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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Cambodia asks UN to put off border dispute meet: diplomat

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) — Cambodia has asked the UN Security Council to postpone a formal meeting on its tense military standoff with Thailand pending talks next week between the two countries' foreign ministers, Vietnam's UN envoy said Thursday.

Le Luong Minh, who chairs the council this month, said he received a letter from the Cambodian UN mission asking him to put off the meeting "pending the result of the meeting between the two foreign ministers."

"I received a letter informing me that Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia has agreed with Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej of Thailand that there will be a meeting between the foreign ministers on July 28 to find a peaceful solution to the situation," he noted.

As a result, the Cambodians wanted a council meeting postponed, he added.

Some 4,000 Thai and Cambodian soldiers are facing off over a small patch of land near the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple , in one of the most dangerous flare-ups of regional tensions in decades.

More than 500 Thai and 1,000 Cambodian troops are stationed around a small Buddhist pagoda in a disputed patch of land on a mountain slope leading to the temple, which is owned by Cambodia.

Wednesday, the council held a preliminary discussion on Cambodia's request for a meeting of the powerful 15-member body but decided to revisit the issue Thursday as some delegations sought instructions from their capitals on how to proceed.

"We are worried about the situation," France's UN Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert said. "We think the council should meet as fast as possible" to deal seriously with this formal request from a member state.

Ripert said that France backed a mediation by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which both Cambodia and Thailand are members.

But he made clear that the Security Council, as a guarantor of international peace and security, had "to assume its responsibility" to help reduce tension, given the risk of a deteriorating situation "with serious consequences".

Thailand and Cambodia earlier Thursday announced they would resume high-level talks in the Cambodian town of Siem Reap on July 28 to try to settle their dispute.

And Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo said Thursday it was "premature" to bring the Thailand-Cambodia border dispute to the UN Security Council and urged more bilateral efforts between the rivals.

Yeo said that both sides were urged to exercise restraint when the issue was discussed during the just concluded ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF).

All 27 members of ARF "called for restraint, a speedy resolution and to maintain the status quo," Yeo told reporters.

Earlier Thursday, Cambodia called for all soldiers to be withdrawn from the disputed border area near the ancient temple at the center of the week-long military standoff with Thailand.

Talks aimed at resolving the crisis ended without resolution on Monday, raising fears that the crisis could erupt in violence.
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Thailand, Cambodia to meet over disputed land

Cambodia has agreed to meet Monday with Thailand to discuss a stretch of disputed land near a historic temple, rather than take the matter to the U.N. officials from both countries said Thursday.

Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej said he talked to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and the two leaders decided to schedule a foreign ministers' meeting in the Cambodian city of Siem Reap on Monday.

They plan to discuss how best to end the crisis over land near the 11th century temple of Preah Vihear that led both countries to deploy soldiers near the site.

Cambodian Information Minister Khieu Kanharith confirmed the meeting would take place and "postpone the complaint to the Security Council."

Monday's meeting follows failed efforts earlier this week to resolve the crisis, which prompted Cambodia to take the issue to the U.N. Security Council.

Military tensions between the two countries over 1.8 square miles of land intensified earlier this month after UNESCO approved a Cambodian application to have the temple designated a World Heritage Site.

Thailand sent troops to the border July 15 after anti-government demonstrators attacked Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej's government for supporting Cambodia's application. It claims they were deployed only after 1,000 Cambodian troops were spotted in the area. The troops were protecting a demining team, which was sent there after a Thai soldier stepped on a land mine, officials said.

The announcement would seem to be a small diplomatic victory for Thailand, which had rejected Cambodian requests to involve the U.N. and the grouping of Southeast Asian nations in the matter. Thailand's U.N. ambassador, Don Pramudwinai, accused Cambodia on Wednesday of bringing the quarrel before the Security Council because "the Cambodian target is not only Preah Vihear but the entire common border."

Cambodian says some 4,000 troops from both countries are massed in the area around Preah Vihear. Thailand says it has 400 troops in the area and that Cambodia has 1,700.

Don said Cambodia was trying to force Thailand to accept a French colonial map's demarcation of the border.

Thailand relies on a different map drawn up later with American technical assistance, but accepts a ruling by the International Court of Justice that awarded the disputed temple to Cambodia in 1962.

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Cambodia, Thailand agree more temple talks

By Ek Madra

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia accused Thailand on Thursday of sending more troops to their joint border as a smoldering dispute over a 900-year-old temple showed no signs of easing.
"Thailand has continued to increase its military build-up," government spokesman Khieu Kanharith told a news conference in Phnom Penh, labeling Bangkok the aggressor in a spat that has sparked fears of a military clash.

