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Monday, January 31, 2011

PM: War the last option


Yellow Shirts want to taste more and more of bitter Khmer Rouge

The government will persist in pursuing peaceful means to settle border disputes with Cambodia, with war the very last option, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Monday.

"I do believe that both the Thai and Cambodian governments will adhere to peaceful ways to resolve our border conflicts.

"My intention of using peaceful approaches to settle the border dispute does not mean that the government is afraid of a war with Cambodia.

"It is also does not mean that the government is the underdog in dealings with our neighbor, as claimed by the yellow-shirt people group.

The use of force will be the last option and will be resorted to only when there is no other solution left," Mr Abhisit said.

He stressed that the government is in contact with Cambodia about removing its flag from the disputed area.

On the three demands by the yellow-shirt People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), Mr Abhisit said the demands would only lead to more damage to the country, instead of any benefit.

“If the government decided to withdraw from Unesco's World Heritage Committee today, there would be no Thai representatives to oppose Cambodia’s plan to also list the area near Preah Vihear temple as a world heritage site.

“Would the yellow-shirts accept responsibility for the foreseeable consequences? My decision on the issue is for the benefit of the country, not for self interest,” Mr Abhisit said.

Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon said fresh deployment of Cambodian troops and armour along border areas adjoining Si Sa Ket province are not cause for worry.

Gen Prawit said Cambodian troops might be on routine defence exercises. Thai solders are also on full alert, ready to protect the country's sovereignty.

Troops of both countries were doing their duty on both sides of the border, and there should not be any problem, he said.

"I believe there are no serious problems on the Thai-Cambodian border.

"The Foreign Ministry should be able settle the dispute through talks.

"Thailand and Cambodia are not involved in a serious conflict that could trigger a war,'' Gen Prawit said.

He said the flag the Cambodians put up at the entrance to the old Kaew Sikha Khiri Sawara temple in the disputed 4.6-square-kilometre area near Preah Vihear temple was actually a temple flag, and it was only a small flag.

Gen Prawit denied suggestions that Cambodian had was taking an aggressive stance towards Thailand.

Cambodian authorities had showed they were willing to cooperate by removing the insulting stone tablet in front of Wat Kaew Sikha Khiri Sawara, he said.

Deputy Prime Minister in charge of security affairs Suthep Thaugsuban said the government will not accede to the PAD's three demands, as their demands would be very difficult to carry out.

Mr Suthep called on the PAD protesters not to block roads, as they are breaking the law and inconveniencing other people.

Bangkok police will continue to negotiate with the PAD leaders and the government is willing to talk with them at any time, he added.

PAD spokesman Panthep Puapongpan said yellow-shirt activists went to the Criminal Court on Monday morning and filed a suit against four cabinet ministers, accusing them of causing Thailand a loss of sovereignty.

Mr Panthep said the lawsuit filed by Samdin Lertbutr and Tainae Mungmajon, representatives of the PAD, accused the prime minister, his deputy Suthep, Gen Prawit and Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya of violating Articles 119 and 120 of the Criminal Code, for which the maximum penalty is capital punishment.

The spokesman said the four cabinet ministers were responsible for protecting Thailand's sovereignty, but the country had lost some sovereignty to Cambodia.

Mr Samdin and Mr Tainae are two of the seven Thais arrested for illegally entering Cambodia on Dec 29 last year. They were subsequently sentenced to nine months in jail and then released and allowed to return to Thailand.

The PAD started protesting outside Government House last Tuesday, pressing the government to revoke the memorandum of understanding on boundary demarcation signed in 2000, withdraw from Unesco's World Heritage Committee and expel Cambodian people from the disputed areas.
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Thai-Cambodian border traders call for peace

BURI RAM, Monday 31 January 2011 (Bernama) -- Traders along the Thai-Cambodian border have urged the governments of Thailand and Cambodia to negotiate on resolving ongoing border disputes and open temporary border passes, Thai News Agency reports on Monday.

Traders said that the Ban Kruad Estate market that stands close to the Thai-Cambodian border in Thailand』s Buri Ram province is currently facing sluggish trading as mounting tensions continue over the border between the two adjacent Kingdoms.

With sales recorded at its lowest in a decade, local traders have voiced their fear that persisting tensions will bring even more severe results to the local economy, urging that peace negotiations be held quickly to restore bilateral relations and resume normal trading and communication between the two neighbours.

Likewise, the Ban Klong Luek permanent border pass in Thailand's Aranyaprathet district remains quiet although with the Chinese New Year approaching as both Thais and Cambodians have preferred to stay home due to safety concerns.

Thai tourists have, too, become reluctant to cross over to the Cambodian side to visit the ancient Angkor Wat temple, including the former Khmer capital, Angkor Thom, with Cambodian traders showing less confidence to do business at the Rong Klua market over on the Thai side.

Meanwhile, Thai Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who supervises national security affairs, said in response to the latest development along the Thai-Cambodian border that the local people should not be worried for the situation has remained under control.

Suthep said that the army chiefs of both countries have agreed in their discussions to avoid building up border tensions in accordance with the Thai government's policy on peaceful coexistence among neighbours.

He also urged the Thai people along border to remain confident in the Thai army, reiterating that authorities at all levels were ready to protect the national sovereignty with efforts that would not fuel more tensions.

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Thailand takes stand on pagoda

By SUPALAK GANJANAKHUNDEE
THE NATION

Thailand yesterday officially demanded that Cambodia remove Keo Sikha Kiri Svara Pagoda and the Cambodian flag flying over the structure from the disputed border area around Preah Vihear Temple, while reaffirming its vow to resolve boundary issues through "peaceful means".

The Foreign Ministry issued a statement maintaining its claim that the Buddhist pagoda erected by Cambodia in 1998 "is situated on Thai territory".
The statement was issued days after Phnom Penh rejected Bangkok's request to take down the Cambodian flag from the pagoda.

Phnom Penh insisted last Friday that it had the legitimate right to fly its flag over the pagoda, which it claimed was on its territory.

The area of 4.6 square kilometres adjacent to Preah Vihear has not yet been demarcated because of the overlapping ownership claims.

The area was delimited in line with the Franco- Siamese treaties of 1904 and 1907. Cambodia claims that the Franco- Siamese joint commission produced a series of maps from 1905-08 to indicate that the area in question is Cambodian territory.

Thailand, in the statement yesterday, said it did not accept the France-made 1:200,000-scale map to determine the boundary line.

Cambodia argues that the International Court of Justice, when it ruled on the Preah Vihear case in 1962, used the map as a basic document to make the judgement, which says "the temple of Preah Vihear is situated in territory under sovereignty of Cambodia".

Phnom Penh said the memorandum of understanding on land-boundary demarcation signed by Thailand and Cambodia in 2000 also recognised the French map as the legal basis for boundary surveys and demarcation.

The border conflict has become a thorn in the side of the Abhisit Vejjajiva administration after the yellow-shirt People's Alliance for Democracy raised awareness of the issue among the public. The PAD accuses the government of ceding Thai territory to Cambodia ever since the MoU signed in 2000, during the Democrat Party-led administration under Chuan Leekpai, recognised the French map.

They called on the government to scrap the pact and use force to evict the Cambodian community from the area, along with the pagoda. Hundreds of PAD supporters and one of its splinter groups, the Thai Patriots Network, are camping out in protest around Government House.

Thai Patriots Network member Samdin Lertbutr yesterday sued Abhisit, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan and Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya for alleged criminal misconduct in causing the loss of territory.

The Thai Patriots Network has insisted that it has proof that the property belongs to Thailand.

Abhisit urged the protesters to share their information on the boundary with the government, rather than protesting and trying to force him to follow their way.

"We have the same goal to protect the national interest. I wonder why we don't share the information. We have a different stance because we have different information," he said.

The yellow-shirt demonstration as well as news of the deployment of heavy military hardware to border areas has exacerbated tensions in the relations of the two countries.

Cambodia boosted troops in the border area near Preah Vihear after a report that the Thai military would hold an exercise.

"They [Thai troops] are doing manoeuvres and we are also doing them - that is why we need to send tanks and other weapons to the border," Cambodian Military Division 3 Commander Srey Doek was quoted as saying by the Phnom Penh Post. "Our armed forces are on alert."

Abhisit said he did not want to wage any war with Cambodia.

"The two countries retain their same old stance on the issue to protect their respective rights but both sides insist on settling the problem by peaceful means through negotiation," he said.

The Foreign Ministry in its statement said Thailand was committed to resolving all boundary issues with Cambodia in accordance with international law through peaceful means under the framework of the Thai-Cambodian Joint Commission on Demarcation for Land Boundary (JBC).

The determination of the boundary line in the area of Preah Vihear Temple is still subject to ongoing talks under the framework of the JBC, it said.

Abhisit's government also needs to provide assistance to release nationalist Veera Somkwamkid and his aide Ratree Pipatanapaiboon, who go on trial today in Phnom Penh. They have been detained on the charge of espionage.

The two, together with five other activists who have already been convicted and released, were arrested on December 29 while inspecting the disputed border area near Sa Kaew's Ban Nong Chan. Their colleagues from the Thai Patriots Network, who are to be in Phnom Penh today, want to ask the court to delay the decision, as they will submit more evidence to prove that the two Thais were arrested on Thai soil.

The neighbourhood in Sa Kaew is also in a grey area but Thai authorities said that in this case the yellow shirts had strayed too far beyond the frontier line claimed by Thailand.
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Cambodia struggling with paddy rice flight

One recent afternoon, farmer Hem Preoung was discussing what to do about a small wooden barn full of paddy rice with a group of other farmers.

