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Monday, November 16, 2009

Cambodian opposition leader stripped of immunity

Cambodia’s parliament stripped immunity from main opposition leader Sam Rainsy yesterday, clearing the way for charges against him for uprooting markings at the border with Vietnam.

“The National Assembly has lifted the parliamentary immunity of Sam Rainsy,” a statement from the legislative body said.

The statement went on to say Sam Rainsy, currently abroad, had committed acts of “uprooting border posts between Cambodia and Vietnam, and inciting [people] to commit criminal offences” in southeastern Svay Rieng Province.

The move permits court action against Sam Rainsy, who removed six markers at the border during a march in Svay Rieng last month, alleging that they were illegally placed by Vietnam.

Lawmakers from his eponymous Sam Rainsy Party boycotted yesterday’s closed parliamentary vote and held aloft a map of Cambodia as they marched through the streets of the capital, denouncing the decision as “political intimidation.”

The French-educated former finance minister is the main rival to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. He touts liberal democracy and human rights, while promising to raise wages and fight corruption.

Son Chhay, chief of the party’s members of parliament, called the decision a “threat or intimidation against the party leader … [with] political intention to shut up the opposition party.”
Vietnam condemned Sam Rainsy for uprooting the border posts, and asked Phnom Penh to protect the two countries’ sensitive demarcation process.

Sam Rainsy has said he believed the border markers were erected unilaterally by Vietnamese authorities, and that villagers had removed similar posts in the area early this year.

Cambodia and Vietnam officially began demarcating their contentious border in September 2006, in a bid to end decades of territorial disputes.

The border row has sparked virulent anti-Vietnamese sentiment in Cambodia, fuelled by resentment of Vietnam’s expansion over the centuries.

The 1,270km border has remained essentially unmarked and vague since French colonial times, with stone markers and boundary flags having disappeared, while trees lining it were cut down.
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Carters help build Thai homes

Mr Carter and his wife, Rosalynn (both centre), are among 3,000 volunteers from 25 countries working with Habitat for Humanity this week to help build and repair homes along the Mekong River in Thailand, Vietnam, China, Cambodia and Laos. -- PHOTO: AP

CHIANG MAI (Thailand) - FORMER US President Jimmy Carter helped the housing charity that he champions, Habitat for Humanity, launch a campaign Monday to build homes for 50,000 families in the Mekong River region over the next five years.

Mr Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, are among 3,000 volunteers from 25 countries working with Habitat for Humanity this week to help build and repair homes along the Mekong River in Thailand, Vietnam, China, Cambodia and Laos.

The homes in Cambodia are being built for families currently living in a garbage dump, the ones in Vietnam are for fishermen who now live on their boats, and the project in China involves construction of an apartment building in a part of Sichuan province devastated by a 2008 earthquake.

'In an area of the world where many people live in deplorable conditions, we have a chance to help families improve their housing,' said Mr Carter, wearing sneakers, jeans and a work shirt. He and his wife spent Monday helping build homes in northern Thailand's Chiang Mai province, where 82 will be constructed in honour of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who celebrates his 82nd birthday next month.

Habitat for Humanity's Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Reckford said the Georgia-based non-profit group decided to scale up its activities in the Mekong region over the next five years because the needs were so great.

'This is an area that gets less attention than some other parts of the world,' Reckford said. 'But if you look at income levels, there are huge numbers of families living at terribly low levels at a dollar a day. There is a huge deficit of decent housing, so it starts with the need.' -- AP
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Govt told to treat Cambodia subtly

Experts warn a more mature stance needed on the issues

The government must exercise "more maturity" in the ongoing diplomatic row with Cambodia, starting with changing its current positions against the neighbouring country, diplomatic experts say.

International affairs and legal experts warned Thailand could risk losing international creditability and long-term economic prospects should the Abhisit Vejjajiva administration continue with its current strategies including the planned termination of a number of agreements with Cambodia.

"The government has failed to use other solutions, except retaliation moves,"Chulacheeb Chinwanno, vice rector of Thammasat University, told a seminar yesterday.