"The situation is not easing," Kanharith said, adding that Cambodia had 800 soldiers along the border compared with around 3,000 Thai troops.

The Thai Foreign Ministry said Bangkok had only 400 men facing as many as 1,700 Cambodian soldiers. Both sides have moved artillery into the area, occupied by remnants of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge guerrilla army in the 1980s and 1990s.

At the heart of the dispute is a 1.8 square mile stretch of scrubland around the Preah Vihear temple on a jungle-clad escarpment that forms a natural boundary between the southeast Asian countries.

The temple itself is claimed by both countries but was awarded to Cambodia in 1962 by the International Court of Justice in The Hague, a ruling that has rankled in Thailand ever since.

France and Vietnam said on Wednesday the United Nations Security Council would hold a special meeting in response to a Cambodian request for it to take up the issue, although it was not clear if it would lead to formal Council involvement.

Thailand said it wanted the issue to be resolved on a bilateral basis, and it played down Phnom Penh's claims of rising tensions ahead of a general election on Sunday in Cambodia, where nationalism is a frequently played political card.

France and Vietnam said on Wednesday the United Nations Security Council would hold a special meeting in response to a Cambodian request for it to take up the issue, although it is not clear if it will lead to formal Council involvement.

But Thailand said it had the support of China, Russia, the United States, Vietnam and Indonesia against the need for Security Council intervention.

Even if it did step into the imbroglio, it is not clear what the U.N. could do other than issue a statement telling Bangkok and Phnom Penh to sort out the kafuffle.

The chairman of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) said on Thursday there was no need to involve the U.N. in what should be a bilateral matter.

"It should not have to go to the U.N. Security Council," George Yeo, who is also Singapore's foreign minister, told reporters at an ASEAN meeting on Thursday.

"We should not let a small issue -- that was a non-issue in the past -- become a big issue."

Politics has played a key role in fuelling the fracas on both sides of the border.

Nationalism frequently rears its head in Cambodia, especially around election time, and there is a general election in the country on Sunday.

But analysts say domestic Thai politics are mainly to blame for the eruption of the dispute, which stems from Cambodia's successful bid to have the ruins listed as a World Heritage site, a source of pride for Cambodia but an outrage for many Thais. Continued...

Bangkok's initial support for the heritage listing was seized on by anti-government groups who whipped up a nationalist fervor in their attempt to unseat the government of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej. His foreign minister resigned over the issue.
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US says it will be guided by regional views in dealing with Thai-Cambodia dispute

SINGAPORE: The United States will be guided by the views of Southeast Asian countries in assessing a simmering Thai-Cambodia border dispute if it comes up for mediation in the U.N. Security Council, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday.

The border confrontation between Thailand and Cambodia is over a piece of land around an ancient Hindu temple that was designated a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO. Thailand feared that such a designation would affect its claim over surrounding land.

Earlier this week, Cambodia wrote a letter to the United Nations seeking its intervention.

"We're going to be guided very heavily by the views of the countries in this region," Rice, whose country is a permanent member of the Security Council, told reporters during a visit to Singapore.

Rice's comments came hours after Thai Deputy Prime Minister Sahas Bunditkul said the U.S. and two other permanent members of the Security Council, China and Russia, had indicated to him that Cambodia had been too hasty in approaching the world body.

Rice, who is here to attend a security conference, did not directly comment on Sahas' statement but said she made it clear to Southeast Asian countries that the U.S. "will be very much interested in and, in fact, guided by the regional assessment of what needs to be done here," she said.

She noted the issue "hasn't really been taken up before the (U.N. Security) Council yet although there has been a potential request passed."

But "we'll continue to consult with the regional states," she said.

Thousands of troops have been amassed along the border in a tense standoff for just over a week. Cambodia has asked the Security Council to hold an emergency meeting next week to resolve the problem, a move that has irritated Thailand. It says the matter should be resolved bilaterally.

Thailand has also not allowed the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, to mediate in the dispute.

French U.N. Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert said Wednesday the 15-nation Security Council "should meet as fast as possible" based on Cambodia's request.

"We are in charge of peace and security, so, if we can diffuse the tensions and if we can prevent any development that could be dramatic for the region and for peace and security, we will do it and we think we have to do it," he said.

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Thailand lobbies for UN backing

Says border row must be resolved bilaterally


Thailand lobbied members of the United Nations Security Council yesterday, seeking support for its position that the row with Cambodia over a disputed border area near Preah Vihear temple should be resolved through bilateral talks.

Deputy Prime Minister Sahas Bunditkul had separate meetings with the foreign ministers of China, Russia, the United States, Indonesia and Vietnam on the sidelines of the meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in Singapore.

