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Sunday, November 22, 2009

SM Goh to visit Cambodia and Laos

SINGAPORE: Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong will visit Cambodia from 23-24 November at the invitation of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

From Cambodia, Mr Goh will visit Laos from 24-26 November at the invitation of Standing Deputy Prime Minister Somsavat Lengsavad.

A statement from the Prime Minister's Office says that these visits will reaffirm the warm and friendly ties that Singapore has with Cambodia and Laos.

The visits will also allow Mr Goh to update himself on developments in these countries.

Mr Goh last visited Cambodia in 2002 and Laos in 1997.

In Cambodia, Mr Goh will meet King Norodom Sihamoni as well as Premier Hun Sen.

Mr Goh will also meet Senate president Chea Sim and National Assembly president Heng Samrin.

In Laos, Mr Goh will meet President Choummaly Sayasone, Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh and Standing Deputy Prime Minister Somsavat Lengsavad.

Mr Goh will be accompanied by Member of Parliament Mr Zaqy Mohamad and senior officials.

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A Move towards peace and Unity

Thailand is facing difficulty with Cambodia over the latter's decision to appoint former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra as its economic adviser, with diplomatic relations beginning to weaken. What's worse is the powers that are to be are somewhat exploiting patriotism to stir up more conflict. 'Muse' asked you last week how we could steer the country through this difficult time. And what should the public, scholars and the authorities do to prevent further rifts, and ensure that the public does not fall victim to ultra-patriotism? Here are your answers!


Muse's PICK
"This is nothing new. The patriotism card has been used as a tool quite a few times in the past to stimulate people to help the country. But to create ultra-patriotism out of rumours or inaccurate information isn't right.

"First of all, everyone has to be informed correctly about what's going on. Accurate information must be accessible to all. The Sunday morning address by the prime minister on Channel 11 can also help answer some of the questions the public have. However, there must be people who disagree with the premier. "The ASTV by the yellow camp or PTV by the red camp are owned by private operators and cannot be controlled. The government, therefore, has to be more open-minded, act fast and create neutrality in the local media for everyone to be able to learn the real facts and not be brainwashed by mere rumours or made-up information. Most importantly, the government must not support the ultra-patriotism in any way.

"I'm not even sure if the current problem was only made up to negotiate with something or whether it's a real one. Border line is just a made up term; everyone in Cambodia and Thailand are still real neighbours."

PHITSANURAK PITATHASANG,

Mass communications lecturer

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"To steer the country through this difficult time of the Thai-Cambodia saga, I would like to share the incident when I attended the summit of an NGO meeting in the Philippines last week. There were delegates from many countries, including Thailand and Cambodia. At first the atmosphere was a bit uneasy due to the political situation. However, when the ice was broken, we were in better harmony to show that politics is not above our movement.

"From this I infer that if each citizen would do their own part in bringing unity and peace, then we would be able to overcome this awkward situation. Like the ocean that started with a drop of water, each voice can unite to bring synergy.

"As for the public, scholars and the authorities, I think everyone should be mindful of what they do - that it is genuinely for the Kingdom's interest rather than a personal one to prevent further rifts.

"However, it may be too late before we see the fruits of such political labour. So for the short-term, I would heed Gen Prem, the Senior Statesman's wisdom to pray 'Phrasayam Thevathiraj' to protect our precious Kingdom from the ill-intentioned force."

LUCY TAN-ATICHAT,

Retiree

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"Apart from the yellow camp, I don't see any ultra-patriotism in our society today. The general public is still going shopping at Siam Paragon, and go to cinemas in the city. However, such a current may draw more people to keep a closer watch on the political news since everything seems to be tied into it. A most recent case of the Thai engineer in Cambodia arrested for some non-sense allegation is the case. I guess if there's any ultra-patriotism in the country, there must be people protesting and submitting an open letter to the Cambodian embassy. Or in a worse case scenario, their embassy could be burned down the same way our embassy was a few years ago. Generally, I see it from the news that people at the Cambodia-Thai border are still working together as usual. And the Cambodian media never played up the issue about Thaksin being appointed as an adviser at all either."

