The land of heroes
Our heroes
Our land
Cambodia Kingdom

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Thai Government Urged to Build Up Allies Over Sea Border Conflict With Cambodia

[Report by Anucha Charoenpo: "Government faces tough task over sea border - Seminar told of Cambodian deals"]

The government should be prepared to deal with some powerful countries over the long-standing border conflicts with Cambodia, a seminar was told yesterday.

Pratheep Chuen-arom, former chief of staff at Sattahip Naval Base who has monitored disputed sea boundaries between the two nations, said the Cambodian government had granted permission to some big companies from France, the United States, China and England to explore for gas and petroleum in the disputed waters covering about 26,000 square kilometres.

The disputed waters are near Thailand's Koh Kud off Trat province and Koh Kong province of Cambodia.

Vice-Admiral Pratheep said this means Thailand will have to deal with these countries when negotiating the overlapping sea territory.

These countries, he added, were ready to extend their support to Cambodia if border conflicts between Phnom Penh and Bangkok rage on or escalate into a crisis.

Speaking at the seminar on the conflict of overlapping zones between Thailand and neighbouring countries organized by Rangsit University, the retired naval officer said the US had already flexed its military muscle and shown support for Cambodia by mooring a guided-missile destroyer at a pier in Kampong Som province.

He urged the government to come up with strategies to foster ties with these powerful countries under the framework of sovereignty and economic development.

"If Thailand carelessly handles the issue of the Preah Vihear temple, the country might lose other parts of its territory, including disputed waters in the Gulf of Thailand," he said.

Thanom Charoenlaph, a former director-general of the Hydrographic Department and a senior adviser to the Thailand Institute of Marine Affairs Development, proposed the two countries hold further talks to discuss the overlapping sea territory.

Admiral Thanom wants to set up a joint development area committee to solve the problem. The committee should be similar to the Malaysian-Thai joint development area, which has been active in gas exploration and development.

The retired officer said the two countries once held talks in 2001 when Surin Pitsuwan was foreign minister to work on the matter, but not much progress had been made.

Ex-ambassador Sompong Sucharitkul, who now acts as dean of Rangsit University's faculty of law, said he wanted the two countries to look at law issues carefully to deal with the disputed territorial waters.

Mr Sompong said a joint organization should be established to oversee the matter and there should be a law to deal with the issue as well.

Read more!

Cambodia demands Thai troops pull back

The Associated Press

Cambodia on Tuesday demanded that Thailand pull its troops back from a second temple site along their border, the latest in a series of territorial claims and counterclaims that have prompted armed tensions between the Asian neighbors.

The dispute surrounding the 13th century Ta Moan Thom temple started when Cambodian officials said some 70 Thai soldiers started occupying the temple site last week and prevented Cambodian troops from entering. Thai military officials countered that their troops had been in the area for years.

It is located several hundred miles west of the 11th century Preah Vihear temple, where Cambodian and Thai soldiers have been locked in a standoff for three weeks in a dispute over nearby land.

Thai army commander Gen. Anupong Paojindasaid said Tuesday the temple is within 'Thai territory.'

Cambodian Defense Minister Tea Banh, however, said the temple 'is clearly under our sovereignty, and we have to demand it back.'

'Our position is to try to talk to them (Thai troops) and get them to withdraw to where they came from,' Cambodia's Tea Banh told reporters Tuesday.

Cambodian Maj. Ho Bunthy, an army commander in the area, said Tuesday about 50 Cambodian soldiers were stationed near the Thai troops and another 200 deployed about 330 yards from the temple site.

Thailand's Lt. Gen. Niphat Thonglek, chief of the Border Affairs Department, said Tuesday the Cambodian troops were normally allowed to enter the site because they usually came in small groups and they were unarmed.

'Over the weekend, about 40 to 50 of them came and they were armed, so the Thai troops did not allow them in,' said Niphat.

Ta Moan Thom temple was built in the 13th century as a rest house along a road linking the ancient city of Angkor with what is currently northeastern Thailand, said Chuch Phoeun of the Cambodian Ministry of Culture.

That dispute erupted last month near the Hindu-style Preah Vihear when UNESCO approved Cambodia's application to have the complex named a World Heritage Site. Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej had backed the bid, sparking anti-government demonstrations by Thais near the temple. Thailand then sent troops to the border area.

Thai government critics say the temple's new status will jeopardize their country's claims to land adjacent to the site.

About 800 troops from Cambodia and 400 from Thailand remain at a pagoda near the temple complex, despite a tentative agreement reached by foreign ministers last week to redeploy them in an effort to ease tensions.

Anupong, the Thai army chief, said the Thai troops were waiting for orders from the government.

Cambodian Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said new talks with Thailand will have to wait until after a new government takes office in Phnom Penh following elections last month.

