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Monday, December 14, 2009

U.S. to help boost Cambodia's seaport security for avoiding nuclear smuggling

PHNOM PENH, The United States on Monday inked an agreement with Cambodia to help the latter to strengthen the seaport security to avoid the nuclear smuggling and other radioactive material in the country.

Carol A. Rodley, U.S. ambassador to Cambodia, and Cambodian Senior Minister Om Yen Tieng signed the agreement on behalf of their respective governments at the Secretariat of the National Counter terrorism Committee (SNCTC) in Phnom Penh, a press release from the U.S. Embassy said. The agreement launched a cooperative effort to help deter, detect, and interdict illicit smuggling of nuclear and other radioactive material.

"The agreement, known as the Megaports Initiative, paves the way for the Kingdom of Cambodia to install radiation detection equipment at the Autonomous Port of Sihanoukville," it said.

According to the agreement, in addition to providing equipment and related infrastructure, the United States will also train Cambodian officials on the use and maintenance of the equipment.

"The installation of radiation detection equipment at the port will improve Cambodia's ability to monitor cargo at this critical location and underscores the importance of the country's seaports in regional maritime security," it added.

It said that the Megaports Initiative is now operational at 28 ports around the world. Work is underway at additional ports in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
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Irate Sivarak demands answers

Govt, Kasit under fire to explain 'spy' drama

Pressure is mounting on the government and the Foreign Ministry to take responsibility for the arrest and conviction of Sivarak Chutipong who returned to Thailand yesterday.

Mr Sivarak was the first to attack Thai authorities, demanding that Kamrob Palawatwichai, the first secretary of the Thai embassy in Cambodia, speak out and restore his damaged reputation by confirming he was not involved in a government attempt to get the flight schedule of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The Puea Thai Party which, with the help of de facto leader Thaksin, pushed hard to get a pardon for Mr Sivarak after he was convicted last week by a Phnom Penh court for spying, vowed to take the issue to parliament to grill the government during the censure debate next month.

Yesterday the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, chaired by the opposition party, made further moves on the issue by demanding Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya and Mr Kamrob appear before it to clarify the spying allegations.

Mr Sivarak, an engineer for Cambodia Airport Traffic Services, was sentenced to seven years in jail and fined 10 million riel (100,000 baht) on Dec 8 after being arrested by Cambodian authorities and detained since Nov 12. He was granted a pardon by King Norodom Sihamoni on Friday.

"He [Mr Kamrob] should come out and tell the truth to the public about whether he really made a phone call to me to ask about the VIP plane's schedule. I didn't know who was on board, especially Dr Thaksin," he told reporters shortly after landing at Suvarnabhumi airport from the Cambodian capital.

"I am not a spy. If I were a spy, there would not have been any evidence left," he said. "From now on I want to spend my life with my family. I have not decided yet whether to return to work in Cambodia."

Mr Sivarak denied widespread speculation that the entire incident was a plot by Puea Thai and Thaksin to discredit the government and boost the popularity of the convicted former prime minister, who on Sunday arrived in Phnom Penh to arrange for his release.

The 31-year-old engineer briefed Thaksin on every detail of his case, but said he had no political motive in talking about the issue.

His mother, Simarak na Nakhon Phanom, refused to accept she and her son were part of a political game.

"No mother in the world would set up a situation which would send her son to jail. If I were that type of mother, I would be a very bad person. I have to thank everyone for helping to get my son released," she said.

"I want everything to come to an end because my family wants to return to a normal life."

Puea Thai MP for Udon Thani Torpong Chaiyasarn, who heads the house foreign affairs committee, said Mr Kasit and Mr Kamrob had been sent a letter demanding they clarify the issue at a committee hearing.

"Even though Mr Sivarak has been released, the foreign minister should step forward to do something, or even apologise to Mr Sivarak. Justice must be served in this case," Mr Torpong said.

Mr Kasit was not available for comment as he was not in the country.

His secretary, Chavanond Intarakomalyasut, insisted there would be no reaction from Mr Kamrob and stressed there was no misconduct on the part of the first secretary or Mr Sivarak. "It will make no difference whether he speaks out or not," Mr Chavanond said.

