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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Spreading the good word

Missionary family from Michigan will return to Cambodia to continue their work

Mark, Deb and Zach Wilson of Holland, Mich., are returning to a land they love to continue their quest to share Christ and his works with people in need.

A five-year excursion from Southeast Asia to Holland has helped prepare them to resume missionary work in Cambodia, the family said.

They departed July 1 for a five-year commitment as part of a partnership between the Reformed Church in America and the organization Food for the Hungry. They will live in the capital city of Phnom Penh.

“Folks in Cambodia have suffered so much. They continue to suffer from some very severe poverty and also a lot of fear and fatalism,” Deb Wilson said. “They don’t feel like they can change their lives. A lot of them don’t know about Christianity at all.

“Christ has so much love to pour out for them and comfort for all they’ve suffered. His power gives them a chance to change their lives.”

“The 10 years we were there, we began to see that (change) happen. It’s exciting to return to be a part of that,” said Mark Wilson.

Nearly 30 churches across the United States have pledged financial support to the Wilson’s work with RCA Global Mission.

Cambodia still is recovering from Pol Pot’s deadly rule from 1975-79, where a reported 25 percent of the population died from starvation, overwork and executions during his quest with the Khmer Rouge to create a Communist peasant farming society.

Before that, an estimated 150,000 Cambodian peasants died in the eastern part of the country as the United States intermittently bombed North Vietnamese troops encamped there between 1969 and 1973 during the Vietnam War.

The Wilsons were married in 1995, and then they began working together as missionaries. The couple met in 1993 at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Mich.

After 10 years in Cambodia, they moved to Thailand for two years before coming to Michigan in 2006 so Mark Wilson could attend Western Theological Seminary in Holland. He graduated last spring with a Master of Divinity degree, and he became an ordained RCA minister.

ZachWilson, now 14, recently completed eighth grade. He is proud of the work his parents do.

“It’s hard being a missionary, but it’s what God has called them to do,” Zach Wilson said. “They are open-hearted, have good personality and work well with people.”

The Wilsons say Holland has been a place of healing and education for them. Mark and Deb Wilson admitted having some ‘compassion fatigue’ after serving in Thailand for two years following the devastating 2004 earthquake and tsunami that is among the worst in world history.

National Geographic reported the Indian Ocean tsunami initially left more than 150,000 people dead or missing, and millions more were homeless in 11 countries.

“It’s been a good place to live,” Mark Wilson said. “It’s a diverse community. There’s a large Hispanic population. I lived in South America. There’s a Cambodian community. We enjoyed our neighborhood and our neighbors.

“And, Western Seminary has prepared me for this mission.”
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PM refuses challenge by Hun Sen

WHC decision 'is not Cambodia's concern'

The government has brushed off a challenge by Cambodia that it formally withdraw from the World Heritage Committee, while denying it was playing up the issue for political gain.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva yesterday said Cambodia should stop interfering in Thai affairs, after its leader Hun Sen stepped into the debate over the government's decision to leave the WHC.

Hun Sen has challenged the government to officially inform the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) if it was serious about withdrawing.

"If you have the heart of a son, you will write a formal letter to the WHC," he told a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh.

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Political commentators have criticised the government for showboating over the issue to attract the support of voters allied to the People's Alliance for Democracy, who have campaigned for the government to withdraw from the WHC to safeguard Thai territory in the disputed border area.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti, who walked out of a WHC meeting in Paris last week, has been forced to defend his decision amid claims that it discredits the country internationally.

Mr Abhisit said Thailand's decision did not concern Hun Sen, and he should not interfere in the government's work.

He said the government would discuss with Unesco the effects of the WHC's decision not to consider Cambodia's management plan for Preah Vihear temple.

The matter concerned Thailand and Unesco only, Mr Abhisit said. He insisted the government's decision to withdraw from the WHC was meant to protect Thai territory, and not done merely for domestic political advantage.

Thailand has yet to formally withdraw from the body, despite Mr Suwit's assertion from Paris last week that his withdrawal took immediate effect.

The government had campaigned against the WHC discussing Cambodia's management plan for the disputed Preah Vihear temple, and threatened to withdraw if the plan was put on the agenda.

Sources say the meeting was drafting a statement confirming that discussion of the plan would be postponed, which was in line with a decision reached at an earlier WHC meeting in May.

However, the Thai delegation took exception to the wording of the draft, so Mr Suwit walked out.

Campaigning in Samut Sakhon yesterday, Mr Abhisit, who is also Democrat Party leader, said the public should decide whether to vote for the party that was "really" protecting the national interest in a way that might upset the leader of a neighbouring country, or back the local party that was close to Hun Sen.

He was referring to Pheu Thai Party, whose de facto leader, Thaksin Shinawatra, worked as a consultant to Hun Sen's government in 2009.

Mr Abhisit said he did not believe Thais wanted to risk losing border territory, and that his government had succeeded in foiling the World Heritage Committee's consideration of the management plan.

He said if Cambodia sincerely wanted to solve bilateral problems, it should stop complaining to the international community about their border dispute, and resume bilateral negotiations with Thailand.

Cambodian complaints in international forums would only compound bilateral tension, Mr Abhisit said.

Meanwhile, Mr Abhisit denied a rumour in Cambodia that Thailand would attack Cambodia as a ruse to postpone Sunday's election.

Reports suggest Cambodia is reinforcing its military near the border. Mr Abhisit said that while the Thai army had yet to reinforce its own troops, soldiers stood ready to defend the country.

First Army commander Lt Gen Udomdet Seetabut, said Cambodia had fielded infantry companies at two important locations opposite Sa Kaeo province.

While movements on the Cambodian side did not yet justify any concerns, he had ordered troops to strictly screen immigrants and their vehicles entering the country from Cambodia.

In Surin province, Lt Gen Tawatchai Samutsakhon, commander of the 2nd Army, said Cambodia was replacing soldiers along the border, and the risk of a clash could not be ruled out.

Visits to the Ta Muen Thom temple in Phanom Dong Rak district had been suspended for safety reasons.

Cambodian soldiers visited the temple to monitor the movements of Thai soldiers. Thai soldiers told their Cambodian counterparts to disarm before entering the temple.

Border trade continued and gamblers still crossed the border to casinos in Cambodia through the Chong Jom border pass in Surin as usual.

Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said Thailand's withdrawal from the World Heritage Convention complied with a cabinet resolution which required action in case of developments which might affect sovereignty.

Mr Abhisit said on Tuesday that the next government should decide Thailand's fate with the WHC.
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Khieu Samphan, Khmer Rouge Suspect, Vows Cooperation With Cambodia's Genocide Court

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- The Khmer Rouge's former head of state told a court trying him for genocide and other crimes Thursday that he is keen to tell all he knows about Cambodia's 1970s regime – though in the past he has claimed to be "out of touch" with its atrocities.

Khieu Samphan told the U.N.-backed tribunal trying him and three other Khmer Rouge leaders Thursday that he did not know all details of what Pol Pot's government did but would try his best to cooperate with the court.

In two books and interviews since he surrendered to the current government in 1998, Khieu Samphan has insisted he was unaware of and not responsible for the estimated 1.7 million deaths from executions, medical neglect, overwork and starvation under the 1975-79 regime. But some scholars have challenged his assertions.

Khieu Samphan has previously offered an apology for the Khmer Rouge's actions but never accepting responsibility. As head of state of what the Khmer Rouge called Democratic Kampuchea, he served as the group's smiling, polite figurehead.

In addition to Khieu Samphan, 79, also on trial are Nuon Chea, 84, who was Pol Pot's No. 2 and the group's chief ideologist; Ieng Sary, 85, the former foreign minister and his wife, Ieng Thirith, 79, who was minister for social affairs. The charges against them include crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide, religious persecution, homicide and torture.

This week's sessions are strictly procedural; testimony and presentation of evidence is expected to begin in August or September, 32 years after the Khmer Rouge were ousted from power in 1979 with the help of a Vietnamese invasion.

A 2004 report by Cambodia scholar Steve Heder and international humanitarian law expert Brian Tittemore included three of the current defendants among seven senior Khmer Rouge who deserved be prosecuted.

It said Khieu Samphan had "encouraged low-level party officials to execute victims," while Nuon Chea "devised and implemented execution policies" and Ieng Sary "publicly encouraged and facilitated arrests and executions within his ministry."

