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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Cambodia appoints first female deputy premier

Phnom Penh (dpa) - Cambodia has appointed former soldier turned journalist Mem Sam An as its first female deputy prime minister, the politician confirmed Thursday.

The 55-year-old, who represents the south-western province of Svay Rieng, was a senior minister in the previous cabinet and said she is honoured by the promotion.

Mem Sam An became part of Cambodian folklore in the 1970s, marshalling troops on the Vietnam border against the Khmer Rouge with what her comrades describe as extraordinary bravery.

She subsequently became an important member of the ruling Cambodian People's Party, which was returned with an increased majority in national elections in July, and has also worked as a journalist for party publications.

"I became a soldier when I was 16. This honour shows that women can achieve anything if they have support," she said.

In Cambodia, seven deputy prime ministers jointly served under Prime Minister Hun Sen last term.

Democratic elections resumed in Cambodia in 1993 after nearly three decades of civil war and are held every five years.

Politics in Cambodia has traditionally been male-dominated, although there are a number of powerful female politicians, especially within Mem Sam An's own party.

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Cambodia recruiting militias on border with Thailand

PHNOM PENH, Oct. 23 (Xinhua) -- Cambodian provincial and military officials said they are recruiting militias along the border with Thailand to protect frontier villages if hostilities erupt again amid a territory dispute between the two countries, national media reported Thursday.

Some 2,400 Cambodians have already volunteered to serve in the paramilitary units in Oddar Meanchey province alone, Deputy Governor Loun An was quoted by the Phnom Penh Post as saying.

"We are in the process of recruiting people for militias to protect homes and ensure security for people if there is a war with Thai soldiers," Loun An said.

"Militia members receive no salary and do not register with the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF), although they will get some sponsorship money," he added.

The Cambodian government has called for calm following last week's border clash that has resulted in the deaths of three Cambodian soldiers and a Thai trooper.

The violence has only encouraged more Cambodians to come to their nation's defense, Chuong Praseuth of the Banteay Meanchey provincial administration told the Post.

In July, tensions ran high after the ancient Preah Vihear Temple was awarded world heritage status by UNESCO, angering nationalists in Thailand who still claim ownership of the site.

The tension later turned into a military stalemate, in which up to 1,000 Cambodian and Thai troops faced off for six weeks.

In early October, at least one Cambodian soldier and two Thai troops were wounded during sporadic exchange of gunfire and two other Thai soldiers were seriously injured after stepping on a landmine at the border area, the report said.
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Fresh talks on Thai-Cambodia row

Military officials from Thailand and Cambodia are preparing for a new round of talks aimed at easing tensions along their shared border after last week's outbreak of violence.

Nhek Bunchhay, the Cambodian deputy prime minister, said on Thursday that the move was part of efforts to "break the stalemate" that led to the clashes.

The two sides agreed on a joint border patrol last week following a gunbattle that left two Cambodian soldiers dead and three more wounded. Seven Thai troops were also injured.

The clashes near the 11th century Preah Vihear temple sparked fears that the two countries were headed for an outright war, prompting lengthy ceasefire discussions.

Both sides however said that they will maintain troops and artillery in the area.

Border tensions escalated following increased rhetoric in recent weeks, with political and military leaders blaming each other for trespassing on to the others' territory.

The ancient Hindu ruin which is at the centre of the dispute obtained a UN listing as a World Heritage Site in July, a ruling that re-ignited a decades-old feud.

Both countries have long claimed the temple complex but the World Court awarded it to Cambodia in 1962.

Thousands of Cambodian villagers in the area near the Preah Vihear temple have fled their homes amid fears of more violence.

The international community including the US and UK has urged the two countries to show restraint over the standoff.

Cambodia and Thailand have deployed hundreds of troops to the border region, backed by heavy equipment and air support.
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