In 1962, the International Court of Justice awarded Preah Vihear to Cambodia. The decision still rankles many Thais even though the temple is culturally Cambodian, sharing the Hindu-influenced style of the more famous Angkor complex.

Although it is not as well known as the Angkor or Preah Vihear temples, Ta Moan Thom is another of the architectural wonders of the ancient Khmer empire.

Read more!

1st group of Cambodian delegation leaves for Beijing

PHNOM PENH, Aug. 6 (Xinhua) -- The first group of Cambodia's Olympic delegation left here on Wednesday for Beijing to attend the Olympic Games, which is scheduled to open on Friday.

The group of delegation has eight members, including a marathon runner, a sprinter and their coach, one swimmer and the coach, one team leader, an official and one doctor.

Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia Zhang Jinfeng, who went to the Phnom Penh International Airport to see the delegation off, praised their morale and wished them success.

In addition, a reporter from local Chinese newspaper the Cambodia Sin Chew daily also went with the delegation on Wednesday to cover the Beijing Olympics.

Other delegation members, including Tourism Minister and National Olympic Committee of Cambodia (NOCC) president Thong Khon, NOCC secretary general Mea Sarun, another swimmer, an official and two youths attending the Olympic Summer Camp, will depart to Beijing on Thursday.

Cambodia first attended the Olympics in 1959, then quit 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!

Power of ideas can end repressive regime

As Premier Hun Sen and the Cambodian People's Party claimed 91 of the 123 parliamentary seats in the July 27 national elections even before election returns were completed, Sen's Information Minister Khieu Kanharith insisted, as the July 29 Cambodia Daily reports, "The people have decided. Please do not preach to them now." He denounced "the arrogance" of those questioning the election results. And Sen announced, those who would like a taste of power should line up, but the "royals" are not wanted.

How have the Cambodian people decided?

One day before the elections, a Human Rights Watch release titled, "Cambodia: Threats, Intimidation Mar Campaign, Unequal Media Access Hampers Opposition Parties," described "conditions are not in place for free and fair elections."

HRW Asia director Brad Adams said, "Elections in Cambodia under existing conditions devalue the process," and "Election observers from genuine democracies would never accept at home the CPP's grip on the media or the fear and intimidation faced by voters and opposition parties."

"The lack of fair access to the broadcast media alone is enough to delegitimize the election," Adams asserted.

But the 10 political parties went into the ring anyway to compete against the CPP in lopsided elections that were expected to guarantee the CPP's victory.

The 1993 United Nations-supervised elections had reasonable chances of being "more" free and "more" fair thanks to international participation. At that time I wrote in "Bleeding Cambodia" in the Sept. 30, 1993 Far Eastern Economic Review, that the Khmer Rouge should not have boycotted those elections. I admit, however, that I have never seen much to be gained by participating in flawed elections organized by a repressive regime.

Of course ballots are definitely better than bullets, but in flawed elections dictators unleash bullets to secure ballots to legitimize their rule. How was it that the winners of the 1993 elections were forced to cede the control of the country to the defeated, who then shared the prime-ministership, and who in 1997 pulled a coup d'etat that killed many, to seize complete power? As the winners were sent running out of town while the world watched, Sen and the CPP established complete control over governmental and administrative machineries. What chances were there for "free" and "fair" elections, and for free choice by the Cambodian people?

The July 30 Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission's "Urgent Appeals Programme" detailed how a relative of a CPP leader and bodyguards assaulted an SRP member of parliament, and the AHRC charged, "Many sons of powerful people engage in this kind of misconduct, with the same impunity."

When Sen and the CPP proclaimed election victory, leaders of four major opposition parties issued a "call on the Cambodian public opinion and the international community not to recognize" the election results that "were manipulated and rigged" by the ruling CPP.

"We need to revote across Cambodia," the Voice of America quoted opposition leader Sam Rainsy as saying. "We appeal to the (European Union) and the international community to deny the results," the VOA quoted the head of opposition Human Rights Party, who expressed the "hope in the future" of an alliance of people "who love justice" to come work together.

Adams advised, "When making their judgments about this election, observers must take into account the entire context of the elections," and "must not fall into the trap of using lower standards for Cambodia."

Local and international election monitors may agree, as the E.U. chief observer put it, the elections "fell short of a number of key international standards for democratic elections," but as the Inter Press Service reports, the opposition's charge of "foul play" has met with "little support" from the monitors, who see more positive than negative in the elections.

Cambodian-American blogger writes, "Democracy in Cambodia is ... Dead." The writer forecasts "plenty of signs of trouble(d) water ahead" for the people and their country and questions why the United States government "overlooked and accepted many flaws, election after election" in Cambodia.