"I think it is very important for me and for my fellow Cambodian citizens who are hungry for understanding what happened between 1975-79. I personally have been waiting this moment for so long," Khieu Samphan told the court Thursday. "I will contribute to the best of my capacity, of course to the bottom of my heart, to assist or cooperate with the work of the court."
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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

PM blames Thaksin, Hun Sen for conflict

The dispute between Thailand and Cambodia over Preah Vihear Temple is spreading into wider political arenas as Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva shifts blame on the Pheu Thai Party and its de-facto leader Thaksin Shinawatra, as well as Cambodian premier Hun Sen, who has personal relations with Thaksin.

Democrat leader Abhisit said yesterday that Hun Sen wanted Thai voters to change the government and end the dispute with Cambodia because the Cambodian leader has good ties with Thaksin.

"But I want the voters to choose the Democrats as we protect the territory, although it is against the wishes of a leader in a neighbouring country," Abhisit told reporters while campaigning in Samut Sakhon.

Abhisit earlier blamed Thaksin's associates, including former foreign minister Noppadon Pattama and the opposition Pheu Thai Party, for his failure to block Cambodia's ambitions to restore and repair the Preah Vihear Temple. He said Thaksin's group has close relations with Cambodia and supports its plan for the temple.

The war of words through the media has gone international after Thailand and Cambodia crossed swords over the temple's inscription at the 35th session of the World Heritage Committee in Paris last week.

Cambodian premier Hun Sen reportedly accused Thailand of using the dispute for domestic political gains.

The Thai military yesterday dismissed reports of planning to launch an attack on neighbouring Cambodia, using the border conflict at the Preah Vihear Temple as a pretext, to jeopardise the July 3 election.

Army chief Prayut Chan-ocha has issued a clear policy instruction not to invade other countries, said First Army Region Commander Lt-General Udomdej Sitabutr. "We will retaliate only when attacked."

Local media has reported over the past days that the border is highly tense after Thailand announced its withdrawal from |the World Heritage Convention.

Military officials and politicians contesting the election were speculating on the threat of a military clash along the border with Cambodia, alarming residents along border areas.

Udomdej said the Cambodian military has moved some infantry units closer to Sa Kaew, but there has been no report of a large reinforcement of armoured vehicles and heavy weapons.

However, the commander who visited the border province yesterday ordered Thai troops to step up security measures, including a strict check on people and vehicles at border checkpoints and is seeking negotiations with Cambodian counterparts to ease problems.

"There is plenty of rumour in both countries now, but we are very careful to prevent such talk from affecting our relations with a neighbouring country," Commander Udomdej said. "Now relations are normal and we are engaging with our Cambodian counterparts at all levels," he said.

Abhisit Vejjajiva said his caretaker government would not exploit the conflict with Cambodia as an excuse to delay the election.

"We have proved before the international community several times that we did not trigger the military conflict and we do not have a policy to encroach into any country," Abhisit said.

As Thailand walked out of the session after failing in the diplomatic struggle to block Cambodia's move to restore the temple, the focus moved more to the military front.

On Monday, the Thai Second Army Region's spokesman Colonel Prawit Hookaew said that there was some redeployment and reinforcement of Cambodian troops along the border in reaction to the outcome in Paris.

However, Cambodia's Defence Ministry on Tuesday rejected the report of any movement of troops and weapons, China's Xinhua news agency reported.

"The Royal Cambodian Armed Forces absolutely rejects this fabrication by Thai troops to slander Cambodia and to prepare a scenario to confuse and lie to national and international communities," the ministry said in a statement.

"This fabricated information by Thai troops is just a groundless argument, aimed at future attacks and invasion of Cambodian territory," it added.

However, Col Prawit yesterday softened his tone saying there was only a minor rotation of Cambodian troops near Si Sa Ket province, and there was no significant shift of power in the border area.

"[But] we are ready and standing by in our stations," he said. "If anything happens, we will definitely be able to protect our border."
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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

US War Crimes Envoy Seeking Support for Tribunal


In this photo released by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, Nuon Chea, center, who was Pol Pot's No. 2 and the group's chief ideologist, sits during the second trial of the top leaders of Khmer Rouge in the court hall of the U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Tuesday, June 28, 2011.
 
 
The US war crimes ambassador, Stephen Rapp, is in Phnom Penh to support the UN-backed tribunal as a hearing for four jailed Khmer Rouge leaders gets under away.

Rapp said Tuesday that the trial of Case 002, for four top leaders of the regime, was “the most important in the world.”

Former Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith are facing charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and others for their leadership roles in a regime that oversaw the deaths of up to 1.7 million people. They have all denied the charges against them.

Rapp said their trial has been a high priority for US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“I believe that at this time it is the most important in the world,” Rapp said. “The crimes still have an effect on everyone in this country.”

Rapp told reporters he is meeting court officials, judges, prosecutors, investigating judges and representatives of victims. He will be working with donors “to make sure this court has resources that it needs to do the job.”

The hybrid tribunal has suffered a series of financial setbacks and has battled repeated accusations of mismanagement and corruption—as well as political interference. The investigating judges are in a public row with the UN prosecutor over their handling of a third case, which they hastily concluded in April to the dismay of victims and
legal monitors.

Those issues are out of the limelight this week, however, as Case 002 proceeds.

Bernard Valero, spokesman for France’s foreign ministry, said in the statement this trial, the court’s second, will uncover those responsible for the most egregious crimes enacted by the Khmer Rouge while it was in power.

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In Hearing, Ieng Sary Defense Seeks His Release

 
Former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary (2nd row from front, L) and former social affairs minister Ieng Thirith (2nd row from front, 2nd R) sit at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) on the outskirts of Phnom Penh June 27, 2011.
 
 
Defense lawyers for Ieng Sary, the former Khmer Rouge foreign minister, said Tuesday he should be released from the UN-backed tribunal, claiming he was already tried for genocide under the Vietnamese occupation when the movement was ousted in 1979 and was protected by an amnesty deal years later.

In the second day of a preliminary hearing that marks the opening of a landmark trial of four former Khmer Rouge leaders, defense told the court its attempt to try Ieng Sary amounted to double jeopardy. Ieng Sary was tried in absentia at the Vietnamese court and sentenced to death for genocide, in what most legal experts consider an illegitimate trial.

Ieng Sary went on to help lead the Khmer Rouge in a guerrilla insurgency that lasted nearly two decades. He defected with 20,000 soldiers in 1996, under a broad government amnesty. Legal experts say the current tribunal is unlikely to accept the defense arguments, given the wide array of serious crimes he is now facing.

Ieng Sary is charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and other crimes related to the Khmer Rouge leadership, under which up to 1.7 million Cambodians died. He has denied those charges, as have defendants Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan and Ieng Thirith.

In interviews with VOA Khmer, former Khmer Rouge cadre who were visiting the court Monday said they want their former leaders to be freed or have reduced sentences, in part due to their old age.

Khim Kheng, 53, a former cook and cleaner at the foreign affairs ministry, led by suspect Ieng Sary, said she only saw him commit good acts.

“He told us to save food in order to help poor people in rural areas,” she said. “About torturing his own people, I never saw that.”

In meetings held at the ministry, Ieng Sary discussed poverty reduction and development, she said. He never discussed a policy of killing, and when the Khmer Rouge was ousted, all of the officials from the ministry were still alive.

Um Ros, 82, a former Khmer Rouge soldier in the Southeastern Zone, said soldiers there did not have a policy of killing but built boats for people to use for fishing. The killing was the work of soldiers in the Southwest Zone, led by “The Butcher” Ta Mok, he said.

“My first request is that Duch and Khieu Samphan be freed, because the two of them were used by the top leaders,” he said. “Pol Pot, Ieng Sary, Ta Mok and Nuon Chea should be punished heavily, because they ordered people killed.”
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Cambodia’s ruling party marks founding anniversary

The ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) held a meeting in Phnom Penh on June 28 to mark its 60th founding anniversary (June 28).
Addressing the meeting, CPP President Chea Sim affirmed his Party’s consistent ideal and goal of tirelessly striving for the Cambodian people since the CPP, formerly known as the People's Revolutionary Party of Kampuchea, was established 60 years ago.

He stressed that the CPP gathered the people to overthrow the Khmer Rouge genocide regime (1975-1979) and win the victory on January 7, 1979.

