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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Cambodian PM calls for more ASEAN-EU partnership, cooperation

PHNOM PENH, May 28 (Xinhua) -- Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Senon Thursday called on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the European Union (EU) to continue strengthening partnership and cooperation in response to the global challenges.

"I strongly believe that ASEAN and the EU can play a more active and more forceful role in the world," the premier said in his keynote address at the opening ceremony of the 17th ASEAN-EU Ministerial Meeting (AEMM) at Chaktomuk Conference Hall.

"There is no room for a passive role for us, and we - ASEAN and the EU collectively - need to take on the global challenges with head on," he added.

The 17th AEMM which opened here Thursday will focus on ASEAN-EU's enhanced partnership and cooperation, as well as the world economic and financial crisis and other regional and international issues.

The meeting under the theme of "ASEAN-EU Partnership for Peace, Economic Growth and Development" is also scheduled to address issues of ASEAN integration, food and energy security, and the environment.

Hun Sen, in his speech, reviewed and spoke highly of the ASEAN-EU cooperation, saying "our close relations at present are becoming ever stronger and covering a wide range of areas."

The premier also underlined six areas for further enhancing the cooperation and partnership between the ASEAN and EU, such as continuing implementing the ASEAN-EU Action Plan, moving quickly to realize the EU/EC's accession to the TAC (the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia), supporting each other in the areas of integration and the community building process, and strengthening ASEAN-EU cooperation in the regional and international forum.

On the issue of the global economic and financial crisis, Hun Sen said "the current crisis presents both the danger and the opportunity for some countries, particularly those in the developing world."

But he warned that "the danger is that some countries may resort to protectionism." He asked to "reform the international financial institutions" to serve the interests of all.

This biennial ASEAN-EU ministerial meeting were attended by representatives from all the 10 ASEAN countries and the 27 EU member states, as well as the delegates from ASEAN Secretariat and EU Commission.

Cambodian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Hor Namhong and Jan Kohout, Czech deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs whose country is current EU president, are co-presidents of the meeting.

The 16th Ministerial Meeting between ASEAN and EU was held in Germany in 2007.

The ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
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Activists in Cambodia urge release of Suu Kyi

PHNOM PENH (AFP) - Rights activists demanded freedom for Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday, ahead of a series of meetings between European Union and Southeast Asian ministers in Cambodia.

Dozens of Western, Myanmar and Cambodian rights campaigners demonstrated at the Myanmar embassy in Phnom Penh, urging ministers to pressure the ruling junta to release the opposition leader and other political prisoners.

"We are asking ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) that is meeting with the EU (European Union) to raise this issue to be discussed during the meeting," said Kek Galabru, president of a local rights group.

"ASEAN must push for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi," she added. Asian and European foreign ministers on Tuesday called for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other Myanmar political prisoners after two days of Asia-Europe meetings in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi.

She is on trial in military-ruled Myanmar where she faces up to five years in jail on charges of violating her house arrest after an incident in which an American man swam to her house.

Representatives from the EU and the 10-member ASEAN were scheduled to attend a welcome dinner Wednesday evening, ahead of Thursday meetings intended to focus mainly on cooperation between the two regions amid the global financial crisis.

"According to the official agenda of the meeting, they will not discuss about issues of any specific country," Cambodia's foreign ministry spokesman Koy Kuong told AFP.

"We don't know whether the ministers will raise the issue of Myanmar to be discussed or not. If they do, it will be an unofficial agenda," he added.

Several local diplomats, however, told AFP they expected Myanmar to be at the forefront of discussions.

Myanmar's treatment of prisoners, along with North Korea's recent nuclear test, dominated much of the agenda during Hanoi's ministerial meetings this week.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been in detention for 13 of the past 19 years since her National League for Democracy party won a landslide victory in 1990 polls but was not allowed to take power.

The Nobel laureate took the stand for the first time on Tuesday in her trial at Yangon's notorious Insein jail and argued she had not violated the terms of her house arrest.
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Cambodia breaks ground on its first overpass

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AFP) — Cambodia broke ground at its capital's busiest intersection Wednesday for what will be the country's first road overpass.

Prime Minister Hun Sen announced the start of the project, intended to reduce Phnom Penh's increasing traffic problems, at a ceremony opening another new bridge at the intersection.

"It is will be the first overpass bridge of Cambodia," Hun Sen said at the ceremony.

Officials said construction of the 308-metre (1,010-foot) overpass would cost more than six million dollars and would be finished within one year.

The premier said Phnom Penh had changed from "ghost city, a city that has no people, and a shocked city, into a vivid city."

All residents of Phnom Penh were forced into the countryside during the 1975 to 1979 Khmer Rouge regime, as the hardline communists enslaved the nation on collective farms.

During Wednesday's ceremony, Hun Sen also called on the people to respect traffic laws, saying that doing so meant they "respect their own lives."

Traffic fatalities have more than doubled in Cambodia over the past five years, becoming the second-biggest killer behind HIV/AIDS.

Better roads and more vehicles have contributed heavily to this toll, but bad driving is the main cause behind most accidents, police say.

Cambodia has finally begun to emerge from decades of civil conflict, but has been hit with gridlock as well as a building boom that has begun to change radically the face of its once-sleepy capital.