The 62-year-old farmer is a member of the Preah Theat village farm association, in Kandal province’s Kandal Stung district. For the past five years, she has kept 15 kilograms of harvested paddy rice in the small barn as a kind of bank.

“In the past, we didn’t have enough to eat,” she said in an interview. “But now we save our paddy here to improve our standard of living. The more we save, the better paddy we’ll get.”

Paddy rice, or unprocessed grain that which comes straight from the field, is a vexing question for Cambodia’s farmers and economic policymakers. Not only do farmers not earn as much as they can from it, but the nation has so far been unable to capture and produce it for a high-value product.

Along with 25 other families in the association, Hem Preoung earns about 20 percent interest on her paddy deposits once she decides to withdraw her grain from the bank. And there are five “paddy banks,” as they are called, in the district.

She can borrow seeds from the bank for seed plant or to feed her family, paying 20 percent annual interest herself, avoiding high-interest loans or low-price sales through middlemen.

That’s a change from the normal way of doing things for many farmers, who account for about 80 percent of Cambodia’s population. Typically, a glut of paddy is sold at low prices during harvest time, when farmers are also expected to pay back high-interest loans made during the growing season.

Chhay Meng, a program manager for Caritas Cambodia, who has helped farmer associations set up 17 paddy banks in Kandal province, said these innovations help prevent the whipsaw effect of middlemen and also regulate the flow of paddy to neighboring Thailand and Vietnam.

Nationwide, there are thousands of paddy banks across 18 provinces, according to Cedac, a development NGO. The number is growing as Cambodia looks to produce an abundance or rice for export.

Still, an estimated 70 percent of Cambodia’s paddy surplus finds its way over the borders, according to the Economic Institute of Cambodia. That’s because Cambodia lacks the capital and capacity to buy up the surplus of its own farmers. That informal outflow costs the country millions of dollars in added value, such as the husks.

In its monthly economic outlook for January, the institute suggests the more formal adaptation of the paddy bank system as a means to solve the problem, helping the government reach its goal of greater exports. The government wants to see a million tons of milled rice exported by 2015. In the first 10 months of 2010, it managed less than 380,000 tons.

Noeu Seiha, the EIC’s research manager, said many NGOs are helping farmers set up paddy banks, but these small-scale projects cannot handle the surplus. More formal, larger banks are needed to handle the massive surplus from farms following the harvest, he said.

“When farmers have an abundance of paddy rice, they don't have to hurriedly sell their grains,” he said. “They can deposit their paddies with these banks, and if they need money, they can borrow from the banks to pay their debts or for their own uses.”

The government has plans an “open paddy market,” where farmers can deposit rice in a community storehouse and withdraw it for sale during months of high price, said San Vannty, an undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Agriculture.

The government also hopes to stake more capital with millers to help them absorb paddy from farmers, he said, but he declined to specify an amount.

But the government so far allocates only $36 million, just 10 percent of what’s needed, to buy up paddy surplus. About $20 million of that is provided as loans to rice millers, said Sun Kunthor, president of the Rural Development Bank.

“We just provide them some loans as an incentive to invest more in this field,” he said. “They have their own capital, or can borrow more money from commercial banks.”

For their part, rice millers say they need more capital to buy the paddy and more modern equipment and facilities to produce and store high-quality rice.

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An American Mosque in Cambodia

Cambodia is a rare bright spot in the fight against Islamic radicalism. Thank an unusual combination of a local imam and US soft power.

Haji Yusof bin Idris lives opposite the riverfront in Phnom Penh, on the peninsula that divides the Mekong River from the Tonle Sap. He’s the unassuming imam of the modest Alazhar Mosque, which boasts about 2,600 followers. He’s also a pivotal player in the West’s counter-terrorism effort in Southeast Asia.

Real victories have often been elusive in the so-called War on Terror since it was launched in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.From the Taliban battlefields of Afghanistan to al-Qaeda in Iraq toJemaah Islamiyah (JI) in the Southern Philippines and Indonesia, the results have been mixed at best.

But in unlikely corners of the globe, smaller fights have been fought and are actually being won. Among them is Cambodia, a country whose recent political history had placed it on the least likely list of jihad producing nations.

‘It’s good, the situation, we understand now,’ says bin Idris, who has played a key role in improving relations between the Cambodian government and Western countries that not that long ago had grown deeply suspicious about the arrival of orthodox Wahhabism and Dawa Tabligh into local Muslim Cham communities.

Flanked by senior members of his congregation, he chooses his words carefully. ‘We work closely with the authorities to protect our community from bad influences,’he says.

Western intelligence sources say that at one point Cambodia was an arsenal for sale. Tamil Tigers—and indeed most other would-be regional rebels—would dine at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club before deciding on their weapons of choice.

The lawless thrived on impunity, and amid all this lived a significant Muslim population that had been targeted for proselytizing by Middle East Wahhabis whose code was the virtual antithesis of the moderate, maternal brand of Islam that was traditionally practiced by Cambodia’s Cham.

Bin Idris lets out an audible sigh when recounting those days, as the country struggled to recover after decades of war and insurgency. Cham communities were building separate mosques and fighting among themselves. Outsiders were feared. Mothers effectively accused Saudi missionaries of stealing fatherless children to be reared by Madrassas in the Middle East.

‘Ten years ago, people didn’t understand. We didn’t understand,’ bin Idris says. ‘In the mosques we had divided communities arguing among themselves. Women were being coerced into wearing veils. There were different styles of prayers, it wasn’t Cham.’

The plight of the Cham was made even more difficult after it was learned that JI’s military leader, Riduan Isamuddin, or Hambali, had planned the October 2002 Bali bombing, which left more than 200 people dead, from a guest house built behind the Phnom Penh mosque.He reportedly intended to use Cambodia as a base for terrorist operations across Southeast Asia. Two years later, three men were jailed after a plot was discovered to blowup overseas embassies in Phnom Penh.

‘This wasn’t a very good time,’bin Idris says dryly.

Like Muslims in other parts of Southeast Asia, Chams traditionally follow a syncretic form of Islam that incorporates elements from Buddhism and pre-Islamic belief systems. But between 1998 and 2002, an estimated 40 percent of Chams had switched over to the more orthodox Dawa Tabligh and Wahhabi branches of Islam.

It’s an extraordinary number. Chams account for just 700,000—about 5 percent—of Cambodia's population of 13 million, and have long been victims of discrimination, making them ripe for outsiders bearing gifts and what at first seemed not unreasonable demands.

In the late 1970s, the bloody reign of the Khmer Rouge came close to annihilating them. By the early 1990s, after three decades of civil war, there were just 20 mosques left in the country. And following the 2001 terrorist attacks and the Bali bombing, the Cham were again under suspicion simply for being Muslim. Allegations of police harassment and bullying weren’t unusual. By this point, the situation in Cambodiahad becomehighly combustible.

Fortunately, calmer heads prevailed.

The US embassy took the lead with a proactive campaign that supported Cham traditions and helped build a bulwark against unwanted outside militants, an effort bin Idris praises.

‘The US embassy has helped us, the Cham community, a lot,’ he says. ‘They’ve helped so we can buy traditional clothes, and provided funds to help us study English and they have helped the poor and disabled people.’

‘The relationship is now much deeper. Before, the Muslim community here didn’t understand the Americans, but now it’s different. Not just here, it’s happening in other countries too.’

More importantly than this, though, is the fact that the in-house brawling over outside influences has abated, bin Idris says.He explains that although funds have continuedto come in from many countries, all of the assistance is vetted by the Cambodian government and the Ministry of Religion in conjunction with representatives from the Muslim Cham community. They meet three times a year.

‘No one comes to offer us aid and demands that we follow them. If they do, then we tell the government. Each country has to go through the government,’ he says.

He says that although some Cham children have still been sent to the Middle East for schooling, their curriculum and the Madrassas require government and community approval. Any acts of violence are spurned, he says, particularly terrorism committed in the name of Islam.

‘This,’ he says of suicide bombers and their ilk, ‘is the predicament of the individual. It’s not Islam.’

Still, some concerns remain.

Chhorn Eam, deputy minister for cults and religions, says relations with the Chams have normalized, although the government is still wary of militancy and potential terrorist acts given what has happened since 2001. He says Chams have been free to study outside the country in places like Saudi Arabia where they learn Arabic and how to recite the Koran.

‘Some come back with different beliefs such as using a piece of cloth to cover their face… What we are worried about is that they might bring something that would cause problems in general society and their communities,’ he says.

His sentiments were echoed by Police Lt. Gen. Hiue Sopheak, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, which oversees the country’s security. He says many Chams were members of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

‘There are no Islamic militants in Cambodia nor do Cham communities want any donations from the outside thatrequires them to become militants or separatists,’ he says. But he doesn’t rule out the possibility that terrorists could use Cambodia as a hideout.

‘Terroristscould strikeanywhere at any time in any country, if we are careless,’ he says. ‘We’ve always educated them (Cham) not to become extremists or militants or suicide bombers.’

Given the extended reach of US influence in the area, Cham militancy seems unlikely. As bin Idris notes, many Cham teenagers dine at KFC and wear denim jeans. ‘We look American,’ he says.

In a final gesture, he points to the fa├žade of the Mosque. It’s looking a little run down and bin Idris says he’d like to add an extension as his congregation grows.

