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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A thin line between Cambodia and Vietnam

By Jared Ferrie

PHNOM PENH - The leader of Cambodia's main opposition party, Sam Rainsy, skipped his court date on Wednesday, eluding an arrest warrant issued for allegedly uprooting border markers on the frontier with Vietnam. Rainsy instead remained in France, where he had fled in advance of the hearing because he felt the case was politically motivated.

The Svay Rieng province court convicted villagers Meas Srey and Prum Chea to one year in prison and ordered them each to pay 5 million riel (US$1,200) in compensation to district authorities for moving the border posts. Rainsy was convicted in absentia to two years in prison, handed an 8 million riel fine and ordered to pay 5 million riels compensation to district authorities. All three must pay an additional 50 million riel in compensation for destroying the border posts, according to the ruling.

The case highlights the ongoing controversy of Vietnamese influence over Prime Minister Hun Sen's government, some 30 years after the government in Hanoi ordered troops to invade Cambodia. The two countries are now in the process of demarcating their 1,270-kilometer long border. They are also negotiating investment agreements that could see Vietnam pouring billions of dollars into Cambodia.

On December 26, during a conference in Ho Chi Minh City, officials signed a memorandum of understanding intended to pave the way for more Vietnamese investments in Cambodia. No deals were finalized, but the economic agreements covered projects including electricity generation, fertilizer production and rubber plantations, as well as a proposal to explore for bauxite mining in Mondulkiri province. A Vietnam official in Phnom Penh told the Phnom Penh Post that revenues from bauxite mining alone could amount to US$6 billion.

Against the backdrop of a possible $12 billion worth of new Vietnamese investments, Rainsy implied that Cambodian officials were reluctant to criticize their larger neighbor about alleged Vietnamese encroachment on Cambodian lands.

"I am defending Cambodia's independence and territorial integrity regardless of these ongoing investment projects and financial deals," he said in an e-mail from Paris. "Maybe those in the Phnom Penh government take those material interests into consideration in their handling of border issues with Vietnam, but I don't."

A spokesman for the Cambodian government, Phay Siphan, said in an interview that increasing economic ties with Vietnam had no bearing at all on the border demarcation process. He said a commission is carefully analyzing data from maps drawn up during the colonial period of French rule in order to determine exactly where the border lies.

"The job of the border commission between Cambodia and Vietnam is not to lose or gain territory from either side," said Phay. "Sam Rainsy is misrepresenting the work of the border commission."

Rainsy, who is a fierce critic of Vietnamese influence in Cambodian affairs, was charged with incitement of racial discrimination and destruction of property for his role in an October 25 incident in Svay Rieng province. Rainsy allegedly joined five villagers in uprooting the wooden poles after hearing complaints that they had been placed in a nearby rice field. Two of those villagers were arrested and sentenced on Wednesday.

To back up his case, Rainsy's eponymous political party (SRP) on Monday released what it said was evidence that the uprooted border demarcation posts were placed 300 to 500 meters inside Cambodian territory. The SRP referred to maps drawn up by the French in 1952, which defined the border and which were given to the United Nations by the Cambodian government in 1964. Those were corroborated by maps produced by the United States military in 1966, according to the SRP.

Rainsy said he enlisted the help of cartographers, historians, geographers and computer experts who examined the maps and used satellite pictures and GPS coordinates to determine that the uprooted border markers were indeed placed within Cambodian territory. Rainsy refused to name the experts, but he noted that he also received "technical assistance" from a French map engineer at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris.

Cambodian officials threatened to lay further charges after the release of the information by the SRP. "The government will consider taking legal action to prohibit any illegal publication that affects the security of the social order," Tith Sothea, a government advisor who works at the press office of the Council of Ministers, told the Phnom Penh Post on Monday.

In his e-mail, Rainsy said that threat sounded "rather Stalinist". He added: "They are embarrassed and afraid because I am exposing scientific, objective and factual evidence of what I am claiming."

Phay, the government spokesman, confirmed that the government is investigating the information made public by Rainsy and the SRP, and that the investigation could lead to further charges if the claims are shown to be false. "We don't want to see any misleading information that will affect law and order and national security," he said.

Phay also accused the SRP of releasing the information in order to distract attention from Rainsy's case. "He has the right to freedom of expression, but it can't cover up what has been done." He said that rather than releasing the information to the media, the SRP should have brought it forward for debate in parliament, or even in a separate court case.

But Rainsy alleged that the courts are "political tools" used by the ruling Cambodian People's Party to "crack down on opposition". Many rights groups and analysts share that view. Last year, a spate of lawsuits against opposition parliamentarians, journalists and activists prompted a litany of criticism from international rights groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, as well as the United States Embassy in Cambodia.
"This is a public secret. Everyone knows that the court is under control of the government," said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights. "There is an attempt by the ruling party to consolidate its power." He said the case against Rainsy was an example of that trend. "This issue of the border could have been downplayed. They take any chance to silence the opposition."

