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Thursday, July 31, 2008

When Cambodia cries wolf

By The Nation

Cambodia knows exactly when and where to hit Thailand to inflict the most pain on its neighbour to the east. Repeated attempts by Phnom Penh to raise the Preah Vihear dispute at the international level in forums such as the United Nations and the Non-Aligned Movement - which were subsequently withdrawn - shows a lack of sincerity and ill intentions. At a meeting in Singapore, Asean took the unprecedented step of discussing the temple dispute but without any progress.

It was out of Asean goodwill and the good office of the previous chair, Singapore, that both sides were able to discuss the problem against the backdrop of the Asean meeting.

When members have bilateral problems, especially over sensitive issues concerning sovereignty, they should resolve them in an amicable way without being aggressive or using strong diplomatic language.

In Singapore, the Cambodian delegation left its mark with strong words of condemnation for Thailand over the controversy. The Thai delegation, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Sahas Banditkul, was calm and mature. Sahas did not respond to the Cambodian tirade. Several Asean members have expressed concerns over the rough way the Cambodian delegate dealt with the issue.

After the end of the Asean meeting, Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo wrote a letter to his Cambodian counterpart, Hor Namhong, expressing concerns about the creditability of Asean as Cambodia has insisted that it would seek the intervention of the UN Security Council. Since both countries are members of Asean, any dispute between them should be settled bilaterally. Instead, Cambodia has tried to score points internationally by portraying the country as a victim of intimidation by a bigger and more prosperous neighbour. Asean wants all of its members to discuss and solve problems in the spirit of the grouping.

Cambodia's desire to internationalise the issue helps to show its true intention to tarnish Thailand's reputation. Of course, there is nothing Thailand can do at the moment as its domestic situation in recent years has been rather damning. Cambodia's approach would work if Thailand really were a bully. Look around, Thailand has been reduced to a small and non-significant player since 2001. Our reputation overseas has sunk to its lowest level ever. Instead of helping Thailand to settle the dispute amicably, those in Cambodia's upper echelon have instead decided that now is the best time to teach Thailand a lesson.

Several Asean members and dialogue partners have confided to the Foreign Ministry that they do not support Cambodia's efforts to push the temple dispute to the UN level. A member of the Security Council said that any internationalised issue would impact on Asean as a whole.

For the next 18 months, Thailand will serve as the chair of Asean. Cambodia's attitude will be crucial and should be closely scrutinised, as it will have far-reaching ramifications for the future of Asean.

If Cambodia continues to threaten to use the UN and Non-Aligned Movement forums, it would certainly hamper the effectiveness of the Thai chairmanship of Asean.

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Cambodia establishes 14-member official delegation for Beijing Olympics

PHNOM PENH, July 31 (Xinhua) -- Cambodia has established a 14-member official delegation for the Beijing Olympics scheduled to open on Aug. 8, according to the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia (NOCC) Thursday.

The delegation, headed by Tourism Minister and NOCC President Thong Khon, also includes two officials, one secretary, one team leader, two swimmers and their coach, two marathon athletes and their coach, one doctor and two youths attending the Olympic Summer Camp.

The members will leave Phnom Penh for Beijing respectively on Aug. 6 and 7.

NOCC Secretary General Mea Sarun told reporters that during the Beijing Games, Cambodia aims to enhance the athletes' skills and the country's participation level of the international games.

Cambodia first attended the Olympics in 1959, then quitted for a long time due to civil war. It resumed its participation in 1996 to attend the Atlanta Olympics and later sent delegations to the Sydney Games in 2000 and the Athens Games in 2004. Read more!

Judges preparing for first trial on genocide in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: Cambodian and international judges are making final preparations to begin the trial of the former commander of a Khmer Rouge torture center who is charged with crimes against humanity, a tribunal official said Thursday.

The trial of Kaing Guek Eav, 65, alias Duch, who headed the notorious S-21 prison and torture center, is scheduled for late September, said Helen Jarvis, a spokeswoman for the United Nations-assisted tribunal.

The trial is a key step in Cambodia's long wait for justice for atrocities committed during the Khmer Rouge rule in the late 1970s. Some 1.7 million people perished.

"To have the director of that institution on trial for crimes committed will be of enormous importance in understanding the Democratic Kampuchea regime," Jarvis said, referring to the Khmer Rouge's official name at the time.

The prison in Phnom Penh was the Khmer Rouge's largest torture facility, and has now become the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

About 16,000 men, women and children are believed to have been held there. Only 14 are thought to have survived.

The tribunal has been set up under Cambodia's court system, which follows the French model in which case files are handled by investigating judges before being handed to other judges for the actual trial.

