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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Opposition and dissidents persecuted in Cambodia, HRW says

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Cambodian government of Prime Minister Hun Saen Insane “should end its campaign of harassment, threats, and unwarranted legal action aimed at consolidating its rule by silencing the political opposition and peaceful critics,” New York-based Human Rights Watch said today.

The government of Prime Minister Hun Sen systematically uses violence to bolster its power. Nine people, including lawmakers, journalists and human rights activists, have been arrested. An appeal is made to the international community to put pressure on Cambodian authorities.

With the Prime Minister’s backing Cambodian authorities have “lodged at least nine criminal defamation and disinformation complaints against journalists, members of parliament, lawyers and critics of the government since April.”

Two members of Cambodia’s National Assembly were singled out. On 22 June Mu Sochua and Ho Vann of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party lost their parliamentary immunity for allegedly defaming the prime minister and 22 military officials.

On 26 June, a Phnom Penh court sentenced Hang Chakra, owner of the opposition newspaper Khmer Machas Srok, to one year in prison on charges of disinformation after the newspaper published articles on widespread government corruption.

On 14 July, Moeung Sonn, president of the Khmer Civilisation Foundation, was sentenced in absentia to two years in prison on charges of disinformation after he raised concerns about the effect of installation of lights on the Angkor monuments, which are a UNESCO world heritage site.

The UN's human rights office in Cambodia also issued a report warning that the spate of lawsuits against critics could nurture “fear, frustration and anger, with the risk of leading to further conflict and violence,”

HRW calls on international donors, which provide aide and assistance to Cambodia, to put pressure on the government to stop its domestic repression campaign.

“Hun Sen already controls almost every aspect of Cambodia's politics,” HRW’s Adams said. “Yet his efforts to silence dissent seem endless. Why does he seem to wake up every day looking for enemies to persecute? Will this ever end?”

Hun Sen has been Cambodian prime minister since November 1998.

He became paramount leader after Norodom Ranariddh, son of then King Norodom Sihanouk, was forced out of power after a coup.

Hanging over the prime minister are several allegations, including membership in the Khmer Rouges who were responsible for the death of about two million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979 as well as frequent charges of corruption.

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Thailand considers supporting Egyptian as UNESCO head

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt, July 15 — Thai Foreign Affairs Minister Kasit Piromya on Wednesday pledged that Thailand will consider supporting Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni in his campaign to head the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Mr. Kasit, now attending the two-day 15th Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit in this Egyptian town, met with Mr. Hosni on the sidelines of the summit opening Wednesday and pledged that he would consider voting for Mr. Hosni for the job.

However, Kasit said he would rather wait for the final short-listed candidates contesting for the post before making the final decision.

Kasit reportedly told Hosni that he wanted a person from a developing country to hold the UNESCO chief’s post as voting for the position will take place later this year.

He said that if Egypt holds the post it would “benefit both UNESCO and the international community.”

Expressing dissatisfaction with recent decisions by UNESCO, Kasit said it is appropriate for a developing country to hold an important role in a UN agency as several posts in the world body are now occupied by persons from developed countries.

Kasit probably referred to UNESCO granting Cambodia’s application to designate the ancient Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage Site in July 2008, a move with which he did not agree.

However, UNESCO agreed last month in Seville, Spain, to delay the formal registration until February as the organization still has a number of other matters to implement.

Delaying the formal registration came after Thai complaints that the temple listing had led to several armed clashes near the temple and urged the world agency to review its decision. (PNA/TNA)

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Millicom to dispose of Asian telecom assets : Hutchinson to sell Israeli stake

by Ek Heng, Asia-Pacific Correspondent

A number of suitors including Malaysia’s Axiata Group and Russia’s Vimpelcom are reportedly interested in the Asian telecom assets being put up for sale by Luxembourg-based Millicom International Cellular SA.

Millicom announced early July it had received a number of ‘expression of interest’ and Goldman Sachs has been appointed as advisor. In Asia, Millicom is considering selling separately or together its interests in Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Laos.

For the quarter ended 31 March 2009, its Asian assets yielded US$68 million in revenue and US$4 million in net profit. Millicom has operations and licences in 16 countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa.

Axiata denies buying Millicom Asian assets
While expressing interest to expand its business, Axiata, Telekom Malaysia’s international unit, has denied it is buying Millicom’s Asian assets in Cambodia and Sri Lanks for US$500 million and US$200 million, respectively, as attributed in an earlier Bloomberg report.