The CPP leader said attributed the victory and national recovery associate with great national unity strength, patriotism and impartial, timely and effective assistance of friend countries and the peace-loving force on the world.

Chea Sim also reviewed Cambodia ’s achievements in process of the national concord and rebuilding under the CPP’s leadership.

The country posted an economic growth rate of 5.9% in 2010, which is expected to be 6% in 2011 and 7% in the following years, he said. Cambodia ’s poverty reduction rate dropped to 26% last year, and it is likely to decrease to 19.5% by 2015.

At the meeting, the CPP leader voiced his Party’s support for the tribunal on the Khmer Rouge’s crimes.

The CPP will continue to enter in league with the FUNCINPEC and co-operate with other patriotic forces in the society, he said.

He expressed his belief that elections of senate, lower house and localities in the coming time will be conducted freely and equally.

The CPP continues to support its Vice President and Prime Minister Hun Sen to stand for the post as prime minister of the Royal Government of Cambodia for the fifth term, Chea Sim added.
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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Government to pull out of WHC

We are always wishing that Thailand would withdraw from the World Heritage Convention member.  We think the world without Thailand is better.  UNESCO doesn't need this pest to annoy everybody.

The government says it will withdraw from the World Heritage Convention after a disappointing decision by its secretariat last night to advance Cambodia's management plan for the Preah Vihear temple.

The centre decided yesterday to advance Cambodia's plan to a meeting today of the WHC in Paris, despite Thai lobbying to have the plan delayed until border demarcation work with Cambodia is complete.

Earlier, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva expressed hope the centre would delay forwarding the plan as an agenda item.

But in a message on his Twitter account late last night, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti, who is leading the Thai delegation at the meeting, said the centre had ignored Thailand's pleas.

Withdrawal from the body was now inevitable.

"The World Heritage Centre decided to put the matter on the agenda. I have no choice, we have to withdraw.

"The decision is to prevent the other side from using this issue to claim our territory," he said.

Earlier, the government told the body it would withdraw from the WHC if the plan was not put on hold.

In an earlier Twitter message, Mr Suwit said: "I've issued an ultimatum _ if they reject our proposal, we have to be apart.

"It's useless to be in a society without rules like this. I did my best to protect the country's interests."

Before the decision was announced, former Thai ambassador Asda Jayanama, a key member of the Thai delegation and the chairman of the Thai-Cambodian Joint Boundary Commission, abruptly travelled back to Thailand, despite the negotiations entering a crucial stage.

The WHC proposed its own draft agreement after Thailand and Cambodia disagreed on each other's submitted drafts, despite each having adjusted their submission four times over two days.

The WHC's draft is in line with Thailand's draft in that it proposes to delay a decision on Cambodia's Preah Vihear management plan, but it contains sensitive words like "restoration" and "repair" of the temple, which Thailand worries could be used by Cambodia to apportion blame for damage to Preah Vihear.

Thailand also says restorations or repairs could threaten Thai sovereignty as any such works may require territory in the disputed border area which Thailand claims.

Mr Suwit and Fine Arts Department representatives disapproved of the wording, while the Foreign Ministry was happy with it.

Mr Abhisit said the word "adjustment" would more appropriately describe any temple works, as this would carry no connotations and neither country would be placed at a disadvantage.

He said that while Thailand stood by its ultimatum to leave the WHC if a postponement of the management plan was not agreed, the country would respect the committee's resolution either way.

Tensions between Thailand and Cambodia should not escalate, whatever the decision. Reports have emerged, however, that amid the rise in tensions, Cambodia has told its troops to reinforce bunkers in the overlapping border area.

Thailand's threat to withdraw from the WHC is based on fears that agreeing to deliberate Cambodia's Preah Vihear management plan would put Thailand at risk of losing territory. The Thai delegation says any consideration of the plan should be put on hold until demarcation of the disputed border is finalised.

Thailand believed if the issue was forwarded to the WHC at this time, the country would cede advantage to Cambodia, which would likely be backed in the dispute by a greater number of the 19 other member nations. Member nations which were expected to support Thailand are mainly from Africa.
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Cambodia set for Khmer Rouge trial

Four top leaders of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime are to go on trial for genocide at Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes court in a case described as the world's most complex in decades.

The trial, seen as vital to healing the traumatised nation's deep scars, has been long awaited by survivors of a regime that wiped out nearly a quarter of the population during its reign of terror in the late 1970s.

It follows the conviction of a Khmer Rouge prison chief last year in the court's first ever case.

The elderly defendants - 'Brother Number Two' Nuon Chea, former head of state Khieu Samphan, ex-foreign minister Ieng Sary and one-time social affairs minister Ieng Thirith - are to appear at an initial hearing on Monday.

They face a string of charges including genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes over the deaths of up to two million people from starvation, overwork, torture or execution during the regime's 1975-79 rule.

The genocide charges relate specifically to the killings of Vietnamese people and ethnic Cham Muslims.

All four deny the accusations against them and the trial, the tribunal's second, will likely take years.

'It's the most important trial that will ever be heard in this court,' international co-prosecutor Andrew Cayley told AFP.

'There hasn't been a case as large and complex as this since Nuremberg,' he said, referring to the landmark Nazi trials after World War II.

The initial hearing is scheduled to take place over four days and will focus on expert and witness lists and preliminary legal objections.

Full testimony from the elderly accused, who have been held in detention since their 2007 arrests, is not expected until August at the earliest.

It is the culmination of years of preparation by the war crimes tribunal, which was established in 2006 after nearly a decade of negotiations between Cambodia and the United Nations.

In a trial that lasted just over a year, the court sentenced former prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, to 30 years in jail last July for overseeing the deaths of about 15,000 people. The case is now under appeal.

The second trial is more significant and complex because it involves high-ranking regime leaders who reject the charges, as well as many more victims and crime sites all over the country.

'These leaders are not pleading guilty. They will be defiant and they will refuse to cooperate,' said Anne Heindel, a legal adviser to the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, which researches Khmer Rouge atrocities.

Their health is another key issue. The defendants, aged 79 to 85, suffer from varying ailments and it is unclear if all will live to see a verdict.

Even so many survivors hope the proceedings will finally shed light on a 'very dark period', said Theary Seng, founder of the Cambodian Centre for Justice and Reconciliation who lost her parents under the regime.

'The main question is why? Why did Cambodians kill each other?' she said.

Led by 'Brother Number One' Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the communist regime emptied Cambodia's cities, and abolished money and schools in a bid to create an agrarian utopia before they were ousted from the capital by Vietnamese forces.
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Taiwan Cooperative Bank to open Cambodia branch

Taipei, June 25 (CNA) The Taiwan Cooperative Bank said Saturday it is planning to set up a branch in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh as part of its efforts to expand its presence in Asia.

The bank said as Cambodia, which belongs to the booming economic bloc, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), has attracted a large amount of foreign investment, and the Phnom Penh branch will be used as a springboard for the bank to penetrate the country's financial market.

The board of directors of the bank has approved the plan to establish the Cambodia foothold, but no information about an exact timetable fo.

In 2007, the bank opened its first overseas branch in Hong Kong, kicking off its program for expansion in Asia.

In addition to the Hong Kong branch, the bank currently operates branches in Manila, Los Angeles, Seattle and China's Suzhou.

The Suzhou branch, which opened in December 2010, has built business relationships with several major Chinese banks, bank officials said.

The bank said it is expected to open a branch in Sydney by the end of
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Cambodia Hosts ASEAN-China Youth Leaders Symposium

Approximately 65 youth leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China (ASEAN- China) gathered here on Saturday to build closer regional friendship relations and cooperation.

Speaking at the opening of the two-day symposium on Saturday, Cambodian Minister of Education, Youth and Sports Im Sethy said the symposium was both timely and significant in terms of commemorating the 20th anniversary of the ASEAN-China dialogue relations.

"The meeting is a great opportunity for youth leaders from both sides to share their prospective and experience for mutual understanding, regional cooperation, and leadership development," he said. "It is also to exchange their invaluable views on achievements, challenges and future direction of ASEAN-China strategic partnership."

Cambodia has been trying its utmost to support and promote the role of youth in furthering national development, he added.

Meanwhile, the minister expressed his appreciation to China for her generous offer to expand the number of exchange students from ASEAN countries to China up to 100,000 by 2020 and vice versa, providing 10,000 government scholarships to students from the ASEAN countries, and at the same time, inviting 10,000 young teachers, students and scholars from ASEAN countries within the next 10 years.

