clash is precisely what both countries, whose ambassadors were recalled this month over the Thaksin affair, are hoping to avoid.

But political tensions moved up a notch Thursday when Cambodian police and aviation experts took over the offices of the Thai-owned firm Cambodia Air Traffic Services. CATS is a subsidiary of Bangkok's Samart Corporation which has a 32-year contract to run air traffic control operations.

The Cambodian authorities now in charge of the services also banned the firm's nine Thai employees from entering the building.

The takeover comes after Cambodian police arrested a Thai national working at CATS on spy allegations. Siwarak Chotipong, 31, is being held in Prey Sar prison in Phnom Penh. He is alleged to have passed on the flight schedule of the former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra during his visit to Cambodia last week, according to a report in the newspaper Phnom Penh News.

The newspaper article quoted a representative for Cambodia's ruling Council of Ministers saying the takeover of CATS was "temporary" and done "to ensure national security and public safety." The financial operations of the company would not be affected.

Cambodia's appointment of Thaksin as an economic adviser was covered widely in the country's media this month, including a television interview with Prime Minister Hun Sen and Thaksin. Hun has called Thaksin a friend of Cambodia.

Thailand has formerly requested the extradition of Thaksin, 60, who was ousted from power in a military coup in 2006. He returned in 2007 and the following year received a two-year jail sentence for conflict of interest in high-level business dealings. He fled the country, leaving an estimated $2 billion in frozen assets. He has since lived mostly in the United Kingdom.

Cambodia has refused to hand him over because, they say, his trial was political and not criminal, meaning they are not bound to extradite him under any bilateral treaty.

Analysts are saying that the issue of his return is, in fact, more political than just a case of evading prison. Thailand Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, 45, is a member of the Democrat Party and heads a large coalition government that fears Thaksin could pose a credible election threat if he returns to the country. Thaksin, as a former police officer, could call in favors among senior policemen and also some military leaders in any election, possibly next year.

Many of Thaksin's supporters are in the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship Party that has demonstrated for Thaksin to receive a royal pardon from the ailing but much revered Thai king.

For his part, Thaksin has reportedly used his Twitter site to vent his anger at the Abhisit government and his opponents within Thailand, the Bangkok Post reported.

"Everything you guys do is right, but whatever we do is wrong. So how can we live together? How long can peace last?" He went on to say he did not believe how long it would be before his supporters' "patience will snap," the article stated.

The Bangkok Post has also reported that Thailand's Foreign Ministry has lodged a complaint with the ambassador of Dubai. Ministry officials said Thaksin is using Dubai as a base for political activities Thailand's government.

The Cambodian Ministry of the Interior has also this week ordered its officials to encrypt as much as possible government information and sensitive documents that it is sending over the Internet. The government fear is that more data, such as happened with Thaksin's fight details, could be siphoned off by spies, the Phnom Penh News report said.
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Cambodia pulls out of military sports meet

By The Nation


A sporting event between Thai and Cambodian military personnel scheduled over the weekend has been postponed indefinitely due to the growing tensions between the two countries.

The postponement was initiated by Cambodian authorities, without stating any reasons, said Prawat Ratthairom, a deputy provincial governor of Si Sa Ket, the venue of the event.

He said the provincial authorities were just informed of the postponement by the Thai military.

A series of sports competitions between Thailand's Second Army Area and Cambodia's Fourth Military Precinct, both of which are responsible for duties along each country's borders, were scheduled to be held today and tomorrow at Phumi Srol School in Cambodia's Kanthararak district.

Meanwhile, a Cambodian immigrant worker was axed to death by a Thai worker in a drunken brawl in Chon Buri's Sri Racha district over the detention of a Thai national by Cambodian authorities for alleged spying.

The victim, known only as Tiang, was allegedly attacked by Silchai Namnont, local police said, citing Kraisorn Namnont, the suspect's brother. The three men, all helpers in a local rubber plantation, were drinking late on Thursday and started quarrelling over the detention of the Thai in Cambodia and other diplomatic strains in ties between the two countries.

Nong Kham police said a hunt was on for Silchai but his brother, Kraisorn, was in custody. Police were still questioning him, as they were suspicious that he also took part in the murder.

In Sa Kaew, a goodwill cerฌemony was held by Thai and Cambodian military personnel in Aranyaprathet district yesterday. Highranking commanders of both sides met in the middle of the ThaiCambodia Friendship Bridge and exchanged souvenirs and handshakes in a photo opportunity.

LtGeneral Kanit Saphithak, commander of Thailand's First Army Area, and General Sok Phiab, a deputy chief of Cambodia's joint supreme command, were the highestranking officers from both sides participating in the ceremony. They met without prior appointment while making inspection visits at their local Army units, after local forces on both sides managed to get them to meet each other.

Aranyaprathet border checkpoint and Khlong Luek border town are still open to visits by Cambodians while Thai nationals still visit casinos across the border and Cambodian vendors still enter Thailand and do their businesses at Rong Klue market despite a drop in the number of Thai shoppers.

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Khmer killed after quarrel with Thai

CHON BURI : A Thai rubber tapper allegedly killed his Cambodian co-worker with an axe after a drinking session in which they had a heated argument over the two countries' diplomatic spat.

The Cambodian worker was identified as Diang, aged about 40. Police found his body lying on the floor in a room of an apartment run by Sri Maha Racha Co, the men's employer.

