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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Strong economy boosts Cambodia's ruling party ahead of polls

It is an old games, the notorious mafia regime is using intimidations, violence, force voters and falsefied documents are the key boosting Cambodia's ruling party ahead of polls. It is not a strong Economy.

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Once sleepy streets in Cambodia's capital are crammed with construction sites, crowned by towering cranes building the first skyscrapers in the leafy, low-rise city.

Phnom Penh's building boom is one of the most visible signs of the sweeping changes in one of the world's poorest countries, which according to some estimates has averaged 11 percent economic growth over the last three years.

It's also a key reason why voters are expected to hand Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Cambodian People's Party (CPP) a victory in general elections on Sunday, analysts say.

"Generally we agree that economic growth in Cambodia is a very good sign" of the country's progress, said Yang Saing Koma, president of the Cambodian Centre for the Study and Development of Agriculture, which monitors the effects of the economy on the rural poor.

Thirty years ago Phnom Penh was almost deserted, after the Khmer Rouge forcibly evacuated the capital as they plunged the nation into the darkness of the "Killing Fields" that would claim up to two million lives.

They dismantled the economy and even banned the use of currency in a genocidal drive to create a Maoist agrarian utopia.

After the Khmer Rouge were forced from power, they continued to battle the government until 1996, leaving a shattered nation strewn with landmines and a population struggling to survive.

Now that's slowly changing.

Economic data on Cambodia remains sketchy, but international estimates agree that the country's growth in recent years has been among the strongest in Southeast Asia. Foreign investment, mainly from other Asian nations, is pouring into hydro-electric dams, property and tourism.

Tourism, which brought in 1.4 billion dollars last year, is expected to grow by at least 20 percent in 2008, according to the government.

The garment industry has also thrived, sheltered for years under a unique labour-friendly deal with the United States.

The growth has helped power the construction boom, with realtors estimating that prime pieces of property in the capital can fetch 3,000 dollars a square metre (yard), a six-fold increase from eight years ago.

But the growth also has a dark side. Soaring land values have resulted in mass evictions and land grabs in Phnom Penh.

The garment industry faces tough competition from China and Vietnam, creating fears of job losses in an industry that is the country's biggest private employer.

Corruption remains rampant, posing a drain especially for small entrepreneurs trying to start up local businesses that could help Cambodia end its dependence on imports for many basic goods, said Yang Saing Koma.

"You have to take a lot of time, and you have to pay extra money to get something done," he said.

Inflation, driven by high fuel and food prices, hit 18.7 percent in January and prices for staples such as rice have risen by as much as 80 percent. The government has since stopped releasing inflation data, drawing accusations that it's trying to hide the bad news.

"Income of the poor has to keep up with inflation," said Chan Sophal, head of the Cambodian Economic Association, warning that poor farmers were struggling to cope with rapidly rising prices.

Some 35 percent of the country's 14 million people live on under 50 US cents a day. Those people in desperate poverty spend most of their money on food, but are struggling to keep up with rising prices, he said.

Despite the troubles, Cambodians overall are still pleased with the visible signs of their nation's recovery -- the construction in Phnom Penh and the main tourist areas, as well as new roads and bridges spreading into the countryside, said political analyst Chea Vannath.

"Cambodia needs infrastructure, and that's what the ruling party provides to the people," she said. "The CPP gets support from the people for that."
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Cambodian residents leave home amid military buildup at border area with Thailand

After Thai soldier shot dead three Cambodianat Robieng check point, the Thai soldiers are continuing to intimidate million Khmer people.

PHNOM PENH, July 23 (Xinhua) -- Village people left their homes for relatives far away, as Cambodia and Thailand built up their military presence at the border area over bilateral land dispute, a village chief said Wednesday.

"People are afraid when they see the troops from both sides in their area near the Preah Vihear Temple. Thai troops are still deployed inside the Keo Sikha Kiri Svara Pagoda (some 300 meters away from the temple) and its adjacent places," Bun Leng, chief of Preah Vihear Village in eponymous province, told Xinhua over phone.

"They fear armed confrontation," he added.

Military standoff between Cambodia and Thailand entered into the eighth day, as both governments dismissed any possibility of evacuation but instead submitted different versions of maps to prove their legal possession of the 4.6-square-kilometer land nearthe temple.

Thai troops were reportedly over 500 with tanks and artillery, while Cambodian some 1,000. However, Phay Siphan, spokesman of theCouncil of Ministers of Cambodia, refused to confirm the figures.