The follow-up article late last week by The Star, Penang, Malaysia, quoted Axiata’s chief financial officer, Datuk Yusof Annual Yaacob as saying that the telco looks "at all sorts of transactions but there is nothing going on." He was further quoted as saying "it does make sense for two parties to combine in a very competitive marketplace."

A pan-Asian player with 100 million subscribers, Axiata is the second largest mobile operator in South East Asia. It has 85 percent stake in Dailog Telekom, the market leader in Sri Lanka, which recorded 5.8 million subscribers, and a 58 percent share of TMI Cambodia, the third largest cellular player in that county with 600,000 subscribers.

With Celltel Lanka in Sri Lanka being fully owned by Millicom which also has 58 percent share of MobiTel, a dominant telco, in Cambodia, perhaps, the business case for Axiata to merge its existing interests with these companies being offered by Millicom can only serve to fuel market talk and media reports. Also springing to mind is an earlier media report attributing the remarks to Axiata’s CEO, Datuk Seri Jamaludin Ibrahim that the telco is consolidating, and as he often says "that at the right price, we will never say no."

VimpelCom eyeing more stakes in Asia
Also in the running for Millicom’s assets in Cambodia and Laos is Russia’s Vimpelcom. According to a Reuters report, VimpelCom confirmed its interest in Asia but didn’t want to comment on the talks.

Vimpelcom’s head of corporate relations, Yelena Prokorava said: “We don’t comment on talks. But potentially Asian assets of Millicom could be interesting for us because they are located in the region which the company views as strategic in its international expansion.” The Reuters report added that a source close to the firm’s shareholders indicated the company would be interested in the telcos assets in Laos and Cambodia in the market.

In July 2008, Vimpelcom acquired Sotelco paying US$20 million for a 90 percent stake in the telco. It subsequently signed a contract with China’s Huawei Technology to build a GSM network in the country over five years and pledged to invest up to US$200 million.

Hutchinson: Sale of Israeli telco on the cards
In another development, Hong Kong-based Hutchinson Telecom is looking to sell its stake of 51 percent in Partner Communication Company, an Israeli telco with wired and wireless services.

Hutchinson said "it has been approached by various interested parties" but "no agreement has been entered into" up to the announcement of its statement to the stock exchange. Operating under the Orange brand, Partner registered an 11 percent reduction in revenue at US$337 million but an increase of 5,000 in subscribers for the quarter ended 31 March 2009.
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ASEAN-China friendship conference to be held in Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR, The 4th Conference of the ASEAN-China People-to-People Friendship Organizations will officially open here on Thursday.

The fourth conference since 1993 involved China and the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), including Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, Cambodia and Brunei, would be held at Putra World Trade Center here.

According to the Malaysia-China Friendship Association, the participants would discuss cooperation plan of economic, trade, public health, education, culture, tourism, sports and other issues in the conference.

The conference is also an activity to commemorate the 35th anniversary of diplomatic relationship between China and Malaysia.

An ASEAN-China 2009-2010 Cooperation Plan is expected to be signed at the conference.
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Cambodia Must End Crackdown On Critics - Rights Group

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AFP)--An international rights group Wednesday demanded Cambodia's rulers end a spate of legal actions against critics, calling it the government's "harshest crackdown in years" on free speech.

New York-based Human Rights Watch alleged that premier Hun Sen's government aimed to silence political opposition and critics with a recent "campaign of harassment, threats, and unwarranted legal action."

"The Cambodian government is imposing its most serious crackdown on freedom of expression in recent years," the group's Asia director, Brad Adams, said in a statement.

Cambodian authorities have lodged at least nine criminal defamation and disinformation complaints against journalists, members of parliament, lawyers and critics of the government since April.

Criminal defamation cases against two opposition lawmakers are expected to proceed in coming weeks, and opposition newspaper Moneaksekar Khmer closed operations Friday to avoid prosecution for criticizing government officials.

"The space of opposition media and peaceful dissent is rapidly shrinking in Cambodia, especially now with the closure of one of Cambodia's last remaining opposition newspapers," Adams said.

Cambodian government officials weren't immediately available for comment.

The U.N.'s human rights office in Cambodia issued a report last month warning that the spate of lawsuits against critics could nurture "fear, frustration and anger, with the risk of leading to further conflict and violence."

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