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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Drug trafficking ruled beyond UN protection

By Unique Group Travel in Sydney. Ideal for family, friends & staff.

DOES trafficking drugs make you a member of a social group?

The question was considered by the Refugee Review Tribunal when a Cambodian man, jailed for smuggling drugs into Australia, applied for a protection visa after he was transferred to a detention centre on parole.

The man was carrying drugs when he was arrested on his arrival in Australia in 2006.

Advertisement: Story continues below He feared that if he returned to Cambodia, he would be harmed by his co-accused because he informed on them, and that his conviction for drug smuggling put him at risk of harm from the local authorities.

The 1951 United Nations Convention defines refugees as people who are unable or unwilling to return to their home country due to "a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion".

The man argued that as a former police officer and deputy governor involved in drug-related offences he was a member of a social group.

The tribunal members accepted that in Cambodia "corrupt officials may tolerate the drug trade, that some of the leaders of the drug-smuggling enterprise have political power in Cambodia, and that some are even government officials themselves".

But they found the man's fears did not fall within the scope of the convention.

"The essential and significant reason for the harm the applicant fears is not his membership of any group, but what he has done - namely involved himself in drug trafficking," they said.

The members concluded Australia did not owe him protection obligations and rejected his visa application.

The man had sought a review of the decision in the Federal Magistrates Court, arguing that the tribunal "erred in law because it failed to see my situation as a human situation". A magistrate, Kenneth Raphael, found the tribunal had made no error and dismissed the man's application.

Previous cases have held that fear of revenge, unless linked with race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a social group, would not normally amount to persecution under the convention.

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PM Abhisit asks Cambodian counterpart to confer on Preah Vihear temple

BANGKOK, Nov 21 -- As Thai activists plan to rally at Parliament later this week to protest two government-sponsored constitutional amendments, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on Sunday defended his administration's policy on the ancient Preah Vihear temple which has soured relations with neighbouring Cambodia for some past years.

During his weekly TV and radio address, Mr Abhisit said he met and discussed with his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen on the sidelines of the 4th Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS) Summit, held in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh last Wednesday, on the temple and its surrounding area.

The Thai premier said last week's meeting was the fourth time he had met and discussed with his Cambodian counterpart and that relations between the two neighbouring countries have obviously been improved.

Mr Abhisit said he had told Mr Hun Sen that the temple problem arose because Cambodia had asked UNESCO to name Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage site, despite the two countries still not agreeing on the area surrounding it.

The 2000 agreement between the two countries on the Survey and Demarcation of the Land Boundary plus the Thai-Cambodian Joint Commission on Demarcation for Land Boundary (JBC) set by the memorandum of understanding are important as they prevent Phnom Penh from managing the contested area surrounding the temple, he said.

“JBC memos haven’t yet been approved by the Thai Parliament and are now stalled, preventing Cambodia from proposing a management plan for the area temple environs,“ Mr Abhisit said.

Three previous JBC memos must be endorsed by the Thai parliament as required by the Constitution, which states that any pact with other countries needs House approval.

Mr Abhisit said Mr Hun Sen understood the Thai process at last week's meeting and agreed to avoid military confrontation along the border and would proceed handling the issue under the JBC framework.

His comments were made as the 'Yellow Shirt' People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) activists plan to protest at Parliament Tuesday, Wednesnay and Thursday Nov 23-25 during a joint sitting of both houses to consider charter amendments to change Thailand’s electoral system and systems of approving international agreements which require parliamentary approval.

The PAD opposes parliamentary endorsement of three previous memos by the JBC, claiming they may end up in the loss of Thai territory adjacent to the temple. They also demand revocation of the MoU signed in 2000.

The International Court of Justice in 1962 ruled that the 11th century temple belongs to Phnom Penh, and UNESCO named it a World Heritage site in 2008 after Cambodia applied for the status.

Both countries claim a 1.8-square-mile (4.6-square-kilometre) strip of land adjacent to the cliff-top temple.