"Each side has at least about 100 troops inside the Keo Sikha Kiri Svara Pagoda," he told Xinhua.
The general situation inside and in the vicinity of the pagoda is calm and both sides don't have weapons inside, as the governments have agreed not to cause violence and armed confrontation, he said.

"Cambodia can control the situation along its border and our troops are also deployed at other places to guarantee safety and security for our people," he added.

Bun Leng said that Khmer-speaking Thai troops dug military bunkers at their side and it looked like they wanted to fight withthe Cambodians.

Thai troops had clear strategies to block Cambodians from accessing the Preah Vihear Temple, because the pagoda stood on the way to it, he said.

Both troops haven't mobilized so far, but Cambodian soldiers started to send short messages to tell their friends and relatives to boycott Thai products, he added.

However, "people here need normal lives, so that they can make business with Thais near the border as they used to do," he said.

Cambodian tycoon Kith Meng, who runs TV channels and mobile phone service, arrived at the border Wednesday morning to donate food, raincoats and camp tents for Cambodian troops, he said.

Tuesday, officials from the Royal Palace of Cambodia also brought some food and materials for the people and troops, he added.

Earlier Wednesday, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) stated that it failed to mediate between the two ASEAN members, saying that it would adversely affect the regional organization.

The UN Security Council is reportedly to convene an urgent meeting Thursday to find peaceful solution to the ongoing stalemate.

As Thailand refused to evacuate the alleged Cambodian territory,the Cambodian government has written letters this week to ASEAN, UNESCO and UN Security Council to ask for help and justice.

On Monday, bilateral top-level talks in Thailand failed to reach any agreement to end the military face-off.

In 1962, the International Court of Justice awarded the 11-century classic Khmer-style Preah Vihear Temple, together with the land it occupies, to Cambodia.

On July 7, the temple was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO's World Heritage Committee.

On July 15, three Thai protesters trespassed the border to reclaim the temple, but were immediately arrested.

Thai troops then came in to fetch them, thus triggering standoff with Cambodian soldiers there. Military force was then built up on daily basis until the current scale.
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U.N. council to take up Cambodia-Thai dispute

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council will hold a special meeting on a border dispute between Cambodia and Thailand that has sparked fears of a military clash, diplomats said on Wednesday.

Several council diplomats said the meeting would most likely be held next week. Its format has yet to be determined and it was unclear what exactly the council could do.

"Perhaps we could urge the two sides to work out their differences amicably," one Western diplomat told Reuters.

The U.N. Security Council is the world's top body for issues related to international peace and security.

On Tuesday foreign ministers from the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Singapore failed to reach a consensus on whether ASEAN should get involved.

At the heart of the dispute is a 4.6 sq km (1.8 sq mile) area around the Preah Vihear temple on a jungle-clad escarpment on the Thai-Cambodian border, which forms a natural boundary and is claimed by both nations.

A build-up of troops and heavy artillery on both sides of the border has worried neighboring countries and the United Nations, which Cambodia has appealed to for help.

While there have been no major incidents at the temple so far, Thai border villages that are home to some 4,000 people are braced for a possible conflict. Continued...

Analysts say Thai politics bear much of the blame for the dispute over the temple, which an international court awarded to Cambodia in 1962. The ruling still rankles with many Thais.

Preah Vihear's listing as a World Heritage site this month inspired pride and joy in Cambodia, but triggered political uproar in Thailand.

Bangkok's initial support for the heritage listing has been used by anti-government groups to stoke nationalist passions in Thailand and fuel street protests against Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej.

(Additional reporting by Sukree Sukplang in Thailand; Editing by David Storey)
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Thai says Cambodia using 'guerrilla tactics' in temple dispute

Don Pramudwinai is just a loud mouth interloper who could not lead with his deteriorating country issues and trying cause problem to the neighbour. A century-old map is still a map of sovereignty of Cambodia. The Country was not shrunk by itself, Thailand had been moving its border deep inside Cambodia territory. It is not just Preah Vihea temple that belong to Cambodia, all temples and lot of provinces in Thailand are belong to former Khmer Empire.

BANGKOK: The Thai ambassador to the United Nations accused Cambodia on Wednesday of employing diplomatic "guerrilla tactics" in a dispute over an ancient temple to try to redraw the countries' 800-kilometer border.

The ambassador, Don Pramudwinai, said the Cambodians were using a century-old map of the disputed temple, drawn up when Cambodia was a French colony, in a broader plan to gain more territory.

"Sometimes our sincere friendship has prompted us to overlook our neighbors' ultimate motive," the ambassador told a Thai radio station, speaking from New York, where Cambodia has asked the UN Security Council to help resolve the dispute.