All five countries agreed Thailand and Cambodia should solve the conflict through bilateral talks, the Foreign Ministry quoted Mr Sahas as saying.

China, Russia and the US are Asean's dialogue partners and permanent members of the Security Council. Indonesia and Vietnam are non-permanent members. Vietnam chairs the council until the end of the month.

Bangkok-based diplomats from 13 countries sitting on the UN Security Council met with foreign affairs permanent secretary Virasakdi Futrakul at the Foreign Ministry yesterday.

They were told the dispute over the 4.6 square kilometre area at the border, between Si Sa Ket's Kantharalak district and Cambodia's Preah Vihear province, was a bilateral issue, the ministry said.

Only two Security Council members, Costa Rica and Burkina Faso, did not attend the meeting at the ministry. The two countries do not have embassies in Bangkok.

Thailand's meeting with the council members took place only hours before the council, sitting at the UN in New York, was scheduled to decide (early today Thai time) whether to put the border conflict on its agenda at the urging of Cambodia.

Thai ambassador to the UN Don Pramudwinai said from New York that he expected the council to accept the Cambodian request.

He said if the council agrees to consider the case, Thailand and Cambodia could be called to give information before council members on Monday.

The ambassador said Cambodia had tried to force Thailand to accept the 1904 map drawn by France in demarcating the area.

Thailand considers that map puts it at a disadvantage in any talks to settle the boundary with Cambodia near the temple because it does not use the watershed as the border line.

The General Border Committee (GBC), chaired by the two countries' defence ministers, is a key body for resolving border conflicts.

But talks between Supreme Commander Gen Boonsrang Niempradit and Cambodian Defence Minister Tea Banh on Monday in Aranyaprathet district of Sa Kaeo province failed. Another meeting is plannedr next month.

However, Mr Virasakdi told the 13 diplomats at the ministry that at least Thailand and Cambodia had agreed in Sa Kaeo that their soldiers would not use force and remain peacefully in the overlapping area.

Gen Boonsrang strongly opposed Cambodia's move to bring the issue to the UN Security Council. Doing so could make it difficult for the two countries to solve the problem, he said before leaving for Indonesia.

''The best way to solve the problem is for it to be resolved by the two countries. Third parties should not step in until there is a deadlock,'' he said.

Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej was optimistic about prospects for talks with Cambodia on the temple row after the election there set for Sunday.

Mr Samak said all moves made by Cambodia, including the remarks by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen that Thai soldiers were on its territory, were geared towards the poll.

Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said in Singapore that the group wanted the two countries to ''find their own solution at the bilateral level'' and avoid any action that could trigger a full-blown confrontation.

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Thais living on Cambodian border brace for clashes

Thai PM hopeful tensions would subside after Sunday’s election in Cambodia

KHAO PRA VIHARN: Thais living along the border with Cambodia began evacuation and weapon drills on Wednesday, fearing a land dispute might escalate into violence after talks failed this week.

In villages near the disputed Preah Vihear temple, where hundreds of Thai and Cambodian troops faced off for a ninth day on Wednesday, workers dug holes for new bomb shelters. They also renovated old bunkers dating back to the 1980s, when stray shells often landed during fighting between Khmer Rouge guerrillas and Cambodian government troops.

“We have nowhere to move to and we don’t want Cambodian infiltrators,” 79-year-old guard Mee Kaewsanga told Reuters, cradling a five-year-old pump-action shotgun. At the heart of the dispute is a 4.6 square kilometre area around the temple, which sits on a jungle-clad escarpment that forms a natural boundary and is claimed by both nations.

The build-up of troops and heavy artillery on both sides of the border has worried neighbouring 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 the worst.

Cambodia elections: Authorities have begun arming volunteers with shotguns and training villagers how to defend against potential invaders. “We hope there won’t be any violence, but we can’t be complacent,” Prasert Aramsriworapong, an official in the border town of Kantaralak, told Reuters. In Bangkok, Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej said he believed tensions would ease after Sunday’s general election in Cambodia.

“After the elections, they will soften their stance and talks will be easier,” the pugnacious Thai leader said in Bangkok. “Everything has been done for the July 27 poll and I need to keep quiet so as not to discredit Prime Minister Hun Sen.” reuters
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NKorea, Thai-Cambodia flare-up dominate Asian security talks

SINGAPORE (AFP) — Foreign ministers from Asia and key world powers opened security talks here Thursday amid a simmering border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia and progress on North Korean denuclearisation.

The meeting of the 27-nation ASEAN Security Forum -- featuring Southeast Asian countries as well as the United States, Russia and the European Union -- came after an unprecedented meeting here Wednesday between US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her North Korean counterpart.

