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Saturday, October 31, 2009

China learns that 2009 is not 1962 (Comment

by Amulya Ganguli

The inscrutable Chinese are supposed to take every step after careful deliberation. Whether it is Mao Zedong’s smile for an Indian envoy to open a new chapter after the 1962 conflict or the summoning of the Indian ambassador in Beijing to the foreign office at 2 a.m. to express displeasure, the Mandarins are believed to be sticklers for sign language.

The perceptible downturn in Sino-Indian relations, therefore, could not have been an unrehearsed event. It began a few years ago with the Chinese ambassador’s assertions on the disputed status of Arunachal Pradesh and Beijing’s decision to unilaterally disown the 2005 agreement to leave inhabited areas out of the proposed solutions for the boundary question.

These incidents were followed by reports of an increase in border incursions by Chinese patrols, attempts to block the Asian Development Bank’s loans for Arunachal Pradesh, the filibustering by Chinese delegates at the Nuclear Suppliers Group’s meetings on the India-US nuclear deal, the stapling of visas on the passports of Kashmiris, the depiction of Kashmir as a separate country in Chinese-made globes, involvement in development projects in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and so on.

Arguably, the Chinese had convinced themselves that India needed to be taught another ‘lesson’, as they purportedly did in 1962, to show who was the boss in Asia, especially to the neighbouring countries, none of which matched (or hoped to match) Beijing’s might. It is also possible that China believed that its expected emergence as No.2 to the US necessitated a perceptible snubbing of India, its only potential rival in

These long dormant Middle Kingdom sentiments are not entertained by the communist regime alone. For instance, Chiang Kai-shek’s book, ‘China’s Destiny’, listed Tibet, Mongolia, Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, Burma and Vietnam as his country’s lost territories. Well-known historian R.C. Mazumdar also noted that ‘if a region once acknowledged her (China’s) nominal suzerainty even for a short period, she would regard it as a part of her empire forever and would automatically revive her claim over it even after a thousand years’.

This attitude of aggrandisement contrasts sharply with India’s benignity and lack of imperialistic ambitions. Although Southeast Asia, from Cambodia to Bali, demonstrates the overwhelming presence of Indian influence, there has never been any question of India claiming these lands as its own.

The same spirit of generosity and friendship was shown by India to Beijing when it rejected the Two China theory preferred by the US in the 1950s and 60s and strongly advocated Beijing’s membership of the United Nations even after the deterioration in Sino-Indian relations.

As a report on a conference of governors in 1959 said, late prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru gave the ‘reasons for the stand taken by India in the UN on the question of the entry of China into the organisation though there was resentment in the country about China’s hostile attitude towards India’. Nehru had also accompanied Zhou Enlai as a big brother at the Bandung conference in 1955.

But China never reciprocated these friendly gestures. Instead, as Nehru said after the 1962 war, ‘it was wrong to assume that the Chinese undertook this aggression only because they wanted some patches of territory…China did not want any country near her which was not prepared to accept her leadership; so India had to be humiliated’.

Continuing, he said, ‘though India would not interfere with what was happening within China, yet she came in China’s way by the mere fact of her separate political structure and pursuing a separate policy which was succeeding’.

These factors are apparently still riling China. Not only is India emerging as a major regional power with a robust economy which has weathered the storm of recession with reasonable success, its ’separate political structure’ of a widely admired multicultural democracy contrasts sharply with China’s obviously repressive one-party rule.

What is more, while Pakistan’s degeneration into a dysfunctional state robs China of an ‘all-weather friend’ which it could use to needle India, Beijing’s own peripheries have become seedbeds of trouble. Let alone subdue its neighbours, the aspiring Middle Kingdom is not even in full control over Tibet and Xinjiang, not to mention Taiwan. Nor is it able to hide the growing rural unrest over the disparity between the rich and the poor.

It is apparently because of such restiveness that even the supposedly monolithic communist party is divided. On one side are the so-called populists, who include President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Web Jiabao, with their preference for a level-playing field between the poor Western regions and the more affluent urban areas on the eastern coast and on the other side are the elitists, who want faster growth based on the free market.

It was perhaps to divert attention from all these difficulties by ratcheting up nationalistic fervour that China thought of provoking India. But its miscalculation was that it did not take into account the fact that India in 2009 was different from its naive and militarily unprepared self in 1962.

The blow to its pride in that year has led to an augmentation of its military prowess, which it is no longer hesitant to display. India also seems to have realised that the Chinese misinterpret politeness as weakness. Hence it chose to ignore Beijing’s objections to the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh.

It is possible that the Chinese will now pay greater heed to the second part of the advice of Sun Tzu, the military genius of 6th century B.C., who said the winner is the person who ‘knows when to fight and when not to
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Typhoon Mirinae likely to worsen Cambodia's flood problems: Oxfam

International aid agency Oxfam has cautioned that a new wave of rain from Typhoon Mirinae is expected to reach Cambodia on Nov. 2.

In a statement received Saturday, Oxfam said situations in communities already affected by Typhoon Ketsana and prolonged annual floods in central and northern Cambodia are likely to worsen with the effects of the new typhoon, putting already affected people further at risk.

"Typhoon Mirinae is currently on track to hit the northern Philippines island of Luzon . Although Cambodia may not be hit with the full strength of the typhoon, the country remains vulnerable due to its limited resources for preparation and response, and while the country is just beginning to recover from recent flooding," the statement said.

"Typhoon Mirinae could set back on-going emergency work and planned recovery and rehabilitation efforts in Cambodia ," said Francis Perez, Country Lead of Oxfam in Cambodia .

"The effects of the new typhoon could increase hazards in still flooded areas and cause further damage to crops and livelihoods. It may also displace communities or prolong the return of those already displaced by Typhoon Ketsana," he added.

Fearing a new threat of another typhoon, Oxfam is alerting humanitarian agencies and government authorities to help communities living in areas susceptible to flooding to be prepared by stocking on clean water and food and securing important documents.

The damage from Typhoon Ketsana runs to around 40 million U.S. dollars in Cambodia, according to the Ministry of Economy and Finance. The storm, which killed at least 30 people, affected about 6,000 families and destroyed thousands of hectares of rice fields, and local infrastructure such as irrigation systems, roads, schools and houses.

Source: Xinhua
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Thaksin not to reside in Cambodia: Thai opposition leader

Ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra refused to permanently reside in Cambodia as hedid not want to create problem to Thailand, opposition Puea Thai Party Chairman Chavalit Yongchaiyuth said Saturday.

"I asked him through people close him why he did not stay in Cambodia as it is near home and family, Thaksin said that he did not want to create problem," the INN news agency quoted Chavalit, deputy prime minister in Thaksin's administration as saying.

It was a test of Thaksin's thought, he said.

Thaksin was ousted by a military coup in September 2006 and has been in exile since then. In February 2008, Thaksin returned to Thailand to face corruption charges but later went to exile again and was convicted in absentia.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen told reporters during the recent 15th ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Summit at Thailand's central beach resort of Hua Hin that Cambodiawould not hand over Thaksin to Thailand if Thailand sought his extradition.

Hun Sen also said that he could appoint Thaksin as his economic advisor.

The opposition party chairman said that he is planning to visit neighboring country of Malaysia in mid-November and visit Myanmar after that.

"I have known Gen Than Shwe (Myanmar top leader) for quite a long time and he can help improve relations between Thailand and Myanmar," he said.

Over the criticism that he was trying to discredit the government and to help Thaksin, Chavalit said if someone wants to do a big thing, he must be able to stand for such a negative criticism.

Also on Saturday, Thailand's Attorney-General Julasingh Wasantsingh said that Cambodia reserves the rights to refuse to extradite Thaksin if he stays in the neighboring country, but substantial grounds must be provided.

Source: Xinhua
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Vietnam condemns acts hindering border demarcation with Cambodia

The Cambodia Kingdom had a vast land, East and West part of the country had been shrinking by encroachment from Yuon and Siam. Twenty one province had lost to Yuon and a bout Twenty Province to Siam. Recently Cambodia had lost some Islands, water, sea and land to Yuon. Border demarcation with Yuon had never been a fair management. Border posts are in Cambodian farm lands, is it called a friendship and good neighbour? Yuon will face something in the future, critical.

The Vietnamese Government strongly condemned acts and statements made by Sam Rainsy, President of the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) of Cambodia, who recently uprooted land markers on the Vietnam-Cambodia border, said a Foreign Ministry spokesperson on October 30.

Sam Rainsy on October 25 visited the border demarcation area between Vietnam’s southern province of Long An and Svay Rieng province of Cambodia and uprooted six temporary poles that mark the position of Marker 185 and then brought them to Phnom Penh. Sam Rainsy also made statements slandering Vietnam as encroaching on the land of Cambodia through the border demarcation and marker planting.

In response to questions from the media about Vietnam’s reaction to Sam Rainsy’s acts and statements, spokesperson Nguyen Phuong Nga said that “ Vietnam and Cambodia are promptly conducting borderline demarcation and planting border markers. Protection of land markers and poles is the shared obligation of the two countries’ governments and people, in accordance with bilateral agreements and international law.”

What Sam Rainsy did was a perverse action, damaging common property, violating both countries’ laws, and bilateral treaties and agreements, hindering the borderline demarcating and marker planting process, she emphasised.