The five judges who will try Duch's case include three Cambodians and one Frenchman, Jean-Marc Lavergne, who took up their positions in July. A fifth judge from New Zealand, Silvia Cartwright, is to arrive in Cambodia later this week, Jarvis said.

Duch is one of five suspects being held for trial. The others are former top lieutenants of late Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, who died in 1998.

They are former head of state Khieu Samphan, former chief ideologist Nuon Chea, ex-Foreign Minister Ieng Sary, and his wife Ieng Thirith, who served as the Khmer Rouge social affairs minister.

They face charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes.
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Thailand waiting for Cambodia on temple pullback

Thailand is invading Cambodia and telling Cambodia to withdraw troops from Preah Vihea and surrounging area. Are those Siams ready to get cooked by those former Khmer Rough soldiers?

Reiterating that it is up to the Thai government as to when troops might be withdrawn from the disputed Preah Vihear temple site claimed by both Thailand and Cambodia, Foreign Minister Tej Bunnag said Thursday the Cambodian government has "not informed Thailand officially" when it will pull out its troops from the area.

It is not necessary for the Thai government to react because the Cambodian government has not shown any sign that it would withdraw its troops from the disputed area, Mr. Tej said.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said in Phnom Penh on Tuesday that Cambodian troops were ready to withdraw from the 4.6-square-kilometre disputed area adjacent to the 11th century temple.

He indicated that the timing of the troop withdrawal is up to Thailand to decide, as far as when the action is taken, as it is not a problem for Cambodia.

Mr Tej said what Hun Sen had said could be his personal opinion but that "so far there is no official reaction from Cambodia."

Senior Thai officials on Thursday held a workshop at the National Security Council and one major topic of discussion was expected to focus on the agreements made by foreign ministers of the two countries on Monday in Cambodia's Siem Reap province.

Thai and Cambodian foreign ministers called for the redeployment of troops in and around the new pagoda located in the temple complex, so that a meeting of the Joint Boundary Commission could be held to continue to demarcate the border line, to clear landmines around the ancient temple, and to avoid armed confrontation.

Mr Tej said the Thai military will have to follow the government's instruction and that a troop reduction could not be made at once due to official procedures. (TNA)

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Stability, sort of

After a dirty election, the prime minister tightens his grip

WHETHER Cambodia’s general election on July 27th was a success or a travesty depends on what you compare it with. A team of European Union observers said it fell well below international democratic standards. Tens of thousands of opposition supporters were excluded from the electoral register. There was widespread impersonation of voters, plus the usual vote-buying and glaring pro-government bias by broadcasters.

However, the election was also the least violent since the United Nations-sponsored one in 1993 that marked the end of decades of civil war. The victory of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and its leader, Hun Sen, means Cambodia is set for a further five years of corrupt and inept government but also, probably, of continued stability and rising prosperity.

Preliminary results suggest the CPP won around 90 seats (up from 73) in the 123-seat national assembly. The main opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, believes his party won around 27, up from 24 last time. The big losers were Cambodia’s once-powerful royalists. Divided and in disarray, the main royalist party, Funcinpec, shrank from 26 to perhaps just two seats; a splinter named after the exiled Prince Norodom Ranariddh did no better.

Though the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) wants the world to refuse to recognise the outcome, diplomats in Phnom Penh, the capital, believe the CPP has genuinely gained popularity thanks to Cambodia’s strong growth—10.3% last year, producing a boom in fancy office blocks and rural land prices. Mr Hun Sen also won some votes from his tough stance in an armed confrontation with Thailand over a patch of land near the ancient Preah Vihear temple, which a UN committee recently put on its “world heritage” list. The EU’s observers said that given the scale of the ruling party’s victory electoral fiddles seemed unlikely to have altered the outcome.

Until fairly recently Mr Hun Sen’s critics had a tendency to die violent deaths. As he has felt surer of his position, politics has become more peaceful. Patronage and pilfering are rife and the justice system almost non-existent. But foreign donors fill many of the gaps—in particular, building lots of roads and other infrastructure. Roderick Brazier of the Asia Foundation, a think-tank, says the devolution of money and powers to local communes seems to be improving ordinary people’s lives, and the appearance of a few capable technocrats in central government may help more.

Tired and angry after the election, Mr Sam Rainsy remains defiant. The collapse of the royalist movement, he says, means that now, “we are the only serious alternative. It makes the political game clearer.” He argues that the SRP, hitherto an urban party, is gaining support in the countryside. But if he were to present a serious challenge, would Mr Hun Sen revert to his old brutal ways?
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