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Friday, October 29, 2010

PM surprised by PAD claims

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said his government is protecting the national interest by observing the 2000 Thai-Cambodian memorandum of understanding that governs the survey and demarcation of the land boundary between the two countries.

He made the point in response to the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) which filed a complaint with the Administrative Court yesterday, accusing the government of jeopardising Thai territory by its observance of the MoU.

Mr Abhisit, who was attending the 17th Asean summit in Hanoi yesterday, said his government had neither a hidden agenda nor vested interests.

The cabinet intended to protect the national interest in its request that parliament approve three proceedings of the Joint Commission on Demarcation for Land Boundary or the Joint Boundary Commission (JBC) of Thailand and Cambodia, he said.

The JBC was formed to implement the 2000 MoU, but it cannot begin its task without approval from the Thai parliament.

Mr Abhisit said he was surprised by the PAD accusation. He denied his government had used the widespread flooding in the country to mask the submission of the three JBC proceedings to parliament.

He said the proceedings were submitted to parliament publicly and the proposal took its normal pace after it had been shelved for a long time.

He said he was not worried about the PAD's planned rally on Tuesday to oppose the process but he warned participants to abide by the law.

Yesterday afternoon, PAD representatives accused Mr Abhisit's government of violating the laws of good national administration.

The group also accused the prime minister of violating the 2007 constitution by supporting an implementation of the 2000 MoU.

The PAD claimed seeking parliament's approval for the JBC's proceedings will lead to a loss of national territory.

Section 1 of the charter states that Thailand is one indivisible kingdom.

The PAD said that approval of the JBC's proceedings would lead to a temporary border agreement between the two countries and the agreement would allow Cambodia to challenge earlier settled sections of the boundary.

It also complained that the 2000 MoU recognised the French-made map at 1:200,000 scale. This put Thailand at a territorial disadvantage as the borderline in the map drawn by France encroached on Thai territory, the PAD claimed.

The PAD filed its complaint with the Administrative Court and asked the court to revoke the JBC's proceedings, the 2000 MoU and cabinet resolutions endorsing the negotiation framework for the JBC and supporting the proposal of the JBC's proceedings to parliament.

The PAD also sought an injunction to stop parliament from considering the proceedings. The court is expected to rule on the injunction on Monday.

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Cambodia’s mystical magical caves

Matt Lundy Special to the Star



KAMPOT, CAMBODIA—The Cambodian children hop between jagged rocks like little mountain goats, even though they’re wearing the same cheap, plastic flip-flops that we are. Our sandals have a thick lubrication of trail mud and perspiration, to the point where every few steps they slip right off. And yet the children – who likely make this trek daily – are goading us on, higher up the mountain and then deeper into the cave, saying “It’s so easy!”

My girlfriend and I didn’t plan on coming to Phnom Chhngok in Kampot, but our driver, Sarath, is ferrying us around to all the hotspots in this part of southern Cambodia, even if our attire is completely inappropriate. Minutes earlier, when we arrived at the closest village to the caves, a group of boys surrounded the car, led by a 10-year-old named Opp, who asked our names in the perfect grammar of an English composition professor. This is the point when we find out our driver is now useless to us: the youngsters, locally known as “the Cave Boys,” will be taking us into the limestone peak’s bowels.

As we make our way to the base, we cross through rice fields that are punctuated with palm trees, a scene that looks like b-roll footage from an old Vietnam War flick. Opp points to rice crabs that scurry along the paddies’ shallow floor and to far-off mountain ranges that have never seen a day of logging. We have about 300 stairs to climb now – it’s a luxury that there are stairs – but our footwear has been rendered useless by the mud trails, not to mention our wits are at half-mast following last night’s generous flow of Angkor beer.

About halfway through the climb we pay a one dollar entry-fee to a middle-aged man who is surrounded by gaudy statues of elephants and religious icons. The steps are then gradually replaced by uneven rocks – likely the result of lazy construction – that are made more difficult by their wetness, a by-product of Cambodia’s monsoon season.

When we finally reach the top and descend into the cave, it opens like a limestone blanket and reveals a 1400-year-old Hindu temple, made out of mud brick. It’s a little surprise “the Cave Boys” and Sarath failed to mention, but seemingly appropriate for the cities of Kampot and Kep, two Cambodian dark horses that delight visitors with their unexpected natural beauty.