From London, British economist Christopher Windsor's "anger and disappointment" are expressed in an article circulated on the Internet -- it is "a shame ... that the majority of Cambodians (who were able to vote) voted for a dictator once again," Windsor writes, and blasted, "If anything bad happens to Cambodia in the future, we are to blame no one but Cambodians."

Democracy and human rights do not trump the politics of national interests as defined by leaders, and a weak educational system does not produce discerning citizens who are able to assert their rights in a cogent and thoughtful way.

Some Cambodians may see things as bleak. But as quality thinking can be taught, teaching the brain to think better and clearer, and to plan more effectively for the morrows is not beyond the human reach, so a repressive regime can always end by the power of ideas.

A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., is retired from the University of Guam, where he taught political science for 13 years.

Read more!

Cambodia, Kuwait sign trade, aviation, investment deals

The prime ministers of Cambodia and Kuwait have signed five new agreements, covering trade, aviation and investment.

Prime Minister Hun Sen and visiting Kuwaiti premier Sheikh Nasser Mohammed al-Ahmed al-Sabah met in Phnom Penh on Monday.

Prime Minister Hun Sen says there'll be further talk on boosting trade and investment, and says Kuwait has promised to help Cambodia develop its agricultural sector.

Cambodian government spokesman Khieu Kanharith says the two premiers also discussed oil cooperation, with Cambodia asking Kuwait to help train local experts on the petroleum industry.
Read more!

Thai cabinet approves pullback in Cambodia border spat

BANGKOK (AFP) — Thailand's cabinet agreed in principle Tuesday to pull back some troops from near a disputed temple on the Cambodian border, but did not commit to specific numbers or dates for the withdrawal.

The two countries agreed in talks last week to pull back their forces from a small patch of disputed territory near the Preah Vihear temple, where more than 1,000 troops from both countries are now stationed.

Government spokesman Wichainchot Sukchotrat said the cabinet had backed the plan, but added that details would be discussed later by Cambodian and Thai military officials.

"The adjustment will be made in appropriate numbers in order to decrease tensions. Enough troops will be left to protect our sovereignty and integrity," he told a press conference.

Military officials will meet to hammer out details of the plan before talks between their foreign ministers, set for August 18-19 in the Thai beach resort of Hua Hin, an army official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Cambodian government spokesman Khieu Kanharith welcomed the move.

"The withdrawal of the troops is very important," he told AFP. "Whenever they withdraw their troops, we will also withdraw ours."

The border dispute erupted July 15, after three Thai nationalist protesters were arrested for trying to illegally cross into Cambodia to reach the temple.

Thai nationalists were incensed that Cambodia last month won world heritage status from the United Nations for the 11th century ruins, which Thailand has long claimed though the World Court ruled in 1962 the ruins belong to Cambodia.

The feud this week expanded to include a second temple 130 kilometres (80 miles) west of Preah Vihear, where Thailand has accused Cambodia of trying to send troops into its territory.
Read more!

Cambodia tourism up 13 percent, but Thais may turn away

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Tourist arrivals in Cambodia soared 13 percent in the first half of 2008, but the tourism minister warned Tuesday that Thais may avoid the kingdom as a border dispute drags on.

Ministry of Tourism statistics showed that nearly 1.1 million foreigners, including 67,502 from neighbouring Thailand, entered Cambodia from January until June, up 13 percent on the same period last year.

"This is a satisfactory increase," Tourism Minister Thong Khon told AFP.

But he said arrivals of Thai tourists were expected to drop after a territorial dispute on their joint border over land near the 11th century Preah Vihear temple, which was listed as a UN World Heritage Site last month.

"We don't expect many more Thai tourists to come because they cannot go see the Preah Vihear temple," Thong Khon said.

Cambodia closed the border crossing from Thailand to Preah Vihear in late June, ahead of the July 15 arrest of three Thai nationalist protesters who tried to illegally cross into Cambodia to reach the temple.

The incident sparked a military stand-off, and more than 1,000 Thai and Cambodian soldiers are now stationed on a patch of disputed land near the ruin.

The tourism ministry did not say how many Thais entered Cambodia at the Preah Vihear crossing this year.

Of all international visitors, more than half flocked to Cambodia's famed Angkor temples in northwestern Siem Reap province, the ministry said.

Those World Heritage-listed ruins have been key in reviving Cambodia's tourism sector since 2003, when a regional SARS panic and anti-Thai riots in the country's capital Phnom Penh drove visitor figures into the ground.

But the government has also begun planning a number of tourism initiatives as part of a broader plan to both keep foreigners in Cambodia longer, and develop some of the country's more impoverished areas.

Tourist arrivals to Cambodia topped two million in 2007, and the sector remains one of the few sources of foreign exchange for the country, where millions live in poverty after decades of civil strife.
Read more!