Sam Rainsy’s speeches slandering Vietnam were ill-informed, irresponsible and designed to incite a feud, undermining the relationship between Vietnam and Cambodia, she added.

The Vietnamese government urged the Cambodian government to take due measures to deal with sabotage acts, ensuring favourable conditions for conducting borderline demarcation and marker planting between Vietnam and Cambodia, and for the common benefit of both peoples, Nga concluded. (VNA)
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Cambodia gives big boost to military budget

By Ek Madra

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia, one of Southeast Asia's poorest countries, plans to boost defense and security spending by 23 percent next year, its budget showed on Saturday, raising the prospect of a clash with the IMF.

Cambodia plans to spend $274 million on defense and security next year, up from $223 million this year, the budget showed. The total budget for calendar 2010 was $1.97 billion, which meant the military was allocated about 14 percent of total spending.

That compares with 1.7 percent spent on agriculture, the backbone of Cambodia's economy, and 0.7 percent on water resources. About 1.7 percent was set aside for rural development.

Military spending is a sensitive topic in Cambodia because of the millions of dollars of donor money flowing into the country, largely to social programmes.

"This big budget for defense is meant for preventative measures in response to international conflicts," said government spokesman Phay Siphan.

Siphan said the spending was unrelated to tensions with neighbouring Thailand over land surrounding a 900-year-old, cliff-top Hindu temple known as Preah Vihear. Skirmishes in the border area have killed seven troops in the past year.

Thailand is challenging a U.N. decision to make the temple a world heritage site under Cambodian jurisdiction. Cambodia was awarded the temple in a 1962 international court ruling that did not determine who owns 1.8 square miles (4.6 sq km) next to it.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) criticised Cambodia last year for its military spending, leading the Cambodian government to cut back its defense budget during a debate in parliament after questioning by the IMF.

"Donors will not be happy," Ou Vireak, head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said of the latest military budget.

He said Prime Minister Hun Sen was likely trying to whip up nationalist support by projecting an image of a strong military at a time of heightened tension with Thailand.

"By doing so, he is turning the country effectively into a military state," he said.
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Cambodia: World AIDS Day HIV Campaign, 'Testing Millions,' to Again Launch During Cambodia's National Water Festival

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, Oct. 31 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- As part of an ambitious global effort to test several million people for HIV in observance of the Testing Millions World AIDS Day 2009 campaign, AHF/Cambodia CARES will launch its inaugural testing effort during the annual Water Festival, which marks the end of the rainy season and is the largest festival in the Cambodian calendar. The Water Festival commences Sunday, November 1st. AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the largest AIDS group in the US which currently provides AIDS medical care and services to more than 120,000 individuals in 22 countries worldwide in the US, Africa, Latin America/Caribbean, the Asia Pacific Region and Eastern Europe, is spearheading the worldwide initiative to test millions. Last year, AHF led the successful 'One Million Tests/World AIDS Day 2008' campaign during which AHF/Cambodia CARES and its Cambodian partners surpassed their country goal of performing 30,000 tests by testing 35,034 individuals, identifying 1,112 HIV positive individuals in the process. The 2008 campaign far exceeded its goal of performing one million tests by testing 1,603,272 people and identifying 61,399 HIV positive people.

AHF/Cambodia CARES, which partners with NCHADS in operating 12 free AIDS treatment clinics throughout the country, has also taken a leadership role to coordinate and partner with other stakeholders to reach as many people as possible for the HIV testing and the Love Condom campaign. As its part of the in-country component of the global testing campaign, AHF/Cambodia CARES has committed to testing 12,000 people for HIV throughout the month of November in Cambodia, one of the countries in the Asia Pacific region that has been hardest-hit by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

"With the beginning of the Water Festival, AHF/Cambodia CARES will get an early start and launch our country's participation in the 'Testing Millions' World AIDS Day 2009 campaign. We will be testing in Phnom Penh and other provinces and link those found to be positive to a clinic for follow up care and access to lifesaving antiretroviral treatment as well as the positive prevention to stop the spreading of the virus, and those who found as negative will learn about HIV prevention to keep them stay negative" said Chhim Sarath, M.D., AHF Country Director for Cambodia.

Cambodia is one of the poorest nations in Asia and also has one of the most rapidly growing HIV/AIDS epidemics in the region. The HIV epidemic has spread beyond high-risk groups such as sex workers, male police officers, factory workers, mobile populations, injection drug users and men who have sex with men, to the general population.

The number of Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT) centers in Cambodia has increased dramatically over the last 5 years (only 12 sites in 2000 to 216 sites by the end of first quarter 2009). Of the current 216 VCT centers, 194 are supported directly by the government, while 22 are supported by non-governmental organizations.

About AHF
AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) is the nation's largest non-profit HIV/AIDS organization. AHF currently provides medical care and/or services to more than 120,000 individuals in 22 countries worldwide in the US, Africa, Latin America/Caribbean, the Asia Pacific Region and Eastern Europe. Additional information is available at

SOURCE AIDS Healthcare Foundation
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Friday, October 30, 2009

Khmer Rouge trial judges accused of bias

By David Boyle for Radio Australia

The beleaguered Khmer Rouge trials in Cambodia have hit another obstacle.

Two pre-trial judges, including Australian Rowan Downing QC, have been accused of taking instruction from their respective governments in a motion filed last week.

The Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia were created to try the leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime, which is accused of killing more than 2 million people in the 1970s.

The Khmer Rouge tribunal has endured considerable controversy in its four years of existence and now many people believe it has become entrenched in its own politics.

The lawyers of accused war criminal, Ieng Sary, have filed a motion requesting that two pre trial judges, including Mr Downing, be removed from the court due to a public perception of bias.

Radio Australia has obtained a copy of the motion that seizes on comments recently made by the Cambodian Prime Minister, Hun Sen.

Mr Sen has alleged the two judges have been acting on the orders of their respective foreign governments.

'Fair trial'

Michael Karnavas is one of the co-defence lawyers who filed the motion.

"What we're saying is we're caught in the middle of all of this, we're entitled to a fair trial," he said.

"The average person in Cambodia believes their Prime Minister. The United Nations hasn't stepped up to the plate, to either defend these judges or to show that they've taken any action to look into these allegations.

"The judges haven't spoken up, I suspect because of their position, but we want this matter cleared."

The two pre-trial judges, Mr Downing and Dutch national Katinka Lahuis are unable to comment on either Hun Sen's comments or the motion being filed against them.

Appropriate behaviour

But a spokeswoman for the court, Yuko Maeda, says the court believes all their court officials are behaving appropriately.

"We believe all the judicial officials who work at the ECCC are performing accordingly, independently from any of the executive bodies," she said.

"This is the international standard, ECCC is following the international standard. We believe that none of the judicial officials who are working at the ECCC are influenced by any executive body."

Heather Ryan, a court monitor with the Open Society Justice Initiative, says she has seen no evidence to confirm the allegations, but says they should be publicly addressed to protect the credibility of the court.

"Many of the international players and the judges are in my view, unfortunately reluctant to speak publicly when statements like this that impact the credibility of the court are made," she said.

"I think it's part of that sort of general reluctance of commentators and officials of the courts to speak about what's going on in the court publicly. There's kind of a conspiracy of silence."

Bribery claims

An early report into the court's activities prepared for the US Agency for International Development concluded corruption was "pandemic" within the administration of local officials with bribery a widely accepted practice.

A subsequent report produced by the court, which was initially suppressed, revealed similar findings.

But there is no suggestion that these allegations relate to the judges of the court.

Lawyer Michael Karnavas dismisses any suggestion that his motion is designed further erode the tribunal's reputation, arguing it upholds expectations of transparency and due diligence.

"I haven't made these allegations, somebody else has. I'm not the one getting kick backs from the national staff. I'm not the one who is hiding the UN report, others are doing that," he said.

"So you can't blame the defence for trying to shed light and trying to make this process as transparent as possible."

Ms Ryan, of the Open Society Justice Initiatives, says the court should be concerned about mounting public scepticism over its transparency and capacity to deliver swift and effective justice.

"The court has an obligation now, if it's to preserve its obligation to the people of Cambodia to go out of its way and take additional steps to be transparent, to scrupulously deal with any allegations of misconduct or wrong doing and to ensure that people can see that they actually are serving the interests of justice," she said.

"Right now when everything is done behind closed doors people don't see that and so when statements like the one that is alleged by Ieng Sary's lawyers are made, it feeds on a kind of inherent suspicion."

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Cambodia can deny Thaksin extradition bid by Thailand: Attorney-General

BANGKOK, Oct 30 (TNA) - Cambodia reserves the right to deny a request by Thailand to extradite ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra if he stays in the neighbouring country, but substantial grounds must be provided for the denial, according to the Attorney-General Julasingh Wasantsingh.

Mr Julasingh said he did not focus on anybody in particular, but would touch only on the principle that even though Thailand and Cambodia had signed an extradition treaty, in practice the country which was asked for the extradition has the full right to deny the request.

However, that country must justify its denial in line with international practice.

As for Mr Thaksin’s case, the Office of the Attorney-General has not been informed about his whereabouts so the office could not make the request.

If the police and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirm that Mr Thaksin is in Cambodia, Thai officials would seek extradition, but it depends on Phnom Penh's decision.