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In the Cambodian Judges' Court

The judiciary has the power to investigate alleged fraud at the war-crimes tribunal

By JOHN A. HALL From today's Wall Street Journal Asia.


The Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Cambodia is facing a serious crisis stemming from unresolved allegations of a kickback scheme. Yet the United Nations, the Cambodian government and donor nations aren't dealing effectively with the allegations. That task has been handed to the tribunal judges, who have a golden opportunity to make a difference.

Cambodian government officials are alleged to have received kickbacks from Cambodian employees in exchange for securing them lucrative positions at the court. These are serious allegations. Refusing to address them could deal a fatal blow to the court's credibility. That would be a tragedy for the people of Cambodia, who seek justice for the Khmer Rouge's crimes. It would also be a blow for the international donors who funded this important court.

With the trials now underway, the need to finally address the allegations is urgent. And it's becoming clear that the tribunal's international and Cambodian judges are the court's best option to investigate and clear up the corruption claims. The Cambodian judges have vigorously denied that they have in any way been involved in improper practices. All the more reason, then, for them to investigate alleged corruption at their court with similar vigor.

They have already missed one opportunity. In March, defense lawyers for Nuon Chea, the former chief ideologist of the Khmer Rouge, filed a request asking the two co-investigating judges who are responsible for judicial investigation in the civil law tribunal to obtain the results of a U.N. investigation into possible corruption at the tribunal and to launch a review of the corruption allegations. The lawyers argued that this was needed to "assess what, if any, corrosive effects such alleged corruption has had on the administration of justice thus far at the [tribunal]" and to determine whether their client's right to a fair trial has been compromised. Co-Investigating Judges You Bun Leng and Marcelle Lemonde rejected that request.

The judges said that they lacked the jurisdiction to proceed as the requested information was "totally foreign to the facts covered by the current judicial investigations." They added that they couldn't intervene in response to "speculations as to hypothetical negative effects" of corruption, and that an administrative inquiry "would be superfluous" as the U.N. and Cambodian government were "seised of the situation." The defense teams filed an appeal May 4 with the tribunal's pre-trial chamber asking the three Cambodian and two international judges to reconsider the ruling of the co-investigating judges, arguing that "because exposure of the alleged scheme would likely discredit senior officials and embarrass the U.N., neither institution possesses the requisite impartiality to deal with the matter." Lawyers representing civil parties have since joined the appeal.

If the judges continue to reject requests to investigate the allegations, they risk seeing their tribunal's successes overshadowed by persistent defense claims that corruption renders the trials unfair. Lawyers for civil parties have correctly warned that "arguments in this vein would not only undermine the principle of finality of proceedings, but would render elusive the justice and closure for which the victims of these proceedings have been waiting."

Judges have a responsibility to ensure the proper administration of justice within their court. The claim of the co-investigating judges that they lacked jurisdiction to investigate allegations of corruption involving court personnel was arguably in conflict with this core judicial responsibility. Moreover, a court must satisfy itself that the overall proceedings are fair. Yet the allegations implicate individuals responsible for making legal decisions and administrators and staff responsible for collecting, transcribing, translating and producing the evidence.

The judges' decision is crucial because there are few remaining options if the corruption allegations are ever going to be properly investigated. High-level negotiations between the U.N. and the Cambodian government to produce a credible investigative mechanism failed in April, and donor nations appear unwilling to press the point.

Donor nations have also failed to pressure the court into dealing with the allegations. Last year the U.N. Development Program froze donor funds to the Cambodian side of the tribunal pending a resolution of the allegations, but donors have recently signaled a willingness to support the tribunal regardless. Canberra has asked the UNDP to release Australian funds, stating that it is generally satisfied with the progress being made at the tribunal. When the UNDP refused, Japan provided more than $4 million directly to the Cambodian government -- enough to fund the tribunal through the end of the year.

In an apparent tit-for-tat response to continuing calls for an investigation of Cambodian court officials, Phay Siphan, secretary of state and spokesman at the council of ministers, stated on May 11 that the Cambodian government is currently investigating allegations of undisclosed wrongdoing involving U.N. court personnel. He said: "We have a file of who's the enemy of the [tribunal]. We don't want to expose any wrongdoing of the U.N. side in order to discredit the [tribunal]. We know who's the enemy of the tribunal and we know who's trying to manipulate what's going on. One day, if we feel the need to release it, we will release it." Andrew Ianuzzi, a legal consulatant for the defense team of Nuon Chea, characterized this as "the childish, thuggish behavior we have come to expect from the government."

With the U.N. stymied, donor nations lacking political will and leadership, and the Cambodian government stonewalling and raising counterallegations, all eyes are now on the tribunal's judges. Trial Chamber Judge Silvia Cartwright has stated that "one of the major issues that has been troubling for all the judges is that of corruption within the [tribunal]. We welcome all efforts to ensure that the allegations are dealt with fully and fairly and that independent measures are put in place to make sure [that claims] are resolved in a transparent manner." The judges now have an opportunity to put these fine sentiments into concrete action and throw their weight behind a competent, credible and transparent investigation of the allegations. It is time for them to deal with an issue which if left unresolved will expose all future judgments to crippling legal challenges.

Mr. Hall is an associate professor of law and research fellow in the Center for Global Trade and Development at Chapman University School of Law in Orange, California.

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