But Rainsy has so far refused to be silenced, taking up his cause with governments in Europe while participating in radio call-in shows in Cambodia. His party has also vowed to begin investigating other sections of border between the two countries.

Jared Ferrie is a Phnom Penh-based journalist.

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Cambodian ship hijacked, Indian crew may be on board

Mumbai: A Cambodian cargo ship, MV Layla S, was hijacked off the Somalian port of Berbera in the Gulf of Aden, a top maritime authority said here on Wednesday. The crew members are said to be a mix of Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Somalian and possibly Syrian nationals.

The details of the crew members are still awaited, said the Directorate-General of Shipping (DGS). The vessel is believed to be owned and managed by Al Hufoof, an agency based in either Syria or the United Arab Emirates.

The DGS said the ship was overpowered after the cargo was offloaded at Berbera Port.

Moreover, the DGS said the crew has reportedly been abandoned by the owner so they may have been already held in captivity since the past few days. Such incidents are common in this region but come to light only much later.

The DGS has informed the authorities, including the Coast Guard and Indian Navy, of the developments.
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13 countries meet in bid to save wild tigers

The Associated Press

HUA HIN, Thailand -- Efforts to save the wild tiger are at a critical point and it will take greater political will and cooperation from Asian countries to prevent the big cats from becoming extinct, conservationists and the World Bank warned Wednesday.

The dire message was offered to 13 tiger range states attending the first Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation. The aim of the three-day meeting is to convince countries to pledge to spend more on tiger conservation and set targets for boosting their numbers - vows that would then be finalized by heads of state in September at a meeting in Vladivostok, Russia.

"There will be no room left for tigers and other wildlife in Asia without a more responsible and sustainable program for economic growth and infrastructure," World Bank President Robert Zoellick said in a video message to the 180 delegates.

"The tiger may be only one species, but the tigers' plight highlights the biodiversity crisis in Asia," he said.

Thailand's Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Suwit Khunkitti told delegates the time had come for his fellow ministers to commit to "bold commitments and actions so that we can collectively turn the tide of extinction on the tiger."

Tiger numbers have plummeted because of human encroachment, the loss of more than nine-tenths of their habitat, and poaching to supply the vibrant trade in tiger parts. From an estimated 100,000 at the beginning of the 20th century, the number today is less than 3,600.

John Seidensticker, head of conservation ecology at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park and chairman of the Save the Tiger Fund, recalled how he watched the Javan and Bali tigers disappear in the 20th century, adding that "losing a tiger is like losing a very close, dear relative and I'm still saddened by that experience."

He said conservationists have over the years been successful in banning trade in tiger parts, outlawing hunting and boosting protection measures. But he said he and others never foresaw the breakneck economic development in Asia that would "pave over" key tiger forests and grasslands and create a market for tiger parts that has caused poaching to skyrocket.

Still, Seidensticker and others said the meeting itself offered hope, showing that the bid to save tigers has gone beyond passionate environmentalists and scientists and is now being embraced by government officials and key donors like the World Bank.

The meeting is being organized by Thailand and the Global Tiger Initiative, a coalition formed in 2008 by the World Bank, the Smithsonian Institute and nearly 40 conservation groups. It aims to double tiger numbers by 2022.

"That this meeting is happening is hugely important," said John Robinson, executive vice president of conservation and science for the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society.

Robinson said the political will to save the tigers must be strengthened, funding increased for impoverished countries where tigers remain and forests expanded to ensure that tigers and humans don't clash - a problem especially common in India and Indonesia.

Relocating communities is an option as long as the villagers are compensated adequately, Robinson said.

The World Bank said countries must work to minimize the impact of roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects on tiger habitat - something the bank has vowed to do in projects it funds. It also called on countries to better train and equip their forest rangers and reduce corruption in the government agencies tasked with running national parks and protected areas.

"Corruption has been rampant and all pervasive in some of the countries as far as forest management is concerned," said Keshav Varma, the Global Tiger Initiative's program director, told delegates. "Corruption is gradually and persistently nibbling away at our natural resources. The politics of money is drowning out the weak voices of the tiger and the poor."

The 13 countries attending the meeting are Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam.

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China to Help Restoration of Cambodia's National Road

The ground breaking ceremony of the restoration of National Road No. 62 in northern Cambodia was held on Wednesday with the attending of Prime Minister Hun Sen and Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia Zhang Jinfeng.