Giving reassurances that his government has no hidden agenda behind the controversy, Mr Abhisit said the most important thing now is to “protect Thailand’s sovereignty and benefits”. (MCOT online news)
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Cambodia: Following the music in Phnom Penh

By Thomas Huang

PHNOM PENH -- The quiet boy, Kosair, takes me for a walk through his village on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. We walk down a dirt path, past a small storefront where a woman comforts her baby.

Cars and motorbikes have gathered in front of another house; there's a wedding party tonight.

We walk by a group of dark-haired schoolgirls who stare at me, and their giggles turn to laughter. I know I must be a peculiar sight, a tall Chinese-American man in clothes rumpled by days of travel.

Every so often, people on motorbikes zoom by, and I clutch my camera more tightly, protecting it from their rooster tails of golden dust. I assure myself that the boy and I are safe.

This is a peaceful village, and while Phnom Penh was a violent city just a few years ago, things have stabilized.Still, I am disoriented; I don't belong here; I don't know where we are going. I could lose my way, and who would know?

The boy, Kosair, with large, watchful eyes, walks in the glow of the sun, bare-chested, wearing knee-length shorts and sandals. I am staying with his family in a house owned by a friend, an American journalist.

We pantomime our way through a conversation. We move our first two fingers, pointed downward, to show that we are going for a walk. We hear a song in the distance. To my ears, it sounds like a blend of xylophone, wind chimes and steel drums.

Together, Kosair and I say, "Music." We point at other things and say the words: Car, road, tree, house, river.

We cross a bridge over the Mekong River, and, looking back, Kosair gestures toward our starting point, a small house on the riverbank. "Dey Sena," he says, or something that sounds like that. His mother's name is Sena. Perhaps he is saying, "That's my mother's house."

Kosair seems to be guiding me toward the music. We are curious about where it's coming from. I wonder whether it's coming from a temple. We turn down another dirt road and pass several traditional stilt houses. A few people sleep in hammocks in the space underneath their houses.

We never do find the source of the music.

Kosair notices that a man in a white shirt is following us. The boy seems a little spooked. He motions for us to return home. We walk a little more quickly. Our stride grows a little longer. Once home, we are greeted by Kosair's grandfather and his mischievous little sister, Sreyleak.

The family embraces me with their warmth and cooks me a dinner of Khmer chicken soup, stir-fried shrimp and vegetables, and steamed rice. I eat my meal on the patio and watch the fishermen in their skiffs float by. Families emerge from their houses to bathe their children in the river.

My friend's place is a compound of small houses overlooking the Mekong River. I sleep under mosquito netting, in a guest room near a grove of mango trees, guarded by two excitable dogs. I toss and turn.

Late into the night, the neighborhood wedding party celebrates with loud Cambodian pop music, and I can hear drunken voices trying, unsuccessfully at times, to sing along.

Then there is quiet for a while, but music starts up again at 5 in the morning. (Later, I learn that it is wedding season in Cambodia, and the predawn music signals the beginning of another wedding.)

The wake-up call turns out to be a blessing.

Jumping out of bed, I pull on my clothes and wander out into the humid air, stepping gently onto the patio with my camera.

I hear the song of cicadas, the wind rustling the trees, the lapping of water on the banks. In the soft, new light, I watch a man and woman paddle their boat down the river, stopping every so often to catch fish in their nets. Downstream, in the distance, several men help their cows wade (and then swim?) to the opposite shore.

I try to capture this scene, the sunrise over the river, with my camera, but I am no photographer, and I can't quite make the images show what my eyes see.

I think about the woman I loved for many years, a steadfast traveling partner. I want to share this moment with her, but she is not there.

Still, it is a profound experience. Even though I am not a particularly religious person, I am moved to whisper, "Thank you, God."

And then it is a new morning. I hear the laughter of Kosair and Sreyleak. I walk back to the house to pack my things and say goodbye.
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China's billions reap rewards in Cambodia

By John PomfretWashington Post Staff Writer


IN KOH KONG, CAMBODIA Down a blood-red dirt track deep in the jungles of southwestern Cambodia, the roar begins. Turn a corner and there is the source - scores of dump trucks, bulldozers and backhoes hacking away at the earth. Above a massive hole, a flag flaps in the hot, dusty breeze. The flag of the People's Republic of China.