Blood covered the floor of room No.2, where he lived. A cut about five centimetres deep was found on his left cheek and another on his left shoulder, which was almost severed. Several empty liquor bottles were found in the room along with a bloodstained axe.

Kraisorn Namnont, a rubber tapper who lived next to the Cambodian worker, alerted Si Racha police about the killing about half past midnight on Friday.

He said the murderer was Sinchai Namnont, 44, his younger brother. They were from the northeastern province of Maha Sarakham.

He said Mr Sinchai, who lived with him in room No.1, had been drinking with Diang in Diang's room. They started arguing about the Cambodian authorities' arrest of a Thai engineer for alleged spying. Earlier, Cambodia named convicted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra as its economic adviser.

Mr Kraisorn said he remembered hearing Mr Sinchai say it was not right for Cambodia to act in the way it had and Diang replying, "So, what can you do with my government?"

Shortly after that, Mr Sinchai rushed back to room No.1 to grab some of his clothes, then hurried out without saying anything about what had happened next door, said Mr Kraisorn.

After hearing Diang crying for help in pain, Mr Kraisorn decided to go to check on him but found him dead.

Police, however, said they were not convinced by Mr Kraisorn's testimony and suspected him of being involved in the murder of Diang in some way.
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Vietnamese economy poses no threat to Thailand

Hanoi ensures existence of political stability and cheap labour

The Vietnamese economy poses no immediate threat to Thailand, which has healthy investments in that country, says the Thai ambassador in Hanoi.

Pisanu Chanvitan says Thailand's economy is still far more advanced than Vietnam's.

However, the ambassador told Thai Rath newspaper, Vietnam has certain advantages including political stability, thanks to its one-party rule and cheap labour.

Last year, Vietnam's economy grew 3%.

Mr Pisanu said that medical advances in Vietnam lag far behind Thailand. For difficult cases, well-to-do patients still travel to Thailand for treatment because Vietnam's health care expertise is lacking.

Nor was Thailand's status as the world's top rice exporter under threat from Vietnam.

Mr Pisanu said Vietnam exported about 5 million tonnes of rice last year while Thailand exported 8-9 million tonnes.

Thai rice is more expensive because of its higher quality especially the world famous Hom Mali, while Vietnam exports cheaper varieties.

Vietnam can face typhoons several times a year, causing extensive damage to rice fields.

Vietnam's rice cultivation area is similar to Thailand's, but Vietnam has a growing population. As its population grows, Vietnam will probably export less rice.

Vietnam's rulers like to talk about their plans for the economy, but sometimes these projects can be many years off.

Vietnam said it would put in a high-speed train, similar to the bullet train in Japan, running from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City.

The news excited Thai readers but most did not realise that work on the railway won't start until 2036, or nearly 30 years into the future.

In 1990, Vietnam began to open the country to foreign direct investment, creating special industrial zones and expanding the economic zone in Ho Chi Minh City.

Thailand is ranked 9th among foreign investors in Vietnam. Investment is concentrated in agri-business, cement, real estate, and motorcycle parts.

Mr Pisanu said Thailand exported more than 10,000 tonnes of fruit to Vietnam last year, including longan, mangosteen, durian and mango.

Food processing including canned fish is another bright prospect for Thai exporters. Several Thai canneries have set up operations in Vietnam and are doing good business.

Engineer is a

'political victim'

Sivarak Chutipong, 31, the Thai engineer arrested in Cambodia on a spying charge, is being used as a pawn in the diplomatic dispute between Thailand and Cambodia, argues a Matichon newspaper writer.

Sivarak worked for Cambodia Air Traffic Services, a subsidiary of Thailand's Samart Telecom.

He was arrested last week on a spying charge, after he allegedly transmitted the flight schedule of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and Cambodia's premier Hun Sen to Thailand.

The newspaper argues the engineer was a victim of the conflicts between Thailand and Cambodia concerning Hun Sen's appointment of Thaksin as economic adviser.

If Sivarak is found guilty by a Cambodian court, he could be jailed for 7-10 years and/or fined 50,000-250,000 baht.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said Thaksin's flight schedule was not secret information and Thailand already knew Thaksin's likely flight movements.

Suthep argued that Cambodian authorities may have misunderstood the intention of the government, which never intended to inflict any harm.

Yet the Matichon writer was not satisfied with explanations offered by the Thai Foreign Ministry and Samart Telecom in defence of Sivarak.

The government, the writer said, should protect Sivarak's honour and tell international observers that Cambodia's allegations are trumped up.

Miscellany

Cambodia has expelled all Thai staff from Cambodia Air Traffic Services after a Thai engineer on staff was charged with spying.

Phnom Penh has filed national security charges of stealing classified information against engineer Sivarak Chutipong.

Cambodia has now ordered all Thai nationals working for CATS to leave the company and prohibited them from re-entering until the legal proceedings against Mr Sivarak are completed, Samart Corporation Plc president Watchai Wilailuck said.

CATS, a fully owned subsidiary of Bangkok-based Samart, holds a concession to run air traffic control services in Cambodia.

The firm employs nine Thai officials at Cambodian airport, in management or senior engineering positions. About 200 other staff are Cambodians.

Mr Watchai was told Cambodian authorities would send their own people to run the company.

"We need to follow Cambodia's order and are asking the Thai government to negotiate with Cambodia.

'We have nothing to do with their diplomatic dispute, but it is affecting our business," Mr Watchai said.

Thailand and Cambodia are signatories to an investment protection agreement, to protect each other's private businesses.

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