He added that Thailand had formerly denied such requests from some countries, but the kingdom was able to provide strong grounds to clarify its decisions in the past.

Mr Hun Sen told reporters during attending the 15th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Thailand that Mr Thaksin could remain in Cambodia as his guest and could be his economic advisor, saying he was not interfering in Thailand's internal affairs, but that Cambodia has the right to exercise its sovereignty and make such a decision.

Ousted in a bloodless coup in September 2006, convicted and sentenced to a two-year jail term for malfeasance in the controversial Bangkok Ratchadapisek land purchase, Mr Thaksin now living in self-exile abroad and is reportedly a close friend of Mr Hun Sen. (TNA)
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Nationalist fire counters Chavalit's move

If national reconciliation was truly one of the goals Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh set himself when returning to active politics, then he could barely have got off to a worse start.

Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh's visit to Cambodia under the guidance of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to meet Hun Sen a day before the Cambodian prime minister flew to Thailand for the Asean summit last weekend seemed to shake the Abhisit Vejjajiva government, noted a Matichon writer.

Gen Chavalit claimed his move was aimed at mending fences with the Cambodian leader to ease tensions between Thailand and Cambodia before the 15th Asean summit in Hua Hin and Cha-am.

However, the ulterior objective seemed to be for Hun Sen to discredit the Thai government, which he proceeded to do, claiming Thaksin was politically persecuted, that he would welcome Thaksin to Cambodia any time and would not extradite Thaksin to Thailand even though the two countries have signed an extradition treaty.

Gen Chavalit, upon agreeing to become chairman of the Puea Thai Party, declared four strategic goals for the party:

- To prove to Thai society that Thaksin is loyal to the country and monarchy;

- To mend social divisions in the country;

- To solve the unrest in the lower South; and

- To mend fences with neighbouring countries.

These four goals are aimed at shoring up the image of Puea Thai, with Thaksin as its guiding light, and they have the ultimate objective of winning the next election and returning Thaksin to his former glory without having to serve his two-year jail sentence.

Puea Thai can also rely on its staunch allies, the red shirts, to continue to hold rallies to disrupt the government's administration with the aim of forcing the government to quit as soon as possible. The opposition party believes the Democrats and their coalition partners are seen in a negative light for being linked to various graft allegations involving spending programmes under the second stimulus package.

Unfortunately for Puea Thai, Gen Chavalit's move to involve Hun Sen in the attack on the Thai government has provoked a strong reaction from many Thai people, who have condemned both Gen Chavalit and Thaksin as "letting the enemy in". They believe Gen Chavalit's move at the behest of Thaksin will only further strain relations between Thailand and Cambodia, not mend fences as claimed by Gen Chavalit.

So Gen Chavalit's declared move to mend fences with neighbouring countries seems to have failed at the first attempt.

Puea Thai's other aim has been to prove to Thai society that Thaksin is loyal to the country and monarchy by attracting a number of retired generals to the party. These former generals and Gen Chavalit himself should be enough to assure the Thai people that Thaksin is loyal because soldiers have to swear to protect the country and King, Puea Thai believes.

Again, Puea Thai might not be able to shake off people's doubts that Thaksin is disloyal to the monarchy as long as the red shirts continue to demand the resignation of Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda. Their stance that Gen Prem should not act as His Majesty's representative also raises eyebrows since everyone knows it is the King's prerogative to appoint anyone to be his personal adviser and act on his behalf.

Meanwhile, the Democrat Party, as the leading party in the coalition government, has to respond to Gen Chavalit's move. The strategy is to claim that Puea Thai is using dirty political tricks by involving foreigners to attack Thailand.

As the country's leader, Mr Abhisit has to act diplomatically by claiming Thailand and Cambodia remain friends. However, Mr Abhisit might also worry that the Cambodian leader has received misleading information so he does not want Hun Sen to become a pawn in someone else's game.

Meantime, core executives of the Democrat Party came out in force to condemn Thaksin and Gen Chavalit's move as "betraying the country", a phrase which the country's respected elder recently warned Gen Chavalit about when he was considering joining Puea Thai.

The government has also appointed a national public relations commission to clarify the issue to counter the red shirts' satellite TV People Channel.

Gen Chavalit's next move to visit Malaysia and Burma with the aim of using the foreign stage to paint a bad image of the Thai government might not be so successful now the Democrats know of his intentions and are ready to counter them with effective public relations campaigns, concluded Matichon.

Govt must change tack

If the government cannot come up with something concrete soon to show the people it is working on their behalf, it's unlikely to win the next general election.

It's more than likely the Puea Thai Party will win the election and be able to form a single-party government, noted a Thai Rath writer.

Even though Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has told the media the Democrats are ready for the coming election and the party will gain more or less the same number of seats as Puea Thai, the Thai Rath writer thought this was only political posturing designed to show the people, Puea Thai, the red shirts and the coalition parties the Democrats are ready to dissolve parliament at any time.

However, it is widely believed both the Democrats and the coalition parties are not ready to dissolve parliament and contest a new poll. Since the coalition government wants to stay in power for quite a while yet, it must work even harder to show its achievements and solve the protracted problems facing the country.

The trouble is that this coalition government does not project an image of unity from the different ministries under each coalition party's supervision.

Even within the Democrat Party itself there seem to be conflicts judging from the continuing saga of the failed appointment of a new police chief.

This is different from Puea Thai, which plays politics both inside parliament and out with Thaksin phoning in and Twittering practically every day.

So it is not surprising that a recent poll showed that Mr Abhisit's popularity continues to decline while Thaksin has gained at his expense.

If the Democrats do not change the way they administer the country, the situation will worsen and there might come a time when Mr Abhisit has no choice but to dissolve parliament even if the party is not ready to contest an election.

Former prime minister Chuan Leekpai, now chief adviser to the Democrat Party, recently remarked there should be more discussion and consultation, not just among the Democrats but with their coalition partners as well.

Since taking charge of the country 10 months or so ago, Mr Abhisit seems to have accepted multitudes of outside engagements to speak practically every day. It's got to the stage where he hardly has time to talk and coordinate with ministers from different parties. So it is inevitable that small issues easily turn into bigger ones.

The Thai Rath writer recommended that apart from adjusting his working style by paying more attention to his coalition partners, Mr Abhisit should think about a cabinet reshuffle as now there has been sufficient time to judge which ministers need to be moved out to bring in more capable replacements to shore up the government's image.


On Wednesday, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva revealed he would not hold a meeting of the Police Commission to appoint a new police chief any time soon, even though he really wants to convene one as soon as possible. There are still differing opinions and information, but the situation was improving, he said.

Meanwhile, Puea Thai Party spokesman Prompong Nopparit accused the government of pulling the strings behind the Council of State's decision that the government can proceed with stripping Thaksin Shinawatra of his police rank and royal decorations.

Mr Prompong issued a threat that if the government went ahead with stripping Thaksin of his rank and decorations, it would inflame the red shirts to come out to rally against the government. He warned the government to be careful in proceeding with such a step as it was no way to nurture reconciliation.
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Cambodia's Mysterious 'Jungle Woman' Sick, Stressed Out

A woman dubbed the "jungle woman" after emerging naked and unable to speak from the wilds of northeastern Cambodia two years ago is sick and apparently suffering from mental illness, a doctor said Friday.

Hing Phan Sokhunthea, chief of Rattanakiri province hospital, said the woman, believed to be 28-year-old Rochom P'ngieng, was taken home Friday after four days in a hospital even though she remained weak and the cause of her nervous distress remained unclear.

She was brought from the jungle in early 2007 after being caught trying to steal food from a villager. Her case attracted international attention after a local family claimed she was their daughter, who was 8 years old when she disappeared in 1988 while herding buffalo in a remote area.

However, the relationship was never proven, and it was never established how she could have survived in the wild for 19 years. Some villagers suspected she was not Rochom P'ngieng, but someone else suffering from mental problems who had been lost in the jungle for a much briefer time.

The man who claims to be her father, Sal Lou, said Friday by telephone that the woman still does not speak any intelligible language.

He said his daughter was hospitalized Monday after she refused to eat any rice for almost a month.

"She was very sick and her condition looks worse than when she was first found," he said. "She is very skinny now."

He said he decided to take her back home after her condition didn't improve and she kept trying to run away.

The Rattanakiri doctor said a preliminary diagnosis found she suffered from a nervous condition.
"We wanted her to stay longer in the hospital, so that we could learn more about her mental state, but her father took her back home without letting us know," said Hing Phan Sokunthea.
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Voices: No cause for celebration

On Sept. 20, the Empire State building was lighted red and yellow to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. At the same time, this event was either being celebrated on the south White House lawn or across the street, depending on whom you talk to.

Celebrating the 60th year of the most murderous regime in history. Chairman Mao and his successors have murdered at least 20 million of their own people, not counting Tibet, Korea (1950-54), various “wars of liberation” in South America, Africa, Southeast Asia as well as Tiananmen Square. This regime’s murderous endeavors far surpass Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Pol Pot of Cambodia, Idi Amin and other murderers throughout history.

And now the owners of the Empire State building and our government are sanctioning celebrations of this communist government that is undoubtedly assisting, aiding and abetting terrorist organizations around the world, while our young men and women are combating terrorism in many far and distant places. Shades of Vietnam! While we were fighting against communism in that country, our government was cutting grain deals, doling out foreign aid, etc. to the communists in Europe who were supplying the communists in Southeast Asia.