Asia's top security forum was held against the backdrop of the devastating Myanmar cyclone and Chinese earthquake in May, as well as a bitter territorial dispute between Thailand and Cambodia.

At a meeting here Wednesday of top diplomats trying to disarm North Korea, Rice pressed North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui-Chun to take new steps on denuclearisation but hailed the "good spirit" at the six-nation talks.

Rice shook hands twice with her "axis of evil" counterpart Pak at their first meeting, saying the negotiating partners "believe we've made progress" but urging Pyongyang to agree to a verification protocol on disarmament.

Foreign ministers from their six-party counterparts China, South Korea, Russia and Japan were also present at the informal meeting, the highest-level gathering of the group since the nuclear dialogue began in 2003.

"I don't think the North Koreans left with any illusions about the fact that the ball is in their court, and that everybody believes that they have got to respond and respond positively on verification," Rice said Thursday.

North Korea staged its first nuclear test in 2006 but in February the following year the hermit state agreed to drop its weapons programme in exchange for massive energy aid.

Pyongyang is expected to sign a non-aggression treaty with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) here later Thursday.

On the Thai-Cambodia border, hundreds of troops are facing off over a small patch of land near the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple, in one of the most dangerous flare-ups of regional tensions in decades.

More than 500 Thai troops and at least 1,000 Cambodian soldiers have been deployed near Preah Vihear but Cambodian officials said Wednesday that thousands more Thais were taking up positions at other spots along the border.

Phnom Penh has called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to prevent armed conflict after an ASEAN ministerial meeting failed to broker a deal here earlier this week.

France's UN Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert said council members held a preliminary discussion late Wednesday but that the issue would be revisited Thursday as some delegations had no instructions on how to proceed.

"We are worried about the situation," he told reporters. "We think the council should meet as fast as possible."

Thailand insists the two sides should settle the matter without an outside mediator.

Disaster response was another major focus of the meeting in the wake of Cyclone Nargis which struck military-ruled Myanmar and the earthquake in southwest China in May, leaving a total of more than 200,000 people dead or missing.

ASEAN was criticised for failing to pressure member state Myanmar to open its borders to foreign relief workers in the immediate aftermath of the storm, but won over many of its critics by eventually leading a joint international aid effort.
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Cambodia to Open Bourse in 2009; Urges Corporate Transparency

By Netty Ismail and Yoolim Lee

July 24 (Bloomberg) -- Cambodia plans to open its first stock exchange and start a corporate bond market in the fourth quarter of 2009 in a bid to attract foreign funds to Southeast Asia's second-poorest nation, a government official said.

Six to 10 companies, with a combined market value of $200 million to $400 million, including Sokimex Group, the country's biggest petroleum company, and Acleda Bank Plc, its largest bank, will likely be listed on the exchange within a year of it being set up, Kao Thach, head of the Ministry of Economy and Finance's financial market division, said late yesterday.

Cambodia, which abolished money under the Khmer Rouge three decades ago, is seeking to lure foreign funds as economic growth slows after peaking at 13.5 percent in 2005. The government will need to improve the legal system and urge Cambodian companies to open their accounting records to investor scrutiny, said Agost Benard, who covers the country for Standard & Poor's.

``Given all the uncertainties and lack of transparency, at least initially, it will probably be the local people who are willing to take the punt,'' said Benard, associate director at the rating company in Singapore. ``International investors who expect higher standards of disclosure and transparency will take a wait-and-see attitude.''

The government last year asked more than 400 companies, most of which are family businesses, to get their financial statements audited to improve transparency, Thach, 34, said in an interview in Phnom Penh.

Local Rules

``Cambodia has been effectively cut off from the rest of the developed world for the past three decades, so a lot of business has been done based on unwritten local rules,'' said Marvin Yeo, co-founder of Frontier Investment & Development Partners in Phnom Penh.

Frontier Investment, a private-equity fund, is raising $250 million to put in the second-poorest of 10 Southeast Asian nations, and will cash out of some of its planned investments through listings on the exchange, Yeo said.

The listing requirements in Cambodia will likely be modeled on the Kosdaq, South Korea's second stock market that was set up 12 years ago for small- and medium-sized firms as well as venture start-ups, Thach said.

Companies seeking a Kosdaq listing need to be in business for at least three years with minimum paid-in capital of 500 million won ($495,417) and debt-to-equity ratio of less than 150 percent of the industry mean. Venture capital firms have less stringent requirements under the South Korean government's program to prop up smaller technology companies.