‘If the embassy was to help, I’d be happy to call it the Washington Mosque.’
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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Asian gangs' violence felt in Stanislaus County

Youths' vulnerability, culture gap fuel growth

By Rosalio Ahumada
rahumada@modbee.com


Law enforcement in Stanislaus County focuses a lot of attention on Latino street gangs because of the number of members and the extent of their criminal activities: drug trafficking, robberies and homicides.

But Southeast Asian gangs, while less prevalent in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, are still part of the area's criminal landscape and are just as dangerous as their Latino rivals.

"The gun means power; the gun means respect; the gun means status," Modesto police Detective Ra Pouv said about the mentality of Southeast Asian gang members. "If someone disrespects you, it's on."

The deadly nature of the Southeast Asian gangs was evident this week in Modesto after a married couple and their adult daughter were killed during an apparent robbery at their Yosemite Boulevard Asian goods market.

Vanh Thammavongsa, 55, was pronounced dead at the scene Tuesday. His 49-year-old wife, Phou- vieng Thammavongsa, and their daughter were taken by ambulance to a hospital. His wife died at the hospital Tuesday afternoon.

Daughter Nanci Thammavongsa, 28, died Thursday after hospital officials turned off life-support machines.

The Thammavongsas were refugees from Laos who came to this country to work for a better life for their family. They owned and operated V&V Oriental Market at 1320 Yosemite Blvd., east of Santa Cruz Avenue.

Thou Yang of the Hmong Association of Stanislaus County said the deaths of the Thammavongsas are shocking, leaving him to wonder what could have been done to prevent it.

"There's just a lot of sadness," Yang said. "I think it's just a big shock to this Southeast Asian community."

Three young men -- known by police to be members of a Modesto Southeast Asian gang -- have been charged with three counts of murder in the deaths of the Thammavongsas.

Pouv, an expert in Asian-American street gangs who is assisting homicide detectives in the market shooting, said that to understand Southeast Asian gangs in Modesto, you have to start at the beginning.

Their origins lay in the few square miles that encompass west Modesto.

Refugees were fleeing war-torn Southeast Asia and looking for a new start in the United States. Pouv was born in Cambodia and moved with his family to Modesto, where he grew up.

He said a lot of families settled in west Modesto, finding affordable homes in areas around Modesto High School, Roselawn Avenue and Paradise Road.

The newcomers encountered racial tensions with black, white and Latino residents, who already were living in the neighborhood. Pouv said Southeast Asian youths came together to form a group that would provide them protection in the tough neighborhood.

The detective said the group didn't participate in criminal activity, create a street gang name or claim the neighborhood as its own. He said that group, simply dissipated as a new crop of Southeast Asian kids came together with sinister intentions.

They became the Modesto Hit Squad, modeled after the Crips, a black gang that had spread out of South Central Los Angeles and gained members in Northern California cities such as Modesto.

Like the Crips, the Modesto Hit Squad wore blue gang attire, committed robberies and sold drugs, eventually becoming just as dangerous as the Southern California gang.

Gangs proliferated

Pouv said the Modesto Hit Squad is still active and has inspired several other Southeast Asian gangs in Modesto, including the Crazy Mobb Family, the Asian Boyz and the Tiny Rascal Gang.

Another is the CWA Crips, also known as Crips With Attitude. Oloth "Dicky" Phommahaxay, 18, Sophon Theoun Ting, 16, and Chris Douangkham, 15, are members of the CWA Crips, according to a criminal complaint filed in court.

The Modesto teenagers are accused of murder in the deaths of the Thammavongsas, with gang enhancements that could bring longer sentences. They pleaded not guilty in court Friday.

"Southeast Asian gangs are pretty violent groups," said Pouv, a member of the Modesto police Gang Investigations Unit. "The concept of disrespect is a big thing in these gangs. It's almost more personal than Latino gangs."

He said disrespecting someone is like dishonoring yourself, and it's never tolerated.

Also unlike Latino gangs, the Southeast Asian gangs are not territorial and they don't fight over neighborhood turf. Pouv said the gangs focus on selling drugs, committing robberies and stealing cars.

"Like the Latino gangs, they have a tendency to prey on victims of their own race," Pouv said.

Their victims, having dealt with oppressive ruling regimes in their home countries, often still have a distrust of police and government officials. Pouv said their limited English-speaking skills also keep them from reporting crimes.

Tough to ask for help

It's even tougher for parents of Southeast Asian youths to ask for help in pulling their kids out of gangs.

Jean Kea is a youth outreach coordinator at west Modesto's The Bridge Resource Center, which offers services for Cambodian, Hmong, Laotian and other Asian families. He said the cultural gap between parents and their children leads to trouble.

"(The parents) don't know the language, and they can't help their kids with their homework," Kea said. "(The children) then don't want to go to school."

More time on the streets can lead to vulnerable kids lured into gangs. Kea said the center has after-school programs to keep kids off the street, but more are needed.

Pouv said Southeast Asian youths gravitate toward gangs because they're trying to rebel and become more assimilated to the American youth culture they see around them.

'Afraid to say anything'

For traditional Southeast Asian families, he said, it's a source of shame to let people outside your family know your problems.

"Some recognize the signs, but are too afraid to say anything," Pouv said. "There's no such thing as counseling with Southeast Asian families."

Pouv said it can be tough to get these residents to help with an investigation, but it has happened.

In April 2008, a surge of tips from Modesto's Cambodian community helped investigators find and arrest four people suspected in the shooting death of a man hit by stray gang gunfire.

The community rallied to show support for the victim's family and gave crucial information to Pouv, who was then a member of the police Street Crimes Unit.

He said it's even more important to keep kids from joining gangs, but he's seen gang members as young as 11 years old.

"It's the lifestyle that pulls them in, the money," Pouv said. "The gangs have so much influence on these kids."

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or 578-2394.
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Suthep urges caution amid 'troop boost'

CAMBODIA SAYS THAI DEMANDS 'PROVOCATIVE'

The government is appealing to yellow shirt protesters to show restraint amid reports that Cambodia is boosting troops at the border.


BORN TO BE WILD: People’s Alliance for Democracy co-leader Chamlong Srimuang patrols on a scooter as the PAD rally enters its fifth day at Makkhawan Rangsan bridge on Ratchadamnoen Nok Avenue to protest the government’s approach to the Thai-Cambodian border dispute. PHOTO: JETJARAS NA RANONG


Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban yesterday called on People's Alliance for Democracy protesters to tone down their attacks on Cambodia and be mindful of what they say during their rally near Government House.

He was speaking amid unconfirmed news agency reports that the Cambodian Ministry of Defence on Friday sent dozens of tanks and fighting vehicles, missiles and ammunition to the Preah Vihear temple area at the disputed border.

On its website, the Cambodian newspaper Duem Ampil quoted Information Minister Khieu Kanharith as saying that the Cambodian army had ordered its forces to be on a full alert to prevent any Thai attempt to enter Cambodian territory, while the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said a recent Thai military exercise at the border was provocative and could set off a war.

It also criticised Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's demand that Cambodia remove its flag from the Kaew Sikha Khiri Sawara temple, saying such a call was "unacceptable and Cambodia firmly rejects such an insulting demand".

The Thai army held a military drill in Nakhon Ratchasima on Thursday seen as an attempt to show its muscle.

Border tensions intensified over the past week after Cambodia put up tablets in the disputed area opposite Kantharalak district in Si Sa Ket criticising a Thai "invasion" of the area in 2008.

Phnom Penh later demolished the tablets, but any easing in border tensions looks to have been shortlived.

The Xinhua news agency reported yesterday that Cambodia has boosted troops at the border.

"We have warned Thai troops that if they dare to enter our territory, Cambodia will act in self-defence to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity," said a senior Cambodian officer, who asked not to be named.

In Bangkok the PAD has set up a protest site near Government House to demand the government take stronger action against Cambodia. Mr Suthep yesterday urged the protesters to exercise caution. "I want to tell [Cambodian] Prime Minister Hun Sen that what the protesters say has nothing to do with the government's stance," he said.

Meanwhile, the PAD has knocked back efforts by a Democrat MP jailed in Phnom Penh this month to broker talks with the government to end the Cambodia dispute.

Democrat MP Panich Vikitsreth yesterday urged the PAD to enter talks with the government.

However, the protest group leaders said they had yet to hear from him formally and in any event doubted the talks would succeed.

PAD spokesman Panthep Phuapongpan insisted Mr Panich had not approached yellow shirt leaders.

Mr Panich, a former vice-minister for foreign affairs, was among seven Thais jailed in Cambodia this month on border trespass charges.

"As far as the key men in the PAD are concerned, he has not contacted us. We see no benefit to our group from any talks anyway," the spokesman said.

"We will agree to talk only if the government accepts our demands."

The PAD, which is camped out on Ratchadamnoen Nok Avenue, is demanding the government abolish the memorandum of understanding signed between Bangkok and Phnom Penh in 2000 on land border demarcation, withdraw Thailand from the World Heritage Committee and clear Cambodian villagers and troops from a disputed area near Preah Vihear temple.

Mr Abhisit, speaking from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Friday, said the protesters had the right to put up their demands but the government would do what is best for the country. "You know, they can make their demands. They have the right to do so. But as the government, we have to do what is the best for the country," he said.

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Lawyers for detained Thais need more time

By THE NATION ON SUNDAY

Lawyers from the Thailand Patriots Network will ask a Cambodian court to postpone the reading of a verdict from this Tuesday in the case against two Thais charged with trespassing and espionage.


They said they had not collected sufficient information and proof to be presented to the court in order to defend Veera Somkwamkid and Ratri Pipattanapaiboon.