John P. Fitts


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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Cambodia, UN mark 64th anniversary of UN Day

The Cambodian government and the United Nations country team on Tuesday jointly marked the 64th anniversary of UN Day, focusing on reviewing common priorities, said a press released from UN Resident Coordinator in Cambodia on Wednesday.

The discussion with Prime Minister Hun Sen and 11 UN Representatives focused on the excellent working relationship between Cambodia and the UN.

"The United Nations brings around 100 million U.S. dollars of development assistance to Cambodia each year but our support stretches beyond the dollar value of this contribution. We have a long-standing history of promoting peace and human development in Cambodia and we are extremely proud to serve the Cambodian people" expressed UN Resident Coordinator to Cambodia, Douglas Broderick.

Topics raised during the meeting included climate change, the global economic crisis, drug awareness, disaster management and Cambodia's support to international peacekeeping.

Among the highest priorities for the UN Country Team is helping Cambodia to achieve its Millennium Development Goals including improving maternal health, the goal currently requiring the most attention.

"The United Nations believes that no Cambodian woman should die giving life. We are committed to assisting the government to scale-up the quantity and quality of midwives and to improve access to emergency obstetrics care and reproductive health services as part of our joint effort to advance maternal health" Broderick assured the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister shared UN concern that the Millennium Development Goals could be endangered by the combined impacts of the global economic crisis and climate change but was grateful to the UN system for its assistance in helping compile information on the goals' progress at sub-national level.

Regarding the global economic crisis and its impact on the local economy, both sides recognized the importance of coordinating closely to maintain focus on the most vulnerable groups.

"We have been pleased by Cambodia's active response to the global economic crisis especially the attention given to social protection and the progress made towards an integrated Social Safety Net strategy. The UN will work with the government to maintain efforts in this area of social protection to ensure that as the world moves out of this crisis, the poorest people are protected from current and future economic shocks"

In closing the meeting, the Prime Minister congratulated the UN on its 64th anniversary and vowed to continue the UN Day meeting tradition.

United Nations Day (October 24) marks the signing of the United Nations Charter in 1945. Cambodia joined the United Nations on 14 December 1955.

The United Nations Country Team in Cambodia consists of 23 agencies, fund and programmes operating in the country.

Source: Xinhua
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In Cambodia, a threatened tribe of Islam

By Brendan B Brady

UDONG - Imam San was perhaps once Cambodia's most privileged Muslim. Legend has it that in the 19th century, former King Ang Duong encountered him meditating in the forest and was so captivated by the stranger's spirituality that he offered him land in the royal capital. A more cynical account relates that the Khmer royal family, at a time when its power was dwindling, found a ready and willing ally in the Muslim leader.

On the occasion of Imam San's birthday each October, the sect that emerged from his early followers gathers in the former royal city of Udong, about 30 kilometers outside of the present capital

of Phnom Penh, to honor his memory through prayer and offerings. The colorful mawlut ceremony reaffirms the sect's privileged heritage and its continued isolation from the rest of the country's Islamic community, which is dominated by a group known as the Cham.

The Imam San followers are the only group to remain outside the domain of the Mufti, the government-sanctioned leader of Islam in Cambodia - a status that was renewed by the government in 1988. Successive Imam San leaders, or Ong Khnuur, have held the prestigious title of Okhna, originally bestowed by the palace.

Cambodia's estimated 37,000 Imam San followers live in only a few dozen villages spread throughout the country. Geography has reinforced the sect's isolation, and the mawlut has become an increasingly important opportunity to forge friendships and - more essential to the survival of the community - marriages.

At the annual ceremony, parents search for eligible suitors for their children, who otherwise would not come in contact with teenagers and young adults from other Imam San communities. The day's use for matchmaking may have new importance as the sect's long-standing isolation is challenged by pressures from Cambodia's larger Islamic community as well as from abroad.

Many Imam San followers see their sect's relationship with other Muslims as the biggest threat to their way of life, as their most vehement critics come from within their faith. For Ek Bourt, an elder member of the Imam San community, it is discrimination from other Muslims that he fears most.

"Other Muslims look down on us since we practice our religion in a different way," he said. "I'm afraid the next generation might lose our unique culture and customs."

The pilgrimage to Udong's Phnom Katera - a site of great importance for Khmers' Buddhist and royal traditions - highlights what some other Muslims see as the Imam San community's unholy cultural proximity to mainstream Khmer society. Conspicuously, the mosque on Phnom Katera is adjacent to the tombs of former Khmer kings and its name, "The Islam Cham Temple of Imam San", is written in Khmer, Cham and English, but not Arabic.

Purity perceptions
Descendants of the Cham Bani from Vietnam, who converted to Islam in the 17th century, Imam San followers view themselves as devoted adherents of the Muslim faith even as they maintain religious and cultural practices that are viewed by some as at odds with Islamic teachings. Because they blend faith in the Koran with other religious customs, including animist-like ceremonies, the Imam San followers are seen by many other Muslims as impure.

Perhaps no tradition of the Imam San community is more offensive to critics than praying only once a week, while praying five times a day is standard practice for most Muslims. And none is more bizarre than the chai ceremony, in which they dance in a possessed state, sometimes carrying prop weapons.

In fact, about 85% of Muslims consider the Imam San followers to be so heterodox as not to qualify as Muslims, according to a study by Norwegian Bjorn Blengsli, who has studied Muslims in Cambodia for nearly a decade.

"They're not true followers of Mohammed," said Hussein Bin Ibrahim, a Salafi Muslim who lives in Phnom Penh. "They don't really count as Muslims. For Muslims like us in Cambodia, our Islam is now becoming more like the Islam in Arab countries. We have grown closer to Mecca." Hussein prays in the outskirts of Phnom Penh at the Norul Ehsan mosque, which was recently renovated with funds from Kuwait.

Most of Cambodia's Muslims are ethnically Cham, whose practices have traditionally been moderate. But the last several years have seen a rise of fundamentalism in the Cham community, most notably of Wahhabism, an austere form of Islam originating from Saudi Arabia.

Growing economic ties between Cambodia and Arab countries suggest the trend will only strengthen.

Last year, after making high-level state visits, Kuwait and Qatar pledged hundreds of millions of dollars in soft loans to Cambodia for agricultural development. The aid sparked concerns among some Western officials that the money could be used not just to invigorate Cambodia's farming, but also to radicalize its Muslims.

"There are some organizations here from the Middle East that are very radical and that are very intolerant, and they are trying very hard to change the attitude and the atmosphere of the Muslim population here in Cambodia," said then-outgoing American Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli in his farewell speech to reporters in August 2008.

The primary focus of the most recent state visits has been trade. Yet cultural ties are also at stake: Kuwait pledged some $5 million for Cambodian Islamic institutions, including renovating the dilapidated International Dubai Mosque in Phnom Penh.

Economic ties with Arab countries will reverberate in Islamic practices in Cambodia, according to Blengsli. "Economic ties between Cambodia and Arab countries will lead to more funding for Islamic organisations in Cambodia and, since they are often unhappy with the purity of Islam as its practiced here, there will be increasing Arab influence on local Muslim practices," he said.

Islamic revivalism
The penetration of Islamic missionaries, as well as development and educational organizations into Cambodia, is problematic because of the separation from other cultures these groups encourage, according to Alberto Perez, a Spanish anthropologist who is writing his PhD dissertation on the Cham.

The Imam San community has been further estranged amid a wave of Islamic revivalism embraced by the majority of Cambodia's nearly 350,000 Muslims. In the past, Imam San followers have rejected donations from wealthy Middle East-based Islamic groups and resisted pressure from foreign preachers, whose requests that they convert to orthodox Islam are frequently backed by offers to finance the construction of new mosques.

But this long-maintained separation is weakening under the same foreign influences that, according to Blengsli, have made Cambodia's mainstream Muslims one of the fastest-changing Islamic communities in the world.

The Imam San community is losing numbers to other Muslim sects, including the Salafi, Jamaat Tabligh and Ahmadiyya, which have international standing and deeper pockets, he said. In particular, young Imam San followers who are sent to Phnom Penh to continue their studies face pressure from other Muslim communities to convert to orthodox Islam.

"We're especially afraid that the young will be tempted to join other groups that are well-funded," said Kai Tam, the Imam San's current Ong Khnuur. But such concerns would not have him change his group's practices.

"Our people are strong because we believe in our ancestors and we believe in their culture and the way they practiced Islam - to change would be an insult to our ancestors. We have the same goal as other Muslims, but we get there a different way."

Ahmad Yahya, president of the Cambodian Islamic Development Association and an advisor to the government on Cham issues, has said that Imam San followers should break their isolation and reform their observance. Yahya has aggressively solicited foreign funding for Cambodian Muslims to continue their studies locally and abroad, and he believes Iman San followers should make the changes necessary to avail themselves of such opportunities.

Indeed, some Imam San villages have begun praying five times a day as a compromise to foreign donors who have financed new mosques for them. But for 19-year-old Keu Sarath, whose home is in the same village as the Ong Khnuur's, her faith in the way of her ancestors has not wavered.
"We love God just the same as others," she said. "But we don't tell others how to practice and they should show us the same respect."

