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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Gates Visits Troops in Afghanistan

By Sing Bourommavong / Vannasone Keodara

AFGHANISTAN: U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has visited U.S. commanders in Afghanistan, assuring them that extra forces ordered by U.S. President Barack Obama will give them what they need to successfully defeat the Taliban. Gates toured a new command headquarters Wednesday that serves as a joint operation center for all NATO combat troops. He told commanders that international forces "have all the pieces coming together to be successful" in the fight against violent extremists in the country.Gates' trip follows Mr. Obama's decision to quickly send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan and then begin withdrawing them in 18 months as Afghan forces take on more responsibility. But Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Tuesday it may be five years before the army and police are ready to take on insurgents, and 15 to 20 years before his government can afford to pay for its own security.

BURMA-SUU KYI: Burma's detained pro-democracy Aung San Suu Kyi met with the military government's liaison officer at a state guesthouse for 45 minutes Wednesday. Officials say her meeting with labor minister and government liaison Aung Kyi took place at a guest house near the Nobel laureate's home. It was not immediately clear what was discussed during the meeting. The meeting Wednesday is their third since the beginning of October. It also comes after the country's Supreme Court agreed last week to hear a final appeal against her ongoing detention. Burma's military rulers have kept Aung San Suu Kyi under some form of detention for 14 of the last 20 years.

PHILIPPINES-MASSACRE :Philippine police say they have identified and are seeking 161 people, including government militiamen, for involvement in last month's gruesome massacre of 57 people. National police chief Jesus Verzosa says witnesses identified Andal Ampatuan Jr., a local mayor, as the person who led the killings. He is accused of leading the group to stop supporters of a rival politician from registering him for next year's provincial governor elections in Maguindanao. Ampatuan Jr. has already been arrested and charged with 25 counts of murder. About 30 of those suspected of involvement have also been arrested. Ampatuan Jr.'s father, the governor of Maguindanao, and other members of his powerful clan have also been detained and may face murder charges. The government has imposed martial law in the province to allow thousands of troops to make arrests without warrants.

INDONESIA-CORRUPTION: Thousands of Indonesians rallied Wednesday in several major cities to mark international anti-graft day, as they urged the government to take more action to end corruption among police, politicians and public officials. In Jakarta, more than a thousand protesters marched to the state palace carrying banners that urged President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to take action. Hundreds of anti-riot police were stationed outside the palace, backed up by two water cannons. Mr. Yudhoyono is under mounting pressure as lawmakers probe allegations of corruption linked to a contentious $700 million dollar for a failed bank (Bank Century) last year. The president has denied accusations that some of the money that was given to the bank was channeled into his campaign for re-election in July. Mr. Yudhoyono was re-elected on a campaign to stamp out corruption.

CAMBODIA ECONOMY: The International Monetary Fund has called on Cambodia to strengthen its banking system as it tries to recover from recession. In a report issued Tuesday, the IMF encouraged the Cambodian government to strengthen banking supervision, after fluctuating real estate prices and bad risk-management policies strained the financial sector.It said Cambodia's economy is expected to shrink at a rate of 2.7 percent this year before recovering. Growth was projected for 2010, though, at a rate of 4.3 percent.

The IMF said Cambodia took an especially hard hit from the global economic crisis, after a decade of strong growth. It noted Cambodia saw a drop in tourism, export sales, and demand for agricultural products.
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ASEAN not to intervene into diplomatic tension between Thailand, Cambodia: Secretary-general Surin

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will not intervene into the diplomatic tension between Thailand and Cambodia as this is an internal matter, ASEAN secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan said Wednesday.

The diplomatic problem has occurred after Cambodia appointed ousted former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra as an economic advisor to Cambodia's government and Prime Minister Hun Sen on Nov.4.

A day after the appointment, the Cambodian government announced recall of its ambassador to Thailand in a move to respond to the Thai government's recall of its ambassador to Cambodia.

However, Surin conceded that the diplomatic tension has worried other ASEAN leaders, Thai News Agency reported.