"I strongly feel confident that China remains to set its priority in education and continue to support and intensify this field," he said.

The symposium has been participated in by ten Chinese youth leaders from the China Foreign Affairs University, Institute of International Relations, Guizhou University and Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

"This gathering is an important opportunity for us to have a face to face dialogue with ASEAN youth leaders on regional affairs and China-ASEAN relations," the head of the Chinese delegation Zhu Liqun, vice-president of the China Foreign Affairs University, said in his opening speech.

China fully supported the idea of encouraging exchange and communication among youths, since young people represent the best asset for respective country's common future and the driving force of the societies.

"Young people can be cultivated as harmonizers, and bridge- builders among countries, and between China and our ASEAN partners, " she said. "There can be no right policies without the active participation of youth representatives in the decision-making process, there can be no regional future without having a strategic role to play by the youth."

The ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
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Thursday, June 23, 2011

US-Cambodians Begin Signing Landmine Petition

According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, 156 countries have signed an international mine ban and 108 have signed a convention against cluster munitions.


Cambodians living in the Seattle, Wash., area have begun putting their names on a petition asking the US to join an international landmine treaty.

Organizers of the petition, including a Cambodian landmine victim and Nobel Prize laureate, Tun Channareth, say they want to collect 1,000 signatures before sending the petition to US President Barack Obama.

According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, 156 countries have signed an international mine ban and 108 have signed a convention against cluster munitions. Neither the US nor Cambodia are among them.

Henry Ung, a manager at the World Financial Group in Seattle, said he met with Tun Channareth and decided to support the cause and sign the petition. “I support him 100 percent in this field,” Ung said.

Ung fled the Khmer Rouge over the Dangrek mountains in 1979, crossing a mine field to get to Thailand. “That’s why I understand this,” he said.

Warya Pothan, who has lived in Seattle since 1975, said she supported the petition because “there are a lot of landmines in our country of Cambodia, and the casualties are so many.”

Millions of landmines remain in Cambodia, although the annual fatality rate has dropped from 1,154 to 185 over the last decade.

Moly Som, who came to Seattle in 1977, said she too supported the petition “to make peace in the world.”

Many signatories to the petition were moved by Tun Channareth’s work. He lost his legs to a landmine in 1982 while fighting in Cambodia’s post-Khmer Rouge civil war.

“He is very brave,” said Dani Morton, a grassroots activist in Seattle who also signed the petition. “He does wonderful work, and for those of us with both hands and legs, indeed, he hasn’t asked us for anything but our signatures.”

Morton arrived in the US in 1981, via a Thai camp, but she saw many family members perish to landmines along the border. “We should help each other,” she said, “and make President Obama participate.”
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Minister Lashes Out at Wasted Anti-Trafficking Efforts

Interior Minister Sar Kheng on Thursday upbraided government agencies and non-government groups for failing to cooperate against human trafficking, saying the lack of a clear strategy was adding to the
problem.

Sar Kheng, whose ministry oversees a special anti-trafficking unit, said the lack of cohesion meant a a waste of resources. He spoke at an anti-trafficking workshop in Phnom Penh to about 80 participants from the government and NGOs, including provincial authorities.



The US lists Cambodia among those countries that need to do more to combat trafficking—which generally means Cambodians being trafficked abroad.


“In the past, activity has been conducted at a distance, with no clear goals or strategies and no compromises, which has caused overlaps in work,” he said.

Government and non-government units need to combine their resources and expertise with law enforcement officials and other to better curb human trafficking, he said.

Last year, the government interceded in 160 cases of human trafficking, smuggling or labor exploitation, according to official figures. Those cases involved nearly 700 victims of trafficking, including nearly 300 juveniles.

Chou Bun Eng, who chairs a government committee to suppress trafficking, said the government is working with a plan that improves awareness of trafficking and provides legal support and alternative
choices.

“We think that the three-point strategy can help Cambodians be free from more danger,” she said.

However, Lim Mony, head of the women’s unit for the rights group Adhoc, said that while she supports the strategy in principle, it is not moving forward in reality.

“If there is no will in the implementation of this strategy, with strength and fairness, it’s still useless and won’t provide a positive result for our society,” she said.
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US 'worried over Thai succession'





American diplomats have expressed concern over Thailand's royal succession, according to leaked cables.

The lese majeste law provides protection to the monarchy from defamation, insult or threat

The documents suggest Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, who is next in line to the throne, is suffering from health problems. US officials are also worried about how the Thai public regards him.

His father, 83-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, has been in hospital for much of the past two years.

Thailand has strict laws prohibiting any criticism of the monarchy.

Offences under lese majeste laws are punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

The concerns of the US embassy officials were publicised by journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall in several British newspapers.

He left his job at Reuters news agency because they would not publish the claims.

He told the BBC: "The Thai people - most of them - genuinely love and respect King Bhumibol. It's not fake.
"They really do love him and they are very protective of him and that, I think, has caused people to be against anybody saying anything that appears to attack the monarchy."

But he said that the military and palace courtiers had been meddling in politics for years.

"And they have somehow allowed themselves to hide under the same umbrella of lese majeste as the king," he said.

The documents, publicised just days before Thailand's general election, were reportedly written by US diplomats over several years.

They air concerns about the prince and how he is perceived in the country, suggesting that Thailand will face "a moment of truth" when the king dies.

One embassy cable in 2009 is quoted as saying: "It is hard to overestimate the political impact of the uncertainty surrounding the inevitable succession crisis which will be touched off once King Bhumibol passes."

Many of the issues raised in the cables are known about and discussed privately in Thailand.

But there is a taboo around their public discussion in the country.




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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Abhisit, Hun Sen speak out



Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Prime Minister Hun Sen delivers a speech yesterday in Phnom Penh.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has reportedly said that Thailand “can no longer work with” UNESCO if the United Nations cultural body fails to delay consideration of Cambodia’s management plan for Preah Vihear temple at a meeting this week in Paris.

The Bangkok Post reported yesterday that Abhisit had made the vague threat in reference to Cambodia’s management plan for the temple, which is up for discussion at the World Heritage Committee meeting, which began on Sunday and stretches to June 29.

“We keep talking with UNESCO,” Abhisit was quoted as saying. “If they don’t postpone [consideration of Cambodia’s management plan], they should know that we can no longer work with them.”

Heritage Committee meeting, which began on Sunday and stretches to June 29.

“We keep talking with UNESCO,” Abhisit was quoted as saying. “If they don’t postpone [consideration of Cambodia’s management plan], they should know that we can no longer work with them.”
The article did not go on to elaborate further on Abhisit’s remarks.

Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Thani Thongphakdi referred questions to government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn, who said he was unfamiliar with Abhisit’s reported comments.

“My understanding is that we are waiting to hear from the World Heritage meeting,” Panitan said.

“We would like to persuade the members to hear our position – I think that’s all I can say at this moment.”

Tith Sothea, a spokesman for the Press and Quick Reaction Unit at the Council of Ministers, said Thailand had “no authority” to block consideration of Cambodia’s management plan for the 11th-century temple.
“These activities won’t come to anything because the Cambodian plan has correctly followed the instructions from UNESCO,” he said.

In a statement issued ahead of the meeting in Paris, Cambodia’s National Committee for World Heritage said Thailand’s “decades-long record of military incursions shows why [it] does not want its actions on the border to be observed”.

“What we are seeing is the implementation on the ground of Thailand’s expansionist ambitions,” the statement said.

Preah Vihear temple was originally enshrined as a UNESCO World Heritage site for Cambodia in 2008 and is being developed as a tourist destination.

At a ceremony in Phnom Penh yesterday, Prime Minister Hun Sen said 24 Cambodian troops had been killed in periodic clashes with Thailand since 2008, most recently with clashes along the border near Oddar Meanchey province that concluded last month.

“We don’t really want war, but they are too rude,” Hun Sen said, referring to Thailand. “Despite that, it is better not to fight each other.”
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TOMS shoes expands into sunglasses - and improving eyesight

Shoes were apparently just the first step. TOMS shoes, the company that catapulted to fame for giving away free footwear for every pair it sells, is now in the sunglass game.