Brendan B Brady is a freelance journalist based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Read more!

Where’s This War Headed?

Ayaz Amir

The resort to arms, as any armchair strategist will tell you, can never be an end in itself. You go to war to achieve a political aim.

And if you don’t have that aim—if you are not clear what you are hoping to achieve—picking up arms is the height of folly. You can be the strongest military in the world—as the Wehrmacht was on the eve of the Second World War, or the US armed forces are now—but if there is no clarity in your mind about why you are going to war, or if your aims are open-ended and not rigorously thought through, in the face of a determined opponent your efforts are likely to be doomed.

America’s Vietnam venture was bereft of reason. It made no sense at the time, it makes less in hindsight. Against a weak foe this impiety would have succeeded. But the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong were anything but weak. Eventually America had to drink deep from the cup of humiliation.

The invasion of Iraq was another exercise in folly. It had no aim beyond the display of arrogance. Meant to “shock and awe” the world, it has done incalculable harm to American prestige and power. Where the US strode the planet like a colossus after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Iraq has made it look like a wounded giant.

Afghanistan was a bit different. With the Taleban giving sanctuary to Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, the invasion of Afghanistan, to much of the world, appeared as a legitimate response to the Sep 11 terrorist incidents on the US soil. But with the US occupation of Afghanistan in its eighth year (two longer than the Second World War), and doubts on the rise in Washington about US war aims, America’s Afghan enterprise makes less and less sense. Indeed, far from achieving anything, the US occupation is now the prime cause of Afghan turbulence. Indeed, unfolding in Afghanistan is a popular insurrection, people drawn to the Taleban not out of love for their primitive philosophy but out of hostility to the foreign occupier.

With more troops the Americans can probably hold Afghanistan’s cities, as the Soviet army did before them in the 1980s. But that is not the same as imposing their will on the entire country.

Gen McChrystal is calling for more troops to stem the tide of Taleban resurgence. But just as domestic support for the Vietnam war plummeted, the same is now happening in relation to Afghanistan. There is no shortage of armchair warriors in Washington urging Obama to go with the McChrystal recipe of 40,000 more troops for Afghanistan. But the president is right to take his time. This is a critical moment for him. He makes a wrong move and it is him, not the sofa gladiators, who will have to take the fall.

Cambodia was a sideshow in the Vietnam conflict. Pakistan is not Cambodia to Afghanistan’s Vietnam. It is the buttress which sustains America’s Afghan enterprise. Take away the Pakistan army from this equation, and America’s continuing presence in Afghanistan becomes untenable. Pakistan’s role is thus not that of a satellite. It is the central point of the Afghan constellation. It is a failure of Pakistani leadership that instead of being in the driving seat of strategy formulation Pakistan is made to look like a supplicant holding on to America’s coattails.

This is all the more strange when set against another phenomenon: whereas anti-war sentiment is on the rise in the US, over the last few months we have seen a burgeoning pro-war movement in Pakistan, expressed in the feeling that enough is enough and extremism must be countered head on.

A small body of critics apart—spearheaded by the Jamaat-e-Islami and Imran Khan—all the signs suggest that there is popular backing for the army. After a long time (and may this never end) nation and army are marching to the same tune.

But where is the higher direction of this war? Who is laying down the political parameters of this conflict? We know that Gen Ashfaq Kayani, the army chief, is directing the military effort. There are no doubts on this score. But who is the political commander-in-chief, the Churchill—and I will have to be forgiven this analogy, but just to make things clear—to Kayani’s Montgomery?

As our army moves against the strongholds of the Taleban in South Waziristan, where is the higher direction of war? Where is the political leadership? Who will attend to the political aspects of this struggle?

The foremost political aspect relates to our relationship with the US. This is a relationship full of contradictions. The US is our ally---or rather we are doing the donkey’s work in this partnership---but its continued presence in Afghanistan is turning out to be our biggest headache. We are engaged in a grim struggle to defeat militancy and subversion. But the US presence in Afghanistan is the principal factor now keeping militancy alive.

Vietnam knew no peace until the Americans withdrew from there. Afghanistan will know no peace, and Pakistan will not be able to insulate itself from its effects, until the last American soldier gets out of Afghanistan.

Clearly, the Americans won’t get out of Afghanistan because we tell them. They will exit, when they finally do, out of their own calculations and compulsions. But the political direction of the war from our side demands that Pakistan not appear as a sentry man at America’s door, because that compromises our position and fighting the Taleban becomes all that much harder.

We should be seen as our own masters, acting in our own interests, not America’s. But for this fine balancing act to succeed it is essential that we keep some distance from the Americans and engage in a dialogue of equals with them.

What the US is now beginning to undergo in Afghanistan is a trauma. We may be a cash-strapped country with a perpetual begging bowl in our hands but America is stuck in a quagmire. Between a begging bowl and a quagmire there is not much to choose.

The objection to the Kerry-Lugar act is not that it compromises our sovereignty but that it makes us look like a lackey receiving his wages. Pakistan may have done foolish things in the past but the Swat and South Waziristan operation are tokens of a new beginning. Our soldiers’ sacrifices don’t go with a lackey image.

The Americans are telling us what to do, which is strange given that they are not doing too well in Afghanistan. They should be listening rather than giving sermons. Being their allies, and taking more hits than they are, it is now time for us to tell them that their occupation can’t last much longer. Sooner than they now think possible, it will have to be rolled back and other options examined. When they depart we will still be here. Bolstering Pakistan and its military should not be seen thus as a favour. From America’s point of view it should be a strategic necessity.

But such exchanges are possible only if the political direction of this conflict is in firm hands. This is where our weakness lies: where there should be leadership there is a yawning chasm. The military is on its own and that is never a good thing.

Read more!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Confessions of a Foodie: From the Flavors of Thiland to Vietnam

Fresh, salubrious, innovative, and heavenly divine: these are the elements that fuel my addiction to the flavors of Thailand and Vietnam. Rarely do I have the opportunity to laud over food that is actually healthy and absent of the artery-clogging fun that exists in our rendered pork fat-loving society. The masterful synthesis of aromatic herbs, flavorful chilies, rich meat stocks, and an avant-garde use of spices often spark insatiable cravings for the delights of Southeast Asia.

Having tasted the exotic dishes of Thailand firsthand, I can differentiate between true multidimensional Southeast Asian cuisine and homogeneously seasoned, Asian-like food devoured by those with less than discerning palates. The cornucopia of subtle herbs, spices, seasonings, and vegetables including basil, citrus fruits, nutmeg, culantro, mint, chilies, and coriander lend Thai and Vietnamese food its distinctive, multilayered flavors.

I grew to adore these tastes from an early age, but just recently have the cuisines of Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Indonesia flourished in popularity and authenticity stateside. This recent development is allowing more Americans than ever to broaden their horizons and experience a taste of Asia that they may not be accustomed to.

I was standing in my kitchen last week, lamenting over eating leftovers for dinner, when I came across a box of spaghetti, a bottle of Texas Pete, and oddly enough, a jar of peanut butter. I had no intention of cooking such bizarre ingredients together, but it did remind me of slurping Pad Thai on the streets of Bangkok. The thought of those soft rice noodles, lightly tossed with egg, fish sauce, tamarind, red chilies, and topped with crunchy peanuts made my mouth water and initiated a desperate craving for Pho Hien Vuong on Spring Garden Street. Leftovers would have to wait until tomorrow.

Pho Hien Vuong is among the most authentic and delicious Southeast Asian cuisine on the East Coast. Their menu is impressively expansive, brimming with both Thai and Vietnamese favorites such as Ph? (Vietnamese noodle soup, pronounced, "fah"), G?i Cu?n (fresh Vietnamese spring rolls), Tom Yum (hot and sour Thai seafood soup), and of course: Pad Thai. First on my menu that evening was an order of Fresh Spring Rolls. I asked Trang, my server and fellow UNCG Spartan, to add roasted pork and basil to the delicate Vermicelli rice noodles, plump shrimp, and earthy vegetables, which are then cloaked in a sheet of rice paper and served immediately.

The urgency in which the rolls are served is substantial, because rice paper quickly becomes rigid and flavorless minutes after being activated in water and rolled into G?i Cu?n. The rolls are complemented by a rich, homemade peanut sauce that pairs perfectly with a touch of spicy Sriracha (known colloquially as "Rooster Sauce") to lend the dish some heat. Read more!

Obama Administration Fares Even Worse than Bush at the UN, Says Fund for Reconciliation and Development

NEW YORK, Oct. 28 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The following is being released by the Fund for Reconciliation and Development: "Obama Administration pledges of multi-lateralism and respect for the views of other nations suffered today in the United Nations. Amazingly, Obama did even worse than the Bush Administration when votes on a resolution to condemn the unilateral US embargo of Cuba rose from 185 to 187 in favor, 3 opposed."

John McAuliff, executive director of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, also commented that, "continued accommodation to the dwindling special interest minority of Senator Bob Menendez and other hard line Cuban Americans is undermining the international credibility of the President."

"To redeem his reputation, President Obama must quickly send a signal more compatible with the values and aspirations he voiced at the United Nations, several international venues, and during his campaign. He should declare his readiness to sign legislation which ends all restrictions on travel by Americans to Cuba, and, in the interim, to use his own power to authorize all visits for educational, cultural, religious and humanitarian purposes," McAuliff said.