"It is a major route of transportation linking Cambodia's northern border to capital Phnom Penh and the road will be sure to enhance Cambodia's economic vitality as well as greatly promote Cambodia's economic and social development, " said Zhang at the ceremony.

"It is the first economic and trade cooperation project between China and Cambodia in the beginning of 2010," Zhang said. "A good beginning is half done." She also said that more construction projects assisted by Chinese government will be started or finished this year. These projects include irrigation system, road restoration and transmission and transformer networks.

The 128-km-long road, running through Kampong Thom province to Thbeng Meanchey, will lead to Preah Vihear province.

The construction project, carried out by Shanghai Construction Group, will last for 40 months and with a total cost of 52 million U.S. dollars.

Prime Minister Hun Sen spoke highly of China's assistance to Cambodia, saying that the assistance provided by China helps to promote Cambodia's social and economic development and reduce poverty for people. He said that China's assistance in infrastructure construction, including transport, water conservancy, electricity as well as personnel training are pure- hearted without any preconditions.

He said that the construction of National Road No. 62 helps to connect the area to Siem Reap province which will promote the development of the local tourism industry.

Hun Sen said that the royal government has been strengthening the land, waterways, railways, aviation and port construction. " There are roads there is hope," he stressed.

The construction of the infrastructure will help to attract investment in various fields, promote economic development, enhance remote areas, and improve living standards, he said.

After thanking the Chinese government and people to provide assistance, Prime Minister Hun Sen also wishes Chinese people living in Cambodia have a happy Chinese New Year, saying that "with the approaching of traditional Chinese New Year, I wish all Chinese people, overseas Chinese living in Cambodia health and success in the coming year."
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Cambodia won't send troops to Afghanistan, Iraq

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Prime Minister Hun Sen said Wednesday he will not send peacekeeping troops to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Hun Sen said some countries, which he did not name, had requested 1,000 Cambodian de-miners be deployed to Afghanistan.

"I will not send Cambodian sons to die in those two countries," he said in remarks at the groundbreaking for a new road in the central province of Kampong Thom. "The Cambodian people have seen enough war and suffered enough casualties from land mines."

Cambodia was wracked by almost three decades of war and unrest after a 1970 military coup and became one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. It has trained a large corps of skilled de-miners.

In April 2006, Cambodia sent 135 soldiers to help U.N. peacekeepers clear mines in war-torn Sudan. Hun Sen, however, rejected requests from the U.S. to deploy Cambodian troops to Iraq that same year. He said he questioned the overall legitimacy of the war in Iraq and that it was too dangerous for Cambodians to operate there.

In early 2009, Cambodia sent several dozen troops to Chad and the Central African Republic.

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KSL set to double sugarcane output

KOH KONG, CAMBODIA : Khon Kaen Sugar Industry Plc (KSL) aims to invest about 15 billion baht over the next five years to double its sugarcane output in Thailand and continuously expand its presence in Cambodia and Laos.

Thailand's only listed sugar miller expects the group's total revenue to top 20 billion baht from last year's 12 billion baht when the expansion is completed.

Chairman Chamroon Chinthammit said the company would spend 6-7 billion baht to build a new factory complete with a power and ethanol plant in Sa Kaeo. The Bo Phloi mill in Kanchanaburi also requires an investment of 8 billion baht, of which half is being spent on the first phase of construction.

The group currently operates four sugar mills and cane farms in Khon Kaen, Chon Buri and Kanchanaburi, with combined sugar production of 5 million tonnes per crop.

KSL projects that its local sugarcane output will double to 10 million within five years, moving it from the fourth to third place in the country in terms of overall production, said Mr Chamroon.

The company on Monday inaugurated its $100-million sugar mill in Koh Kong, the first of its kind in Cambodia. The group, together with Cambodian and Taiwanese partners, has been granted a 90-year farming concession for 20,000 hectares in Koh Kong along the border of Thailand and Cambodia.

An estimated 240,000 tonnes of sugarcane will be processed in the 2009-10 season, the first year of operation.

"We are aiming for the total production of 2 million tonnes from Cambodia within five years while our crushing capacity in Laos will be expanded to 700,000 tones from 300,000 to 400,000 tonnes at present," Mr Chamroon said.

KSL has also been awarded a concession of 30 years for 10,000 hectares in Laos. The Sawannakhet mill, with total investment of $40 million, began operating at almost the same time as the Koh Kong plant.

Laos and Cambodia are among the 19 developing countries entitled to duty-free sugar exports to European markets. KSL has signed five-year contracts with London-based Tate & Lyle to supply all of its output from Cambodia and Laos at the price of 19 cents a pound.