A ministry source said Mr Kamrob was still turning up for work at the ministry after having been expelled by Phnom Penh in connection with the spying charge.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said the government was already in possession of the information on Thaksin's flight schedule so there was no need to try to steal it as alleged.

The issue should now be laid to rest and should not be exploited to create further problems, he said.

Democrat Party spokesman Buranaj Smutharaks said he still believed the case was a publicity stunt.

Thepthai Senpong, Mr Abhisit's spokesman, said it was not beyond anyone's expectation that Thaksin would fly in to "inspect the filming of a drama which was coming to an end". As "a producer", Thaksin had to be there to see for himself and make sure the drama was properly done, Mr Thepthai said.

After his release from Prey Sar prison, Mr Sivarak went to the home of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to be presented with his signed royal pardon.

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Q+A-What is ex-Thai PM Thaksin doing in Cambodia?

Dec 14 (Reuters) - Fugitive former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra has returned to Cambodia for the second time in a month, baiting his political rivals back home and adding fuel to a diplomatic row between the two neighbours [ID:nSGE5BD03Q].

The billionaire, who is on the run from a two-year prison sentence for abuse of power, says he plans to further his work as an economics adviser for Cambodia. His critics say the visits are stunts aimed at raising the political stakes in Thailand.

WHAT IS THAKSIN'S STRATEGY?

Thaksin's presence in Cambodia is attracting a lot of attention back home and is seriously testing the patience of the Thai government, which has shown restraint in the face of his provocation and Cambodia's refusal to extradite him.

Thaksin is probably seeking to use Cambodia as a temporary base to meet his political allies, fortify his sizable support and discredit the government. He will take pleasure from the fact that there is little his enemies in Thailand can do to stop him.

WHY IS HE VISITING NOW?

Thaksin has turned a recent feud into a public relations coup for himself and his Puea Thai party by ensuring a Thai sentenced to seven years in a Cambodian prison for spying -- by leaking the former tycoon's flight details -- received a royal pardon.

Thaksin's "red" movement is gathering momentum back home and the Cambodian visit comes ahead of a big push by his parliamentary and extra-parliamentary forces, starting next month.

"Red shirt" demonstrators are planning prolonged anti-government protests while Puea Thai will seek to undermine Abhisit Vejjajiva's shaky coalition in a censure debate.

Also looming is a court ruling on whether Thaksin's family should be entitled to almost $2.3 billion worth of seized assets.

WHAT'S THE ECONOMIC IMPACT?

Cambodia's economy depends heavily on China, Japan and South Korea and very little on Thailand, which in turn relies on its neighbour for just 0.05 percent of total imports.

It is unlikely a tit-for-tat row with Thailand will change anything, unless the border is closed, in which case Cambodians would have to find other suppliers of goods such as building materials and electrical appliances.

Investors in Thailand, however, might not be so comfortable. Thaksin's provocative alliance with Hun Sen risks further destabilising a country mired in political strife for almost five years and continues to distract Abhisit, hampering his efforts to govern properly.

WILL TENSION GET WORSE?

Television footage in Thailand of Thaksin receiving statesman-like treatment in Cambodia, and appearing as a healer of diplomatic wounds, will further vex the Thai government and probably prolong the row.

Thailand and Cambodia are barely on speaking terms. Cambodia has least to lose from a protracted feud and by cosying up to Thaksin, Prime Minister Hun Sen appears to be in no rush to fix the problem, suggesting it could go on for some time. (Compiled by Martin Petty; Editing by Alan Raybould and Bill Tarrant)
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Thaksin Back in Cambodia to See Release of Thai Man Held for Spying

By SETH MYDANS



With Thailand’s fugitive former prime minister standing by, Cambodia on Monday released a Thai citizen convicted of spying, in what Thaksin Shinawatra has called a Thai plot to kill him.

Mr. Thaksin arrived in Cambodia on Sunday for the second time in a month, an appearance that seemed to be a calculated insult to his own nation. This time he presented himself as a mediator, meeting with his countryman as he was released from prison.