The brand launched a new line of retro-styled frames this month. Expanding its “one-for-one” mission, for every pair of sunglasses sold, the philanthropic for-profit will provide prescription eyeglasses, sight-saving medical treatment or surgery to a person who needs it.

The eye care — targeted initially for Nepal, Tibet and Cambodia — will be administered by the Seva Foundation, a northern California-based group that “has been implementing sustainable blindness prevention and sight restoration programs for over 30 years,” according to the company.

The new $135 to $145 sunglass frames, made in Italy, come in three models: a wayfarer, an over-sized round-eye model and an aviator, each with various color options. All of the designs have thre, hand-painted stripes on the temples, representing the purchaser, the company and the eye-care recipient. Locally, Massey’s stores, which sell Toms shoes, will carry the sunglasses.

“If it’s anything like the shoe phenomenon, then it will be huge,” said Massey’s general manager Gerry Fullington. Indeed, TOMS has a passionate fan club. The Los Angeles Times reported that more than 1,000 people turned out on a Tuesday for the sunglass launch at the California Heritage Museum, with radio stations live broadcasting the event.

Though TOMS would not release sales figures, a spokeswoman said two of the sunglass designs already sold out online.

TOMS was founded five years ago by Austin-native Blake Mycoskie with an unusual business model: to merge a charitable mission with for-profit motive. To date, the company has given away more than 1 million pairs of shoes.

The concept has rocketed Mycoskie to rock-star-like fame and made him the poster child of the growing social entrepreneurship movement. Popular particularly with recent college graduates, hundreds of small businesses — from Falling Whistle necklaces to the New Orleans-based FeelGoodz flip flops — have been inspired by the TOMS model of corporate and community collaboration.

New Orleans jewelry designer Thomas Mann even created a little pewter pendant, which is sold on the TOMS Web site to help support its work.

Mycoskie has visited New Orleans several times, and did a “shoe drop” here in 2009, where he gave away 2,000 pairs of white, canvas shoes to youngsters at five local elementary schools.

During that stop in New Orleans, Mycoskie said he envisioned the company expanding its mission.

“Ever since 2007, I’ve realized the TOMS One for One model could do more than give shoes — it could and should address other needs around the world,” Mycoskie said in a press release this month. “Sight is a fundamental need. The loss of sight has a dramatic impact on a person’s life — and on his or her family and community.”
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One Man's Mission to Open History of Khmer Rouge

Next week, four top leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime will be brought to trial in Cambodia for alleged crimes against humanity (known as Case 002). Journalism student Jake Schoneker reported from Cambodia ahead of the trial.



Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia

BY JAKE SCHONEKER

When my co-producer Mark Oltmanns and I set off to Phnom Penh to shoot our story on Case 002, we planned to focus on victims of the Khmer Rouge time, on those civil parties and witnesses who would be brought to testify against the four leaders during the upcoming trial. But though listening to their stories was harrowing -- a woman left without family and forced to marry a soldier, a man still imprisoned by the Khmer Rouge in hellish nightmares -- it was the story of the students, and the impact of education, that made the deepest impression on us.

A central figure in the incorporation of that Khmer Rouge education to classrooms was Youk Chhang, the director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, or DC-Cam. For over a decade, he's compiled hundreds of thousands of documents, photographs, and testimony about the Khmer Rouge -- evidence that now is playing a key role in the trials of the Khmer Rouge cadre.

But what gets Chhang most excited is when he talks about Cambodian students and the textbook that he's helped incorporate into Cambodian classrooms. Sitting in his cluttered office in Phnom Penh this past March, he told me a story that helps put the whole trial into perspective. It goes something like this:

Chhang had gone to a high school classroom in Phnom Penh, and brought along two survivors of the Khmer Rouge period to meet the students. First was Norng Chan Phal, a former child prisoner of the infamous Tuol Sleng prison, where thousands were tortured and killed. And second was Him Huy, a Khmer Rouge prison guard at Tuol Sleng who admitted to killing five people during his employ there.

Him Huy, fourth from left, leading group of Khmer Rouge guards at Tuol Sleng

Chhang began leading a lesson to the class, without telling them who the two men were. When the students started asking questions, he told them to ask the survivor or the prison guard in front of them.

"I said, 'Why don't you ask Him Huy? He's said he killed people, he's said he arrested people, and he admits he was head of the prison guards at Tuol Sleng," Chhang told me. "The whole class fell silent. Their eyes got big."

No one would make eye contact with Him Huy -- they directed all their questions to Norng Chan Phal. They pretended like the former prison guard wasn't there. In Phnom Penh, most children come from families who were victims of the genocide -- part of the Khmer Rouge doctrine was to eliminate educated city people and create a pure, agrarian society.

Finally, a boy with a backpack rose from his seat to ask a question -- about Him Huy, directed at Youk Chhang. He still couldn't bear to look at the prison guard. He slowly spoke.

"Him Huy joined the Khmer Rouge because he wanted power, right?"

As the boy sat down, all his classmates clapped and cheered him -- all except one girl in the back of the class. Some time later, that girl had a question of her own for Chhang.

"Teacher, are all Khmer Rouge bad people?"

Chhang could sense that she was a child of the Khmer Rouge herself. Later, she told him that her father was a Khmer Rouge soldier. That night, the girl went home to her father and asked him another question, which she repeated back to Chhang the next school day.

"Daddy, did you kill people?"

Chhang asked the girl what the answer was.

"My father said, 'you can never understand.' That was it."

You can never understand. That seems to have been the mantra of survivors of that time, as a cold silence has clouded the country's discourse. Only a few years ago, that silence was helping to create a young demographic who had little knowledge or understanding of their own history, and no confidence to question their elders. But the Tribunal (which is prosecuting former members of the regime) has helped spark an education campaign that has brought light to those long shadowed corners of the Cambodian psyche, and armed a new generation of students with the confidence that they can create a better country than the one in which their parents lived.

"It took us nine years to convince the government to write a text book of 78 pages -- and finally, in 2007, they approved," Chhang told me. He said that DC-Cam has helped train 3,500 teachers across the country on the Khmer Rouge curriculum. From grade 9-12, students are required to study about the Khmer Rouge, and questions about those lessons are on the high school final exam. After years of silence, there is now a platform for discussion.
High school students in Phnom Penh reading textbooks produced by the Tribunal

There still appear to be problems -- many of the 3,500 teachers who have been trained were themselves part of the Khmer Rouge, with their own prejudices and opinions about that history. And many students come to school with their own attitudes toward the past.

"If you go to Battambang or Banteay Meanchey (western provinces that were considered the Khmer Rouge stronghold for decades) you can assume that half of the students were children of the perpetrators," said Chhang. "Then you have students who were the children of the victims, who start to divide from their own friends who were children of perpetrators."

Cambodian schools -- like Cambodian courts -- have a long way to go. But where the Tribunal is having one of its biggest impacts is in providing an opportunity to create a teaching moment for an entire generation by offering them a model of what the rule of law looks like. And giving them the ability to ask hard questions: to themselves, to their parents and elders, and eventually, to the civil society in which they live.
View Schoneker and Oltmanns' report, which aired Tuesday on the NewsHour:

 

Watch the full episode. See more PBS NewsHour.
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Monday, June 20, 2011

Sumner Redstone Donates Another $720,000 to Cambodian Children's Fund

The Viacom and CBS chairman had previously given the group $1 million, including a $500,000 gift in April.

NEW YORK - Sumner Redstone has further increased his donations to the Cambodian Children's Fund, which provides health and educational services to impoverished and abused children in Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh.



On Tuesday, the Viacom and CBS Corp. chairman and controlling shareholder announced a $720,000 gift to the group. It is his largest to-date and brings the media mogul's total commitment to CCF to $1.72 million. 



Redstone's initial $500,000 grant in 2007 established CCF's child rescue center. And just in April, he donated another $500,000.



NEW YORK - Sumner Redstone has further increased his donations to the Cambodian Children's Fund, which provides health and educational services to impoverished and abused children in Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh.



On Tuesday, the Viacom and CBS Corp. chairman and controlling shareholder announced a $720,000 gift to the group. It is his largest to-date and brings the media mogul's total commitment to CCF to $1.72 million. 



Redstone's initial $500,000 grant in 2007 established CCF's child rescue center. And just in April, he donated another $500,000.


