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Friday, January 30, 2009

Border dispute 'now better understood'

Although the Preah Vihear issue seems to have cooled down, the Foreign Ministry's mission to build people's understanding about the issue continues through the Phra Viharn Centre headed by Paskorn Siriyaphan. The former diplomat based in Phnom Penh talks to THANIDA TANSUBHAPOL about this newly established office.

Why was the centre set up and when did it start operations?

The ministry set up the centre on Oct 8 last year and it started operations six days later. The centre is under the permanent secretary's office and is supervised by the Legal and Treaties Department chief.

Its mandate is to improve coordination among internal departments on the Preah Vihear issue. The International Organisation Department deals with Unesco, the Legal and Treaties Department deals with border issues, the East Asian Department deals with Cambodia on bilateral issues and the Information Department deals with public relations in general.

In addition, the centre will also take care of other issues which are not the particular responsibility of any department as well as acting as the secretariat for Preah Vihear issue meetings.

The centre was also set up under Article 190 (3) of the constitution which stipulates that prior to any binding agreements [about a border line change] being signed with the international community or an international organisation, cabinet must inform and provide the opinions of the public to parliament and be ready for any queries related to such an agreement.

The centre is responsible for providing information and listening to the public while border and demarcation talks with Cambodia are in progress.

What information has the centre given to the people?

We have four kinds of information. The first is the background of the border issue. The second describes the causes of the tension last year after Cambodia was trying to list the Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage site while some parts of the compound would have affected Thailand's rights as a claimant. The third explains what happened as the military forces of the two countries were still there. And the last explains what the ministry is doing to cut tension in the short term and negotiate under the framework of the Joint Boundary Commission (JBC) in the long run.

What is the aim of the centre? We would like people to understand more about the Preah Vihear issue and try not to use emotions or misunderstand things to launch accusations against each other.

Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya reaffirmed that the sharing of information with people must be done transparently and without conflict of interest.

He has also made this a priority of the centre.

The centre has also opened a webpage at the ministry's website to listen to public opinion. It will also develop booklets about the issue for public distribution soon.

What is your plan for sharing information with the public? We plan to reach out to people in each province every month. We held three public opinion sessions.

After parliament approved the short- and long-term negotiation frameworks with Cambodia on Oct 28 last year, we held the first session at Chulalongkorn University on Nov 6, the second on Dec 16 in Si Sa Ket and the latest on Jan 20 in Chanthaburi province.

The information will not be the same every time as we will update it to include the latest results of the minister's visits to Cambodia or the outcome of the latest JBC meeting.

We plan to repeat this in all seven provinces along the Thai-Cambodian border.

We will go back to Si Sa Ket again after there is progress in negotiations with Cambodia (because the temple is located opposite the Thai border in this province.)

Has public opinion changed after the three public meetings?

Yes. I think they understand the issue better. We will not try to argue with the public but will give them all the necessary facts. People in Si Sa Ket and Chanthaburi shared the same opinion that we must protect Thai sovereignty and must have a clear position over the Preah Vihear issue.

In the meantime, we must also keep a good relationship with Cambodia especially in trade between our two peoples. They would like to see trade come before politics and would like the situation to return to normal.

As long as there is a negotiation mechanism, the tension along the border will be toned down. Border demarcation will surely take a long time to complete but we should do everything to avoid further confrontation.

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UN criticises forced evictions in Cambodia

GENEVA, Jan 30 (Reuters) - The Cambodian government is forcing tens of thousands of poor people from their homes in a grave breach of human rights, a U.N. investigator said on Friday.

Raquel Rolnik, United Nations special rapporteur on adequate housing, called for a halt to the evictions in the Southeast Asian country.

"The increase in forced evictions throughout Cambodia is very alarming," Rolnik said in a statement.

Cambodian police fired teargas to move more than 130 families last weekend from a Phnom Penh slum facing the Mekong River, without giving them prior notice, she said. It was the latest of a series of land disputes in the country where garment factories and hotels are springing up fast.

Rolnik, a Brazilian architect and urban planner, said those evicted from the site that the Cambodian government had sold to a private company should be compensated for losing their homes.

Witnesses said an elderly woman and a boy were hit by a bulldozer during the nightime eviction, and other residents were injured by clubs and stones, some seriously.

Police denied using excessive force against the group who had waged a 3-year battle against their eviction.

"We did not use violence against them, but tear gas to disperse the people who resisted," Phnom Penh police chief G. Touch Naruth told Reuters.

In her statement, Rolnik said Cambodia sould stop the practice that results in increased homeless and destitution.

"Forced evictions constitute a grave breach of human rights. They can be carried out only in exceptional circumstances and with the full respect of international standards," she said. (Reporting by Laura MacInnis; Editing by Angus MacSwan)
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B.C. court rejects challenge of Canada's child-sex tourism law

VANCOUVER, B.C. — A British Columbia court has rejected a constitutional challenge of Canada's child-sex tourism law in the case of a man charged with abusing children in three countries, setting the stage for his trial 12 years after the alleged offences began.

Kenneth Klassen faces 35 charges for the exploitation and sexual abuse of children in Cambodia, Colombia and the Philippines between July 1997 and March 2002.

Klassen challenged the child-sex tourism law saying the incidents happened in other countries where Canadian courts have no jurisdiction.

But B.C. Supreme Court Justice Austin Cullen found that the law against child-sex tourism is internationally valid because so many countries have similar legislation and because of the existence of international children's rights treaties.

"In the absence of extraterritorial legislation, Canada would become a safer harbour for those who engage in the economic or sexual exploitation of children," Cullen wrote in a recent decision.