Some veteran travelers have anointed Sihanoukville, a resort town on the Gulf of Thailand, as Southeast Asia’s “new Phuket.” But when real Cambodians want to escape the motorcycle mad streets of Phnom Penh and head south, they invariably go to Kampot and Kep, laid-back cities crammed with fresh seafood bodegas, densely forested mountains, and a host of accommodations to please any price range.

When we get back to the car, and after saying our goodbyes to “the Cave Boys,” we ask Sarath about how Kampot has changed in the past five years and where it’s headed.

“Kampot, it used to be very dirty,” he says. “But the city cleaned up the boardwalk on the river and many guesthouses are being built. I think the future will be good for Kampot. More people come here now.”

With its crumbling French Colonial architecture, sparse traffic, and stray dogs sleeping in the shade of noodle shop tables, Kampot looks like a Wild West relic. But a closer look reveals a city with gorgeous sunset views along the river, guesthouses that rarely exceed 15 bucks a night, and close proximity to some of Cambodia’s crown jewels: the Elephant Mountains and its jungles, Bokor National Park, and some of the world’s finest pepper plantations (just ask the French, who still import Kampot pepper, decades after Cambodia’s independence).

After sampling some fresh peppercorns straight off the plant, we go to Kep, a seaside town on the Gulf of Thailand just 30 minutes from Kampot by car. Formerly a coastal playground for Cambodia’s elite, Kep has developed into a chilled-out vacation spot with accommodations ranging from thatched-roof huts that please a backpacker’s wallet, to proper luxury resorts with all the frills you’d expect in the Caribbean. And although Kep Beach is popular with locals who come to swim and picnic, the beach itself has seen better days. When you come to Kep, you come to gorge on mounds of fresh crab meat, just pulled out of the water.

But for those, like me, who need a white sand beach lined with palm trees and a hammock, go to Rabbit Island, just 20 minutes from Kep by boat. Sarath tells us that the island reportedly got its name after King Sihanouk stocked it full of rabbits so that he and his buddies could hunt them on vacation, though no outside literature can back that up. Rabbit Island is a postcard-perfect retreat that is highly accessible, and yet totally rustic. The little overnight huts might not have running water, but cold cans of Angkor are available, because it wouldn’t be Cambodia without them.

After we leave Rabbit Island, Sarath drives us through the countryside on the way back to our guesthouse. My girlfriend and I aren’t talking, but not because anything bad has happened. We just look out the windows of our driver’s beat-up car – at the kids riding over-sized bikes, roosters crossing dirt roads, pigs being led by a leash – and realize why Cambodians overwhelmingly come here to escape.

Matt Lundy is a freelancer writer based in Phnom Penh.
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ATF 2011 Phnom Penh exceeds already all of our forecasts in terms of success

By Luc Citrinot, eTN


PHNOM PENH (eTN) - Cambodia will play host to the ASEAN Travel Forum next January for the second time in its history. Phnom Penh is getting ready to provide a memorable welcome to all delegates as explained by His Excellency So Mara, Secretary of State, Cambodia Ministry of Tourism.

eTN: How does the preparation of the ASEAN Travel Forum (ATF) look?

SO MARA: I am very pleased to say that we can already see all the signs of success even before we started to send the invitation to hosted buyers and media. We first thought that we would get 350 sellers. We then planned to have 400 sellers, but now we already received more than 480 requests. We have now to find solutions to accommodate all the requests and look at ways to expand the exhibition area to welcome more sellers. We are now in discussion with the Organizing Committee, as well as with the owners of Diamond Island Convention & Exhibition Center, ATF['s] main venue for the mart. For the buyers and media, we expect to host 400 buyers and 100 media. And we already received over 860 registrations. We might increase now the total number of hosted buyers with the deadline for final approval being set up for the first week of November.

eTN: What will the Ministry in Phnom Penh do to welcome ATF delegates?

SO MARA: We want to give a lasting memory to delegates about Cambodia’s traditional sense of welcome. We already blocked 1,500 rooms in Phnom Penh for the event with new prestigious venues including the brand new Sofitel Phnom Penh or Diamond Island Convention & Exhibition Center. All official meetings with ASEAN Ministers of tourism + 5 [China, India, Korea, Japan, and Russia] as well as with the tourism representatives from Saudi Arabia and UAE, will be hosted in the brand new Council of Ministers building, which is equipped with the latest high-tech facilities. This will be the first time that such meetings will take place in an official government’s building. Among the highlights, all ministers will receive a courtesy call from our Prime Minister and be granted an audience with our King. For all delegates, we prepare a lot of surprises, including the presence of world-famous VIPs and stars.

eTN: What do you expect from the ATF in terms of image benefits?

