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Friday, September 02, 2011

FM: Dems must explain 'secret talks'

Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul has demanded that former Democrat prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his deputy Suthep Thaugsuban clarify the alleged secret talks about oil and gas interests in the overlapping marine area with Cambodia during their government's tenure.

Mr Surapong said on Friday he will investigate the case openly to ensure all sides are happy and that the investigation will not yield benefits to the current administration.

"When Mr Suthep was assigned to negotiate with Cambodia, the Democrat-led government had not revoked the Thai-Cambodian memorandum of understanding [on an overlapping maritime border area]," the minister said.

The Cambodian government had no hidden agenda when revealing the alleged secret talks, he said.

Mr Surapong said he will visit Phnom Penh on Sept 14 to discuss ways to help yellow-shirt activist Veera Somkwamkid and his secretary Ratree Pipatanapaiboon, who were convicted of illegal entry and espionage and jailed in Cambodia.

The newforeign minister said he had decided to arrange his Asean tour schedule in alphabetical order and will travel to Brunei first on Sept 11.

The regional tour will encompass all the nine other member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

"I will start with Brunei as it is first alphabetically, but Indonesia will come second because it's currently chairman of Asean," he told reporters.

The alphabetical order will then resume with a trip to Cambodia, on Sept 14, and then Laos.

Mr Surapong, whose appointment last month attracted criticism because of his lack of real experience in foreign affairs, said he would visit all other Asean nations -- Malaysia, Burma, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam -- during September but gave no specific dates for each country.
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Thai Foreign Minister to visit Cambodia Sept 14

BANGKOK, Sept 1 - Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Towichakchaikul said on Friday he would visit Cambodia on Sept 14, as part of his introductory trip among the members countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and at the same time will seek additional information on the alleged secret talks on overlapping oil and gas-rich maritime area between the previous Thai government and Cambodia.

The foreign minister said he planned to visit the other nine members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in alphabetical order, beginning with Brunei.

Mr Surapong said he will visit Cambodia on September 14 and he will seek the opportunity to help secure the release of two activists of Thailand's Patriot Network, Veera Somkwamkid and Ratree Pipattanapaiboon, now being detained in a Cambodian jail for illegal entry and spying charges.

Regarding the allegation of the Cambodian National Petroleum Authority (CNPA) that secret meetings between former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban and his Cambodian counterpart Sok An were held several times to deal with overlapping claims to the offshore area believed to be rich in oil and gas reserves, Mr Surapong said Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has assigned him to look into the case.

The foreign minister urged Mr Suthep to come clean to the public as the meetings were allegedly held secretly without acknowledgement of the Thai foreign ministry and other concerned officials.

"I will send a letter to Cambodia seeking more details on that and will inform the public if any evidence or facts are established," Mr Surapong said, assuring the public that there is no hidden agenda over the Cambodian move as Phnom Penh has affirmed that it wants to improve its relations with Thailand.

"In the statement, Cambodia insists it needs to disclose the information as Mr Suthep had been assigned by Mr Abhisit to discuss the matter secretly several times and the Thai public may be curious about it," Mr Surapong said.

“I also doubt why the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the maritime conflict of interest was cancelled by a Thai cabinet resolution on Nov 10, 2009, but not made official, and then a year later Mr Suthep was re-appointed to chair a committee on the matter,” he added.

The Cambodian statement said that meetings between high ranking officials including Prime Minister Hun Sen, Deputy Minister Sok An, former Thai deputy prime minister Suthep and former defence minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan took place in June 2009 and July 2010 in various locations including Cambodia’s Kandal province, China’s Kunming city in Yunnan, and Hong Kong.

The statement claimed Mr Suthep at the time “indicated a strong preference to resolve this issue during the mandate of the Abhisit government.”

As Mr Abhisit earlier accused deposed premier Thaksin Shinawara of having secret interests with Cambodia, the CNPA statement said it needs to reveal the truth “to protect the interests of Cambodia and H.E. Thaksin Shinawatra against baseless allegations made on part of the Democrats.”

Meanwhile, former Thai prime minister and the opposition Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva explained that he assigned Mr Suthep to oversee the matter as talks between the sides were needed to fine-tune some information before bringing the case to Parliament. All moves however were suspended after Phnom Penh appointed the fugitive ex-premier Thaksin as its adviser.

Mr Suthep has clearly clarified the issue and there was nothing unusual, Mr Abhisit said, “If there was something wrong, why did we have to suspend the 2001 MoU?"

Mr Abhisit also commented that the statement of Cambodian government casting his government in a bad light is clear in itself that his government had no vested interests with the neighbouring country.

The Democrat leader added the foreign ministry advised him to put the 2001 MoU on hold as it affects the maritime demarcation. He urged the public to closely monitor the cooperation between Cambodian government and the current Thai government, which he says is preferred by Phnom Penh. (MCOT online)
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Boy, 3, readied for open-heart surgery

LOS ANGELES - An impoverished Cambodian boy in need of an open-heart operation met with hospital staff Thursday and appears set for the procedure.


Bunkek Song holds her 3-year-old brother, heart patient Bunlak Song, in the Cambodian New Year Parade in Long Beach on Saturday. (Jeff Gritchen / Staff Photographer)

Children's Hospital Los Angeles has set Sept. 23 as the tentative date for surgery for Bunlak Song, according to Peter Chhun, whose Long Beach-based nonprofit is sponsoring the boy.

Before the boy can have the heart procedure, he needs dental work done. That will be done Tuesday, which had initially been the the proposed date for the surgery. Bunlak had been scheduled to meet with heart surgeon Cynthia Herrington, who will perform the operation, but she was unavailable.

The 3-year-old boy from a small village in Cambodia suffers from a large hole in his heart called a ventricular septal defect and several other less severe heart ailments.

Because of the hole, blood is shunted backward through the heart and sends oxygenated blood into the lungs, damaging them. Left untreated, it becomes irreversible. In the United States, the defect is usually treated in the first year of life.

Bunlak has been unable to receive treatment in Cambodia and was brought to the United States by Chhun and his nonprofit, Hearts Without Boundaries.

The boy is the fourth heart patient the group has sponsored. The other three, Davik Teng, Soksamnang Vy and Socheat Nha, all had successful surgeries and have returned to their homeland.

greg.mellen@presstelegram.com,
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