"The sale of children and the sexual exploitation of children through prostitution and the creation of child pornography are thus activities which, conducted anywhere, a nation has a sovereign interest in preventing among itsnationals or residents, simply because of their nationality or residence."

According to the United Nations, as of Jan. 5, 130 countries have signed an international treaty agreeing to the creation of extraterritorial laws against child-sex offences, including Cambodia, Colombia and the Philippines.

The child-sex tourism laws in Canada were enacted in 1997 and bolstered five years later to no longer require the consent of the foreign country where allegations of sexual abuse took place.

Klassen was the first to challenge the law on constitutional grounds.

In 2005, Vancouver hotel employee Donald Bakker was the first Canadian to be convicted under the law.

Bakker received a 10-year sentence for 10 sexual assaults on girls between seven and 12 in Cambodia, where he videotaped his horrific exploits.

Last November, two Quebec aid workers pleaded guilty to sexually abusing teenage boys while working at an orphanage in Haiti.

Armand Huard, 65, was sentenced to three years in prison after he pleaded guilty to 10 out of 13 charges of sexual touching and invitation to sexual touching.

Denis Rochefort, 59, who worked at the same orphanage, was sentenced to two years for similar acts.

Klassen, a 58-year-old father of three, is accused of abusing girls as young as nine. He was charged in March 2007 after a two-and-a-half-year international investigation that netted videos showing a man having sex with young girls.

He was charged with 14 counts of sexual interference, 14 counts of invitation to sexual touching, three counts of making child pornography, three counts of procuring and one count of permitting illegal sexual activity.

University of British Columbia law professor Benjamin Perrin, an expert in child-sex tourism legislation, said the court decision is a major victory for those who have been fighting for the rights of children abused abroad by foreigners.

"It's the first decision by a Canadian court which does confirm the constitutional validity of this child-sex tourism legislation," he said.

"I also provides a significant boost for prosecutors, non-governmental organizations who work in this area and police to begin to more proactively enforce Canada's child-sex tourism law."

Last November, international representatives at a conference in Rio de Janeiro called on various countries, including Canada, to designate a lead agency to enforce extraterritorial laws related to the sexual exploitation of children.

Perrin said the RCMP's National Child Exploitation Co-Ordination Centre needs to proactively enforce Canada's laws by training officers in child-sex tourism hot spots and work with non-governmental organizations that assist victims of western sex offenders.

Participants at the conference also encouraged countries to establish an international notice system to warn other jurisdictions about travelling sex offenders so they could refuse them entry.
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Cambodia: Internet censorship targets artists

As the number of Internet users has been growing rapidly in Southeast Asia in recent years, online censorship has proliferated, from China to Cambodia, as if it runs through the Mekong river.

Not only the “Great Firewall of China” that is known to many people, democratic country like Thailand also blocks a large number of Web sites; in Vietnam, its Ministry of Information and Communication has recently released a circular to regulate and enforce blogging rules in the country in late 2008. With rules and regulations in place, these governments have developed and deployed their own censorship machine to control how citizens publish and access online contents.

Although Cambodia has the lowest Internet penetration rate (70,000 users as of 2007), artists, however, are more recognized not through offline exhibitions, but their presence on the world wide web. This increasing use of blog to reach out larger audiences attracts more than attention and support.

A former freelance editorial cartoonist for Far Eastern Economic Review from 1997-1999, Bun Heang Ung presently lives in Australia. Observing his home country Cambodia from the other side, the 57-year-old cartoonist launched Sacrava Toons blog in 2004, nearly a decade after he published ‘The Murderous Revolution : Life and Death in Pol Pot's Kampuchea,' his first book of black and white line illustrations that tells his very own experiences of the Khmer Rouge regime. In voicing his opinions, the talented cartoonist publish his drawings of all things that matter to him on the Web. In one of his recent posts, he used ‘I have a dream' as a backdrop for his illustration of Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States.

Recently, according to Wikileaks, the political cartoonist's blog is being blocked in Thailand, where its Ministry of Information and Communication Technology is in charge of banning Internet sites that violates its Kingdom's lèse majesté.

Cambodian blogger Thom Vanak, at Blog By Khmer, made his point on the issue:

Regarding Lèse majesté, although I think it's archaic and outdated law in this day and age, but nevertheless, it's still Thai's law. If I ever set my foot on Thai soil I would respect their laws. The same if I'm to visit any other country, I would respect the local laws of that country.

While the prominent cartoonist's blog appears on censorship list (as of 20 Dec 2008) by Thailand, the Cambodian Ministry of Women's Affairs, in December last year, threatened to block a Web site that contains artistic illustrations of bare-breasted Apsara dancers and a Khmer Rouge soldier. The attempt to shut down (or at least to filter it by Internet Service Providers in the Cambodian capital) was echoed by a human rights activist, who was quoted as saying that “the Web site should be shut down because it appealed too much to young Cambodians.” is currently not accessible by Internet visitors in Cambodia, while there is no issue with access in the U.S. The error message appears:

Screenshot of site being filtered by Cambodia's Internet Service Providers

Cambodia's most prominent anonymous blog author at ‘Cambodia: Details are Sketchy' wrote about the controversial issue:

“If anyone should understand the value of free speech, the deputy director of communication and advocacy at Licadho seems a likely candidate. It is disheartening that Vann Sophath supports censoring Reahu’s illustrations”

Artist Reahu posted a note on his site, recently becoming popular after gaining media attentions in the past few months, in response to his critics:

Judging from the complaints, I wonder how we as Khmer will be able to make it in the 21st Century. Please be open-minded, you must be able to see beyond the four walls surrounding your hut.

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