TPN legal adviser Wanwipa Charoonroj said the group's lawyers were unable to survey the border area where Cambodian soldiers arrested the two and five other Thais on December 29. Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban had not granted permission for a survey of the area despite Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva ordering state agencies to help facilitate the lawyers' travel to the disputed border area.

Suthep acted as caretaker prime minister while Abhisit was attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland

TPN legal adviser ML Tossapol Kaewtima said the group was deeply disappointed with Suthep. Since they could not find evidence to help with the case, the network would request the Cambodian court give them more time to find evidence and postpone its verdict on the two, who are charged with trespassing and espionage. They will also request bail for the two.

Tossapol said the TPN also planned to step up pressure on the government to meet their demands over disputes with Phnom Penh. The group would follow up on complaints submitted at various agencies and step up their campaign against the government.

In Davos, the prime minister told The Associated Press that protesters demanding the government revoke its pact with Cambodia over a border dispute had a right to make their demands, but he would do what was best for the country.

"We feel that the way we approach the border problems, and the problems — as far as the relationship with Cambodia is concerned — is best for the country, which is that we try to resolve whatever issues come up in a peaceful manner."

He stressed the importance of dealing with the issue peacefully. "So that we preserve good relations — we are both part of Asean — and at the same time we make sure that we protect Thai interests," he said. "So all we can do is to explain to them that we feel that this is the best approach and I am confident that the majority of Thai people support" the government.

Human Rights Commissioner Parinya Sirisarakarn said he would attend the court hearing of Veera and Ratri and would ask Veera about conditions of his detention to ensure his basic rights.

Meanwhile, Suthep threatened legal action yesterday against the People's Alliance for Democracy if they continue their protest by blocking roads and causing inconvenience to the public.

Suthep said he would wait for two to three days and decide - if there were not many protesters but the PAD blocked several roads causing traffic congestion, the government would definitely file a suit against them. He said there were only a few hundreds protesters during the day and about 2,000 protesters at night but the PAD blocked not one but several routes.

He urged the protesters to get on one side of the road to make way for motorists. He said blocking Rajdamnoen Klang Road, which the royal family uses, was totally inappropriate.

Responding to demands for the government to remove a Cambodian flag on a Thai temple near the Thai-Cambodian border, Suthep said the government would solve the problem through diplomatic means. "We have to take it easy. When you have neighbours, you should not threaten them too much. I believe Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has probably been attacked by the media and his people over the PAD's threat,'' he said.

"I would like to send this message to PM Hun Sen that whatever the protesters said had nothing to do with the government. Both sides have to be patient and find solutions to the problems,'' he said.

Democrat Party MP for Bangkok Panich Vikitsreth said he negotiated with the PAD not to stop their protest but to explain the government's stand so that both sides understand each other better.

He said key leaders of the PAD's sub groups had a tendency to understand the government's point of view and there was only one group that had a different view of the government.

Responding to a threat by Chaiwat Sinsuwong, a leader of the Thailand Patriots Network, to team up with the red shirts to oust the government, Panich said no government wanted to lose territory but pushing Cambodians off Thai soil was something that had to be done without confrontation.

"I admit that I crossed the military operation line to the disputed area. We will know the answer [whether it is Thai or Cambodian soil] when we complete border demarcation,'' he said.

PAD spokesman Panthep Puapongpan said the fact PM Abhisit knew about the Cambodian flag being hoisted at the Thai temple for two days but failed to remove it showed his government was incompetent.

Cambodia has refused to remove the flag, claiming the area belongs to Cambodia according to the 1:200,000 square kilometre map.

He said the PM and his deputy must take responsibility if it accepts the Cambodian verdict on the case of the seven Thais since they were arrested on Thai soil.

Read more!

World’s longest red carpet to unroll at CamboFest, Cambodia Film Festival (March 1-9)

The world’s longest red carpet, measuring 26.5 kilometers, will unroll at the upcoming CamboFest Cambodia Film Festival (March 1-9, www.cambofest.com), linking the French colonial venue town of Kampot with the seaside coastal town of Kep.

Jan 29, 2011 – The world’s longest red carpet, measuring 26.5 kilometers, will unroll at the upcoming CamboFest Cambodia Film Festival (March 1-9, http://www.cambofest.com),linking the French colonial venue town of Kampot with the seaside coastal town of Kep while shattering existing records for a red carpet event.

The lengthy carpet, donated by the Zhejiang Da Guanyuan carpet company of Zhejiang Province, China, is currently on its way to the Cambodian port of Sihanoukville, to then be transported by road in time for the festival.

“This long carpet is a symbol of regional friendship’ said Zhejiang Carpet Company owner Jiang Jiansheng at a recent Phnom Penh press conference. ‘It’s a grand scale and powerful enterprise which has possessed many high technical manpower who are specialized in the designs of all kind of hand-woven, weaving art and wall-to-wall carpets.’

CamboFest founder and co-organizer Jason Rosette welcomes the carpet, but has expressed concerns about the festival’s ability to handle the rug while housing and feeding the 35 person crew who will be involved in its installation.

‘The carpet is monumental, and we welcome any support for our grass roots, indie festival here in the developing world’ said Rosette. ‘And of course, at more than twenty six kilometers, it beats the world record hands-down.’

He added, ‘After the event, the rug can be cut into sections and donated to schools and homes and any other folks who can use it here in Cambodia’.

‘But what we really need is a decent large venue projector that our youth group can operate for this year’s event, running March first through the ninth’, Rosette conceded.

‘Funding has been extremely limited this year, with the US Embassy in Phnom Penh, the Arts Network Asia, UNESCO, the Jan Vrijman Fund, the Asia Foundation, and others turning us down for funding.

Rosette estimates that funders this year may still be nervous due to attacks on the CamboFest Film Festival at the 3rd edition in 2009 by Phnom Penh based foreign movie pirates. (*see http://cameradomoviesandmedia.blogspot.com/2010/01/cambo ...)

Such interference, though not the fault of the festival itself, may nonetheless leave donor and funding agencies reluctant to sustain any further perceived risk in the Cambodian environment, despite the value of the CamboFest mission.

Rosette added that this year the Deutsche Welle DW-AKADEMIE has, however, invited CamboFest co-organizer Phun Sokunthearith to a film festival training workshop in Berlin, highlighting a proactive, courageous leadership role that development agencies might assume in atypical, and sometimes hazardous, developing world media environments.

Despite the lack of funding, hardware, venues, and skilled festival staff in Cambodia (with most of the country’s artists being killed off during the Khmer Rouge regime) other exciting developments –besides the red carpet – are unrolling at this year’s CamboFest Cambodian film event.

A Cambodian youth group, Youth Association for Human Resource Development (YAHRD) will be trained to operate many of the festival’s functions to ensure the event’s future sustainability, while CamboFest staff will again revive the once-majestic ‘Royal’ cinema house, which was destroyed during the civil war and subsequent Khmer Rouge regime, as a venue for this year’s festival event.

‘We hope that many guests and movie buffs will come to take a walk on the magnificent, world-record breaking red carpet supplied by our supporters at the Zhejiang Carpet Company’, said Rosette.

‘But, we sure could use additional financial support to feed our staff, to buy fuel for the generator, to pay for housing for any visiting filmmakers, and to upgrade our projector to a better large venue model’, he added.

And then, truly, the red carpet can be unrolled!

The CamboFest, Cambodia Film Festival runs from March 1-9in the colonial coastal town of Kampot, Cambodia.

Visit the CamboFest website ( http://www.cambofest.com ) to download a sponsorship proposal or to send any inquiries.

# # #


CAMBOFEST, Cambodia Film Festival was established in 2007; find out more at http://www.cambofest.com
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John Burgess lecture reflects on ancient and present Cambodia

By Yvette Villasenor


Students and faculty gathered Friday evening to listen to an art lecture presented by John Burgess, the journalist and author behind "Stories in Stone."

Burgess began his career as a journalist in Thailand in 1971 as a sub-editor for The Bangkok World, an English-based paper. Later, he found himself interested in the scripted stones that lay in the heart of Angkor, Cambodia, where he got the idea for his book "Stories in Stone."

As students and faculty filled the lecture room, Burgess began his lecture on his adventures and findings of the Sdok Kok Thom inscription and the enigma of Khmer history he found in Angkor. He also shared his experiences about Cambodia's architecture, scripture and overall culture.

"Angkor has remained largely off the map for the world's consciousness," Burgess said.

He believes the Sdok Kok Thom findings and the fall of Khmer hold significant historical importance and sharing his experience with different audiences will grow knowledge of this particular culture and how it relates to other cultures with an equally impressive historical importance as Ancient Rome or Egypt.

Many students stayed after the lecture to speak with Burgess and other students and faculty.

"The lecture was intriguing," said Minh Tran, an art studio major. She believes having lectures about personal experiences will open the eyes of more students and draw them to learn more about other cultures.

Pat Chirapravati, professor and director of Asian studies at Sacramento State hopes to grow the Asian studies department by providing students and faculty with informational, insightful lectures once a month to open eyes to different cultures of the world.

"Our campus is so diverse," Chirapravati said. "I want to stimulate students to learn about the world and look beyond."

As Chirapravati works to further grow the Asian studies department, she encourages students who are interested in her department to come to her office.

Read more!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Money for nothing as visitors from Vietnam empty dollar-filled ATMs

Phnom Penh - Day-trippers from Vietnam have withdrawn millions of dollars from Cambodian cash machines to benefit from a sizeable gap between the official and black market rates of the US dollar and Vietnam's currency the dong, local media reported Friday.

Cambodia uses the dollar as a second currency along with its own currency, the riel.