"A refrain from such premature retaliation, should it adopt it, could demonstrate its maturity in dealing with the issue."

The diplomatic spat between the two nations has worsened since last month after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen appointed ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra as his personal and economic adviser.

The Thai government has imposed a number of retaliatory moves including recalling Thai ambassador to Cambodia Prasas Prasasvinitchai. It is also in the process of terminating a memorandum of understanding on an overlapping maritime area.

The document was signed in 2001 when Thaksin was prime minister.

The government defended its plan to terminate the agreement, which is still pending parliament approval.

But Chumphorn Pachusanond, an international law expert at Chulalongkorn University's law faculty, said such a decision would not be easy to apply and it would bring joint oil and gas exploration efforts in the Gulf of Thailand back to square one.

"I want the government to consider this more profoundly," he said.

The agreement is a binding treaty in which Thailand would be required to propose an alternative measure should it want the termination, he said.

"Why do we want to make a mess out of this MoU? The Thai government has no reason to fear its existence," he said.

Should both nations go ahead with the MoU, they will mutually benefit from the exploration of hydrocarbon resources, he said.

Puangthong Pawakapan, from the political science faculty at Chulalongkorn University, said a halt to exploration could obstruct both countries' efforts to gain energy security and further affect economic development on both sides.

The government's other move to scrap a 1.4-billion-baht soft loan for a road project linking Surin to Siem Reap is also shortsighted because Thailand would be disadvantaged.

She said the project would help Thai businesses to transport their products to Cambodia and Vietnam and increase trade volumes for Thai industries.

The government's termination of the loan is unlikely to affect Cambodia which will be able to easily seek another loan from other lenders such as China or Japan, she said.

Thailand had also sidestepped softer, preliminary diplomatic approaches and adopted far too aggressive ones.

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FM claims Thai 'spy' is isolated

Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya has dismissed a report that a high-level Thai diplomat had met Siwarak Chotphong - who is accused of spying - at a prison in Phnom Penh.

Mr Kasit denied a Thai diplomat was allowed to meet the Cambodia Air Traffic Services engineer who is being detained at Prey Sar prison.

Mr Kasit said he had checked the report with the Thai embassy in Cambodia and believed the meeting did not take place.

His statement countered Cambodian foreign ministry claims that a Thai embassy official was allowed to visit Mr Siwarak, who was arrested on Thursday on charges of supplying details of fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's flight schedule to his country's embassy.

"Today, we agreed to allow [a Thai diplomat] to visit the man at 2pm in the prison where he is being temporarily detained," Cambodian foreign ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said.
Accompanying story: Siwarak's Mom: My son is not a spy

Mr Kasit confirmed that no visit was allowed by Phnom Penh despite requests through Cambodia's Foreign and Interior ministries and Corrections Department since the 31-year-old Thai was arrested.

"We are still waiting for a reply from Cambodia," he said, referring to Thai attempts to meet him.

A Foreign Ministry official said Chalotorn Phaovibul, the embassy's minister, informed the Cambodian government about the Thai request to meet Mr Siwarak at 2pm but he had not been given the green light from Phnom Penh.

The spy allegations prompted Phnom Penh to expel Kamrob Palawatwichai, the Thai embassy's first secretary, on Thursday and Thailand reciprocated hours later.

Mr Kamrob reported to the Thai Foreign Ministry yesterday and Mr Kasit insisted that the Thai diplomat was not a spy and did not collaborate with Mr Siwarak to obtain detailed flight plans of Thaksin's movements.

Thailand appears to be growing frustrated at the denial although Bangkok has insisted that it is international practice to visit those who are arrested and face charges.

Mr Kasit was trying to contact his Cambodian counterpart Hor Namhong, who is on the way to Italy, to get access to Mr Siwarak.

Chavanond Intarakomalyasut, secretary to the foreign minister, said Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, Mr Kasit and security officials planned to hold talks to find a way to help Mr Siwarak if Mr Siwarak is not released.

The conflict between Thailand and Cambodia started after Thaksin was appointed as an economic adviser to the Cambodian government and a personal adviser to Cambodian Premier Hun Sen.