Ly Yong Phat, one of Cambodia's top businessmen and a close ally of Prime Minister Hun Sen, holds 20% in KSL's joint venture while the Thai sugar miller controls 50%. The remaining 30% is owned by the Taiwanese partner Ve Wong Corp.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Prime Minister Hun Sen vowed to seek the required land and labour for KSL, which needs 4,000 employees, saying the sugar industry was vital for the Cambodian economy. According to data from Thailand's Commerce Ministry, the country exports 300,000 tonnes of white sugar to Cambodia.

Chalush Chinthammit, KSL's assistant vice-president for business development, said the group expected up to 20% growth in revenue this year, thanks to the high sugar price, now at a 28-year high of 29 cents a pound, and higher production than last year.

Given the current supply shortage, sugar prices will remain on the uptrend, definitely breaking the 30-cent mark by the end of the second quarter, Mr Chalush added.

KSL shares closed yesterday on SET at 14.70 baht, up 50 satang, in trade worth 44 million baht.

Relate Search: Khon Kaen Sugar Industry Plc, Chairman Chamroon Chinthammit, Bo Phloi mill, Kanchanaburi.
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Cambodian drug centres deny abuse

Operators of drug rehabilitation centres in Cambodia have denied accusations patients are subjected to "sadistic violence". Human Rights Watch claims people are being held in the centres against their will, where they are subjected to torture, rape and humiliation. The organisation is calling for Cambodia authorities to shut down controversial facilities .

Presenter: Stephanie March
Speakers: Joe Amon, director, Health and Human Rights Commission, Human Rights Watch; Nean Sokhim, director, My Chance Drug Detention and Rehabilitation Centre, Phnom Penh .

MARCH: The report by Human Rights Watch says 2,000 people are being held in so-called "drug rehabilitation centres" across Cambodia. Joe Amon is the director of the Health and Human rights commission for the organisation.

AMON: There were reports of beatings, being shocked with electric batons. There were cases where people would describe very specifically how staff and guards would wind together electrical cables together and whip inmates with them. But we also heard about rapes, we heard about people being shackled for long periods of time and being forced to stand in the sun.

MARCH: The report says many of the detainees are picked up by police and military in an effort to get drug users, sex workers and beggars off the street. Others are sent by their families who pay the authorities to treat and rehabilitate the patients. But Mr Amon says it's not only drug users who end up in the facilities.

AMON: Most of them were at some point drug users - not all of them were drug addicted or drug dependant. There were also children in there, adults who hadn't used drugs but got caught up in street sweeps. And also really quite disturbingly individuals with mental illness

MARCH: Government statistics show between 2007 and 2008, there was a 40% increase in the number of people in the the centres. Mr Amon says the centres are an easy way for authorities to keep so-called undesirables off the street.

AMON: And the other is profit. You know family members that are paying to have individuals picked up and put in these centres. You know that money is against Cambodian law, by law it says drug dependency treatment should be free. And that money is going directly into the pocket of the people running the centres.

MARCH: Nean Sokhim is the director of the civilian-run "My Chance" drug rehabilitation centre in Phnom Penh. He says patients are treated well, receive three meals a day and have job training opportunities.

SOKHIM: In my centre is no murder happen, no problem eh.

MARCH: Is there any violence towards the people in your centre from the guards?

SOKHIM: No, never.

MARCH: The is a report that has come out from a human rights organisation that says people that are tortured and kept against their will. What do you say about this report?

SOKHIM: No, no never happen like this. But the Human Rights Watch always say, always advise bad about the drug rehab centre in Cambodia. I don't know why because in my centre I always try to do everything better and better.

He says some detainees have tried to run away in the past.

SOKHIM: We have some, but all of them because we (inaudible) them and we can drug them and we forbid them to do the work at the outside of the after they can escape.

MARCH: So if someone tries to run away you give them drugs so they can't escape?

SOKHIM: Yeah, yeah yeah.

MARCH: Human Rights Watch says there are at least 11 drug centres operating in Cambodia. Some are run by the police and military while others are operated by civilians. Mr Sokhim says while there is no abuse at his centre he can't vouch for those run by the security forces.

SOKHIM: For other centre, they can violence at the centre governed by the police, governed by the military police. But in my centre is civil governed.

MARCH: Human Rights Watch is calling for all the drug rehab centres to be closed down and investigated for rights abuse. Joe Amon from the organisation says detention centres are the wrong way to tackle drug abuse.

AMON: The World Health Organisation did an assessment and they said in their report that they estimated that it was close to 100 percent relapse for the people who have been in these centres.. It's just the wrong way to approach drug addiction. Drug addiction is a chronic relapsing condition. It's not helped by a period of military drills and forced exercise.

Mr Sokhim estimates 70 percent of the 2,500 people who have been in his centre since it opened in 2006 have successfully managed to conquer drug abuse.
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