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Friday, October 21, 2011

CAMBODIA FLOODS SET TO WORSEN

The worst floods in Cambodia for more than a decade, that have killed 247 people, mainly from drowning, and displaced more than 100,000 families, could worsen, Christian Aid warned this week.

‘With heavy rains set to continue it is feared the people of Cambodia will suffer even more,’ said Katja Leven, Christian Aid’s country manager for Cambodia

‘The situation will worsen further when neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam open their dams to ease their own floods.’

‘A major concern is food security. Now and in the longer-term there’s the risk of severe food shortages due to rice fields being submerged,grain stores swept away and the December harvest being lost,’ said Katja.

Already thousands of homes and usually safe places such as open patches of high ground, schools and pagodas have been flooded.

Flood waters in the provinces around the Tonle Sap Lake is continuing to rise, and whilst the Mekong river water levels have begun to drop they are expected to remain high for the next few weeks.

Nearly three-quarters of the country is thought to have been affected, and it’s the poorest who have been hit the hardest.

Most of the communities affected by the floods are in rural areas which are still difficult to access, where people are largely dependent on subsistence agriculture, mainly rice farming and fishing, for survival.

Provincial authorities estimate that up to 60 per cent of the rice crop may have been destroyed.

Another major concern is sanitation, many people do not have access to safe drinking water and many wells are contaminated with flood water.

Local organisations funded though Christian Aid, DCA and the ACT Alliance are distributing food and providing safe water to the worst affected communities.
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UN Warns Officials To Stop Remarks Opposing Tribunal Cases

O’Brien also “expressed concern” over the developments at the court and called on government leaders and others to “respect and support the integrity and independence of the [tribunal] judicial process,” the statement said

U.N. Under Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, Patricia O'Brien, center, shakes hands with Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An prior to a meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011. O'Brien was expected to meet with Cambodian government officials over the working of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) and recent resignation of the ECCC judge Siegfried Blunk, who expressed dissatisfaction over the interference from the government.


The UN’s top legal representative has warned Cambodian officials to cease public statements in opposition to two cases before the Khmer Rouge tribunal.

Patricia O’Brien, UN undersecretary-general for legal affairs, met with government officials Thursday night to discuss UN concerns in the wake of the resignation of international investigating judge Siegfried Blunk.

Blunk said Prime Minister Hun Sen, Foreign Minister Hor Namhong and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith had all made statements demonstrating government opposition to cases 003 and 004, creating an atmosphere in which he would be perceived as biased, no matter his judgment on the cases.

In a meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last year, Hun Sen said those cases at the court were “not allowed.”

Blunk’s resignation has fueled widespread speculation that the court is under political pressure not to fully investigate the cases, which would require the indictment of five more Khmer Rouge leaders, an act Cambodian officials have warned could destabilize the country.

O’Brien “strongly urged the royal government of Cambodia to refrain from statements opposing the progress of cases 003 and 004 and to refrain from interfering in any way whatsoever with the judicial process,” the UN said in a statement following Thursday’s meeting, which included Council Minister Sok An, who oversees the court for the government.

O’Brien also “expressed concern” over the developments at the court and called on government leaders and others to “respect and support the integrity and independence of the [tribunal] judicial process,” the statement said.

The court is in the midst of preparations for its largest, and second, trial to date, in which jailed former leaders Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith are charged with atrocity crimes that include genocide. The court is expected to open a major hearing in that case in November.

In its own statement after Thursday’s meeting, the Council of Ministers made no mention of the warnings on cases 003 and 004 or of Blunk’s resignation and his concerns for perceived political interference at the court.

However, Ek Tha, a spokesman for the Council of Ministers, denied any government officials had interfered with the tribunal’s work.

“We let the court work to fulfill its duty in conformity with legal procedures,” he told reporters.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the two sides had not “deeply” discussed the two controversial cases.
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UN Legal Chief Wraps Up Visit to Cambodia’s Tribunal



U.N. Under Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Patricia O'Brien smiles during a meeting with Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, October 20, 2011.
 
 The head of the United Nations’ Office of Legal Affairs wrapped up her visit to Cambodia’s troubled Khmer Rouge tribunal on Friday with strong words for the Cambodian government, which has long spoken out against two of the court’s investigations. But there was no mention of whether the U.N. would investigate the conduct of one of the court’s key offices that has been criticized by observers and survivors.

Patricia O’Brien’s visit to Phnom Penh came after German investigating judge Siegfried Blunk quit earlier this month citing political interference.

Late Thursday O’Brien said she had strongly urged Phnom Penh to stop making statements opposing the progress of two of the four main cases, known as Case 003 and 004. She also called for authorities to refrain from interfering in any way with the judicial process and reminded the government that it is obliged to cooperate fully with the tribunal.

Over the past year Cambodian ministers have publicly spoken out against the court’s final two cases.

Ou Virak, the president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), and a survivor of the Khmer Rouge, which killed his father welcomed O’Brien’s statement - in part.

“I thought the statement was concise enough, but my problem with it is that it referred to political statements by the government, by government officials. I think it doesn’t go far enough," he said. "We need to make sure that the U.N. is pushing for complete independence of the court, and therefore not just statements being made public, but any sign of interference by the government should be unacceptable - and that to me is what was missing.”