They are jittered that the problem will worsen and affect the target of being the ASEAN Community by 2015, Surin said.

Hence, now several ASEAN leaders have been closely monitoring the matter as they hope Thailand and Cambodia will find a solution to the problem soon, Surin said.

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Thaksin my only hope

The Nation/Asia News Network

The mother of jailed Thai national Sivarak Chotipong yesterday pleaded with former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to use his close connection with the Cambodian government to free her son who was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment for spying.

Sivarak was also fined 10 million Cambodian riels (S$3477.7) for passing on Thaksin's flight information to a Thai Embassy staff.

Sivarak's mother Simarak na Nakhon Phanom, who attended the trial in a Phnom Penh court yesterday, burst into tears when she heard the verdict. She rushed to call the opposition Pheu Thai Party's headquarters in Bangkok to seek assistance from the party's real boss Thaksin, and party chairman Chavalit Yongchaiyudh.

"I don't know where and from whom to seek help but, former prime minister Thaksin and General Chavalit, please help my son to get freedom," Simarak told reporters at Pheu Thai Party via telephone conference.

Simarak said her son would not appeal to a higher court. She pleaded with the Pheu Thai to seek a royal pardon for her son from the Cambodian king.

The mother did not want to rely on the government to help her son as she blamed the Foreign Ministry for moving slowly due to its sour relations with Cambodia.

In his Internet radio programme 'Talk around the world' yesterday, Thaksin did not mention Sivarak's case.

Ke Sakhan, presiding judge of Phnom Penh Municipal Court, convicted Sivarak, a 31-year-old employee at the Thai owned Cambodia Air Traffic Services (CATS), saying Thaksin's flight information was confidential and sharing it was a violation of national security.

"Thaksin is an adviser to Cambodia's government and Cambodia has the obligation to provide him security," the judge said.

During his hearing yesterday, Sivarak admitted that he had checked Thaksin's flight schedule but said it was only after the ousted Thai premier's private jet had already landed in Phnom Penh International Airport. He said he passed on the information to a Thai diplomat, Kamrob Palawatwichai, at his request after two phone calls.

"I took a look at the flight schedule and made a phone call to Kamrob about the flight schedule," Sivarak told the court. "But I didn't get a copy of the flight schedule and hand it over to anyone."

Two employees of CATS testified in the court that Sivarak had asked them about the flight schedule.

The Thai diplomat, Kamrob, was later expelled from Cambodia. Sivarak was arrested on November 12 when Thaksin was in Phnom Penh to lecture on economic matters.

In her telephone conference from Phnom Penh, an emotional Simarak pinned the responsibility for her son's plight on Kamrob. "I want to ask Kamrob, where are you? If you had not called my son, he would not have been in this condition," she said.

"He is innocent. Why should he take responsibility on your behalf. So please come out to take responsibility for your actions. My son has been in jail for nearly 30 days and I cannot tolerate anymore seeing him handcuffed," she said.

Thailand and Cambodia have been at loggerheads after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen appointed Thaksin as his adviser. The two countries have downgraded their diplomatic relations since late October.


Nov 10: Thaksin lands in Phnom Penh. Sivarak passes Thaksin's flight information to diplomat Kamrob.

Nov 11: Cambodia expels Kamrob.

Nov 12: Sivarak is arrested.

Nov 13: News of his arrest is broken by local media.

Nov 14: Thaksin leaves Cambodia.

Nov 16: Thai charge d'affairs visits Sivarak at Prey Sor prison. Sivarak's mother Simarak phones him for the first time.

Nov 27: Simarak visits her son for the first time.

Nov 30: Simarak seeks help from the opposition Pheu Thai Party, which arranges another meeting for her.

Dec 2: Simarak visits her son for the second time.

Dec 4: Simarak changes her son's attorney and withdraws his bail request.

Dec 7: Simarak arrives in Phnom Penh to hear the verdict for her son.

Dec 8: Sivarak is sentenced to seven years in jail and fined 10 million riel.
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