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Saturday, June 18, 2011

US Navy in South China Sea Exercise with ASEAN



Chief Boatswain's Mate Foy Melendy checks to make sure a Singapore navy sailor's weapon is clear before starting a boarding exercise aboard the U.S. Coast Guard cutter (USCGC) Mellon (WHEC 717) during Southeast Asia Cooperation Against Terrorism (SEACAT) 2010. SEACAT is a weeklong, at-sea exercise designed to highlight the value of information sharing and multinational coordination. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class David A. Brandenburg/Released)


WASHINGTON, June 17 (UPI) -- The U.S. Navy has begun with its annual Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training SEACAT exercise.

The 2011 operation, which began Wednesday and runs through next Friday, is the 10th in the series of annual multilateral maritime operations. The Navy is operating in conjunction with ASEAN members the Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, Radio Free Asia reported.

The geographical breadth of the operation is wide-ranging, including exercises in the Malacca Strait, Sulu and Celebes Seas.

More than 50,000 vessels ply the 621-mile Malacca Strait each year, carrying half of the world's oil shipments carried by sea.

The SEACAT operation is intended to enhance maritime information-sharing and the regional coordination of maritime security responses. During the exercise, the navies involved in SEACAT will undertake drills to include tracking maritime vessels as well as boarding of U.S. civilian shipping simulating international merchant vessels suspected of engaging in maritime terrorist related activities.

Philippines navy spokesman Lt. Col. Omar Tonsay said that the operation is intended to enhance interoperability among the participating navies.

The operation is occurring amid rising tensions in the South China Sea, where China's increasingly assertive behavior over territorial waters claims has raised concerns with the Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, as well as non-ASEAN members Kampuchea and Taiwan.

The waters are essential for Chinese energy exports. A prominent Chinese shipping executive, speaking on background, said that by 2015 China will need nearly 150 Very Large Crude Carrier tankers to meet its energy needs.

VLCCs are the second-largest class of tankers, displacing 200,000-320,000 tons, and are capable of carrying 2 million barrels of oil.

Tankers are second only to pipelines in terms of efficiency and the efficiency of large volume transport means that importing oil by tanker adds only 2-3 U.S. cents per gallon to cost. Virtually all VLCCs carrying crude oil to China pass through Southeast Asian waters using the Malacca Strait.

SEACAT 2011 exercise director Filipino navy Capt. Sebastian Pan said of the maritime operation, "This activity will involve surface, air, and special operations units in the conduct of surveillance, tracking, and boarding of the COI from the different participating navies within their respective maritime territories."

The United States and Philippines will participate in joint naval exercises following SECAT until July 8 in the Sulu Sea, the eastern province of Palawan, which were planned before sovereignty disputes between the Philippines and China increased in the South China Sea.
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6 Asean states join call for peaceful resolution

By Pia Lee Brago

Manila, Philippines - Six Southeast Asian countries have joined the Philippines in calling for a peaceful resolution and the use of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in resolving disputes over some areas in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea.

Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos and Singapore arrived at the consensus during the 21st Meeting of States Parties to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (SPLOS 21) from June 13 to 17 at the UN headquarters in New York.

The Philippine Permanent Mission to the UN in New York also voiced during the meeting the country’s rejection of the inclusion of areas within Philippine jurisdiction in the dispute.

The six countries belonging to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) stressed the need to maintain peace and security in the region. ASEAN has 10 members. The three other member-countries are Brunei, Cambodia, and Myanmar (formerly Burma).

“The rule of law is the bedrock of peace, order and fairness in modern societies. The rise of a rules-based international system has been the great equalizer in global affairs,” a statement from the Philippine mission read.

“Respect and adherence to international law have preserved peace and resolved conflicts. International law has given equal voice to nations regardless of political, economic or military stature, banishing the unlawful use of sheer force,” it said.

A statement delivered by Commission on Maritime and Ocean Affairs Secretariat (CMOAS) Secretary-General Henry Bensurto, noted that “recent developments in the Recto bank have tended to broaden the concept of disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea or South China Sea to include even those waters and continental shelves that are clearly within the sovereignty and/or jurisdiction of the Philippines.”

“The Philippines firmly rejects any efforts in this regard. Such actions are inconsistent with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea,” Bensurto said.

“We expect nothing less from our international partners,” he added.

“In situations where disputes on maritime claims exist, UNCLOS provides clues as well as answers by which such maritime disputes could be addressed,” he said.

He also urged all parties to the ASEAN-China Declaration of Conduct in the South China Sea to faithfully abide by the provisions in the declaration, particularly on the need to “exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability.”

“The Declaration of Conduct expresses in a concrete way our collective goal for rules-based action by all concerned parties,” he added.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario met Friday with the nine ambassadors and charges d’affaires of ASEAN member-states and briefed them on Philippine perspectives on recent developments in the West Philippine Sea.

No cause for upset
A “rules-based” multilateral approach to resolving disputes over some areas in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea should not upset China considering its own commitment to shun confrontation, Malacañang said yesterday.

“Our policy is to really have a rules-based, a multilateral approach to the settlement of the dispute. What we advocate is to actually for us to arrive at a peaceful resolution. We should really exhaust all diplomatic means,” deputy Palace spokesperson Abigail Valte said over state-run radio dzRB.

Valte said international laws like UNCLOS should be the basis for settling the territorial dispute.

“Our statements have always been very clear,” Valte said.

She also welcomed Australia’s call on parties involved in the territorial spat to adherence to international laws like UNCLOS.

Australia voiced its position through its top ministers in a joint statement with Philippine officials in the 3rd Philippine-Australia Ministerial Meeting in Canberra last Thursday.

On Friday, the Philippines called on ASEAN member-states to take a common stand on developments in the West Philippine Sea.

Also last Friday, President Aquino insisted that the country won’t be bullied by China in a territorial spat over the Spratly Islands and that Beijing should stop intruding into Philippine waters.

Aquino also told AP that a government-backed mission to scout the West Philippine Sea for oil and gas had turned up “very good” prospects, though he declined to elaborate. He said the Philippines reserved the right to explore its waters despite China’s rival claims.

China, which claims the Spratlys and all other waters in the South China Sea, last week demanded that its southern neighbors halt any oil exploration there without Beijing’s permission. Chinese Ambassador Liu Jianchao said, however, that China was open to joint exploration with other countries.

“We will not be pushed around because we are a tiny state compared with theirs,” Aquino said.

“We think we have very solid grounds to say ‘do not intrude into our territory’ and that is not a source of dispute or should not be a source of dispute,” the President said.

“We will continue with dialogues, but I think, for our internal affairs, we don’t have to ask anybody else’s permission,” he added.

Singapore encounter
One of the three US Navy warships participating in this year’s joint naval exercises called Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) 2011 in the waters of Palawan is now in Singapore where Haixun-31, China’s largest maritime patrol vessel, is also set to drop anchor.

Guided-missile destroyer USS Chung-Hoon is now moored at the Changi Naval Base.

Changi Naval Base is now the center of the ongoing US-led naval exercises dubbed SEACAT (Southeast Asian Cooperation Afloat Training). The navies of the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Brunei are joining the naval maneuver.

“The exercise is led by the US Navy and is centered this year in Changi, where the exercise’s command and control center is located,” Navy spokesman Lt. Col. Omar Tonsay said.

It’s not clear if the US Navy destroyer is also taking part in SEACAT.

“Well, I could just surmise that there are lots of eavesdropping, surveillance and counter-surveillance activities now going on,” said a military official, who declined to be named. The CARAT exercise is set on June 28 to July 8.

At Fort Del Pilar in Baguio City, Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Oban said the military is prepared to deal with threats to the country’s sovereignty but expressed hopes diplomacy would prevail.

The vast South China Sea and West Philippine Sea form one of Asia’s most politically sensitive regions, with China, Vietnam and the Philippines trading diplomatic barbs recently over overlapping territorial claims. Vietnam’s navy conducted live-fire exercises Monday after accusing Chinese boats of disrupting oil and gas exploration in its waters.

The Aquino administration already has protested at least six incidents involving alleged Chinese intrusion into waters within the Philippines 320-kilometer exclusive economic zone that is covered by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

In February, Manila accused Chinese naval ships of harassing an exploration ship near Reed Bank, an area 80 miles or 130 kilometers west of Palawan.

Liu said last week that China was exercising its sovereign rights over all of the South China Sea.

“The overall strategy, we’re not going to engage in an arms race with them. We are not going to escalate the tensions there but we do have to protect our rights,” Aquino said.