Court observers and survivor groups have criticized the conduct of the tribunal in recent months, arguing that judges were politically pressured to undermine their investigations into Cases 003 and 004.

O’Brien’s statement did not mention whether the United Nations would investigate what had occurred at the Office of the Co-Investigating Judges - the arm of the court lead by Blunk and his Cambodian counterpart You Bunleng.

Ou Virak, the president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), is among those who have called for an independent investigation.

He said he and other Cambodian observers met with O’Brien on Friday and told the U.N. legal chief that the court must build public confidence.

“The court needs to provide this confidence by properly investigating, by putting into place the necessary mechanism to ensure there’s no such things in the future. But the problem is they have to address all these allegations including the allegation I think made lately by the resignation of Judge Blunk,” Oy said.

Virak said he was not encouraged by O'brien’s willingness to order a probe.

Instead, he says, the conversation from the U.N. side focused on reasons not to investigate.

U.N. spokesman Lars Olsen said Friday that O’Brien had gathered information so that the U.N. can decide “what action, if any, would be appropriate.”

Earlier this week the tribunal announced that Case 002, against the four surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge, would start in late November.

And on Thursday the court heard arguments over whether defendant Ieng Thirith, the former social affairs minister, is fit to strand trial.

Medical experts say Ieng Thirith has dementia, and her legal team says she is not fit for trial. That is opposed by the prosecution and lawyers for civil parties.

The tribunal is expected to rule on Ieng Thirith’s fitness for trial in the coming weeks.
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Cambodian PM's Visit to China Fruitful: Commerce Minister

The visit of Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen to China's Nanning to join the 8th China-ASEAN expo and investment and business summit has brought Cambodia with humanitarian aids and closer ties on politics, trade and investment between Cambodia and China, concluded Cambodia's Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh on Friday.

During his stay in Nanning, the capital city of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Prime Minister Hun Sen had met with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to discuss ways to further strengthen and expand the bilateral cooperation, Prasidh told reporters at Phnom Penh International Airport upon the prime minister's return from China.

He said that Hun Sen informed Wen about the worst floods that have hit Cambodia since August and killed 247 people as well as damaged about 10 percent of agricultural crops this year.

In response, Wen expressed deep sympathy over the loss of life and crops and he pledged to provide an additional 1.5 million U.S. dollars to help Cambodian flood victims.

Last week, China donated the emergency flood relief aids worth 50 million yuan (7.8 million U.S. dollars) and the aids included medications, medical supplies, mosquito nets, blankets, towels and other relief materials. The supply had been airlifted by two planes to Cambodia over the weekend.

"This is thanks to the good relations between Cambodia's and China's leaders," said Prasidh.

In the meeting, both premiers also promised to strengthen cooperation in all regional and international forums.
Hun Sen thanked China for fully supporting Cambodia's candidacy for the non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in next year vote.

The two premiers also pledged to boost the bilateral trade volume to 2.5 billion U.S. dollars in 2012, Prasidh said, adding that the trade between the two countries this year is expected to reach 2 billion U.S. dollars, up from 1.44 billion U.S. dollars in 2010.

"We foresee that milled rice and garment products will be the key products to boost Cambodia's exports to China," he said.

On the investment side, Wen promised to encourage more Chinese companies to Cambodia, said Prasidh, adding that China's investment in Cambodia in 2010 was 694 million U.S. dollars, the largest investor in Cambodia.

During in China's Nanning, Hun Sen also met with the management of the China Development Bank and the governor of China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. On Friday morning, he joined the 8th China-ASEAN expo and investment and business summit.


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U.S., Royal Cambodian Navies Head to Sea for CARAT 2011 Exercise

SIHANOUKVILLE, Cambodia | U.S. and royal Cambodian navies began their 2nd annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Cambodia exercise Oct. 20, with a pierside opening ceremony at the port of Sihanoukville.

"Last year marked an important step forward in the relationships between the U.S. and Cambodian Navies," said Rear Adm. Tom Carney, commander, U.S. Navy's Task Force 73. "This year, for the first time, a ship from the U.S. Navy, one of our newest destroyers, will be getting underway with royal Cambodian navy ships for a series of at-sea events."

During the week-long exercise, Sailors and from both countries are participating in training exchanges ashore on topics as diverse as maritime domain awareness, vessel boarding procedures, dive and salvage operations and various maritime symposia. U.S. Navy Seabees are joining royal Cambodian armed forces engineers in renovating a public health clinic and drilling water wells at a local school, while U.S. Navy and Cambodian divers conduct pier inspections and remove hazards to navigation. Additionally, several friendship-building events are planned, including band concerts at public parks and schools in Phnom Penh, and community service projects, receptions and sporting events between forces of both nations.

At sea, both U.S. and several royal Cambodian navy ships will conduct communication drills, division tactics, surface gunfire drills and more. Participating U.S. aircraft include the P-3C Orion, and the SH-60 Seahawk.

Approximately 400 U.S. Sailors are participating in CARAT Brunei 2011. Two U.S. ships, guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd (DDG 100) and the dive and salvage ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50), are participating.

CARAT is a series of annual, bilateral maritime exercises between the U.S. Navy and the armed forces of Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand.
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