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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Thailand ready to mend border dispute with Cambodia

By Supalak Ganjanakhundee
The Nation

Thailand reaffirmed its commitment to mend border disputes over Hindu temples with Cambodia through bilateral mechanisms when the country has a new Cabinet, newly elected Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat said yesterday.

"I will convey a message to Phnom Penh that we will continue negotiations to resolve the problems," he told reporters after a meeting with senior officials at the Foreign Ministry.

The two countries convened two rounds of foreign minister meetings in July and August in Siem Reap and Cha Am respectively to settle the conflict over the Hindu temple of Pheah Vihear and set a timeline for talks on a group of Khmer sanctuaries at Ta Muen.

Both sides agreed to convene a meeting of the Joint Commission on Demarcation for Land Boundary (JBC) in October to discuss issues related to the survey and marking of the sector under the terms of reference and JBC master plan.

A third round of ministerial meetings was earlier scheduled after the JBC meeting.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday accused Thai soldiers of being thieves, "creating anarchy" around border areas, including at the Khmer sanctuaries of Ta Muen Thom and Ta Kwai. "We cannot accept this act," Hun Sen said, calling for fresh border talks with Thailand.

Somchai said if necessary he would call Hun Sen himself to explain the situation and promise further discussion between foreign ministers of both sides when his government completed its new Cabinet.

Thailand, at this stage, has no foreign minister. Somchai said he would appoint a person who knows foreign affairs very well as the new foreign minister. Former career diplomat Saroj Chavanavirat was widely tipped as the minister but Somchai declined to confirm this.

The new foreign minister is scheduled to meet with his Cambodian counterpart Hor Namhong on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly late this month in New York.

The case of the third temple recently raised in the conflict, Ta Kwai, would be discussed in New York, said the Foreign Ministry's permanent secretary Virasakdi Futrakul.

He said troops on both sides had been redeployed 400 metres away from the Ta Kwai temple following local negotiations. The border dispute must be settled by existing bilateral mechanisms rather than third parties as suggested earlier by Phnom Penh, he said.

Thailand and Cambodia, however, would inform Asean during an informal meeting of foreign ministers to be held September 29 on the sidelines of the UN meeting, Virasak said.
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New Thai PM affirms willingness to continue border talks with Cambodia

BANGKOK, Sept. 18 (Xinhua) -- Thailand's newly-elected Prime Minister Somchai Wongsaw at said Thursday that he is ready to hold talks with his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen to settle their border dispute.

"I'm ready to talk with Prime Minister Hun Sen to achieve better understanding and mutual benefit," Somchai was quoted by a The Nation website report as telling journalists.

Thailand's House of Representatives on Wednesday elected Somchai, deputy leader of People Power Party (PPP) for the premiership.

Somchai added he expected Thai and Cambodian delegates to meet on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York next week.

Somchai's remarks came after Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday accused Thai soldiers of intruding into the disputed border areas, while the Thai Foreign Ministry responded that armed Cambodian units had invaded into its territory in August and September.

The Thai Foreign Ministry summoned this week Cambodia Ambassador Ung Sean to protest the invasion.

Relationship between the neighboring countries became sour since July as they have been engaged in a quarrel on a refreshed long-time border dispute, which led to a military standoff around some ancient temples along their borders.

Hun Sen has renewed a warning that he might file Cambodia's complaints to the UN Security Council or international courts if the border conflicts could not be settled on bilateral level.

Two round of talks on the border issue, concerning land around the Preah Vihear and other ancient temples between the two countries foreign ministers took place in July and August, but without much substantial progress.
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A model model

Up and coming model Truong Thi May is known for her Khmer background, her shiny, cascading hair and her towering 1.72-meter figure. But most don’t know that she’s also a dedicated student of Buddhism.

May’s face and dark complexion have become increasingly recognizable on the covers of magazines and catwalks since she took the first runner-up spot at the The Gioi Phu Nu (World of Women) magazine’s 2006 Miss Photogenic contest and the 2007 Miss Ethnic Vietnam pageant.

Her elegant runway walk, unique style and tan skin have made her a standout newcomer on the local fashion scene.

Born in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 1988 to Khmer-Vietnamese parents, May grew up in the Mekong Delta province of An Giang, where much of Vietnam’s Khmer population lives.

She had a difficult childhood as her father died when she was only nine. As the eldest of five siblings, supporting the family was her responsibility.

She was able to cope with her family’s hardships through the help of her mother and a Buddhist monk who became a mentor and father figure.

It was her master who encouraged her to enter beauty contests. He said she could make the Khmer community in Vietnam proud.

“My modeling career has allowed me to fully support my family,” May says, adding that she hopes to become a singer and actress some day.

Though she was offered a lead role in director Phuong Dien’s much anticipated film Am Tinh (Negative), May’s mother says the young model turned it down. She says May’s Buddhist belief did not mesh with the film, which depicts in detail the rise and fall of model Lam Uyen Nhi, who went from being Miss Vietnam to a life of drugs, prostitution and AIDS.

Dharma kid

Perhaps May’s most distinct quality is her determination to avoid the decadence of the entertainment world.

Her stage name, Margaritte Truong, was given to her by her Buddhist master. The name represents her teacher’s wish that she remain as pure and innocent as a white daisy.

The 20-year-old has been practicing austere Buddhism and following a strict vegetarian diet since she was 13.

She begins her day getting up at 4 every morning, performing 108 kowtows and reading prayers.

Her family has been devoutly Buddhist for several generations and all members are vegetarians.
Her younger sister, brother and cousins are Buddhist monks and nuns.

“If destiny decides it so, I’ll also be a nun in the future,” May says, adding that she always feels at home in a pagoda.

May says her best friend is a nun and they often discuss Buddhist philosophy. “I’m most happy on weekends when my mom and I visit my master, sister and brother in Dong Nai Province. We attend sermons, do charity work, or go on pilgrimages (giving and collecting alms for others) with the clergy,” she says.

“Buddhism teaches me how to be a good person and a good child in the family. It also teaches me about life and humanity,” she says.

“It has also showed me how short and fleeting life is, so I make the most of my time and try to do good deeds,” she adds.

The religion has also taught her tolerance and forgiveness. After being the first runner-up at the 2007 Miss Ethnic Vietnam held in the highland town of Da Lat last December, May was accused of misrepresenting her ethnicity.

She later proved that she is of Khmer origin.

“I’m a Khmer in appearance and at heart and I’m proud of that,” she says.

“My family are Buddhists, so we try to avoid disputes or mentioning unpleasant past things,” May says when asked why she did not demand an apology from the man who accused her.

“I was not worried that it would stain my name, because according to Buddhist teachings, nothing will get in our way if we do nothing wrong.”
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