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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Cambodia lashes out at UN envoy, accuses him of trying to incite violence

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: Cambodia denounced a U.N. envoy Tuesday as unfit to represent the world body and accused him of trying to incite unrest by predicting that the country would rise up against the government to protest human rights violations.

Yash Ghai, the U.N. secretary-general's special envoy for human rights in Cambodia, wrapped up a 10-day visit Monday with a scathing attack against the government and judiciary. He said many Cambodians lived in constant fear of having their land stolen by developers and had no recourse because of a corrupt judiciary.

Ghai accused the government of fueling "development that impoverishes people, deprives them of their resources, adds further to marginalization (and) increases enormously the number of people who can barely make a living."

"Sooner or later, people are going to rise," Ghai said, adding, "there's a limit to how far you can use coercion as a method of development."

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith called Ghai's words an "incitement for people to revolt."

He said Ghai was unfit to be a U.N. envoy and had come to Cambodia to "curse" the government.

"Has he ever offered any ways to solve problems? And does he ever care to learn about the problems the government has solved?" Khieu Kanharith said.

Ghai, a persistent critic of the rights situation in Cambodia, was shunned by the government during his visit.

The Interior Ministry spokesman, police Lt. Gen. Khieu Sopheak, also lashed out at Ghai, saying that like his predecessors he was using his mandate to badmouth the government.

"He has no competence to solve human rights problems in Cambodia," Khieu Sopheak said.

Land rights disputes have increased in recent years in Cambodia, usually pitting poor farmers against wealthy developers.

Ghai said he met several victims of land disputes and housing evictions who have little faith in the courts to address their problems.

"Fear of the state, fear of political and economic saboteurs, fear of greedy individuals and corporations, fear of the police and the courts describes the plight of numerous communities and families in Cambodia," he said.

"The courts are not independent, they're corrupt, and so people don't get justice from the courts," Ghai told a news conference late Monday.

Cambodia was "not a rule-of-law state" and its judiciary was "a perversity," he said.

He urged foreign aid donors, who give Cambodia hundreds of millions of dollars (euros) in assistance each year, to use their economic clout to pressure the government to pay more respect to human rights.

Ghai said he plans to present a detailed report on Cambodia to the U.N. Human Rights Council in March.

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Cambodia plans hunting safaris for VIP tourists

By Ek Madra

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia is considering laying on hunting safaris for well-heeled foreign tourists in its remote jungle-clad northeast, to the consternation of green groups who say it could be a recipe for disaster.

Officials said on Tuesday a Spanish firm called Nsok Safaris had already drawn up plans for a five-star jungle camp to house hunters after trophies on a list of 30 mammals, birds and reptiles in a 100,000-hectare (250,000-acre) forest reserve.

The area, in Mondulkiri and Rattanakiri provinces, is home to several indigenous hill-tribes whose first main contact with the outside world was during the Vietnam War when their territory was crossed by the myriad paths of the Ho Chi Minh trail.

Dany Chheang, deputy director of the Agriculture Ministry's Wildlife Protection Office, said allowing foreigners to pay to shoot game was far better for conservation than having poachers take it illegally.

"Illegal hunters are burning dollars every day," he told Reuters. "We have not explored all the potential of our natural resources. Now is the time to do so."

"The money we net will be invested in preserving the animals and forest. It is better for sustainable development than letting local hunters deal with cheap black markets."

He did not say what the 30 approved species were. The forest area is thought to be one of southeast Asia's last wildernesses and is home to wild elephants and tigers.

Environvmental group WWF, which has been promoting wildlife conservation in war-scarred Cambodia since 1998, said it was concerned about the plan, which has been in the pipeline for two years but which has remained shrouded in secrecy.

WWF's Cambodia program manager, Bas van Helvoort, said little was known about animal population numbers in the two provinces, and so allowing them to be hunted could be disastrous.

"Putting species up to be hunted is not going to contribute to making them safe," van Helvoort said. "This has been done in Africa but it is very carefully selected and very controlled."

So far, Phnom Penh -- which is routinely accused of allowing rampant illegal logging -- appears oblivious to the concerns.

"These are our natural resources. We do not need permission from wildlife conservation experts to run our business," Dany Chheang said.

The Finance Ministry was still working with agriculture officials on the finer points of the plan, such as trophies and fees, he added.

Madrid-based Nsok Safari's Web site advertises hunting expeditions in Cameroon and Tanzania.

(Editing by Ed Cropley and Roger Crabb)
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Cambodian gov't dismisses comments of UN Human Rights Envoy

The Cambodian government has blasted UN Rights Envoy Yash Ghai's recent criticism of the country's judicial system and land rights management, calling him tourist rather than envoy, local media said on Wednesday.

Yash Ghai on Monday attended the ceremony in Phnom Penh to mark the International Human Rights Day and released a statement claiming that Cambodian citizens live in fear of land grabbing, repression and a court system which offers scant hope of justice, with international donors seemingly turning a blind-eye.

However, at a specially convened government press conference on Tuesday, Ouch Borith, secretary of state for the Foreign Ministry, said that it was Ghai himself that was sightless, reported Cambodian-language newspaper the Moneaksekar Khmer.

"Anyone who claims Cambodia is a country without laws must be blind. This is not a dictatorship," said Borith at the press conference, adding that Ghai is simply a tourist.

Claiming that Ghai's comments were unacceptable, he said government leaders could not meet with Ghai during his ten-day visit as they were busy with working to develop the country, promote economic growth and eliminate poverty for the people.

Meanwhile, government spokesman Khieu Kanharith told reporters that Ghai's words were an incitement for the people to revolt, adding that Ghai isn't fit to be a UN envoy.

"Has he ever offered any ways to solve problems? And does he ever care to learn about the problems the government has solved?" hieu Kanharith said.

In addition, Ministry of the Interior spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak described Ghai as a long-term tourist, who wants to make people oppose the government, reported English-Khmer language newspaper the Cambodia Daily.

Source: Xinhua

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