"US hypocrisy in defense of the embargo is equaled by Israel's hypocrisy in voting with us. Its own citizens, unlike Americans, vacation, invest and work in Cuba," he concluded.

McAuliff founded the Fund for Reconciliation and Development in 1985 to bring about normal US diplomatic, cultural and trade relations with Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. With the success of that effort he redirected his work to the similar problem of US relations with Cuba. He has visited Cuba at least annually during the past decade. Read more!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Thais protest outside Cambodia embassy over invite

By AMBIKA AHUJA,Associated Press Writer

BANGKOK – Dozens of demonstrators gathered Tuesday outside Cambodia's embassy in Bangkok to protest an offer of refuge from that country's leader to Thailand's ousted and fugitive prime minister.

About 80 people gathered a week after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen called former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra a "political victim."

Relations between the countries are already strained by a dispute over border territory near the 11th century Preah Vihear temple, which has led to small but deadly military skirmishes over the past year and a half.

Thaksin was ousted by a 2006 military coup on accusations of corruption and later sentenced to two years in prison for violating a conflict of interest law.

Hun Sen said he was welcome anytime in Cambodia and could become his economic adviser.

Thaksin left Thailand before his conviction last year. Though he is probably the country's most popular politician, the Thai government has said it would request his extradition if he went to Cambodia, and Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Hun Sen was "seriously misinformed" in saying Thaksin was being politically persecuted.

Abhisit played down speculation that the issue will further hurt ties between the two countries.

"Right now, Cambodia understands our feelings," Abhisit told reporters Tuesday.

A statement by Tuesday's protesters said, "We would like to condemn Hun Sen for his atrocious action which is in contempt of Thailand, the Thai government, the Thai army and the Thai people."

The group, the "People's Assembly of Thailand," appears to be affiliated with the People's Alliance for Democracy, which in 2006 campaigned for Thaksin's ouster. The alliance denies any connection, though the People's Assembly is led by one of its top leaders.

Thailand has revoked Thaksin's passport, and much of his fortune remains frozen in Thai banks. He has been barred from several countries following diplomatic pressure.

Read more!

Tigers Said to be on “Verge of Extinction”

by The Associated Press

(AP) - The world's tiger population is declining fast despite efforts to save them, and new strategies are urgently needed to keep the species from dying out, international wildlife experts said Tuesday.

"We are assembled here to save tigers that are at the verge of extinction," Nepal's secretary of forest and soil conservation, Yuvaraj Bhusal, told a conference of tiger experts from 20 countries, including the 13 where wild tigers are still found.

An estimated 3,500 to 4,000 tigers now roam the world's forests, down from the more than 100,000 estimated at the beginning of the 20th century. All the remaining tigers are in Asia.

Participants at the conference, which also includes the World Bank, the World Wildlife Fund and other groups, plan to discuss strategies for tiger conservation, as well as challenges such as poaching, the trade of tiger parts and conflicts between tigers and local populations.

In a recent case, a Sumatran tiger died after being caught in a pig snare last week in Indonesia, the country's news agency, Antara, reported Monday. The report said the tiger died as it was being prepared for surgery Monday. Only about 250 Sumatran tigers remain in the wild.

"Despite our efforts in the last three decades, tigers still face threats of survival. The primary threat is from poaching and habitat loss," Nepal's prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal told the conference.

He said extreme poverty has also challenged efforts.

"Global and regional solidarity and corrective measures are more necessary now than ever to face these challenges," the prime minister said.

Bhusal, the forest secretary, said participants hope to make high-level policy makers in their countries more aware of the animal's possible extinction.

The 13 countries where wild tigers are still found include Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam.

The conference continues through Friday.
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Women's Conference opens on notes of sadness and hope

Somaly Mam, a native of Cambodia was forced into sex slavery as a youth. After escaping she vowed to fight the practice and started Acting for Women in Distressing Circumstances, in 1996 with her French husband, Pierre. Mam spoke during the morning session of the California Conference on Women held inside the Long Beach Sports Arena on Tuesday, October 27, 2009. ( Diandra Jay/Press-Telegram)

By Kelly Puente, Staff Writer

LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Somaly Mam, a native of Cambodia who was sold into sex slavery as a child, fought back tears as she told her story in front of thousands of women.

"I have to show people we have hope in life," she said. "I'm not alone anymore. I know that all of you are here."

Mam was able to escape the brothel that was her prison and now dedicates her life to helping other victims of sex slavery. Through her organization, "Acting for Women in Distressing Circumstances," Mam has saved more than 5,000 girls, but with 1 in 40 Cambodian girls still being sold into sex slavery, the need is urgent.

"How many of them are still in a brothel now?" she asks.

More than 10,000 people packed the Long Beach Convention Center and Arena today for the annual Women's Conference. The first session, which kicked off at 8 a.m., focused on themes of self-worth, empowerment and leadership with speakers including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, actress Geena Davis, Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson and playwright Eve Ensler.

In a roundtable discussion on leadership in hard economic times,Schwarzenegger said not everyone may like his decisions, but it's his job as a leader to take risks and make tough choices.

"It's always more fun to lead in good times," the governor said. "But you also have to lead in tough times and leadership (now) is more important than ever."

Branson, who took a somewhat unconventional rout on his rise to become the Virgin Goup mega mogul, spoke of the importance of taking risks and not being afraid to fail.

"If you're bold and you're brave and not afraid of falling on your face and trying things, ultimately you will succeed," he said.

Aside from harsh economic times, Ensler said the world is also facing dangerous times as women around the world are victims of horrific violence. Now is the time, she said, for women to fight back.

"Dangerous times require great, bold passionate responses," Ensler said. "Be braver, be bolder, stand up, resist and find your voice."

Author Cheryl Saban spoke candidly of her own experience being raped at age 18 and her struggle to regain her self-confidence. Years after the incident, the author said a moment of fear during a public speech made her realize that she still harbored feelings of inadequacy and


"I had subconsciously let an incident in my life stunt my self-worth," she said "I discovered my voice had been muzzled."

Saban urged the women in the crowd, many of them tearful, to find their voices.

"You are an amazing force," she said. "Embrace it."
Read more!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Suthep sets out case for ending spat

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban has used his personal connections with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to defuse a potential diplomatic spat between the two countries.

Mr Suthep yesterday said he met the Cambodian leader for two hours on Saturday after a gala dinner hosted by Thailand for leaders attending the Asean summit.

The meeting was made necessary by Hun Sen's reiteration soon after arriving in Thailand last Friday, that former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was welcome to stay in Cambodia without fear of repatriation.

Mr Suthep's mission was to make the Cambodian leader understand the real situation in Thailand, particularly concerning the legal cases against Thaksin.

He explained that Thaksin was unlikely to return to Thailand any time soon and that the Democrat-led government was not "a temporary" administration.

Mr Suthep also clarified that Bangkok had allowed Sam Rainsy entry to Thailand in his capacity as leader of the Cambodian opposition. He said this should not be compared with Thaksin's position as Mr Rainsy was not a political fugitive wanted by Phnom Penh.

Hun Sen criticised Thailand on Friday for allowing his political rival to use the Kingdom to attack his government.

Mr Suthep earlier offered Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva his services in helping mend ties with Cambodia after Phnom Penh was angered by Thailand's protest against the listing of the Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage Site under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

He visited Hun Sen before the Democrats came to power and twice since.

Mr Suthep was appointed chairman of the Joint Technical Committee, a position normally headed by the foreign minister, based on his close ties with the Cambodian leader.

The Joint Technical Committee has the role of demarcating the overlapping maritime boundary in the Gulf of Thailand and jointly developing areas where the issue of sovereignty cannot be settled.

Read more!

JSM IndoChina rejects Passport Capital claims

JSM IndoChina, an AIM-listed property fund focused on Cambodia and Vietnam, hit back at an activist shareholder yesterday, rubbishing claims of mismanagement.

Passport Capital, a San Francisco-based investor holding a 13.4 per cent stake, requisitioned a special general meeting last week in an attempt to oust the board and return surplus cash to shareholders, claiming that JSM had moved too slowly to spend its IPO proceeds.

JSM said that Passport merely was trying to obtain a short-term gain through a cash return at the cost of the future sustainability and growth of the company, and at the expense of fellow shareholders.

The group added that it believed Passport’s accusations — which called into question JSM’s corporate governance over issues such as loans to directors and payment of investment management fees — were unfounded and without merit. The shares fell 0.04p to 0.69p.

Churchill Mining rose 8½p to 113½p after it said that an initial reserve estimate at its East Kutai Coal Project in Indonesia had shown it to have 956 million tonnes of thermal coal.

Rockhopper Petroleum fell 5½p to 59p after it said that it had raised £50 million in a placing of 92.6 million shares at 54p through Canaccord Adams to fund drilling in the Falkland Islands. Aurelian Oil & Gas rose 2½p to 19½p after the AIM-listed group said that a well it had drilled in Romania has struck gas and as the company sealed a gas sales agreement in Poland. Zenergy Power fell 2p to 114½, despite getting a new order for an induction heater and saying that its superconductor was now considered commercially favourable by four industrial metals producers.
Read more!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Chinese Premier Raises Border Stability at Asean Summit


CHA-AM, Thailand—China’s Premier Wen Jiabao talked with his Burmese counterpart Gen Thein Sein about stability and peace along the Sino-Burmese border during the Asean-China Summit, which met in conjunction with the 15th Asean Summit on Saturday in Cha-am, Thailand.

