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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Call to oppose Cambodia may lead to unnecessary rift

By comment & analysis
Supalak Ganjanakhundee
Published on June 12, 2008

Democrat Party deputy leader Alongkorn Pollabutr appeared to have misled some people and may be sparking unnecessary rifts with Cambodia when he suggested the government should remain opposed to Phnom Penh's move to list the Hindu temple of Preah Vihear as a World Heritage site.

If entertained, such a suggestion could mean a revision of an agreement that Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama and Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An sealed in Paris last month.

Thailand and Cambodia had locked horns since last year when Bangkok opposed a Cambodian proposal to list the temple as a Unesco (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation) World Heritage site as Phnom Penh had annexed 4.6 square kilometres of overlapping area claimed by both sides.

After rounds of negotiation since the previous government, Cambodia finally agreed to propose listing only the temple that is clearly under its sovereignty.

The Cambodian authority had sent a new map of its annexation to Thailand for consideration and Bangkok was expected to find it satisfactory.

The Cabinet will endorse the map soon to enable Cambodia to submit its proposal to be listed as a protected site when the Unesco heritage committee meets in Canada next month.

The opposition Democrats blamed the government for mishandling the case.

Allowing Cambodia to list the temple means giving up Thai sovereignty over the Preah Vihear, they said.

Sompong Sucharitkul, former Thai ambassador to The Hague who said he was close to the case when the conflict was in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), wrote in an article that Thailand had never conceded that the temple belonged to Cambodia despite the court's ruling in 1962.

It was right that the Thai government at the time announced its disagreement to the ICJ's ruling in favour of Cambodia.

But such an announcement contradicted the action since the Cabinet on July 10, 1962, agreed to hand the temple to Cambodia.

Thai authorities then withdrew troops from the temple and removed Thai nationals out of the area.

Sompong's statement that the current government should not change its position and recognise Cambodian sovereignty over Preah Vihear could be somewhat misleading since it had de facto already changed its position and recognised Cambodia's sovereignty 46 years ago.

De jury, the ICJ's ruling in 1962 was deemed the final decision and there was no appeal procedure.

Thailand has the right to ask for a revision only if it finds some new evidence, but such rights lasted only 10 years after the ruling.

The foreign minister at the time was Thanat Khoman and he was also a former Democrat leader.
He reserved the right to refile the case if there is a new international law relating to the case in favour of Thailand. More than four decades on, no such new law had emerged.

The rush to discredit the government by ignoring and tinkering with historical fact to shore up nationalistic sentiment is not healthy for Thailand since such sentiment may lead to negative terms with that country and escalate into what could be a needless conflict. Any misunderstanding with Cambodia should be avoided around this time since Cambodia is to hold a general election next month.

If some Cambodian parties decide to pick on the issue of Preah Vihear to whip up anti-Thai sentiment for their own gains, it could cause a lot of trouble and perhaps strain cordial relations.

Thailand has already learned a valuable lesson that just a false statement over Khmer temples could lead to its embassy being gutted in January 2003.

The fire went beyond the embassy grounds, igniting an anti-Thai rampage that destroyed Thai properties and interests in that country, some of which cannot be compensated by money alone.

Diplomatically speaking, cooperation with Cambodia is certainly more sensible than pushing for a response.

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Cambodia Intimidates Media, Opposition Before Vote, Groups Say

By Michael Heath

June 12 (Bloomberg) -- Cambodia's government, led by Prime Minister Hun Sen, is using the justice system to intimidate journalists and the opposition before next month's general elections, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said.

Dam Sith, a candidate of the Sam Rainsy Party and editor of the Khmer Conscience newspaper, was arrested for questioning the role of Hor Namhong, the foreign minister, during the rule of the Khmer Rouge movement, the groups said in a statement.

The arrest ``demonstrates how the criminal justice system is used and abused to silence government critics,'' said Brittis Edman, a researcher at London-based Amnesty. It ``sends a message of fear to journalists and other media workers in the lead-up to national elections.''

The ruling Cambodian People's Party will repeat its victory of 2003 when elections are held July 27 in the South Asian country of 14 million people, Hun Sen said earlier this week. Sam Rainsy spent a year in exile in France from February 2005, during which he was jailed for 18 months in absentia for defaming the prime minister.

Cambodia's economy expanded 9.6 percent in 2007, after growing by at least 10 percent during the previous three years, according to data compiled by the World Bank.