The Thai citizen, Sivarak Chutipong, 31, worked for a Thai air services company in Phnom Penh and was sentenced to seven years in prison last week after passing on to his embassy the flight details of Mr. Thaksin’s earlier visit to Cambodia on Nov. 10.

Mr. Sivarak was pardoned Friday by King Norodom Sihamoni of Cambodia. Mr. Thaksin claimed that Mr. Sivarak had been part of a plan by Thailand to shoot down his plane.

During that first visit, Cambodia rejected a request by Thailand for Mr. Thaksin’s extradition, intensifying tensions between the two unfriendly neighbors. Thailand and Cambodia have both withdrawn their ambassadors and first secretaries in a sign of deteriorating relations.

For more than a year, both nations have stationed troops at a disputed temple on their border, and brief firefights have taken several lives.

Mr. Thaksin was convicted last year of corruption and abuse of power during his tenure as prime minister. He was ousted in a coup in 2006 but has continued to rally his supporters with speeches and defiant gestures like his trips to Cambodia.

As The Nation, a Thai English-language newspaper, put it in a front-page caption on Monday, “The man who set off the Thai-Cambodian diplomatic crisis goes gleefully back to Phnom Penh yesterday to, ironically, oversee the release of a man he claimed was part of a plot to kill him.” Cambodia’s minister of information, Khieu Kanharith, said that Mr. Thaksin had telephoned Prime Minister Hun Sen requesting the release.

Along with the caption, The Nation printed photographs of Mr. Thaksin grinning as he stepped down from an aircraft Sunday and sitting with Mr. Sivarak with Cambodian flags displayed in front and behind him.

It was a complicated image, associating Mr. Thaksin with the release of a fellow citizen but also with the nation that had arrested him, setting off a new wave of nationalist anger in Thailand.

Mr. Hun Sen has stoked this anger with antagonistic statements directed at the Thai government, which Mr. Thaksin’s supporters say they want to topple.

“Cambodia will have no happiness as long as this group is in power in Thailand,” Mr. Hun Sen said earlier this month.

Underscoring that political bias, Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Cambodian Council of Ministers, said the government was to receive a delegation of four members of Thailand’s Puea Thai party, which supports Mr. Thaksin.

“This is to show the good atmosphere and the good ties between the Puea Thai party and the Cambodian government,” Phal Chandara, a government lawyer, told The Phnom Penh Post.

Thai officials said they would renew their demand for Mr. Thaksin’s extradition. Mr. Hun Sen has invited him to visit as an “economic adviser,” and officials said that Mr. Thaksin planned to give seminars about the economy while he is there. On his last visit he stayed five days.

In Bangkok on Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said it would be difficult to restore good relations if Cambodia continued to refuse to extradite Mr. Thaksin.

“I’m deeply concerned if Cambodia refuses to extradite Thaksin, because I don’t know how to continue relations between the two countries,” he said.
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FBD: Cambodia's pepper industry in need of big changes

By FoodBizDaily.com staff writer


December 14 2009 - If Cambodia’s currently small black pepper industry is to become a global player, the industry needs major changes: A proper grading system, state-of-the-art processing plants and real quality control are all good starts. This then should enable the industry to make exports to the EU and Japan quite soon.

Pepper from Kampot, a province in Southern Cambodia, will get a boost next year when it receives a geographic indicator shared by products such as Champagne. The issues of quality and sustainability will be addressed next. In addition, raw materials will need to meet buyer specifications; after that, customer satisfaction needs to be achieved.

The Kingdom’s pepper, though centred in Kampong Cham province, must still be shipped to Vietnam for processing due to the fact that there are no domestic processing facilities in Cambodia other than Kampot.

Approximately 1,000 to 2,000 tonnes of pepper is produced annually in Cambodia. This is a tiny fraction of the total global production of some 281,974 tonnes, as measured by the International Pepper Community (IPC).

As of now, Cambodia’s pepper industry is stuck in a mostly ad hoc system. Furthermore, the government, despite pleas from major producers of pepper worldwide, has chosen not to join the IPC.

In contrast to Cambodia, Vietnam’s pepper industry has benefited greatly from IPC membership. In fact, Vietnam is now the world’s largest exporter of pepper, sending abroad around 120,000 tonnes in just the first 10 months of this year (2009).



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