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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

opposition leader accused government of cover up sovereignty lost

Opposition and Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva Abhisit accused the government of distorting the truth over the Preah Vihear temple. Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama said there is no conflict of interest.

Opposition and Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva yesterday charged that the government was bent on misleading the public by distorting information over the Preah Vihear temple.

Mr Abhisit also called on fellow MPs to cast votes of no-confidence against Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama in a bid to preserve Thailand's sovereignty which he said had virtually been given up when the cabinet on June 17 endorsed Cambodia's map of the ancient temple and the joint statement over it.

The documents will be used by Phnom Penh to have World Heritage Committee members under the United Nations Scientific, Educational and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) consider its bid for the temple to gain World Heritage site status. The committee meeting starts on July 2 in Quebec.

Mr Noppadon said Thailand planned to separately propose that the Sra Trao reservoir and other ancient structures relating to Preah Vihear, be listed. But he said this plan could not be completed in time for the Quebec meeting.

He denied the idea was aimed at deflecting pressure from the anti-government People's Alliance for Democracy and those criticising Thailand's support for Cambodia's attempt to gain World Heritage status for Preah Vihear.

MPs will vote in the no-confidence debate tomorrow.

In the two-day censure debate which kicked off yesterday, Mr Abhisit accused the government of distorting the truth when it claimed the Thai team of lawyers accepted Cambodia's map in the 1962 legal battle over the temple in the International Courts of Justice.

Mr Abhisit said the Thai lawyers, led by the late M.R. Seni Pramoj, had never accepted Cambodia's map presented to the World Court in The Hague.

He said the court ruled in favour of Cambodia on the grounds that Thailand never protested against Cambodia's map until the dispute was brought to the court.

"The court then ruled that Thailand's failure to protest against [Cambodia's] map was tantamount to legal acceptance of the map. Fortunately, the court never touched on border disputes," he said.

Mr Abhisit said that shortly after the court's ruling in 1962 the Thai government issued a statement in which it said it would reserve the right to seek a review while observing the court's ruling.

He said the government's statement showed Thailand's intention to seek the return of the Preah Vihear temple when the opportunity arose.

The current administration's endorsement of the Cambodian map was giving up the rights that Thailand had always upheld, he said.

Mr Abhisit also lambasted the government for its failure to seek parliamentary approval before it signed a joint statement with Cambodia over the proposed listing of the temple.

He said the government exceeded its power in doing so and was in violation of Article 190 of the constitution as the joint statement would have an impact on the country's sovereignty.

Mr Noppadon on June 18 signed the joint statement with Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An.

Mr Noppadon and Foreign Ministry legal experts have argued that the joint statement did not need parliament's endorsement because it will have no effect on Thai sovereignty or territory.

In his defence last night, Mr Noppadon said the ministry closely consulted the armed forces before deciding to endorse the Cambodian map. There was no conflict of interest behind the Thai government's decision, he added.

The prime minister stressed that the temple belonged to Cambodia which had the right to seek the temple's listing.

Thailand, on the other hand, had succeeded in persuading Cambodia to list only the temple, not the 4.6 sq km overlapping area, he said, noting that it was important to maintain a healthy relationship with Phnom Penh.

Mr Samak said the Preah Vihear temple had become a controversial issue as intended by some politicians.

He warned that if it was allowed to be politicised further, it would sour the Thai-Cambodian ties and it was worrying Thai people living in Cambodia.

"I can tell you the stir-up is successful. Don't you know Thai people over there can't sleep?" the prime minister said.

He also said the Democrats were irresponsible in playing the nationalistic card at the expense of bilateral relations.

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Cambodia's Khmer Rouge Tribunal Trims Budget

Cambodia's Khmer Rouge tribunal says it will complete its work early and for almost $30 million less than previously proposed. Donors had balked at the initial budget of $170 million. To ensure new cost-cutting targets are met, a U.N. official has been drafted from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Rory Byrne reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.

Cambodia's Khmer Rouge tribunal has suffered a cash crisis for months. Donors have been reluctant to kick in money because of concerns over alleged corruption and mismanagement. That led to fears that the tribunal could close its doors before the first trial takes place.

Donors also had concerns about the court's rising costs, and what they consider its slow pace of operations.

But tribunal officials say they have shaved almost $30 million off the original budget of $170 million. They say the court will aim finish its work by the end of 2010, a year ahead of schedule.

Donors meeting in New York this week expressed satisfaction with the new budget, raising hopes in Cambodia that money will be coming.

To help ensure the Khmer Rouge tribunal meets its new targets, Norwegian U.N. official Knut Rosandhaug has been brought in from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

Speaking to reporters this week, he outlined his concerns about the tribunal.

"I share the concerns about the swiftness of the process. I am fully aware of the health situation of the detainees and I will do my part, offer my support to see that this is done as swift[ly] as possible but within the standards that we want to achieve," he said.

Under the ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge government in the late 1970s, as many as two million Cambodians were executed for any minor criticism of the government or died of hunger and illness.

Only a handful of the group's senior leaders are still alive, and most of them are elderly and frail. There are fears they will die before they ever face justice.

Rosandhaug says he is confident the tribunal will now get the money it needs to finish its work. He praised the determination of those involved in bringing the Khmer Rouge leaders to justice.