Here in the depths of the Cardamom Mountains, where the Chinese-backed Khmer Rouge communists made their last stand in the late 1970s, China is asserting its rights as a resurgent imperial power in Asia. Instead of exporting revolution and bloodshed to its neighbors, China is now sending its cash and its people.

At this clangorous hydropower dam site hard along Cambodia's border with Thailand, and in Burma, Laos and even Vietnam, China is engaged in a massive push to extend its economic and political influence into Southeast Asia. Spreading investment and aid along with political pressure, China is transforming a huge swath of territory along its southern border. Call it the Monroe Doctrine, Chinese style.

Ignored by successive U.S. administrations, China's rise in this region is now causing alarm in Washington, which is aggressively courting the countries of Southeast Asia. The Obama administration has cultivated closer ties with its old foe Vietnam. It has tried to open doors to Burma, also known as Myanmar, which U.S. officials believe is in danger of becoming a Chinese vassal state. Relations have been renewed with Laos, whose northern half is dominated by Chinese businesses. In a speech about U.S. policy in Asia on Oct. 28, before she embarked on her sixth trip to Asia in two years, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton used military terminology to refer to U.S. efforts: "forward-deployed diplomacy."

During a recent trip to Phnom Penh - the first of a U.S. secretary of state since 2002 - Clinton, while speaking to Cambodian students, was asked about Cambodia's ties to Beijing. "You don't want to get too dependent on any one country," she told them.

Still, China powers ahead.

China has concluded a free-trade deal with all 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, while a similar U.S. pact is only in its infancy. It is cementing ties with Thailand - a U.S. ally - despite recent political unrest there.

In Cambodia, Chinese firms have turned mining and agricultural concessions in Mondulkiri province in the eastern part of the country into no-go zones for Cambodian police. Guards at the gates to two of them - a gold mine and a hemp plantation - shoo travelers away unless they are able to pay a toll. "It's like a country within a country," quipped Cambodia's minister of interior, Sar Kheng, at a law enforcement conference earlier this year, according to participants at the meeting.

China's real estate development firms have barged into Cambodia with all the ambition, bumptiousness and verve that American fruit and tire firms employed in Latin America or Africa in decades past. One company, Union Development Group, of Tianjin in northern China, won a 99-year concession for 120 square miles - twice the size of Washington - of beachfront property on the Gulf of Thailand. There Chinese work teams are cutting a road and mapping out plans for hotels, villas and golf courses. The estimated investment? $3.8 billion. The target market? The nouveau riche from Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

Last month, China pledged to support the construction of a $600 million stretch of railway between Phnom Penh and Vietnam that will bring China a major step closer to incorporating all of Southeast Asia, as far south as Singapore, into its rail network.

Across Cambodia, dozens of state-run Chinese companies are building eight hydropower dams, including the 246-megawatt behemoth on the Tatay River in Koh Kong. The total price tag for those dams will exceed $1 billion. Altogether, Cambodia owes China $4 billion, said Cheam Yeap, a member of the central committee of the ruling Cambodia People's Party.

"This takeover is inevitable," said Lak Chee Meng, the senior reporter on the Cambodia Sin Chew Daily, one of the country's four Chinese-language dailies, serving a population of 300,000 Chinese-speaking Khmer-Chinese and an additional quarter-million immigrants and businessmen from mainland China. "Cambodia is approaching China with open arms. It's how the United States took over its neighborhood. It's geopolitics."

Purchasing sway

The perennial question about China's rise is when will Beijing be able to translate its cash into power. In Cambodia, it already has.

Cambodia has avoided criticizing Beijing over the dams China is building along China's stretch of the Mekong River - installations that experts predict will upend the lives of millions of Cambodians who live off the fishing economy around the great inland waterway, Tonle Sap.

Cambodia so strictly follows Beijing's "one China" policy that it has refused Taiwan's request to open up an economic office here despite the many millions of dollars' worth of Taiwanese investment in Cambodia.

China's heft was also clearly on display in December when Chinese and American diplomats went toe-to-toe over the fate of 20 Uighur Chinese who had fled to Cambodia and were seeking asylum. China said that some of the men, members of a Chinese Turkic minority, were wanted for having participated in anti-Han Chinese riots in Xinjiang in July 2009. The United States said don't send them back.