The battle for ownership of the potentially oil-rich Spratly Islands has settled into an uneasy standoff since the last fighting, involving China and Vietnam, that killed more than 70 Vietnamese sailors in 1988.

In 2002, the 10-member ASEAN and China signed a non-binding accord that calls for maintaining the status quo. China wants to engage claimants individually - against the wishes of countries like the Philippines that want to negotiate as a bloc.

Complicating the issue is the role the United States wants to play in resolving the dispute. It is a key Philippine defense treaty partner, which means that in case of a Chinese attack it is obligated to come to aid the Philippines.

US Ambassador Harry Thomas said last week that Washington would stand by the Philippines.

On Friday, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland voiced US concerns about rising tensions in the South China Sea, and called for multilateral negotiations to settle disputes.

“We call on all parties to find a venue where we can have a collaborative negotiated resolution to these issues,” she told a news conference in Washington, without elaborating on who the parties would be.

The UK-based Forum Energy PLC, which has a contract with the government to explore the Reed Bank, has announced that it has completed seismic tests in the area and will process the data to identify the best location for drilling appraisal wells.

Forum Energy Robin Nicholson said in a statement in March that his company is looking forward “to making further investments into the project.”

The company said that in 2006, a seismic survey in an area in the Reed Bank indicated it contained 3.4 trillion cubic feet of gas. - With Aurea Calica, Jaime Laude, Artemio Dumlao, AP
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Tensions Brew in Southeast Asia


Part of an escalating trend of tension and mistrust between the Asian nations of China and Vietnam, on Thursday China is reported to have sent its largest patrol ship, the Haixun-31, into waters currently disputed by Vietnamese sovereignty. This Chinese military action, which could be seen as a move meant to intimidate and "bully" the Vietnamese government, was greeted with increased military drills in the area as well as a declaration that military conscription will commence in response to the current threat. Tensions between the two nations are at an all time high; for some the threat of war is extremely real. A storm is brewing in the South China Sea, and should it not be controlled, the entire region may be engulfed.
The main dispute between the two nations focuses on the subject of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea; this resource-rich archipelago has been a subject of tension and controversy for many years. Actual conflict occurred in 1988 when China sunk three Vietnamese vessels around the Spratly region. In 1991, China laid out an official claim to the chain of islands; however, that claim has been disputed by Vietnam and has never been accepted by the UN and the greater international community. As of now, China has no more right to the islands as anybody else. Rather, China is deciding to flex its military muscles with increased military activity in this disputed and tense area.
Thursday's events, including the sighting of the Chinese vessel in the disputed waters and the swift denouncement from the Vietnamese government, illustrate how tensions between the two nations are a high point for the last twenty years, possibly for all time. However, considering China to be the only aggressor does not address the root of the problem. Contributing to the tensions of the region is "...Vietnam’s staging of a live-fire exercise in the area and China’s denouncement of it." Therefore, through Vietnam's military exercises, as well as the announcement of a new military draft, it is apparent that Vietnam is not apathetically standing back while China claims disputed territory; Vietnam is actively opposing the Chinese and appears to be readying itself for a potential military conflict.
However, besides the obvious economic benefits of gaining control of the Spratly Islands, China's motives in its inflammation of the Vietnam situation appear to be obscure. Simply, China may be attempting to exert its power and influence in the region; it may feel that by using imperialist tactics and military force to intimidate other nations, it could be able to dominate them both economically and politically. However, the question of why remains.

A possible answer to that question could lie in the politics of Hu Jintao. The current Chinese President, Jintao will not return to power following an election in 2012. Before he leaves office, Jinatao may attempt to take a firm stand against its regional rival Vietnam and the interests of America and the West. By annexing the Spratly Islands, Chinese nationalism could be aroused and could therefore lend popular support to whichever candidate is best associated with the idea of military action. Therefore, both the old government and the new potential candidates would see the Spratly issue as a possible poll-booster; success would provide the incumbent with support and a legacy following exit from office, while a candidate that supports Chinese nationalistic ideals would garner a great deal of popular support among the Chinese people (see Obama, Barack, and bin Laden, Osama).

China could also be using this military challenge to taunt or test the will of the UN and America in the face of Chinese aggression. Dean Cheng of the Heritage Foundation stated: “This may well be a test. To see - ok- we’ve had these summits, we’ve said that we want better relations: Are you going to jeopardize that promise of better relations now by interacting on behalf of the Southeast Asians or with the Southeast Asians over issues the Chinese feel is their territorial rights." Similar to the situation in the Middle East, many wonder whether the US would attempt to maintain its image as a protector of democracy and the oppressed even if such actions cost America diplomatic relations with an important power. America may not take military action against Syria in order not to anger Iran; similarly, the US may not attempt to help Vietnam for risk of alienating the powerful Chinese government. China may hope that the US responds passively to the recent events; should America do otherwise, China would see the fragility of the alliance and could possibly cut diplomatic ties.

China and Vietnam have a history of disputes, especially over the debated waters near the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. China may have many motivations for provoking the Vietnamese into preparing for war; however, the fact remains that tensions are only going to increase over the next few days and weeks between the two countries. China is widely acknowledged as a superpower; in terms of military force Vietnam would be no match. Therefore, the US, UN, and NATO must watch the situation closely and attempt to use verbal condemnations to solve the problem peacefully. Should a war break out and any power allies with China, a world war could be on the horizon. Therefore, the option for all involved is for China to cease its aggression and for diplomacy to return before this Asian Cold War spirals out of control.
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BHS grads now in Cambodia to serve, teach

BOUNTIFUL —Less than a week after completing one chapter of their lives, Max and Carly Poth have begun another.

The 18-year-old twins graduated from Bountiful High on June 3 and on June 9, left for Peak Sneng, Cambodia, where they will be building an orphanage, starting a school and a gardening project, organizing softball and soccer games and teaching.

The two have been training for a year to make the trip with Youthlinc, an international humanitarian service program.
To be accepted to the program, it was necessary to find 1,000 sponsors, provide six letters of recommendation, write an essay, raise $2,800 and collect bags of school and medical supplies. In addition, Carly promoted a concert at This is the Place Heritage Park to raise money for the children of Peak Sneng.

The organization also encouraged them to provide 80 hours of service during the year. Carly helped tutor reading skills at Oak Hills Elementary and Max, who earned his Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) from DATC at the same time as he graduated, assisted at Bountiful High and South Davis Community Hospital.

Together, their group of 17 students involved in the travel raised over $10,000 for the children of Peak Sneng.

Max is the team leader and Carly is the lead photographer.

Through the year, they have been preparing to teach women’s health, hygiene and AIDS-prevention classes, start a micro-enterprise project, teach at the local school and train the local medical staff. They also plan to assist with a micro-enterprise project and build a village gardening project.

Ben Wilson, a graduate of the University of Utah who now lives in Siem Reap, 30 minutes away, will mentor the group.

After their return, both will be attending Westminster College with four-year scholarships, according to their mother, Jacki Lindsey.
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Puma blames long hours for Cambodia plant fainting

PHNOM PENH — German sportswear giant Puma said long working hours and health and safety breaches were to blame for a mass fainting at one of its suppliers in Cambodia in April.

An independent investigation found that a failure to follow the company's labour standards caused 101 employees to become unwell at the Huey Chuen factory in Phnom Penh on April 9 and 10, Puma said in a statement dated June 16 and seen by AFP on Saturday.

"The breaches of these standards include excessive hours of work as well as multiple occupational health and safety violations," it said, without detailing the nature of the violations.

Puma said it took the findings "very seriously" and promised to educate workers and supervisors about improving working conditions at the factory, which makes footwear for the brand.

While rare, mass faintings occasionally happen in Cambodian garment factories and are often blamed on employees' poor health and bad ventilation in the workplace.

Earlier this week, more than 200 workers needed medical treatment after falling ill at a textile factory in Phnom Penh.

The garment industry is a key source of foreign income for Cambodia and employs more than 300,000 workers, mostly women.
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Backpackers 'wing it' on a bigger budget

In the 21st century, iPods, laptops make Asian trek easier

By Edward Yatscoff, Edmonton Journal

Flashpacker (def): Flashpacking is a new trend among travellers who share the backpacking ethos. Someone, usually in their mid-20s to early 30s, who travels like a backpacker but has more disposal income; also uses electronics on the road i.e. iPod or laptop; expects better accommodation and more amenities; seeks to explore the world but not give up comforts. Flashpacking is backpacking for the 21st century.