SALMA SRIWANNAYOS,

Office worker


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"Overall, I personally don't think that Thais can become ultra-patriotic easily.

"Just imagine, a lot of people change the channel when there's any political news on. Moreover, the mass media has been providing plenty of entertainment, let alone ultra-patriot encouragement.

"But, of course, this current rift is a matter we all should deal with together. First, the government should do better to be a good leader with strong and proper policies so that citizens won't get too worried.

"And I really think the media should be more responsible in reporting unbiased and factual news, especially on TV.

"When ASTV represents the yellow shirts, D-Station speaks for the red shirts and Channel 11 is the voice of the government, then we need more alternatives. Though, I don't mind the channels. I believe that free TV can make the right patriot.

"When the government is strong and the media does a good job covering events, people won't be as selfish, or ultra-patriotic."

NUTTA SOOKSAWAT,

3rd year student Ramkhamhaeng University


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Next week: Despite being guaranteed the basic rights to religion and expression of faith by the constitution, it's undeniable that in the cosmopolitan city of Bangkok, some devout non-Buddhists, particularly Muslims, are denied basic rights to career and academic opportunities. Many schools still prohibit female Muslim students from wearing a hijab (a head covering worn in public by Muslim women) while a number of government units have a history of turning down Muslim applicants who refuse to take off their hijab during work for the sake of "conformity and uniformity". 'Muse' asks you that, in the age where religious, social and ethnic diversity is much cherished, how do you view the decision of some organisations who cite uniformity to justify their demands that workers to sacrifice religious practice? Do you think the authorities should work more to promote greater religious and cultural sensitivity and how? Send in your opinion along with your name, profession and contact address to muse@bangkokpost.co.th by November 25 to win a special prize.

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Khmer Rouge prison chief anxious as trial ends

Former Khmer Rouge prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, the first high-ranking member of Cambodia's ousted regime to be tried for war crimes, is nervous as he prepares to take the stand for a final time at a U.N.-backed tribunal, his lawyer said Sunday.

Closing arguments are expected to start Monday with both sides wrapping up their cases by the end of the week. Kaing Guek Eav, who pleaded guilty, is expected to testify as soon as Wednesday and to be sentenced early next year.

The tribunal is seeking justice for an estimated 1.7 million people who died from execution, overwork, disease and malnutrition as a result of the ultra-communist group's policies while in power from 1975-79.

Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch (pronounced DOIK), commanded S-21 prison in Phnom Penh, where up to 16,000 people were tortured and then taken away to be killed. He is charged with crimes against humanity, war crimes, murder and torture. He faces a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Cambodia has no death penalty.
By JERRY HARMER Associated Press


Duch is the only accused Khmer Rouge leader to acknowledge responsibility for his actions. Four other senior Khmer Rouge leaders are in custody awaiting trial.

"He has said from the start 'I want to explain in front of the judges, in front of public opinion.' This will be the last moment when he can explain," said Francois Roux, Duch's lawyer. "So he's worried about what he's going to say and how he's going to say it."

Roux described his client as "nervous and anxious" about taking the stand for one last time and refused to detail what Duch would say. But he said that his client was hopeful the judges would take into consideration the fact he has admitted his guilt and apologized to his victims.

In earlier testimony, Duch accepted responsibility for his role in overseeing the prison and asked for forgiveness from victims' families. He also told the court that he was ready to accept heavy punishment for his actions.

He has denied personally killing or torturing the S-21 prisoners, and said he felt compelled by fear for his own life to follow the orders of senior Khmer Rouge leaders.

"At this moment it's very important to give credit to Duch for his guilty plea. Duch has recognized his responsibility," Roux said. "He has asked forgiveness from his victims."

The tribunal, which opened March 30, has featured testimony from nine expert witnesses, 17 witnesses on facts and seven character witnesses and 22 "civil parties" representing victims.

More than 23,000 people have observed the trial from the public gallery in the courtroom, tribunal officials said.

Roux said the fact that Duch cooperated with the court doesn't "erase" his crimes but it has gone a long ways to further the understanding of what happened.

"We have moved forward the understanding, the recollection," he said. "We have all moved forward in our understanding of the Cambodian tragedy."

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