China threatened to cancel a trip by its vice president, Xi Junping, who was coming to Cambodia with deals and loans worth $1.2 billion in his briefcase. So Cambodia returned the Uighurs to China. Two days later Xi, who is on track to be China's next leader, arrived in Phnom Penh.

In April of this year, the U.S. State Department announced that to punish Cambodia, it was canceling a shipment of 200 U.S. surplus military trucks and trailers. Less than three weeks later, China donated 257 military trucks.

Cambodia has also followed China's lead when it comes to the South China Sea, a 1 million-square-mile waterway that China asserts belongs to Beijing. In July, Clinton, speaking in Hanoi, challenged China's claims to the open seas and advocated a multilateral approach to divvying up the fishing rights and offshore oil and gas that the sea is believed to contain. China opposes multilateral negotiations, preferring to divide and conquer with bilateral talks. Last month, Cambodia's prime minister, Hun Sen, backed China's approach.

China's one-upmanship with the United States continued earlier this month. A day after Clinton left Cambodia, Wu Bangguo, one of China's top Communist Party officials, arrived in Phnom Penh. During her visit, Clinton had raised the possibility that the United States might forgive a portion of Cambodia's debt to the United States; it owes $445 million. Wu was more forthright. He struck $4.5 million off Cambodia's tab; Chinese officials are considering forgiving an additional $200 million.

Only a few obstacles

China's road to domination here hasn't been without potholes. Vietnam, which ousted the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979 and installed Hun Sen, has woken up to the threat of increased Chinese influence and has directed Vietnamese state-owned companies to pour money into Cambodia. From $28 million in 2008, Vietnamese investment jumped to $268 million in 2009 and to $1.2 billion this year, according to Cambodian government statistics.

The Vietnamese military runs Cambodia's No. 2 - and soon to be No. 1 - telecommunications company. Most government officials use its services because it gives them SIM cards loaded with free minutes.

But China is quick to counter Vietnam. Chinese and Cambodian officials this month signed a $591 million loan package - Cambodia's biggest ever - from the Bank of China for Cambodia's other main telecommunications company. The only catch is that $500 million was earmarked to buy Chinese equipment from the Chinese telecom giant Huawei.

Even Cambodia's ruler, Hun Sen, has sometimes chafed at the bearhug from Beijing. In December 2009, Chinese workers finished a massive $30 million government building where the prime minister was supposed to house his offices. But Hun Sen didn't like the place, complained about its squat toilets and the fact that "it didn't even have a proper chandelier," according to a Western diplomat. There were also concerns that China had bugged the premises. So Hun Sen built new offices next door and opened both buildings last month.

Historical influence

China has exercised imperial sway over Cambodia for centuries. Eight hundred years ago, Chinese troops bailed out Khmer kings; friendly Chinese warriors are carved on the side of the famed 12th-century Bayon temple near Angkor Wat. In the 1950s and 1960s, Communist China embraced the regime of King Norodom Sihanouk and provided the Khmer Rouge with inspiration, security and economic assistance throughout their bloody rule from 1975 to 1979. Sihanouk, now 88 and the king father, resides in Beijing.

Huo Zhaoguo, a Chinese manager of Union Development's massive project along the Cambodian coast, is typical of the new Chinese coming to this country. In the 1980s in Lanzhou in northwestern China, Huo struck it rich selling beans but then lost his fortune. He washed up in Cambodia in the 1990s, chasing a Vietnamese dealer who owed him money. Huo returned to Lanzhou penniless but couldn't stay. "I'd been rich there once and so everybody laughed at me," he said. "A man needs self-respect."

Huo moved back to Cambodia and opened a noodle stand. He moved up to a noodle restaurant and then met the boss of Union Development, who came to his shop searching for northern Chinese food. The boss gave Huo a chance at Union, and now Huo is overseeing road construction. Union got the land because it had the cash and the connections, Huo said.

"This country is too poor and the corruption is the same as China," he observed. "If you have power here, you have a great future."