Except for our ages -my wife Gloria and I are in our late 50s -this description probably applies to us. Our long-awaited trip after retiring, intended to flee a good chunk of winter, finally came down to deciding where to go. Picking the brains of recent travellers and doing plenty of online research, we concluded Southeast Asia was our best bet.

People our age consider "winging it" through five countries an example of adventure travel. After a 32-year career with Edmonton Fire Rescue, I didn't want extreme adventure. Gloria would take it in small doses.

Everyone asked if we would be on a tour. Tours are expensive and too regimented for us. They do have advantages, but being on a leash doesn't appeal to us. Finding a piece of paradise and having to abandon it in an hour can be very disappointing.

Winging it has plenty of logistic challenges and self-reliance is paramount. Our have-to stops were a few UNESCO World Heritage sites including Angkor Wat, Halong Bay and China's Great Wall. Our lazy, unstructured itinerary left plenty of time at each and in between.

Most challenging was packing efficiently. With only one medium suitcase each, we fretted over what, or what not, to take. That turned out to be a total time waster.

Clothes are everywhere and cheap in the markets in Cambodia and Vietnam. International companies have large factories there and the irregulars/seconds are dumped locally. They'll also tailor any type of outfit and ship it home for you. For $110 you can get you a made-to-order silk suit in one day.

Usually when we travel, we book ahead only for the first night or two of accommodation. If we like a place, we'll stay -if not, we saddle up. Hotel photos can be very creative.

We took a laptop and it was invaluable: for banking; as an alarm clock; checking e-mail and weather; searching for accommodation and sights; updating ourselves on travel warnings and scams; and as a telephone to talk, using Skype, with our children regularly. We also bought landline time from Skype.

Many eateries, cafés, and just about all hotels/guest houses have free Wi-Fi; sometimes with a shared computer in the lobby. Dedicated Internet places offer Skype, photocopying, printing and CD burning. Bank account passwords and passport copies were uploaded to a server and saved in an e-mail. Internet maps provided locations of train and bus stations. If we got lost, we'd simply hop in a cab.

Only two types of plug-in converters were necessary for China, Korea, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. Both had two cylindrical prongs, with one device smaller than the other. As they say in Southeast Asia: "same, same, but different."

English books can be found in scattered bookstores or hotel book swaps. Books take up space so an e-book reader was the way to go. It's small and can download stories in seconds with a decent Wi-Fi signal.

We got our first entry visa online direct from the Cambodian embassy. The remainder were applied for on the fly at foreign embassies. It's cheaper and faster -except for China; the slowest at four days. They squeeze time-constrained tourists by steering them to an "express" option at double the cost.

Avoid visa-on-arrival letters. Pay close attention to visa time limits as some begin upon entry and others begin as soon as you receive them. The bar code on our Cambodian entry visa didn't print out at home and caused some concern at the Phnom Penh airport. But they love tourists there and let me use their immigration computer. ASEAN countries are presently ironing out a unified "one visa."

Do bring duct tape, laundry bar soap and a length of clothesline to hang out wet clothing, although your laundry can be done for a dollar or two per kilogram.

We took U.S. cash and Amex traveller's cheques, which are useless to a thief. It's a chore trying to cash them, however, because it requires a passport. We kept our passports and cash bagged in small packets and carried them with us most of the time. Other times we stowed valuables in a vault in the room or at the hotel desk, wrapped in a bag and duct-taped.

My debit card wouldn't fit into a few ATMs in Vietnam and Cambodia, while others accepted it; however, you get a better rate for U.S. cash. Visa is not widely accepted at smaller hotels, so booking online as you go works well.

Don't worry about being homeless for a night as there are more hotels off the grid than on. The more you venture farther away from touristy areas, the more you'll need local currency.

Our budget was $50 to $60 per day or under $2,000 per month (food and accommodation with some transportation). We based it on $20 to $30 hotel rooms, with a flush toilet, private washroom, and pool. For the most part we stayed within the budget; often below it.

Many young backpackers stay at $3-a-night-and-up guest houses. If you choose to live large, a budget of $60 to $100 per day will certainly do it.

Cabs and tuk-tuks (motorcycles pulling a four-seater cart) in Asia are cheap transport. Hiring one for the day is worthwhile, but you'll have to be a savvy negotiator. It helps to look at a city map before you arrive anywhere.

In Kep, we got off the bus and were solicited by a tuk-tuk driver, who gave us a strange look when we told him our hotel name. His colleagues snickered, making us suspicious that something was up. He quickly took our dollar and drove us to our hotel -around the corner.

Don't buy tours or tickets on the street. Hotels and guest houses, along with travel agents, are your best option for travel/tour tickets as they'll save you time and legwork -and you'll have someone to yell at if your trip goes sour.

In Cambodia, if you book a room ahead, someone will meet you at the bus station holding up a VIP sign with your misspelled name. It's hilarious.

Vietnamese National Railways filled up faster than we expected. Rail car seating is a maze of options: hard seats, soft seats, suites, first class, A/C, sleepers, slow vs. fast trains, etc. Call in the travel agent on that one.

In Cambodia, use the Mekong Express: good Japanese buses, a stewardess, free pastries, moist towelettes, karaoke-style music videos, and employees who gleefully wave as you leave the terminal. A competitor bus company we used once broke down, requiring us to stand in the heat for an hour. But that's Asia. Everyone accepts these things. Perseverance is compulsory here.

Do not take the "sleeper" buses in Vietnam: late-night music, crazy wild driving, horrible roads, no shock absorbers, and still-warm blankets from the last passengers.

English is prevalent in many places in varying degrees. Not as much in China. Expect to occasionally pantomime what you need, and carry a "quick guide" of words in the local language. The locals appreciated our attempts to communicate. Hello, goodbye and thank you saw us through.

Checking English-language websites of local newspapers kept us apprised of events and weather. While in Asia, 12 people drowned when a tour boat sank in Halong Bay and the tsunami hit Japan. It made us wary of the cheapest tours.

We spent a lot of time cruising riversides and seashores. It seems that even the poorest towns in Asia have improved theirs, turning them into vibrant gathering places.

Booking transport and rooms too far ahead resulted in us missing a few events. But that's winging it. Do research on local festivals and events, and try to time your trip to them.

Our biggest decision was where and what to eat and discussing options for our next move. Cambodian, Lao and Vietnamese menus are similar, hence, "same, same, but different." Patrons can linger at eateries for long periods as the owners like having bodies at tables to attract passersby.

Fruit here is plentiful and cheap and we ate it for nearly all our lunches. Bring a thin cutting board and sharp knife. Although we ate some street-food, we didn't get sick, crediting a combination of Dukoral medication, food wariness, chilies and luck. No salads, uncooked meals, smoothies with crushed ice, or ice cube drinks. Definitely no tap water. After eating at one busy place we happened to see the dishwashing area and figured we'd be laid up. People told us if that we happened to get seriously hurt or sick, go directly to Thailand -do not pass go.

Five countries were a bit much as the many currency conversions and languages overlapped in our heads and at times became confusing. We should have spent more time on the Cambodian coast and less in northern Vietnam as somewhat cooler temps there in February and March surprised us.

At no time did we feel threatened or unsafe. Locals were accommodating and friendly and older people are generally accorded more respect. We underestimated the trek on the Janshanling section of the Great Wall. It was a tough haul, but we did it.

The sights, sounds and smells in Southeast Asia can almost be overwhelming, akin to being dropped onto another planet. Riding in an open tuk-tuk is almost magical. Pungent frangipani scents mix with exhaust, charcoal cooking fires, incense and the odd whiff of fish and sewage. It's a heady mix.

Small children and extended families create lively street scenes and are present in almost every business. Their world is public and much work is still done on the sidewalks: moto repair to haircuts to barbecuing entire hogs.

The really good news was that beer is still a buck, and even cheaper some places. Deja vus all over again. The bad news is coming home and having to cook again. There were a lot more people there our age and older winging it. All it takes is a bit more effort.

Here are some helpful websites if you are planning a trip to Southeast Asia: Talesofasia.com, Agoda.com, travelfish.org, Tripadvisor.com, asiarooms.com and Foreign Affairs Canada at international.gc.ca/international/index.aspx.
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