"In this case they are using guerrilla tactics to ambush us," he said. About 4.6 square kilometers, or 1.8 square miles, of land around the temple form one of 16 sites along the border that involve overlapping territorial claims between the two nations.

Hundreds of Thai and Cambodian soldiers remained camped at the 900-year-old temple, perched high on an escarpment in the Dangrek Mountains, which form part of the border. On Tuesday, the Cambodian foreign minister, Hor Namhong, said international mediation was needed because the two nations were in an "imminent state of war."

Sovereignty over the 11th-century temple, Preah Vihear, has been in dispute since the withdrawal of the French in the 1950s. Although it is easily accessible only from the Thai side, the International Court of Justice awarded sovereignty over the temple to Cambodia in 1962.

Despite the ambassador's rhetorical escalation, the usually blunt-spoken Thai prime minister, Samak Sundaravej, played down the dispute on Wednesday, predicting tensions would ease after the general election in Cambodia on Sunday.

"After the elections they will soften their stance, and talks will be easier," he said. "Everything has been done for the July 27 poll, and I need to keep quiet so as not to discredit Prime Minister Hun Sen" of Cambodia.

The two sides met on Monday but failed to resolve the dispute, which began earlier this month when Unesco listed the temple as a World Heritage Site based on an application from Cambodia and using the map supplied by Cambodia.

Both nations were at a meeting Wednesday in Singapore of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, where diplomats from neighboring nations urged them to find a peaceful solution.

But in both nations the continuing standoff was inflaming nationalist feelings that have flared into localized violence in the past. Opposition politicians in both countries are accusing their governments of being soft in their dealings over the temple.

Despite Samak's words, it is his own government that is under the greater stress from its opposition, for whom the temple is the latest issue in a long-running campaign that has already caused the resignation of a cabinet minister.

These critics accuse the government of selling out Thai heritage to further business interests of the former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a coup in 2006 but whose supporters now control the government.

The National Counter Corruption Commission has begun to investigate Samak and his cabinet over accusations that the government violated the Thai Constitution by supporting Cambodia's application for a World Heritage listing without consulting Parliament. In principle, the investigation could lead to the impeachment of the entire government.
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UN Security Council to discuss Thai-Cambodia dispute: ambassador

BANGKOK (AFP) — The UN Security Counil is expected to discuss a tense military standoff between Cambodia and Thailand this week, Thailand's ambassador to the United Nations said Wednesday.

Don Pramudwinai said the Security Council meeting on Thursday was set to discuss the week-long issue involving troops from both countries facing off near an ancient temple on their border.

"I have been informed that the UN has included Preah Vihear (temple) on the emergency agenda to be discussed at the Security Council meeting tomorrow (Thursday)," he told reporters here.

The comments follow a call from the Cambodian government on Tuesday for the world body to help broker a solution to the standoff.

Two days of diplomacy between the countries failed to make any headway in the controversy centred on disputed land around the ruins of the 11th century Hindu temple overlooking Cambodia's jungle.

More than 500 Thai troops are facing off against at least 1,000 Cambodian soldiers over the small patch of land near the temple, that belongs to Cambodia but has sparked decades of tensions with Thailand.

Thailand's chief negotiator to the crisis called for a leaders' summit, saying an existing General Border Committee (GBC) of officials from the two countries would not be enough to solve the problem.

"It's unlikely that the conflict could be settled at the GBC meeting," he told reporters.

"At this stage I think it's rather the leaders who must hold a summit as they are the decision makers," Boonsrang said, adding that Thai troops had been ordered to remain peaceful.

Thailand and Cambodia both claim their soldiers remain on their own soil, stationed by a small Buddhist pagoda at the foot of the mountain leading to the Preah Vihear temple.

Boonsrang also said there was now urgent need for Thailand to appoint a new foreign minister to tackle the dispute after Noppadon Pattama resigned in a legal battle two weeks ago.

The dispute erupted after three nationalist Thai protesters were arrested last week for jumping a barbed-wire fence to reach the temple, prompting armed troops to head to the border.

The World Court ruled in 1962 that Preah Vihear belongs to Cambodia. But the easiest entrance lies in Thailand.
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SE Asian nations fail to win Thai-Cambodia breakthrough

Southeast Asian nations have failed to mediate a smouldering border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia, which grabbed most of the attention at a meeting of Asia-Pacific powers.

Foreign ministers from the Association of South East Asian Nations met their counterparts from China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand for talks ranging from North Korea nuclear diplomacy to food and energy security.

But with Thailand and Cambodia in a military showdown over an 11th-century temple on their border claimed by both nations, Asean has been distracted geopolitical issues by one of the periodic intramural spats that feeds scepticism about the 41-year-old group's ambitions to become a coherent political and economic bloc.