Thailand was also outraged after Hun Sen called Thaksin a victim of Thai politics and rejected Thai attempts to extradite him.

Thaksin left Cambodia for Dubai in the United Arab Emirates on Saturday, ending a contentious four-day visit that deepened a diplomatic storm between already bickering Bangkok and Phnom Penh.

Thailand yesterday stepped up calls for the UAE government to send the convicted former prime minister back to Thailand.

Panich Vikitsreth, an assistant to the foreign minister, supplied UAE ambassador to Thailand Mohammed Ali Ahmed Omran Al Shamsi with more information about Thaksin to back up the Thai attempt to seek cooperation from the Middle East country. The information included the interview by Thaksin in the London-based Times online edition.
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Cambodian mobile customer base will grow to almost 6.23mn at the end of 2009

Cambodia and Laos Telecommunications Report Q4 2009 - a new market research report on

The latest update on the telecoms markets in Cambodia and Laos includes new regulatory and operator data on the size of these two countries’ mobile subscriber, fixed-line and internet access markets at the end of March 2009. Based on the available data, we have made several revisions to our five-year growth forecasts for these markets.

Based on data published by Cambodia’s leading mobile operators
, the report calculates that the Cambodian mobile customer base grew by 15.5% in the first three months of 2009. By the end of March, Cambodia had almost 4.6mn mobile users, equivalent to a penetration rate of around 30%. In the first few months of 2009, Cambodia witnessed the launch of commercial services by three new mobile
network operators.

These were Vietnam’s Viettel, which launched commercial operations in February, Smart Mobile, which commenced GSM operations in March, and Sotelco, which launched services under the Beeline banner in May. Sotelco was acquired by Russian operator VimpelCom in July 2008 from Altimo at a cost of US$28mn for a 90% stake. VimpelCom has pledged around US$200mn to be spent in its Cambodian network in the first three to four years following its commercial launch.

The presence of nine mobile operators in Cambodia is thought to have significant implications for the development of the sector. Firstly, mobile subscriber growth appears to be accelerating as the level of competition increases. Indeed, early indications suggest that 2009 will see much stronger subscriber growth than in 2008. BMI now predicts that the Cambodian mobile customer base will grow to almost 6.23mn at the end of 2009. Our new forecast envisages growth of over 62% in 2009, dropping to 42.5% in 2010.

In neighbouring Laos, recent developments point to the possibility of an increasingly dynamic mobile market in the months ahead. As noted in our previous report, recent months saw the launch of commercial operations by Vietnam’s Viettel, which will operate in Laos under the Star Telecom brand as part of a joint venture with the Laotian government. Meanwhile, in September, it was announced that Russia’s VimpelCom had agreed to acquire a 78% stake in Millicom Lao from Luxembourg-based Millicom International Cellular. Although the completion of the acquisition will require regulatory approval, this is expected to be forthcoming before the end of the year. The report predicts that Laos’ active mobile subscriber base will surpass the 2mn subscriber mark by the end of 2009.

Cambodia and Laos respectively sit in 13th and 15th position in the latest set of business environment ratings for the Asia Pacific region. The two countries generally score below average for the Asia Pacific region. Nevertheless, they continue to perform better than regional neighbours Thailand and Vietnam. As a result of having a more competitive sector, Cambodia continues to have a higher score than Laos in the telecoms market category. . Read more!

At least 5 injured in blast in Thai rally

BANGKOK, At least five people were injured Sunday night when a bomb was thrown at the stage of an anti- Thaksin group's rally here, which was held to protest against the convicted former Thai prime minister's appointment by Cambodian government.

Although 1,500 policemen had been deployed around the city to maintain order during the rally by The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), the blast occurred at around 9 p.m., when Sondhi Limthongkul, the PAD leader, was addressing the group's supporters.

Five people got wounded with a boy's leg severely injured, The Nation online quoted a witness as saying.

A man was reported to have been arrested after throwing the bomb.