The chief executive of Cambodia's ANZ Royal Bank, Stephen Higgins, told the Phnom Penh Post newspaper that customers of Vietnam's Techcombank had withdrawn 12 million dollars from his bank's cash machines since December.

They then exchanged those dollars into dong with currency traders, who offer the black market rate of 21,000 dong to the dollar, around 8 per cent above Hanoi's peg of around 19,500.

Because Techcombank processes the transactions at the official rate and charges very low international transaction fees, the customer banks a profit.

Even with charges, said Higgins, that would amount to 20,000 dollars per million dollars withdrawn.

'It's one of those things where one person figures out this is a way to make money, tells a few people who tell a few more people, and suddenly you get busloads of people coming across the border to try and do it,' Higgins said.

Customers of ANZ Royal, a part-owned subsidiary of Australian banking giant ANZ, could draw a maximum of 2,000 dollars in cash a day, although the bank has now cut that to 500 dollars.

Higgins said staff had noticed people withdrawing large sums of money using numerous different cards for each transaction. He said Techcombank's customers were running the same scheme at other banks in Cambodia and in the region, including in Singapore and China.

The arrangement has likely cost Techcombank 1.5 million dollars on withdrawals of at least 20 million dollars in recent weeks.

The newspaper said Techcombank was working with international credit card firm Visa to bring in new fees that would remove the arbitrage benefit.
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Cambodia Refuses To Lower Flag from Contentious Pagoda

A Cambodian flag flutters near an entrance gate to Cambodia's Preah Vihear temple on the Cambodian-Thai- border in Preah Vihear province.


Cambodia says it will not remove its flag from a pagoda on a disputed piece of land near Preah Vihear temple, despite a request from Thailand.

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement it would not comply with a request from Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to remove the flag from Wat Keo Siha Kiri Svara.

Both sides claim the land surrounding the pagoda, which was also at the center of a prolonged military standoff that began in July 2008 and only ended a few months ago.

The Foreign Ministry called the “demand” for the removal of the flag “insulting” and said recent Thai military exercises near the border were “clearly provocative.”

“Cambodia reserves its legitimate rights to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the statement said.

The latest row follows the removal of a controversial placard on the border purporting to mark the place where “Thai troops invaded Cambodia” in July 2008 and withdrew on Dec. 1, 2010. That sign has been replaced with one that says, “Here! Is Cambodia.”

Cambodia lays claim to the Keo Sikha Kiri Svara pagoda via turn of the century maps and conventions between France and Siam, the former name for Thailand. The pagoda was built by Cambodians in 1998 on land claimed by Cambodia. For its part, Thailand has said in the past it disputes the maps used by Cambodia and demarks the border according to its own surveys.

Foreign ministers from both countries are slated to meet in Siem Reap next week for a bilateral meeting on security and cooperation.

Read more!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

P Penh must remove flag: PM

By THE NATION

Abhisit talks tough after PAD raises issue during protest outside his office

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said yesterday that Cambodia had no right to rise its national flag over the disputed border area adjacent to the Preah Vihear Temple.

"If there is such flag, it needs to be taken down," Abhisit told reporters, but noted that he did not know where exactly this flag has been raised.

Abhisit made the comment after the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) raised the issue while protesting outside the Prime Minister's Office.

Cambodia agreed earlier to removed two stone tablets at Wat Keo Sekha Kirisvara, which indicated that the area belonged to Cambodia and had been invaded by Thai troops in 2008

Abhisit said Cambodia did not have the right to declare sovereignty in the area, because Thailand was also claiming the land.

The two countries have been at loggerheads over areas adjacent to Preah Vihaer for long time, though the boundary in the temple's vicinity has not yet been demarcated.

Preah Vihear, as ruled by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 1962, is situated in a territory under the sovereignty of Cambodia, but Thailand is arguing that it owns the 4.6 square kilometres area surrounding the temple, and the land the stone ruins are standing on.

Cambodia, meanwhile, claims that the 1:200000-scale map made by France showed that the Preah Vihear and its vicinity were on the Cambodian side. The ICJ used this map for its ruling.

The PAD is mounting pressure on Abhisit's government, demanding that it scrap the memorandum of understanding (MoU) on land-boundary demarcation signed with Cambodia since 2000 and use force to evict the Cambodian community living in the area.

The group first got angry when Phnom Penh managed to get a World Heritage Site inscription for the temple in 2008. The group, along with Abhisit as opposition leader, accused the then-government of Samak Sundaravej of supporting Cambodia's application for the status.

When Abhisit took office with PAD's blessings in late 2008, he maintained his position to oppose Cambodia over inscription. He stood strong against Preah Vihear's management plan proposed by Phnom Penh on grounds that the conflict over the temple's surrounding area had not yet been settled.

Abhisit told reporters yesterday that the ongoing conflict with Cambodia would be a good excuse for him to continue blocking the Preah Vihear management plan.

However, his plans to settle the boundary disputes are different from those of the PAD. He believes that the joint-boundary mechanism set up in accordance with the 2000 MoU could work to end the problem. The PAD said the MoU, which was signed under the Democrat-led government with Chuan Leekpai at the reins, would never work because it recognised the French map that indicated the area belonged to Cambodia.

Read more!

Ministry Accepts Many NGO Changes to Draft Law

The Ministry of Interior has accepted most of the recommendations from the non-governmental sector as it moves forward with a draft law on governing NGOs, although some concerning provisions remain, officials said Thursday.

Organizations had said they worried the new law, which seeks tighter regulations of the sector, would inhibit the growth and develop of the country by making it difficult for NGOs to both form and operate.

In a meeting between the government and NGO sectors earlier this month, organizations said they wanted to see changes to 21 articles of the law to prevent bureaucratic logjams that could diminish their effectiveness. Many of their recommendations were accepted, officials said.

“The Ministry of Interior agreed to exclude community-based organizations or associations in rural areas in the draft law,” said Sin Somony, executive director of Medicam, an umbrella group of medical NGOs.

Small, rural groups would have had a hard time forming under the previous version of the law, a potential danger to grassroots organizations in many communities.

The ministry agreed to lower the number of national founders to any group, from 21 to 11, Sin Somony said. The ministry also agreed to strike a provision in the law that called for reporting of changes or dismissals of any staff members, though changes in organizational leadership will still be required.

For all the positive changes, areas of concern remain, he said.

For example, the law still prohibits an alliance between Cambodian and international NGOs, which will be detrimental to the capacity development of local organizations, he said.

Chhith Sam Ath, executive director of the NGO Forum, a large association of organizations, said the law must provide for such alliances.

“If the current draft law is not changed, it’s worrisome to NGOs,” he said. “So we demand they provide a clear definition of alliances between local and international NGOs to make possible their continuous work to help develop Cambodia.”

The ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs will need further discussion on that question, said Nouth Saan, secretary of state for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, he confirmed that many of the changes had been accepted.

Regardless, Sin Somony said NGOs appreciated a chance to discuss the law with the government before it moves to the Council of Ministers for approval and the National Assembly for passage.

“It is a good step forward, because the government accepted the NGO recommendations and showed good will,” he said. “So we hope the second draft law on non-governmental organizations will reflect what NGO and government representatives talked about.”

Read more!

ADB provides Cambodia 44 mln USD for development projects

PHNOM PENH, Jan 27, 2011 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- Asian Development Bank (ADB) on Thursday provided Cambodia 44 million U.S. dollars in grant and loan for three development projects. The grant and loan agreement was signed by Keat Chhon, Cambodia' s deputy prime minister and minister of economy and finance, and ADB.

The agreements cover the Financial Sector Program (Cluster 2, Subprogram 4), the Second Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Communicable Disease Control Project, and the GMS Biodiversity Conservation Corridors Project.

ADB is providing loans of 10 million U.S. dollars and grants of 5 million U.S. dollars under the Financial Sector Program (Cluster 2, Subprogram 4), which supports development of a sound, market- based financial sector.

The program, which began in 2007, has led to increased bank lending of 1.52 billion US dollars, the creation of over 12,000 jobs, and the opening of over 980 new branches of banks and microfinance institutions throughout Cambodia.

To support the government's drive to minimize economic impact of public health threats, ADB is providing 10 million U.S. dollars in grants to expand surveillance response systems to control dengue outbreaks, and prevent the spread of communicable diseases in the GMS countries such as cholera, typhoid, and HIV/AIDS, as well as tropical illnesses such as Japanese encephalitis and schistosomiasis.

The community-based communicable disease control systems funded by the project cover around 1.7 million people living in 116 border districts in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. About one-third of the population in the target areas belong to ethnic minority groups.

The 19 million U.S. dollars grant for the Cambodia part of the GMS Biodiversity Project is part of the 69 million U.S. dollars GMS Biodiversity Conservation Corridors Project, which aims to conserve more than 1.9 million hectares of threatened forest, home to over 170,000 mostly poor, ethnic minority groups in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

The project will include planting indigenous trees to restore habitats in over 19,000 hectares of degraded forest land.

"These GMS projects will support sustainable economic growth by preventing public health threats, reducing negative impacts on economic productivity, trade and tourism, and conserving threatened forest land. They will contribute to poverty reduction and income generation for poor and disadvantaged communities, including ethnic minorities," said Putu Kamayana, ADB Country Director for Cambodia.