"Cambodians feel no pressure to succeed. They even take weekends off. Not us," he said, with the air of colonial supremacy you hear from many Chinese in Cambodia. "We work."
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Former Khmer Rouge fighter haunted by his past

By Suy Se (AFP)


PHNOM PENH — Stumbling across the photo of his twin brother who died more than three decades ago was the last thing former Khmer Rouge fighter Uch Sokhon expected on a visit to Cambodia's genocide museum.

"I feel shocked," the 53-year-old said, gently wiping the dusty glass frame holding a black-and-white image of his brother, immortalised at the age of 20. "But it was a long time ago."

The picture is one of hundreds of mugshots of condemned prisoners on display at Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh. Now a genocide museum, it was at the centre of the Khmer Rouge security apparatus between 1975 and 1979.

Some 15,000 inmates, including women and children, lost their lives and torture was routinely used to extract confessions from terrified prisoners at the facility, also known as S-21.

Sokhon and some 300 other people, mainly former Khmer Rouge supporters and fighters, recently travelled all night on buses from the northwestern Khmer Rouge stronghold of Pailin to tour the prison for the first time.

Pailin was one of the final refuges of the brutal regime, which was driven from power in 1979. Soldiers and officials fled to the remote region to re-group and try to battle the new government

The trip was organised by the UN-backed war crimes court -- which was set up in 2006 to bring ex-regime leaders to justice -- and aims to increase awareness among Cambodians about the ongoing trials.

Confronting victims as well as former soldiers and cadres with the jail and the court's work is a key part of bringing closure to the past, a court spokesman said.

"We believe it is easier for people to understand the mission of the tribunal when they see Tuol Sleng and the court with their own eyes," Lars Olsen said.

Former Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, was the first to face justice at the UN-backed court.

In a landmark ruling in July, the tribunal sentenced him 30 years in jail, though the case is now under appeal.

Walking past the tiny cells that held some of the prisoners, including perhaps his own brother, and after inspecting the torture implements on display, Sokhon says he regrets his own past actions.

"I feel remorse and pain because I also used to be a fighter for Democratic Kampuchea (the Khmer Rouge)," said the teary-eyed civil servant.

Sokhon said he and his identical twin, Sokhan, both joined the hardline communist movement in 1971 aged just 15 because it was the only way to survive.

Dedicated fighters, they quickly rose through the ranks to become mid-level military commanders.

But the regime turned against Sokhan when he tried to help a relative who had caused a minor accident in February 1976.

Sokhon had left the keys in the ignition of a bulldozer he had been using to dig irrigation channels, when his cousin Thein decided to take it for a ride.

He accidentally turned the vehicle over -- an arrestable offence in the eyes of the Khmer Rouge.

Sokhon told his senior cadres his cousin was to blame for the incident, but when his twin heard the news he insisted on protecting their relative.

"I warned my brother not to help our cousin otherwise he would lose his position and be arrested," Sokhon said. "But he said he must help him.

"A few days later I was told that my brother was arrested... And I knew he had been sent to Tuol Sleng."

Despite his brother's detainment, Sokhon continued to fight for the Khmer Rouge -- even after Vietnamese forces ousted them from the capital in 1979.

He lost his right eye in 1989 when a grenade landed near him during a fight against government troops, and there are still more than 20 pieces of shrapnel lodged in his body.

After years of combat, Sokhon defected to the government in 1996 alongside the regime's foreign minister Ieng Sary. Two years later, the civil war ended.

"Now, I hate the regime very much. I am glad that the regime leaders are standing trial," he said.

Up to two million people died from starvation, overwork and execution during the four-year rule of the Khmer Rouge, led by "Brother Number One" Pol Pot, who died in 1998.

The four most senior surviving regime leaders -- including Ieng Sary -- are due to face trial next year for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide for their part in Cambodia's "Killing Fields" era.

Cambodian and international prosecutors have disagreed on whether to pursue more suspects and Prime Minister Hun Sen told UN chief Ban Ki-moon last month that a third case was "not allowed" because it could spark renewed civil war.

Sokhon said his own personal journey to face the past was over.

"I don't want to remember. I want it to end here. But that does not mean I still support the Khmer Rouge," he said.

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