"I am coming from the Balkans in Europe, I am used to sort of a battle mode, people are fighting each other, and it is therefore a joy for me to come here and to see that it is a joint effort, one platform, we have concept to work on, one way forward, and for me that is very joyful," Rosandhaug.

The tribunal has indicted five former Khmer Rouge leaders. The trial of the first defendant, the commander of the Khmer Rouge's notorious S-21 torture center in Phnom Penh, is expected to begin in September.
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Thai PM's foes throw temple tantrum

BANGKOK, Thailand - Opponents of ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra are using a 900-year-old temple on the Cambodian border, centre of a bitter 50-year dispute, to try to oust a five-month-old government that backs him.

With Cambodia seeking Thai support for its bid to list the Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage Site, Thaksin's enemies are accusing the government of ceding land near the temple to Phnom Penh.

The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) - the motley group of businessmen, academics and royalists whose campaign against Thaksin led to his removal in a 2006 coup - is unabashed about whipping up a nationalist fervour.

"The Preah Vihear issue has sent us more people, many of whom are apolitical, white-collar workers," said Suriyasai Katasila, a lead of the PAD, which has accused the government of being 'Thaksin Puppets' bent on turning Thailand into a republic.

Specifically to the temple saga, the PAD says the government is ceding 4.6 sq km of disputed land near the temple to Phnom Penh in exchange for business concessions for Thaksin.

The Thaksin camp and Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, whose office has now been under siege by PAD protesters for six days, vehemently deny the accusations, or the handing over of any territory.

The issue of Preah Vihear, which the International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 belonged to Cambodia, is widening the PAD's support base to include opposition politicians, top bankers and high society bigwigs.

In its no-confidence motion against Samak this week, the Democrat party has focused primarily on the temple and the government's apparent acceptance of a map of the area drawn by Cambodia that lays claim to the 4.6 sq km of scrubland.

A group of senators petitioned the U.N. cultural agency, UNESCO, in Bangkok to halt the temple listing, and a Thai court has agreed to an urgent hearing to rule whether cabinet's approval of the map was constitutional.

Preah Vihear, built by Khmer kings at the start of the Angkorian period, sits on the top of a jungle-clad escarpment that forms a natural boundary between Cambodia and Thailand.

It has been a source of tensions for decades, but was off-limits for much of the 1970s to the 1990s due to its use as a major jungle outpost by Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge guerrillas. The area around the temple is still littered with land mines.

The political uproar in Thailand prompted Cambodia to close the temple on Monday, raising fears the spat could turn into a major diplomatic ruction between the two southeast Asian nations.

Another Cambodian temple, Angkor Wat, lay at the heart of a shouting match that resulted in a nationalist mob torching the Thai embassy and several Thai businesses in Phnom Penh in 2003.

"This nationalistic rhetoric can escalate to hurt diplomatic ties and sow the seeds of hatred between the people of the two countries," said political scientist Boonyakiet Karavekpan of Bangkok's Ramkhamhaeng University.

"We can only pray that will not happen again," he said.
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Cambodia closes Thai border entrance to disputed ancient temple

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: Cambodia shut a border gate leading from Thailand to an 11th-century temple claimed by both nations, an official said Tuesday, as Thai protesters gathered outside and opposition politicians in Thailand's Parliament accused the prime minister of yielding sovereignty over the site.

The closure of the border crossing at the Preah Vihear temple was the latest flare-up in a long-standing dispute between Cambodia and Thailand over ownership of the area.

Preah Vihear is located on the top of a cliff in the Dangrek Mountains, about 150 miles (245 kilometers) north of the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh. However, it is more easily accessible from Thailand than from Cambodia.

The two countries have been at loggerheads over ownership of the temple, located in still-disputed territory, although it was awarded to Cambodia by the International Court of Justice in 1962.

The latest conflict arose last week when Thailand's government endorsed Cambodia's bid to register the temple as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Critics in Thailand say Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej bypassed Parliament when his government endorsed Cambodia's application and accused him of violating national sovereignty. They say Thailand and Cambodia should apply jointly for World Heritage status for the site.

Thai opposition lawmakers debating a wide-ranging no-confidence motion against Samak have made the temple dispute a prominent part of their accusations.

Abhisit Vejjajiva, head of the opposition Democrat Party, said he intends to prove to Parliament that the government "caused damage to the country" by supporting Cambodia's bid.

"Preah Vihear is the knockout punch" for the no-confidence motion, Abhisit told reporters.

Hundreds of Thai protesters gathered Sunday along the border near the entrance to the temple, shouting that the temple belongs to Thailand and telling Cambodians who live on the hill to move away, said Hang Soth, director-general of the Preah Vihear Authority. Smaller protests were held Monday and Tuesday.

"We decided to shut down the border entrance because we are afraid that Thai demonstrators will reach the temple and cause problems with our people who live the near the temple," Hang Soth said.

Authorities will consider reopening the entrance "when the situation becomes normal and Thai demonstrators stop protesting in front of the temple," he said.

The 21-nation World Heritage Committee plans to consider Cambodia's application during its annual meeting next month in Quebec, Canada, he said.

The World Heritage list currently includes Cambodia's Angkor archaeological site, where Angkor Wat, the country's main tourist attraction, is located. World Heritage status helps attract funds for preservation of a site as well as raising its tourism profile.

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