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Thursday, December 03, 2009

Cambodian PM denies interfering with KRouge court

PHNOM PENH — Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday denied interfering with the UN-backed Khmer Rouge court, but repeated warnings that pursuing more suspects from the 1970s regime could spark civil war.

"I am not interfering with the court. But it is not the court that stopped the war. Be careful -- the court will create war, causing division of society again," Hun Sen said in a speech in the capital Phnom Penh.

The premier made his remarks days after lawyers for a former Khmer Rouge leader demanded that investigators at the war crimes tribunal question Hun Sen and government officials over alleged interference.

"Again and again, I see they want to question (more people). Be careful, this is the issue of death," Hun Sen said during a ceremony to mark the international day of disabled people.

Hun Sen went on to repeat warnings that he would rather see the court fail than expand prosecutions beyond the five former Khmer Rouge leaders currently detained for their roles in the regime which killed up to two million people.

Final arguments in the court's first trial, of prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, concluded last week.

The court plans to prosecute former Khmer Rouge ideologue Nuon Chea, head of state Khieu Samphan, foreign minister Ieng Sary and his wife, minister of social affairs Ieng Thirith sometime in 2011.

"Let's try these few senior leaders," the premier said.

"No more, I am sorry. I tell you that I would prefer the court to fail. But I will not let war happen. If it fails, let it fail."

He went on to blast foreign nations for not "daring to talk about the prosecution of the Khmer Rouge" when they were still a strong communist movement.

The tribunal was created in 2006 to try leading Khmer Rouge members, and is holding five former leaders on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. It has not yet ruled whether to prosecute additional suspects.

The process has often been hit by allegations that Hun Sen's administration has attempted to interfere in the tribunal to protect former regime members who are now in government.

The Khmer Rouge were ousted by Vietnamese-led forces in 1979 after nearly four years of iron-fisted rule, but continued to fight a civil war until 1998. Hun Sen was a former Khmer Rouge guerilla who defected in 1977.

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Cambodia confronts UN panel

Free speech, land rights high on list of Western concerns.

LAND rights and freedom of expression dominated discussions as Cambodia came before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva for its formal rights review on Tuesday.

During a three-hour session, the Council’s 47 members questioned Cambodia on rights-related issues after the presentation of a government report by Sun Suon, Cambodia’s ambassador to the UN.

“Cambodia fully shares the view that all human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent,” Sun Suon told the Council, adding that rights promotion should take into account the “historical, political, economic, social and cultural reality of the country and its particularities”.

But in their questions to the Cambodian delegation, several Western nations highlighted the issue of freedom of expression, brought into question after a string of lawsuits against critics of the government.

“We note a number of concerns with regard to the use of justice in order to limit freedom of expression and political freedom,” said John Von Kaufman, representing Canada.

The German delegation pointed to reports of “the intimidation of human rights defenders, NGOs, the media and even in some cases, the lifting of the immunity of parliamentarians”.

“Germany would like to know how the government reconciles such restrictive approaches … with its obligations it entered into when it ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” said German delegate Michael Klepsch.

Lina Van Der Weyden, representing Sweden, also expressed concern about increased reports of forced evictions resulting from “legally doubtful land concessions”, calling for a moratorium on evictions until the necessary “safeguards” are in place.

Other delegations, however, diverged sharply from the criticisms of Western governments. The Indian delegation, led by Gopinathan Achamkulangare, acknowledged the “challenges and constraints” faced by nations after decades of conflict, and said it “appreciates the prioritising of poverty reduction by the government in its efforts to promote human rights through the National Strategic Development Plan”.

Kyam Myo Htut from Myanmar said he was “delighted to hear of the major achievements which came in the implementation of [government development] strategies”.

When asked whether the presence of known rights abusers – including Myanmar, Russia, China and Vietnam – on the council marred the universal periodic review process, rights defenders said its composition gave little measure of its credibility and performance.

“The most important thing is its own mandate, which is comprehensive and far reaching,” Surya Subedi, the UN special rapporteur on human rights to Cambodia, said by email.

“The UPR is a relatively new mechanism, but it already has delivered some positive results for people around the globe.”

Christophe Peschoux, director of the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia, said improvements in the rights situation are largely contingent on the government’s actions.

“It’s not just a one-off exercise – the UPR is one moment in a process,” he said. “But what matters more is the extent to which the government takes the [council’s] recommendations into account.”

The results from Tuesday’s session will go towards shaping an outcome document that is set to be adopted by the council today.
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2 tons of snakes, tortoises seized in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) - Cambodian police confiscated two tons of live snakes and tortoises and arrested two men trying to smuggle the slithering cargo up a river from Cambodia to Vietnam, authorities said Thursday.

Acting on a tip, police intercepted the boat Wednesday on the Bassac River in southeastern Cambodia just before it crossed into Vietnam. They found 3,640 pounds (1,655 kilograms) of snakes, mostly pythons, and 263 tortoises that weighed a combined 697 pounds (317 kilograms), said Col. Chan Savouen, deputy police chief of Kandal province.

"Snakes and tortoises are rare reptiles in our country and are strongly prohibited from being hunted and trafficked," he said.

Police arrested two Cambodians, aged 17 and 20, who said they were hired to transport the cargo but did not know the identities of their employers. They said some of the reptiles had been illegally hunted in Cambodia and others were trafficked from neighboring Thailand, Chan Savouen said.

The snakes and tortoises were released into the wild on Wednesday, he said.

Vietnam is often used as a transit point for trafficking illegal wildlife from Southeast Asia to China to feed its market for exotic pets and foods.
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Uighur protesters land in Cambodia

By John Pomfret
Washington Post Staff Writer

Twenty-two members of a Chinese ethnic group who participated in violent demonstrations against China last summer have surfaced in Cambodia, sparking concerns that Cambodia will ignore their requests for asylum and return them to China.

The 22 Uighurs, including three children, trickled into Cambodia over the past several weeks, according to Omar Kanat, vice president of the World Uyghur Congress, a group that advocates for the rights of Uighurs in China. He said that two additional Uighurs have been detained in neighboring Vietnam and that five others, who were known to have fled China into Vietnam, have disappeared.

Violent anti-China demonstrations led by Uighurs rocked Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang region of northwest China, on July 5.

At least 200 people died in the bedlam that involved Uighurs attacking Han Chinese and then bands of Han Chinese retaliating against Uighurs. Last month, China's state-run media reported that nine Uighurs had been executed for taking part in the riots. Kanat and other sources said that seven of the men who fled to Cambodia were wanted by the Chinese.

The Chinese government blamed the unrest on Rebiya Kadeer, a Uighur businesswoman who had been jailed in China and then exiled to the United States after pressure from the Bush administration.

A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington said that Beijing wanted the Uighurs to be returned to China and that only a "handful of Uighurs in China are engaged in national splitism, religious extremism and violent terrorism."

A State Department spokeswoman said it is department policy not to comment on asylum cases.

Uighurs constitute a mostly Muslim ethnic group that speaks a Turkic language. For years, Uighur separatists have conducted a sometimes violent campaign against China's rule of the resource-rich Xinjiang region.

Cambodia has a troubled history when it comes to refugee rights. Human Rights Watch criticized Cambodia in a report this year for sending asylum-seekers back to Vietnam.

"Cambodia is not a good place to be a refugee these days," said Sophie Richardson, advocacy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division.
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