By 8:30 p.m. local time, over 10,000 PAD supporters were rallying at Sanam Luang in the center of Bangkok after they officially staged their protest from 4 p.m. local time.

The PAD rally, which was participated by the supporters from both Bangkok and many provinces across the country, was held after Thailand and Cambodia have downgraded their diplomatic relations due to conflict over an appointment of Thaksin as an economic advisor to the Cambodian government and Hun Sen on Nov. 4.

The PAD supporters ranged from the general public, students, employees of state enterprises, war veteran members, non- governmental organizations, to taxi drivers.

The PAD protesters announced that they were united to show the world the Thai people's strength and to protect the country's dignity against Cambodia and Thaksin.

The purpose of this rally is that "we want to communicate to the world, Thais, and Cambodians, and to former Premier Thaksin and the Cambodian Prime Minister that what they are doing are not right, and the Thai people can not take this," Pibhob Dhongchai, one of the PAD core leaders, said at the rally.

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Thaksin opponents rally over Cambodia trip

BANGKOK - Thousands of demonstrators on Sunday attended a protest by Thailand's royalist "Yellow Shirt" movement against a visit to Cambodia by their arch-foe, fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
Four people, including a child, were hurt when men on a motorbike threw a firecracker into the rally in central Bangkok, an organiser said.

Police said the event, attended by an estimated 20,000 people, carried on afterwards.


The rally was held to express outrage at the neighbouring country's appointment of Thaksin as an economic adviser and Phnom Penh's refusal to extradite him during his four-day trip there this week, the group said.

The yellow-clad People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) also criticised billionaire Thaksin for comments that he made in a newspaper interview calling for reform of institutions around Thailand's revered monarchy.

The PAD led mass protests against Thaksin before he was toppled in a 2006 coup, and blockaded Bangkok's airports in late 2008 to force his allies out of government.

"Our duty is to protect and preserve the country's honour and dignity and the monarchy. Cambodia violated the extradition treaty and allowed a convicted person to be its adviser," senior PAD leader Somsak Kosaisuk told AFP.

"This action harms our country's prestige. We will denounce both convicted Thaksin and (Cambodian Prime Minister) Hun Sen at the protest," Somsak said.

Controversial visit

Sondhi Limthongkul, the founder of the PAD, told reporters that four protesters were hurt "when two men on a motorcycle threw a firecracker", without giving details.

Police said they were investigating the incident at the Sanam Luang parade ground.

Sondhi survived a gun attack on his car in April, while previous rallies by the Yellow Shirts have been hit by grenade blasts.

Thaksin left Cambodia on Saturday for Dubai, where he has spent most of his time since fleeing Thailand in August 2008.

Thailand has also frozen 2.2 billion dollars of his assets.

His visit to Cambodia sparked a diplomatic crisis between Bangkok and Phnom Penh, with relations already tense after a series of deadly clashes in the past year over disputed land around a temple on the border.

Thaksin could lose public support?

The neighbours recalled their respective ambassadors and expelled the first secretaries of each other's embassies.

Cambodian police have also charged a Thai man with spying for the Thai embassy.

Thaksin's comments on the monarchy proved sensitive because 81-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej -- a major force for stability in the politically divided nation -- has been in hospital for the past two months.

The coalition government of Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva -- which took power soon after the Yellow Shirt airport blockade -- has been rattled by the prospect of Thaksin using Cambodia as a base for a political comeback.

Thaksin, a telecommunications mogul, remains hugely influential in Thailand's political scene, which remains bitterly split between largely anti-Thaksin urbanites and his die-hard backers among the rural poor.

His so-called "Red Shirt" supporters have themselves staged several massive protests over the past year, including the disruption of a summit of Asian leaders and subsequent riots in April.

But analysts said that by siding with Cambodia he could lose public support.

"To identify yourself with Hun Sen is a terrible political mistake," said Bangkok-based political analyst Chris Baker, who has written a biography of Thaksin.

In September, Yellow Shirts calling for the Thai government to defend the country's sovereignty clashed with police and Thai villagers during a protest close to the Preah Vihear temple, leaving dozens of people injured. -- AFP
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