With the signing today, ADB has approved a total of 160.8 million U.S. dollars in Asian Development Fund grants and loans for Cambodia in 2010, plus an additional 36.8 million U.S. dollars mobilized from co-financing partners such as the Korean Economic Development Cooperation Fund, the OPEC Fund for International Development and the Nordic Development Fund.
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Recently released market study: Cambodia Pharmaceuticals & Healthcare Report Q1 2011

Fast Market Research recommends "Cambodia Pharmaceuticals & Healthcare Report Q1 2011" from Business Monitor International, now available

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

PRLog (Press Release) – Jan 27, 2011 – In our Q111 Pharmaceutical Business Environment Ratings (BER), Cambodia remains last of the 17 pharmaceutical markets surveyed in the Asia Pacific region. Globally, Cambodia ranks 80th among the 83 countries surveyed, and is considered a more attractive pharmaceutical investment prospect than only Nicaragua, Zimbabwe and Honduras. Given issues with corruption, counterfeit pharmaceuticals political situation and funding pressures within the country, Cambodia is unlikely to rise up the regional matrix in the short to medium term.

On a positive note, there have been some improvements with regard to the presence of counterfeit drugs in Cambodia. Around 65% of the illegal pharmacies operating in Cambodia have been closed as a result of a major anti-counterfeiting operation undertaken by the Cambodian government, according to recent reports by the US Pharmacopeia. Moreover, a new study, published in October 2010, revealed that approximately 3% of drugs sold in licensed outlets in Cambodia are counterfeit, a lower proportion than in previous years. However, despite this lower level of counterfeit drugs, a greater proportion failed quality assessment tests, indicating that efforts to control the issue must continue.

Cambodia's pharmaceutical market was calculated to be worth KHR711bn (US$172mn) in 2009. In 2010, we calculate that pharmaceutical expenditure will reach a value of KHR815bn (US$194mn). BMI forecasts drug consumption to increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.9% in local currency terms, and 11.2% in US dollar terms over the next five years, to reach a value of KHR1,190bn (US$292mn) in 2014. Spending on drugs currently represents over a quarter of total health expenditure, with this proportion expected to continue rising in the coming years, driven by volume rather than value changes. Our long-term forecast is for the market to reach KHR1,925bn (US$481mn) in 2019, equivalent to a CAGR of 10.5% in local currency terms, and 10.8% in US dollar terms over the 10-year period. However, risks are on the downside, given the lack of political and social stability, especially in the face of widespread corruption and - more recently - violations of land rights by government officials.

We believe that the impressive rebound in Cambodian trade exports following the global financial crisis will fade going into 2011. Cambodia's heavy reliance on United States (US) and the European Union (EU) demand indicates a vulnerable trade structure that will be susceptible to a slowdown in external demand in 2011. This will also have an impact on the availability of public finances for the improvement of healthcare services, while international donations may be also stretched by the global slowdown. Forced evictions will, at the same time, increase the number of Cambodians living in poverty, creating political uncertainties in the coming months.

For more information or to purchase this report, go to:
- http://www.fastmr.com/prod/111513_cambodia_pharmaceutica ...


Report Table of Contents:

Executive Summary
SWOT Analysis
- Cambodia Pharmaceuticals And Healthcare Industry SWOT
Pharmaceutical Business Environment Ratings
- Table: Asia Pacific Pharmaceutical Business Environment Ratings, Q111
- Rewards
- Risks
Cambodia - Market Summary
Regulatory Regime
- Intellectual Property Environment
- Counterfeit Medicine
- Pricing And Reimbursement
Industry Trends and Developments
- Epidemiology
- Healthcare Sector
- Health Insurance
- Research & Development Sector
- Clinical Trials
- Medical Devices
Industry Forecast Scenario
- Pharmaceutical Market Forecast
- Table: Pharmaceutical Market Forecast, 2006-2014
- Healthcare Market Forecast
- Table: Healthcare Expenditure Forecast, 2006-2014
- Macroeconomic Forecasts
- Table: Cambodia - Economic Activity
- Medical Devices Forecast
- Table: Medical Devices Market Forecast, 2006-2014
- Pharmaceutical Trade Forecast
- Table: Pharmaceutical Trade Forecast, 2006-2014
- Key Risks to BMI's Forecast Scenario
Competitive Landscape
- Pharmaceutical Industry
- Pharmaceutical Company Developments
- Pharmaceutical Wholesale
- Pharmaceutical Retail
Company Profiles
- Indigenous Companies
- PharmaProduct Manufacturing
- Cambodia Pharmaceutical Enterprises
- Multinational Companies
- Sanofi-Aventis
- Pfizer
Country Snapshot: Cambodia Demographic Data
- Section 1: Population
- Table: Demographic Indicators, 2005-2030
- Table: Rural/Urban Breakdown, 2005-2030
- Section 2: Education And Healthcare
- Table: Education, 2002-2005
- Table: Vital Statistics, 2005-2030
- Section 3: Labour Market And Spending Power
- Table: Employment Indicators, 2000-2004
- Table: Consumer Expenditure, 2000-2009 (US$mn)
- Table: Average Annual Manufacturing Wages, 1996-2001
BMI Methodology
- How We Generate Our Pharmaceutical Industry Forecasts
- Pharmaceutical Business Environment Ratings Methodology
- Ratings Overview
- Table: Pharmaceutical Business Environment Indicators
- Weighting
- Table: Weighting Of Components
- Sources

About Business Monitor International

Business Monitor International (BMI) offers a comprehensive range of products and services designed to help senior executives, analysts and researchers assess and better manage operating risks, and exploit business opportunities, across 175 markets. BMI offers three main areas of expertise: Country Risk BMI's country risk and macroeconomic forecast portfolio includes weekly financial market reports, monthly regional Monitors, and in-depth quarterly Business Forecast Reports. Industry Analysis BMI covers a total of 17 industry verticals through a portfolio of services, including in-depth quarterly Country Forecast Reports. View more research from Business Monitor International at http://www.fastmr.com/catalog/publishers.aspx?pubid=1010

About Fast Market Research

Fast Market Research is an online aggregator and distributor of market research and business information. We represent the world's top research publishers and analysts and provide quick and easy access to the best competitive intelligence available.

For more information about these or related research reports, please visit our website at http://www.fastmr.com or call us at 1.800.844.8156.

# # #


Fast Market Research is an online aggregator and distributor of market research and business information. We represent the world's top research publishers and analysts and provide quick and easy access to the best competitive intelligence available.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Border tensions rise

Thousands of Yellow Shirt protesters in Bangkok have called for the Thai government to take a stronger stance against Cambodia, though military officials said today that a stand-off along the countries’ contentious border had been averted.

Some 3,000 police officers have been deployed in the Thai capital to control the estimated 5,000 activists who took to the streets of central Bangkok on Tuesday, threatening to occupy the prime minister’s office as they did for three months during unrest in 2008.

Cambodian officials near Preah Vihear temple said about 40 Thai troops had traveled to the nearby border area this morning, though they withdrew after talks between commanders of the respective forces.

Following the meeting, Cambodian troops agreed to remove a sign placed near the temple on Tuesday that declared the area Cambodian territory.

“Now we have no more confrontation and both sides have returned to their camps,” said Om Phirum, heritage police chief of the Preah Vihear National Authority.

“The withdrawal of the Thai troops came after Cambodia agreed to take away the sign.”

The offending sign, which read “Here! is Cambodia”, had replaced a similar sign placed last month that accused Thai troops of invading Cambodian territory.

Thai military commanders and Thai premier Abhisit Vejjajiva had publicly complained about the message.

Thai military deputy spokesman Veerachon Sukondhadhpatipak acknowledged that the protesters in Bangkok had increased the tension surrounding the border issue, though he said Thai and Cambodian troops “are in contact at all levels” and would not let the situation spill over into violence.

Recent military exercises conducted by Thai troops in the area, he added, were routine procedure and were unrelated to relations with Cambodia.

“We try not to do anything provocative, and we still believe everything can be settled with talks,” Veerachon said.

The oft-strained relations between Thailand and Cambodia were upgraded last year following the resignation of ousted former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra, a bitter rival of the Abhisit administration, from his position as economics adviser to the Cambodian government.

Tensions returned last month, however, following the arrest of a Thai parliamentarian and six other Thai nationals for allegedly trespassing on Cambodian territory.

Five of the Thais, including ruling party MP Panich Vikitsreth, were released last week on suspended sentences, though two others are being held on espionage charges and are set to be tried next week.

Panthep Puapongpan, a spokesman for the Yellow Shirts, said those protesting in Bangkok were angered by the arrests and other alleged Cambodian provocations along the border.

“We don’t want to invade their territory, but we want to protect our land,” he said. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP AND JAMES O’TOOLE

Read more!

Cambodian odyssey

By Carroll du Chateau


Carroll du Chateau discovers nothing is as it seems in Cambodia.

Who could resist the little Cambodian girl in the faded frock handing out brochures?

"Please come to our concert," she says in perfect English, brown eyes pleading. "We dance. It's for our orphanage."

To be honest, plenty of tourists walking this chaotic restaurant strip could - and did - ignore her. At 6pm Bar St is a mass of begging and selling.

Here in the heart of Siem Reap, beside the thriving Old Market, the sealed roads are lined with restaurants and bars. Tuk-tuk drivers chat together or lie in their carts, one eye open for business. Employees and volunteers from the city's hundreds of NGOs and fit young tourists on adventure escapades stroll nonchalantly through the crowd, looking for the best place to eat.

And throughout all this, swarms of kids roam the streets selling books and handing out restaurant flyers. Many are missing limbs or are disfigured. Every lunchtime a young boy leads an old blind man up and down between the tables. The old man calls out, "hungry, hungry" while the child scans the tables. If someone catches her eye they're over in a flash.