SO MARA: We first expect to show that Cambodia is fully back on the world tourism stage and that it is a must-see destination along [with] all other ASEAN countries. ATF gives us the opportunity to show that Cambodia is today at peace and a safe destination, thanks to strong political stability under the current government. We hope also to highlight that Cambodia offers a great diversity of holiday opportunities. Beyond the iconic temples of Angkor, which remains our country’s “signature,” the Kingdom of Cambodia is also a premier destination for beach tourism or eco-tourism.

eTN: How far has Cambodia tourism come this year?

SO MARA: We are likely to reach a new record in tourist arrivals. In 2009, we recorded a moderate growth of 1.7 percent to 2.16 million travelers. Until August of this year, total arrivals are up by 14.6 percent. We now forecast 2.42 million travelers for 2010 and estimate that tourist arrivals should reach 2.75 million in 2011. A very positive trend is Siem Reap. After two years of stagnation, international arrivals at Siem Reap airport were up by almost 17 percent from January to August 2010.

eTN: Do you try to diversify Cambodia's image by promoting new destinations?

SO MARA: Our three main destinations for visitors are Siem Reap/Angkor temples, Phnom Penh, and Sihanoukville in the south. However, we want to create a new icon along our coastal area as we believe that we have some of the best pristine beaches in Southeast Asia. We indeed look to qualify one of our beaches as one of the world’s most beautiful beaches. We want also to put more emphasis on eco-tourism, especially in the northeastern provinces of our country where rare animals and endangered flora species can still be discovered and observed. There are also other secondary destinations we want to push up such as Kep/Kampot as a beach resort destination or Preah Vihar temple for cultural tourism. We just completed a road to the temple, making it an easy destination, only two hours away from Siem Reap.
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Thai Talks Continue as Thaksin Fades From Picture

From left to right: Myanmar's Prime Minister Thein Sein, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Laos' Prime Minister Bouasone Buphavanh.



Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Thai counterpart met on the sidelines of a UN-Asean summit in Hanoi on Thursday, the third meeting in just over a month, in an effort to reconcile an ongoing border dispute.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said in September he had high hopes for the meetings, following the resignation of Thai fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra and the restoration of diplomatic ties.

That resignation has paved the way for talk of cooperation on both sides.

“The meeting was to affirm confidence and cooperation between Thailand and Cambodia, because we have to make the relationship on several issues, especially the borders,” Abhisit told VOA's Thai service. “From this talk, we confirmed cooperation and want to jointly find solutions to these problems without resorting to violence. We did not talk in detail, but we see a need to cooperate and to solve the problems.”

Hun Sen shared similar sentiments in a public speech, saying the meeting was “an essential one that creates confidence and cooperation.”

Relations between the two neighbors have soured since July 2008, when Preah Vihear temple, which sits next to a disputed strip of land on the border, was added to a World Heritage list under Cambodian management. Relations worsened when Thaksin, who faces a criminal sentence at home, was appointed an economic adviser to the government.

“I've told Abhisit that no matter how we are at odds with each other, and for whatever matter, we cannot move away from one another,” Hun Sen said after their first meeting.

But Cambodia has insisted that Thaksin, who was ousted in a bloodless coup in 2006, is a secondary factor in the relationship.

“Whether Thaksin is working as an adviser is not a key problem between Cambodia and Thailand,” Ouch Borith, secretary of state for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told VOA Khmer. “For Cambodia, we don't see Thaksin as a problem, because he wasn't working solely as a Cambodian adviser. He also works and has business in Africa.”

Ouch Borith said problems over the border in 2008 had occurred prior to Thaksin's appointment, which Thailand used as a “pretext to cause problems with Cambodia.”

Thaksin's importance in the ongoing dispute remains in question, but Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan, who is from Thailand, said he was no longer relevant.

Ongoing talks between Hun Sen and Abhisit “is certainly a good sign,” he said. “And I think both sides are very much committed to an improved relationship.”

The two leaders met first in New York and then again in Brussels, and participants of those meetings said both the border and economic cooperation were discussed.

With Thaksin slowly moving away, relations have improved, but political observers have said that whether Hun Sen is shaking hands with Thaksin or Abhisit, he has nothing to lose.
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