Hun Sen wants to develop oil and mineral resources to attract international investment and reduce Cambodia's dependence on clothing exports and tourism for growth. About a third of the population live on less than 50 cents a day and 90 percent live in rural areas.

Intimidation Pattern

Dam Sith's arrest is part of a pattern of intimidation against the opposition and independent media in the run-up to the election, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said.

On May 21, Hun Sen threatened the independent Beehive radio station after it broadcast programming from opposition parties, according to the groups. A week later, independent radio station Angkor Ratha had its license, issued less than six months earlier, revoked after it sold air time to opposition parties, the groups said.

Hun Sen said his party may win two-thirds of seats in the 123-member parliament, the Mekong Times reported yesterday.

The party will probably win at least 81 seats, up from 73, and receive 73 percent of the vote versus 64 percent in the 2003 election, the Phnom Penh-based English-language daily cited him as saying. The Sam Rainsy Party won 24 seats in the last ballot.

Hun Sen formed a coalition government in July 2004 with the royalist Funcinpec party, which won 26 seats in 2003.

Opposition Members

Dam Sith, who is running for election in Phnom Penh, was arrested as Hun Sen's CPP presses opposition members to join the party and punishes those who refuse, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said.

In March, police detained local Sam Rainsy Party leader Tuot Saron in Kampong Thom. Tuot Saron is still in detention and faces charges of illegal confinement after seeking to assist a former party colleague following her alleged defection to the CPP, according to the groups.

The court issued arrest warrants against three other local Sam Rainsy Party leaders, who are in hiding after avoiding arrest, the groups said.

Cambodia's attention has been focused on five former leaders of the Khmer Rouge who are facing trial this year at a United Nations-backed genocide tribunal for crimes allegedly committed during the regime's 1975-1979 rule.

The Khmer Rouge forced the population out of cities as it tried to establish an agrarian state, killing an estimated 1.7 million people through starvation, disease or execution.

The regime was ousted when Vietnamese forces invaded Cambodia, plunging the country into civil war. Most fighting stopped after the 1991 Paris Peace Accords that called for a cease-fire and democratic elections, which were held in 1993.

Penal Code

Two years after the elections, Cambodia passed a Press Law that provides some protection to journalists, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty said. It's rarely used. Instead, the so-called 1992 UNTAC Law, Cambodia's current penal code, is used in most legal cases against journalists or media representatives.

``There's little room for critical or opposition journalists in Cambodia, and those who express dissent risk harassment, intimidation and, at times, imprisonment,'' Sara Colm, senior researcher at New York-based Human Rights Watch, said in the statement.

Dam Sith has been charged with violating articles 62 and 63 of the UNTAC Law. His newspaper, Khmer Conscience, is one of the few in Cambodia that is not affiliated with the government or the CPP, which controls all television and most radio stations.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Heath in Sydney at

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Taiwan's Chunghwa Telecom to enter Cambodia

TAIPEI, June 12 (Reuters) - Chunghwa Telecom (2412.TW: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) (CHT.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), Taiwan's largest telecommunications operator, said on Thursday it expected to launch telecom services in Cambodia, as part of a plan to expand overseas.

The company will collaborate with Vietnam's military-run operator Viettel, which it had set up a $30 million joint venture with in May, said a Chunghwa Telecom spokeswoman.

The firm declined to give a specific timeline for when the services would be launched or any investment figures.

Chunghwa Telecom had said it started investments in Vietnam and Thailand and planned to invest in every Southeast Asian country besides Myanmar.

Viettel, fully owned by the Vietnam military, has become a dominant telecoms operator in Vietnam, taking up about a third of the mobile phone market.

In 2006, it became Vietnam's first telecoms firm to invest abroad when it started Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) services in Cambodia, and later expanded into mobile phone, fixed-line and Internet services.

Viettel competes with Vinaphone and MobiFone, both mobile phone providers owned by state-run Vietnam Posts and Telecommunications (VNPT).

On Thursday, shares of Chunghwa Telecom fell 2.48 percent, outperforming the benchmark TAIEX's 3.39 percent drop.

Chunghwa Telecom takes up about a 39 percent share of Taiwan's mobile telecoms market, and it competes with smaller local rivals Far EasTone Telecommunications Co Ltd (4904.TW: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) and Taiwan Mobile Co (3045.TW: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz). ($1=T$30.5) (Reporting by Sheena Lee; Editing by Ben Tan)

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