But this little girl and her friends are different. They look at us with shining eyes, grab our hands and plead with us to come and watch them dance.

The next night Virginie and I are in Mr Pov's tuk-tuk heading out of town to the Cambodian Orphan Family Centre Organisation. It's a long ride past often-smelly night markets, one made up entirely of shoes, sprawling in vast, unloved mountains.

Despite the map in the dog-eared brochure handed out by our little orphan, we get lost. All we've seen are rutted clay lanes, yowling cats, shack-like houses and bare sections covered in trash and rubble. Even Mr Pov seems ready to give up.

But no, Virginie, who works for the European Union in Phnom Penh, is determined. "Try again Mr Pov," she says. "Ask someone."

But Mr Pov is no different from other men. Up and down the tracks we jerk, in imminent danger of being thrown out, or possibly mugged, until at last Virginie insists. "ASK someone, Mr Pov!"

Five minutes later we arrive at a nondescript two-storeyed concrete house and are mobbed by a babble of children. There are no house numbers in this makeshift suburb, and no signs to indicate that this is an orphanage. But there's no mistaking the kids we saw in town last night.

They take our hands in their soft little brown paws and lead us to the front row where a boy, in a monkey costume, is entertaining a woman and her daughter on the other side of the aisle. Apart from that the seats are empty.

We are treated like queens. The children bring us plates of carved pawpaw and pineapple, a packet of rice crisps and a glass of fresh lime juice. The monkey disappears, the lights flash on and the first dance begins.

Five little girls step on to the stage. They're dressed in shiny gold tops and billowy Cambodian-style harem pants that fold in a sash between their legs, frangipani blossoms tucked into their tightly pulled-back hair. Their hands bend back in imitation of the Siamese dancers I last saw in The King and I. Their slow footwork is flawless. The inclination of their heads, their Madonna-like half smiles, exaggerated sway backs, even the way they let their shy dark eyes peep out to the audience, all work to make this a startling performance.

Then the boys bounce on stage and wind the performance up several flirty notches. "How old are they?" I ask Virginie. "Five, six, seven, up to maybe 15," she replies.

"Cambodians are very small."

By now, two more guests have arrived and the show becomes even more exciting, finishing with a "famous in Cambodia" coconut dance, which involves clapping coconut half shells together. The boys adore it.

Then, around 8.30pm, which is late in Cambodia, it's the finale. Afterwards, all six guests are pulled up to dance by the children, who seem delighted with our clumsy efforts. There is no pressure to make a donation, but of course we do.

Later, as we make our way to Mr Pov's tuk-tuk the children clasp our hands: "Take me with you Mama, Mummy. Can I be your baby? Be my mummy." It would break your heart if you let it.

Nothing is as it seems in Cambodia. Before Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge took Phnom Penh in 1975, declared Day Zero, abolished money and banished the country's city dwellers and intellectuals to countryside work camps, Mr Pov was a professor of archaeology. Now he probably earns US$12-$15 ($15.50-$19.40) on a good day.

Similarly, these children may not be legal orphans, but just street kids who are too much for their impoverished families to handle. Certainly you would be in all sorts of trouble if you tried to sneak one home past Cambodia's stern airport guards in their military-style uniforms.

This orphanage is small and seems well run, even if it can't get the tuk-tuk maps right. But it is just one of thousands of orphanages, children's' hospitals and NGOs offering aid in Cambodia, where the people are poor and ravaged by disease.The average income here is around US$40 a month. If you have a job.

Everyone is desperate for money. All this while aid pours into Cambodia at the rate of US$600 million a year. Why is recovery taking so long?

Part of the story is corruption. The Cambodian Customs agents routinely slap surcharges on imported goods. This means that machinery needed to, say, build wells, is hugely expensive to import.

"Cambodia has the best police that money can buy," says one of the locals. She's talking about how titles to land, drivers' licences, visas and much more are available for those who can pay.

For tourists the deals are amazing. A room at the Bhopa Angkor, which reminds me of a fairly fancy Fijian Resort with its frangipani-lined pool, Sky TV and flash restaurant, costs US$35 a night. A three-course dinner is around US$10.

But violence simmers under the surface. The Khmer Rouge, who butchered around 1.7 million people, were mostly dirt-poor Cambodian villagers lashing out against the educated, city dwellers of Phnom Penh.

Now peace has come, the English-language daily, the Phnom Penh Post, runs regular stories of acid and boiling oil attacks between scrapping husbands and wives. Most ex-pats I meet tell tales of being diddled by their Cambodian workers.

It's nothing new. Corruption, bribery and in-fighting among ruling elite were among the reasons (along with neglect of agricultural irrigation) the Angkor empire, which built the marvellous temples, fell apart. Look carefully and you'll find this violent history carved into the 600-year-old sandstone of the Angkor ruins.

Next morning Virginie and I are in Mr Pov's tuk-tuk heading for the ruined temples of Angkor. Mr Pov has been hired for the day and is very happy. His normal routine is to wait outside the hotel for customers too heat-exhausted to walk the US$1 trip into town.

It's a pleasant ride, the last of it through forest. A cricket starts up, loud as a lawnmower. Monkeys chatter in the trees and eight elephants decorated in magnificent gold and crimson walk fast and energetic. Then, around the corner we see the most famous temple of all.

Nothing can prepare you for the scale of Angkor Wat. It sits behind a silvery moat. The people approaching are like ants with umbrellas. When we finally make it to the steps they are steep and high, especially in the heat which is now rising to its usual 35C.

Virginie leads me to an old monk bent over his prayer book, way up high in the temple. She comes every visit. He stops, smiles, accepts her donation and beckons her to sit beside him while he prays then carefully ties a hot pink braided band around her wrist, chants a good luck blessing, then beckons me over and does the same. Despite dozens of swims, showers and baths since, I'm wearing my wristband still.

Back in the carpark, mobbed by children selling photocopied books with such ferocity I stupidly refuse to buy one, there's no sign of Mr Pov. Finally Virginie spies his tuk-tuk under a tree. Mr Pov is snoozing in the back and not at all embarrassed. A fresh bottle of water and off we head to Angkor Thom with its faces carved into the stone, then Ta Prohm.

Under the trees we come upon an extraordinary orchestra. A heartbreaking group of war veterans, most with missing arms, legs or fingers, play makeshift instruments. And although we try to get Mr Pov to stop, like many men, he has selective hearing. He merrily tuk-tuks on and the moment has passed.

Unlike Angkor Wat, the temple of Ta Prohm has had minimal restoration and the jungle has claimed much of it back. Tree roots and branches embrace the sandstone making it shady and pleasant.

"But where is Mr Pov?" says Virginie. Finally we see him, again under a far-flung tree with his friends, again unrattled by Virginie's obvious exasperation.

Two days later we're heading into the countryside in a van with a broken air conditioning system. It's 6.30am, 35C and we're on a two-hour drive through country that steadily becomes more barren.

The rains are late this year and rice paddies stretch into the distance like empty, grey paddling pools. As Ponnarann Peng, a director with the Temple Garden Foundation, explains, climate change has had a disastrous effect on Cambodia's peasant farmers. Ten years ago they could rely on two crops of rice a year. Now there's only one. If they're lucky.

Our destination is a village where the foundation is working with locals to improve school and health facilities, build roads and upgrade farming. "We teach them how to allocate responsibility, pool resources and organise themselves," says Peng.

The idea behind this NGO, financed by a group of international money market millionaires, is to make the US$250,000 they provide every year, work hard. Really hard.

Halfway there we stop for breakfast. People sit at benches and tables under a tarpaulin roof. Tea is passed round in a huge, battered aluminium teapot. Dogs, many of them with horrific injuries or diseases, limp and snarl at our feet. Locals tuck into rice and vegetables, chucking bones and bits onto the dirt floor for the dogs. By now it's 38C and climbing. The smells are earthy and grubby.

Back in the van the roads are lined with two-metre high plastic sheets. "Why?" "To trap the insects."

"It's the farmers' biggest export earner," explains Peng. "The insects fly into the plastic, then fall down into the salty water underneath. Next morning at 4am, when they wake, the farmers take the dead locusts out and sell them to Thailand. They're a great delicacy and a good source of protein. Worth US$5 a kilo - more than rice."

Part of the programme is helping trainee teachers how to teach. "The teacher is a hero in Cambodia," says Peng. "Sixty per cent of people can't read or write. [The official figure is 25 per cent.] The Government's goal is to make everyone literate by 2015 but I don't think it will happen. They're not spending the money."

Today, students are learning how to teach art. Because so much of the Cambodian culture was lost under the Khmer Rouge, people have lost the ability to do anything that isn't directly concerned with survival. Their first efforts to make anything from materials they find in the garden results in several clay pigs.

"Why a pig?" asks the trainer?

"A pig is a very important animal," says a student. "We use its head for burning incense. It gives us meat, it eats our rubbish. Its skin can be used to make mats and bags, its fat for tallow, its tail for ..."

Gradually they catch on that this is an exercise in creativity. Giggling they start modelling imaginary animals, weird birds and designs. They fold paper, plait reeds, join sticks. Progress.

Next stop is a village meeting where Peng is talking with 10 chiefs about a free summer school they're running to teach English and life skills to village students.

By now it's well over 40C and I'm forced back to the 4WD where I crouch over the air conditioning, watching a woman with a naked baby and a toddler shuck a coconut. They're perched on a platform with a ceiling, presumably to catch the non-existent breeze. Every time she begins shucking the baby starts to wail or the toddler threatens to fall off the platform.