Raising Capital

South Korea's exchange is helping Cambodia set up its bourse. The Cambodian government, which will likely own at least 51 percent of the planned venture, and the operator of the Seoul-based bourse, Korea Exchange Inc., will begin discussions next month to decide on their shareholdings, Thach said.

The Cambodia Securities and Exchange Commission will likely be set up as early as September, Thach said.

``They're nowhere near getting the rules together, the criteria for listing, transparency, proper accounting,'' said John Brinsden, vice chairman of Acleda Bank, the largest Cambodian bank with 209 branches in 24 provinces.

Acleda Bank will ``need a lot of capital over the next few years'' as it opens more offices in Cambodia and neighboring countries including Laos, Brinsden said in Phnom Penh.

Sokimex, which has monopoly rights to ticket sales at the Angkor Wat ancient temple ruins in Siem Reap, plans to expand its hotel and resorts business, Chief Executive Officer Sok Kong said on the company's Web site.

Transparency Concerns

Other Cambodian companies considering initial public offerings include Canadia Bank Plc, Union Commercial Bank Plc and Mong Rithy Group, which has palm oil plantations in Sihanoukville, Thach said.

Royal Group, which owns the country's biggest mobile-phone operator and has a partnership with Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. in Cambodia, will consider a listing ``in the future,'' Chairman Kith Meng said in an interview in Phnom Penh.

Companies can sell shares or bonds in Cambodia's currency, the riel, or the dollar, which will mitigate any foreign exchange risk for international investors, Thach said.

Still, ``the biggest concern would be the credibility of the companies or their reporting standards,'' said Frontier Investment's Yeo. Transparency International, a private monitoring agency based in Berlin, ranked Cambodia 162nd of 179 countries in its annual report on perceptions of corruption last year.

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UN to take up Thai-Cambodian border dispute


UNITED NATIONS (AP) — With some 4,000 troops massed along the Thai-Cambodian border, United Nations Security Council members say they will try to keep a standoff from escalating into war.

Diplomats said Wednesday they expect to call a special council session, probably next week, to deal with the latest dispute over land near the ancient temple of Preah Vihear. Cambodia has appealed to the U.N. Security Council to intervene, warning that the two sides were at "an imminent state of war."

The conflict is over an area less than two square miles around the temple that both nations claim as their own. The International Court of Justice awarded the temple to Cambodia in 1962, but its listing this month as a U.N. World Heritage Site has stirred tensions anew.

French U.N. Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert said the 15-nation council "should meet as fast as possible" based on Cambodia's request.

"We are in charge of peace and security," he said. "So, if we can diffuse the tensions and if we can prevent any development that could be dramatic for the region and for peace and security, we will do it and we think we have to do it."

Thailand sent troops to the border on July 15 after anti-government demonstrators attacked Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej's government for supporting Cambodia's application to UNESCO, the U.N. agency that designates World Heritage Sites. There are now 878 sites on the global list, which helps draw attention to efforts to conserve them.

They say the temple's new status will undermine Thailand's claim to the land. Cambodia responded with its own deployment. The carved stone temple and buildings from the first half of the 11th century A.D. were built by cliffs overlooking mountains.

As the dispute entered its second week, Thailand accused Cambodia of eyeing even more of its land and leaflets appeared in the Cambodian capital calling for a boycott of Thai goods. Cambodian police were investigating the leaflets.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said he had no choice but to appeal to the United Nations after discussions with Thailand on Monday failed to produce a breakthrough. He made a similar request to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, but the region's key bloc urged the two countries to continue bilateral negotiations.

Thailand's U.N. Ambassador Don Pramudwinai said Wednesday that Cambodia was bringing the quarrel before the Security Council because "the Cambodian target is not only Preah Vihear but the entire common border." Don told Bangkok's Business Radio that Cambodia was trying to force Thailand to accept a French colonial map that favors Cambodia.

Thailand relies on a different map drawn up later with American technical assistance.

Pramudwinai also told the Security Council in a letter Monday that "the boundary line claimed by Cambodia has no legal status" from the 1962 ruling, because he said that case dealt only with "sovereignty" — the question of who owns the temple.

Cambodia's U.N. Ambassador Sea Kosal wrote the council last Friday that "this Thai military provocation is aimed at creating a de facto 'overlapping area' that legally does not exist on Cambodia soil."

The two nations have built up about 4,000 troops in the area, with both sides insisting they won't resort to force. The atmosphere remained calm Wednesday among Cambodian and Thai troops at the hilltop temple, despite the intense diplomatic rhetoric by the respective governments.

Troops from both sides "continued interacting cordially," said Cambodian Brig. Gen. Chea Keo, without elaborating.

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