Wen told Thein Sein that Beijing “hopes that the Burmese regime will achieve stability, national reconciliation and development” in Burma, according to the China Ministry of Foreign Affairs Web site.

Wen said that the Sino-Burma relationship is conducive to “regional peace and development,” while pledging development aid to Burma.

To inject “new vitality” in bilateral relations, China will provide support and assistance to strengthen the economy and trade, infrastructure, utilities, energy and other areas, Wen said.

Wen and Thein Sein’s meeting on Saturday was the highest level contact since 37,000 Kokang Chinese refugees in Burma fled to China in September, following a government military offensive against the Kokang ethnic militias in northeastern Burma. At least two Chinese citizens were reportedly killed, and there was widespread looting by government troops of property owned by Chinese citizens.

Wen attended the Asean-China Summit as well as the East Asia Summit (EAS) along with heads of state from Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India.

The EAS chairman statement called for a free, fair and inclusive election in 2010 in Burma.

“We encouraged the Myanmar [Burma] government to ensure the implementation of the Seven-Step Roadmap to Democracy,” the statement said.

The Asean and the EAS chairman statements over the weekend did not mention the release of Burmese political prisoners including pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Asean-member countries called for the release of all political prisoners at the 14th Asean Summit in late February and at the Asean Regional Forum in July.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejijjiva said at a press conference on Sunday that Burmese issues were discussed at the Asean and two other summits throughout the weekend.

He said Thein Sein told leaders at the summits that Suu Kyi was a part of the process of national reconciliation.

Japan, under the new administration of the Democratic Party of Japan, raised the issue of Burma’s democratization process at the Asean + 3 Summit and the East Asia Summit, according to Kazuo Kodama, a Japan foreign ministry spokesman.

Kodama said Japan Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama told his Burma counterpart that Japan hoped all stakeholders in Burma’s democratization process would be included in the 2010 elections.

Kodama said Japan, during its meeting with junta officials, called for the release of Suu Kyi and other political prisoners before the election.

Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win met with Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada in Cambodia in early October, and he told Okada that Suu Kyi would be released before her current 18-month house arrest term expires, Kodama said.

Read more!

CORRECTED: ASEAN divided over inclusion of U.S. in envisaged E. Asia community+

community+ (AP) - HUA HIN, Thailand, Oct. 25 (Kyodo)—Leaders of the 10-member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are divided over whether the United States should be included in an East Asian community as envisaged by Japan's new leader Yukio Hatoyama, senior ASEAN officials said Sunday.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that as of this juncture, half of ASEAN members favor inclusion of the United States and the other oppose it.

Hatoyama said Saturday in a 13-nation summit meeting with ASEAN leaders and those from China and South Korea, held at Thailand's seaside resort of Hua Hin, that he favors U.S. involvement in the envisioned community for closer regional cooperation.

But what the Japanese prime minister meant by U.S. involvement remains unclear as he has been vague on specifics.

Hatoyama later told reporters, "I don't intend to exclude the United States or any other country."

Meanwhile, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya told a press conference that ASEAN leaders welcomed Hatoyama's initiative, saying that while an East Asian community is possible to achieve, it would take time.

But at this stage, according to ASEAN senior officials, only the five original ASEAN members -- Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand -- have indicated that they favor having the United States on board.

ASEAN also includes Brunei and the grouping's less-developed newer members Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.

Some of those opposed are concerned that inclusion of the United States would make the community to large and unwieldy, and that ASEAN would lose its core role and become a "minority" in the community, the ASEAN officials said.

But some of those in favor feel U.S. inclusion would be of benefit to ASEAN, by helping offset the strong influence that China would have in the proposed community, for example.

One official said ASEAN is now thinking on "how many legs" the East Asia community should have -- "13 legs, 16 legs or more than that?"

ASEAN, which is already committed to forging an ASEAN Community by has already for years played a central role by hosting two separate annual gatherings of leaders of countries outside Southeast Asia -- the 13-nation ASEAN-plus-three summit with Japan, China, and South Korea, as well as 16-nation East Asia Summit that also includes Australia, India and New Zealand.

Whether or not the United States will be included in a future East Asian community aside, it has been strengthening its role and influence in the region.

In July, the Washington consolidated relations with the four Lower Mekong nations of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam through the holding of their first-ever ministerial meeting, while next month the first-ever U.S.-ASEAN summit will be held, marking a historic point in the ASEAN-U.S. Dialogue Relations that began in 1977.

ASEAN leaders, in a statement Saturday, welcomed the upcoming summit and said it reflects the "strong commitment" of the new administration of U.S. President Barack Obama "to deepen and expand its engagement with ASEAN."

The Philippines, which has been tasked by ASEAN to coordinate its relations with the United States, has drafted a concept paper on ASEAN-U.S. relations that suggests future cooperation in the seven areas -- global economy, nuclear-proliferation and disarmament, climate change, disaster management, health pandemics, energy security and fighting transnational crime, according to the officials.

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Cambodia's new park protects tigers, elephants and CO2

Washington, October 25 (ANI): The government of Cambodia has transformed a former logging concession into a new, Yosemite-sized protected area that safeguards not only threatened primates, tigers, and elephants, but also massive stores of carbon.

The Royal Government's Council of Ministers recently declared the creation of the Seima Protection Forest, which covers more than 1,100 square miles along Cambodia's eastern border with Vietnam.

"We commend the Royal Government of Cambodia for their decision to protect this important refuge for the region's wildlife and also for safeguarding stocks of carbon," said WCS Asia Program Director Colin Poole.

Seima is the first protected area in Cambodia created with the conservation of forest carbon as one of its key goals.

WCS is helping to measure carbon stocks contained in Seima Protection Forest to calculate the total amount of carbon dioxide emissions that will not be released to the atmosphere as a result of the project's work on reducing deforestation.

This effort will support WCS's "Carbon for Conservation" initiatives to help provide incentives to people to protect their forest in high-biodiversity landscapes, which are being developed in conjunction with negotiations on a proposed international policy known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD).

In addition to work in Cambodia, WCS is supporting similar efforts in Bolivia, Guatemala, Chile, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Madagascar, and Indonesia.

"In addition to safeguarding the wildlife of Cambodia, Seima Protection Forest will serve as an important model for demonstrating how REDD could be implemented on the ground," said Dr. Jane Carter Ingram of WCS's Conservation Support Team.

"Forests provide numerous benefits for both wildlife and rural communities, so efforts such as these will help on local, regional and global scales," she added.

The newly designated protected area contains 23 species of carnivore, including seven cat species, two bears, and two species of wild dog. (ANI)

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Vietnam, Cambodia seeks ways to lift investment ties

Leaders from the Ministries of Planning and Investment of Vietnam and Cambodia met in southwestern Tay Ninh province on October 23-24 to discuss measures to step up bilateral cooperative relations.

The Vietnamese delegation was led by Deputy Minister Truong Van Doan, while the Cambodian mission was headed by Secretary of State at the Ministry of Planning Hu Taing Eng.

Doan said the recent cooperation between the two ministries as well as border provinces have yielded promising results, especially in investment, agriculture, transport, trade, exports and human resources development.

However, Doan stressed that the cooperation in a number of areas have yet to match aspirations of both sides.

The deputy minister proposed that the ministries increase the exchange of experiences, support each other in personnel training, and join hands to raise two-way trade.

He also called on provinces along the shared border to boost cooperation in line with the agreements already signed between the two governments.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

'Cool' Thais downplay verbal spat with Cambodia

Cha-am, Thailand - Thailand on Saturday downplayed a diplomatic spat that erupted with Cambodia at a South-East Asian in Cha-am over the weekend that was to supposed to demonstrate regional solidarity and "connectivity."The summit got off to rocky start Friday after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen announced upon arrival his intention to provide asylum to fugitive former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra and to offer him a job as economic advisor.

Hun Sen also insisted Cambodia would not extradite Thaksin, who faces a two-tear jail sentence in Thailand on abuse-of-pwer chareges, if he moved to Cambodia.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, for whom Thaksin is an arch political foe, responded to Hun Sen's diplomatic offensive by suggesting the Cambodian premier had been misinformed and was being used as a "pawn" by Thaksin, who has been living in self-exile since August, 2008.

Despite the tempestuous start, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya insisted the summit had been carried out with "civility."

"We have been approaching everything in a very cool, impartial manner," Kaset told a press conference after the conclusion of a two- day summit among the leaders of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Cha-am, 130 kilometres south-west of Bangkok.

He said Hun Sen had participated in all the talks "in a constructive manner," and had even backed a proposal that Thailand become the base for a regional emergency financial fund to be set up at the end of the year with a suggested pooled amount of 120 billion dollars.

"It's not like our differences will make us hate each other," Kasit said. "There is civility. There is a need to foster and build up the relationship as much as possible."

Thailand and Cambodia have a long history of animosity and border spats, the latest one being over joint claims to land adjacent to the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple on the Thai-Cambodian border that broke out last year.