Time and again she uses the sharp cleaver within centimetres of the baby until, at last, the prized nut is shiny clean. The children sob for their treat.

Over the road a teenage girl in a sarong takes a shower in an enamel basin of water. A gangly kid rides an enormous, ancient bike out onto the road with his kid brother on the back. He can hardly reach the pedals. Yet off he wobbles alongside buffalo-drawn carts, more bikes and the odd, menacing, frighteningly fast 4WD.

My last night and it's not Mr Pov driving the tuk-tuk towards Siem Reap's low-slung airport but the driver who had picked us up a week before. Back then I was mesmerised by the smells and excitement of this million-strong city with its side-by-side massive, modern hotels, tuk-tuks, 4WDs and road chaos.

At one point a passenger's jandal slipped off his foot and on to the road. Without missing a beat our driver U-turned into the one-way traffic heading towards us, and tuk-tuked back to pick it up. No one hooted or hollered.

Probably Mr Pov would have done the same thing, but he is still waiting for me outside the Bopha Angkor. Our plans changed and without Virginie to explain, I couldn't let him know.

By now I'm used to the erratic driving, the families squashed on motorcycles, the gorgeous children, the hot, velvety, air. Frogs shriek around us, the incessant rhythm of Cambodian life throbs. But after a week I am no longer a carefree tourist. I've started reading Loung Ung's haunting memoir, First They Killed My Father. I know too much.

The uniformed guards smile that mask-like Cambodian half-smile as I pay my US$25 and leave.
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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cambodia dismisses Human Rights Watch criticisms as 'lie'+

PHNOM PENH, The Cambodian government on Tuesday dismissed as a "lie" a report by a U.S.-based human rights advocacy group that accused it of stepping up its repression of freedoms of expression, assembly and association last year.
Tith Sothea, spokesman of the Office of the Council of Ministers, slammed the accusations made in Human Rights Watch's annual report, calling it "inaccurate and a lie" and rejecting it as devoid of value.

He said the report ignored the Cambodian government's commitment to implement and strengthen the country's rule of law.

Human Rights Watch's report said the government in 2010 used the judiciary, new laws, and threats of arrest or legal action to restrict free speech, jail government critics, disperse workers and farmers peacefully protesting and silence opposition party members.

The report also said the government violated Cambodia's obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention by deporting to China some 20 Uighur asylum seekers at risk of torture and mistreatment there, which happened on the eve of a visit by senior Chinese officials that finalized a massive aid package to Cambodia.

It said journalists who criticize the government face biased legal action, imprisonment, and violence, while politically motivated court cases continue to target opposition members.

Pending legislation on nongovernmental organizations and trade unions is expected to further tighten restrictions on freedom of association, it said, noting that a new law already allows local officials to ban protests deemed threats to "security, safety, and public order."

The report said years of international donor funding for judicial reform in Cambodia have had little effect, and it noted that a report submitted in September by the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia strongly criticized the lack of judicial independence.

Japan, Cambodia's largest donor, "maintained its practice of not publicly confronting the government about its rights violations," while China, another major investor and donor, "continued to increase aid to Cambodia with no conditions made to improve human rights," Human Rights Watch said.

The rights group faulted the United States for continuing to aid and train Cambodia's armed forces, including units with records of serious rights violations

But according to U.S. Embassy spokesman Mark Wenig, "Every individual who is trained is thoroughly vetted both in Phnom Penh and Washington in accordance with U.S. law and Department regulations."

"The U.S. government provides training to Cambodian security forces to advance our goals of creating a more professional force and to advance U.S. objectives in areas such as counterterrorism and peacekeeping operations," he said.

The rights group also took Washington to task for U.S.-funded regional peacekeeping exercises last July, which it said took place on land transferred from a military unit involved in illegal land seizures.

Such illegal land seizures and forced evictions continue to escalate, it said, with thousands of families newly affected last year and dozens of people imprisoned or awaiting trial for protesting forced evictions and land grabbing.



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Tourist Visa on arrival for Myanma, Indonesia citizens

NEW DELHI: India on Tuesday extended the Tourist Visa on Arrival (TVOA) scheme for the citizens of Myanmar and Indonesia.

Nationals of nine other countries -- Japan, Singapore, Finland, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Philippines -- are already availing this facility in India.

"The TVOA is allowed for a maximum validity of 30 days with single entry facility by the Immigration Officers at Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata Airports on payment of a fee of US $ 60 or equivalent amount in Indian rupees per passenger (including children).

TVOA is allowed for a maximum of two times in a calendar year to a foreigner with a minimum gap of two months between each visit. TVOA shall be non-extendable and non-convertible", said the Union home ministry.

The foreigners of such may, however, also avail of TVOA for up to 30 days for medical treatment, for casual business or to visit friends/relatives. The TVOA facility is not applicable to the holders of Diplomatic/Official Passports.

The TVOA will also not be granted to the foreigners who have permanent residence or occupation in India. Such persons can visit India on normal visa, as applicable.

The ministry said: "In order to promote tourism, the TVOA scheme was first introduced for the nationals of five countries -- Japan, Singapore, Finland, Luxembourg and New Zealand -- on January 1, 2010. The scheme has been found to be useful by the foreign nationals. Up to December last year, 6569 nationals availed the facility of TVOA. Government had later extended the scheme for the nationals of four more countries -- Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Philippines – on January 1 this year".
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PAD activists start fresh rally, block traffic on Ratchadamnoen Avenue

BANGKOK, Jan 25 -- The 'Yellow Shirt' People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) kicked off their fresh demonstration on Tuesday afternoon at Makkhawan Bridge on Ratchadamnoen Nok Avenue to press the government to accept their demands over the Thai-Cambodian border disputes.

Ratchadamnoen Nok Avenue between Misakawan intersection and Makkhawan Bridge was totally closed for vehicles as a stage, tents and facilities for encampment were set up.

Key PAD leader Maj-Gen Chamlong Srimuang threatened to prolong the rally nearby Government House until Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva responds to their demands.

He said firstly the government must revoke the 2000 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by Thailand and Cambodia concerning their border disputes. The ultra nationalist movement claimed that the 2000 MoU puts Thailand at a disadvantage in handling such disputes with the neighbouring country.

Second, the government must withdraw from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee and remove Cambodian people from disputed border areas near Preah Vihear Temple.

Gen Chamlong stressed that there would be no negotiation with the government on its request to end the demonstration.

The former Bangkok governor said that he was well aware that the rally would affect the traffic and student access to schools as there are many schools around the protest site, but he asked for understanding as the issue of territorial integrity was very important.

The PAD co-leader said that he is unworried about the security measures even though the seizure of home-made bombs and ammunition, and the arrest of five men claiming that they have targeted causing trouble at the demonstration.

Gen Chamlong said he believes the capability of the police and the cooperation on the security measures to ensure the safety of the protesters.

Security has been tightened around Government House where 24 companies of police -- some 4,000 personnel -- were deployed early Tuesday to ensure law and order. (MCOT online news)

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Protesting Thai Red Shirts call for release of leaders

BANGKOK – About 30,000 anti-government Red Shirts rallied in Thailand’s capital yesterday in another show of strength that heralds a rocky run-up to an election due this year.

It was the second big rally this month by the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) and serves as a reminder of the polarisation that has plagued southeast Asia’s second-largest economy for the past five years.

The mostly rural and urban working-class Red Shirts marched from the upmarket shopping district they effectively closed for much of April and May last year to Democracy Monument in the city’s old quarter.

The protests last year were halted by a military crackdown. In all, 91 people were killed and many UDD leaders remain in detention – one of the reasons for the latest protests.

“We will stay until midnight and will meet again on February 13th,” said Jatuporn Prompan, who managed to stay out of prison because of his status as a politician. “Our rally will get bigger and bigger until the government releases our leaders.”

Some protesters said they were there to show support for former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by the military in 2006 and now lives in exile to avoid a jail term handed down for corruption.

“This government’s policy is no good, I want Thaksin back,” said Boonsri Sudanetr (42), who is from Nakhon Ratchasima in the northeast, a Thaksin stronghold.

Prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has promised an election some time this year, perhaps in the first half, although that timeframe may not appeal to his coalition partners or his powerful backers in the military and royalist establishment.

Analysts say the regrouping of the UDD and the zero tolerance shown by the authorities threaten instability and economic damage if political tensions again spill over into violence.

“Despite [military and government] efforts to contain the situation, Thailand’s political crisis will continue in 2011,” risk consultancy IHS Global Insight said in a client note, adding there was a “high likelihood of further political instability, even if Abhisit manages to win the polls”.

Despite those risks, foreign investors put a net $1.9 billion into Thailand’s stock market in 2010 – the second-highest inflow in the region, behind Indonesia – helping to push the baht to a 13-year high.

Just as the UDD has taken extreme measures to try to bring down Mr Abhisit, the pro-establishment yellow-shirted People’s Alliance for Democracy came out in force in 2006 and 2008 and helped to undermine governments led or backed by Mr Thaksin.

The alliance is planning a rally on Tuesday, its biggest since 2008, to demand a tougher stance by the government in a long-running border dispute with Cambodia.

Its re-emergence on the street adds to the potentially explosive mix in the run-up to a general election. There is no guarantee either side would accept the outcome of the poll.

“The next election would certainly be the one where the risk of violence is greater than any before and it’s likely to be one of the dirtiest, with behind-the-scenes influences that could undermine the democratic process,” said Danny Richards of the Economist Intelligence Unit.

“There isn’t a judiciary that’s accepted by all sides as being impartial, and that undermines how the results will be accepted.” – (Reuters)
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