Asean foreign ministers offered their good offices at a working lunch on Tuesday after Thailand and Cambodia sent hundreds of soldiers and heavy artillery to their border in recent days.

Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo, host for this year's Asean ministerial meeting, said both sides "reiterated they were committed to a peaceful resolution of the issue", and another meeting of their General Border Commission to discuss the issue "would be held in the near future."

But no consensus could be reached for Asean to get involved, Yeo said in a statement.

Thailand would prefer trying to settle the issue bilaterally before asking Asean's help, a Thai official told reporters after the lunch.

Singapore's foreign ministry spokesman Andrew Tan said the two sides would likely meet again after Cambodia's general election on Sunday, outside the "intense media glare" and political pressures that are fueling emotions. "You need to give them some space to manage this issue."

The dispute is testing Asean's unity while it is in the midst of ratifying a charter that would turn the 41-year-old grouping into an EU-style, rules-based organisation.

"The border engagement is not only relevant in terms of the problem that we see between the two states, but also it could be a test to Asean," said Malaysian Foreign Minister Rais Yatim.

The fracas did manage to shove Myanmar out of the spotlight it usually occupies with great uneasiness at Asean meetings.

The meetings began with a rare ray of optimism on Sunday from the country's junta, which seemed to indicate detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi could be freed in about six months.

But Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win soon dashed such hopes saying his remarks had been misunderstood and Suu Kyi would stay in detention until at least May of 2009.

That clarification came as Asean urged Myanmar to "take bolder steps" towards a peaceful transition to democracy and to release all political detainees, including Suu Kyi.

That was the first time Asean had ever specifically mentioned Suu Kyi in one of its communiques, diplomats said.

At the broader meeting of East Asian ministers on Tuesday, discussion focused on energy and food security.

"Many expressed the concern that the two were linked," the Singapore foreign ministry spokesman said.

The ministers also recognised that efforts to boost biofuels had to be done responsibly and not at the expense of food security, he said.

That marked a subtle but significant shift from 18 months ago, when Asean – whose member nations are big producers of palm oil and sugar cane – was backing a move into biofuels, which can use those commodities as feed stock.

North Korean nuclear diplomacy will take centre stage on Wednesday when US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meets North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun along with the foreign ministers from China, Japan, South Korea and Russia – who together make up the "six party" nuclear talks.

"It's very significant because this is probably the first time the foreign ministers from the six parties are having such a meeting," China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told reporters after talks with his Japanese counterpart.

"I think it will be beneficial to pushing forward the progress of the six-party talks."

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Thai, Cambodian forces build up along border: Cambodia

PREAH VIHEAR, Cambodia (AFP) — Thailand and Cambodia have built up forces at more points along their common border, stepping up a week-long standoff over disputed territory, Cambodian officials said Wednesday.

More than 500 Thai troops are facing off against at least 1,000 Cambodian soldiers over a tiny area of land near the ancient Preah Vihear temple, but thousands more Thai troops have been positioned along the border, they said.

"There are about 1,000 Thai troops in their territory -- there's a military build-up there," said Cambodian cabinet spokesman Phay Siphan, who estimated about 4,000 Thai troops in total have gathered across the entire border.

But Thailand denied it was reinforcing the frontier.

"Thailand has not been building up forces along the border," deputy army spokeswoman Colonel Sirichan Ngathong told AFP.

"We maintain the same amount of soldiers, and more than 400 soldiers were sent to the overlapping area."

Cambodian officials said both sides had sent more troops and heavy weapons to a spot near the former Khmer Rouge stronghold Anlong Veng, where there is also disputed territory.

"There are more (Thai) troops now at Anlong Veng than there are here (at Preah Vihear). There are tanks and artillery," said a military official on condition of anonymity.

Cambodia has also sent heavy weapons to the area, said the Cambodian colonel, who has close ties to Thai armed forces

In neighbouring Banteay Meanchay province, police chief Hun Hean said Thailand had increased its troop presence directly across the border by up to 600 since the standoff began July 15.

Thailand and Cambodia have both stationed troops on a small piece of disputed soil near a small Buddhist pagoda at the foot of the mountain leading to the 11th century Preah Vihear temple.

Although Thailand says it wants to solve the dispute through bilateral talks, Thailand's UN ambassador said the issue would be raised at a meeting of the UN Security Council on Thursday at Cambodia's request.

The dispute erupted after three nationalist Thai protesters were arrested last week for jumping a barbed-wire fence to reach the temple, prompting armed troops to head to the border.
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