A pro-Thaksin government in July, last year backed Cambodia's bid to get the temple listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site despite an unsettled territory dispute.

The previous government was charged with helping Phnom Penh to benefit from one of Thaksin's business deals in Cambodia. The new Thai government under Abhisit has insisted on settling the territorial dispute before opening the temple to tourists again.

Thaksin has a long personal relationship with Hun Sen dating back to when he was a business tycoon and won a 90-year concession to offer telecommunication services in Cambodia.

ASEAN, which includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, has followed a policy of non-interference with one another's internal and even bilateral affairs.

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Japan pushes for Asia bloc, US role uncertain

Japan’s prime minister backed a US role for a proposed EU-style Asian community on Saturday, telling Southeast Asian leaders Tokyo’s alliance with Washington was at the heart of its diplomacy.

Making a case for an East Asian Community at a summit of Asian leaders in Thailand, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said there should be some US involvement in the bloc, which faces stiff obstacles including Japan’s historic rivalry with China.

It was unclear how a US role would work. But the comment may help allay concern in some countries that such a body would ultimately fail by shutting out the world’s biggest economy.

Hatoyama may also be trying to defuse U.S.-Japan tension over the long-planned reorganisation of the American military presence in Japan, the first big test of ties between Washington and the new Japanese government.

‘Japan places the U.S.-Japan alliance at the foundation of its diplomacy,’ Hatoyama said at the meeting, according to a Japanese government spokesman.

‘I would like to firmly promote regional cooperation in East Asia with a long-term vision of forming an East Asian Community.’ Several Southeast Asian leaders expressed support for the bloc, but none spoke of a US role at the meetings.

The talks are part of a three-day leaders’ summit which got off to a rancorous start on Friday, marred by a diplomatic spat between Thailand and neighbour Cambodia, a trade feud over Filipino rice and a few no-shows in the 10-member Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

China had a very different message at the meetings, signalling possible trouble ahead for Hatoyama. While he promoted a new community, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao focused on the current one, delivering what Chinese state media described as a six-point proposal for strengthening links with ASEAN.

This included developing a recently signed China-ASEAN free trade pact and accelerating regional infrastructure construction.

An ASEAN statement summing up talks within its own members urged its most recalcitrant state, Myanmar, to ensure elections next year are free and fair, though it stopped short of seeking the release of detained pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

That came a day after ASEAN launched a human rights commission as part of a plan to build an economic and political community by 2015, and drew a scathing rebuke from rights activists who said it was toothless and lacked independence.

The region’s leaders also called on North Korea to return to six-way nuclear disarmament talks.

The summit in the resort town of Hua Hin gave Asia’s economic titans, China and Japan, a chance to jockey for influence in Southeast Asia, a region of 570 million people with a combined $1.1 trillion economy, as it pulls out of recession.

Japan’s new government sees its influence bound to the East Asian Community, an idea inspired by the European Union that would account for nearly a quarter of global economic output.

It would encompass Japan, China, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand, along with ASEAN countries.

After meetings with China, Japan and South Korea, ASEAN holds talks on Sunday with India, Australia and New Zealand.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on Sunday will push another idea for a new, separate forum of Asia-Pacific nations to respond to regional crises. His idea includes the United States.

Washington has stepped up Asian diplomacy under the Obama administration and fears missing out on such groupings, especially as Japan considers redefining its US security alliance, and Beijing expands its diplomatic and trade presence.

Exactly how Washington would participate is uncertain.

Asked if Washington would be a member of the Community, a Japanese government official told reporters: ‘It remains unclear. We have to see how multilateral meetings will turn out today.’

The proposal wasn’t elaborated upon, said Mari Elka Pangestu, trade minister of Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s biggest economy. ‘How the US participates — because the US is one of our dialogue partners — we need to think through.’

China has been coy about the idea while rapidly expanding ties across Southeast Asia — from building sleek new government offices in Cambodia to working closely with reclusive Myanmar.

‘China wants to establish healthy relations with the new government in Japan, so it is not going to object to discussing this idea,’ said Shi Yinhong, a regional security professor at Beijing’s Renmin University.

‘But everybody understands the idea of an East Asia Community is extremely far off,’ he added.

Host Thailand deployed about 18,000 security personnel backed by military gunships, determined to avoid a rerun of mishaps at past summits.

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Thai-Cambodia spat couds ASEAN Summit

, Oct 24 : A war of words between Southeast Asian neighbours Thailand and Cambodia over coup-ousted Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra, has marred the ASEAN Summit taking place at Hua Hin near here.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is current chair of the 10-nation grouping, has questioned his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen's defence of Mr Thaksin, who was ousted in a bloodless coup in September 2006.''What is the purpose of Prime Minister Hun Sen coming to Thailand? And what has he said that was in line with the aim of the meeting?'' Mr Abhisit told a press conference.

Mr Abhisit was responding to Mr Hun Sen's reported remarks to the press on his arrival in Hua Hin that his country was ready to offer refuge to Mr Thaksin, who is living abroad in self-imposed exile to avoid prosecution in Thailand on corruption charges.

Mr Hun Sen added that the former Thai Prime Minister could become his economic advisor and insisted that Phnom Penh would not be legally obliged to extradite Mr Thaksin on Bangkok's request.

Mr Hun Sen said Mr Thaksin was a political victim of the 2006 military takeover in Bangkok and compared him to Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Thai Prime Minister said the ASEAN Summit was aimed at building a stronger Southeast Asian community and dismissed his Cambodian counterpart's remarks.

''(ASEAN) has no time to pay attention to a person who wants to destroy ASEAN unity. And I hope Prime Minister Hun Sen will receive the right information and change his mind on the matter,'' Mr Abhisit said. Read more!

Pressure Off Burmese PM


CHA-AM, Thailand — Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein was relaxed at the 15th Asean Summit in the Thai beach town of Hua Hin. The pressure he had felt from his counterparts in earlier meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) had simply evaporated.

The lack of significant criticsm of Burma at the current meeting, which ends on Sunday, was no doubt even felt by his boss, Sen-Gen Than Shwe, and other junta generals back in Naypyidaw, the capital.

The lack of criticism doesn’t mean that human rights violations in the military-ruled country have stopped. About 2,100 political prisoners still languish in its notorious jails and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is still under an 18-month house arrest.

What’s changed are regional and national factors: the current border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia; the tardy arrival of half of the Asean leaders because of a tropical storm; domestic political matters in the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Cambodia; and the negotiations involved in forming an Asean economic community by 2015, which was one of the summit’s chief goals.

More importantly, the diplomatic dance between Burma and the United States in recent weeks has overshadowed Burma’s presence at the summit. A US delegation will visit Burma soon to begin direct talks with junta leaders, part of a new US “engagement policy” announced in September.

At the Asean 2007 summit in Singapore, Thein Sein was pressure by his counterparts after the junta violently suppressed mass demonstrations organized by monks, killing and jailing peaceful protestors, which outraged the world community.

Asean host chair Singapore had invited UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari to Burma to brief the leaders of 16 Asian countries, including China and Japan, on his visits to Burma after the crackdown.

Thein Sein’s retort: “Nobody has the right to brief on Myanmar but me” caused a diplomatic furor and the invitation was revoked.

Thein Sein and his delegation also faced also Asean pressure at the 14th summit in Feb-Mar this year. The United States, as the strongest vocal critic of the military regime, raised the issue of Burma’s stonewalling on civil rights in one-on-one conversations with delegates. In addition, the civil society representatives highlighted the issue of the scores of Rohingya, who had fled Burma to Thailand by boat, to escape harsh economic conditions and discrimination in western Burma.

In July this year, Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win was the focus of Asean pressure at the ministerial meeting of the Asean Regional Forum. At that time, Suu Kyi, who was due to be released in May, faced trial, following the bizarre intrusion of an American into her Rangoon lakeside compound. Apart from her trial, international concerns also centered on Burma’s military ties with North Korea and the issue of nuclear weapons.

During this summit, Then Sein did manage to inject himself into the current tension between Thailand and Cambodia, following a war of words after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen offered sanctuary to fugitive ex-Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thein Sein reportedly told the Thai prime minister that Burma would not allow anyone to use its soil as a springboard to attack Thailand.

Even though the pressure was off Thein Sein at this summit, the Burma issue didn’t go away entirely. On Saturday, Asean leaders again called on the junta to conduct free and fair elections in 2010, but avoided criticizing it directly.

The statement read: “We underscore the importance of achieving national reconciliation and that the general elections to be held in Myanmar [Burma] in 2010 must be conducted in a fair, free, inclusive and transparent manner in order to be credible to the international community.”

Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya told reporters late Saturday that Asean didn’t take tougher measures this time because there were positive developments, such as the direct contact between Suu Kyi and the military regime and between the US and the regime. He said, however, Asean’s policy remains firm in terms of calling for the release of all political prisoners and including opposition groups in the upcoming election.

The diplomatic pressure that Burma has faced in the past has lessened, at least for right now, mostly because it comes at a time when the junta is undertaking face-to-face talks with the US.

However, some Burma watchers believe that Than Shwe is just “buying time” while the junta consolidates more power, as the generals have done over the past two decades.

One thing is clear. It was a mistake for Asean leaders to take a soft approach toward Burma at this summit, before the junta has made any significant progress toward democracy and national reconciliation.

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