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Friday, February 12, 2010

U.S. Naval Vessel to Make Port in Cambodia's Coast of Sihanoukville

The USS Patriot, an Avenger- class countermeasures vessel from the 7th fleet based in Hawaii will make port in Cambodia's coast of Sihanoukville early next week, according to a statement released Friday by the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh.

The statement said the USS Patriot will begin a weeklong visit starting from Monday and to conduct exercises with the Cambodian Navy.

Sihanoukville province is located 230 kilometers southwest of Phnom Penh.

The bilateral training exercises will focus on damage control, search and seizure and at sea rescue techniques.

In addition, naval surveyors who are also traveling on the ship will assist their Cambodian counterparts in taking sides scan surveys of the port area to check for possible obstructions in commercial shipping lanes.

Both the bilateral training exercises and the survey are being orchestrated at the request of the Cambodian Navy and the Port Authority.

This is the fifth visit by a U.S. naval ship since the resumption of military to military engagement between the U.S. and Cambodia.

The statement said that "each visit represents another important step in this evolving relationship as well as an opportunity for military personnel from both countries to exchange experiences, tips and techniques which will assist them in the future."

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Thailand deports crew of NKorean weapons plane

BANGKOK -- Thailand on Friday deported members of a foreign plane crew accused of smuggling arms from North Korea, a day after prosecutors dropped all charges against them.

The five crew members, from Kazakhstan and Belarus, were escorted to Bangkok's Suvannabhumi airport by at least a dozen police, and left in the early evening on an Air Astana flight for Almaty, Kazakhstan.

The five were arrested Dec. 12 when the Ilyushin Il-76 cargo plane they were flying from the North Korean capital Pyongyang landed in Bangkok. Thai authorities, acting on a tip from the United States, seized the plane and 35 tons of weapons on board.

North Korea is barred under U.N. sanctions from exporting weapons.

Flight documents indicated the plane's destination was Iran, but officials there denied they were importing weapons.

Thailand's Attorney General's Office said Thursday the decision to drop charges against the Il-76 crew was made after the governments of Belarus and Kazakhstan contacted the Thai Foreign Ministry and requested the crew's release so they can be investigated at home.

"To charge them in Thailand could affect the good relationship between the countries," said Thanaphit Mollaphruek, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office. "They were only here for refueling."

Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said Thai authorities were still awaiting advice from the United Nations on how to dispose of the weapons.
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Cambodian court gives Thai 20 yrs for laying mines, AS

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — A Cambodian military court on Friday sentenced a Thai man to 20 years in prison for trying to lay land mines.

Judge Pohk Pan convicted Suphap Wongpakna, 39, of illegally entering the country and planting an explosive to cause bodily harm, an offense under Cambodia's terrorism law.

Relations between Cambodia and Thailand are tense over territorial disputes and the status of a former Thai prime minister.

Suphap was arrested by Cambodian border guards on Feb. 27, 2009, along the border near the town of Anlong Veng in northern Cambodia. He was arrested just a few meters (yards) inside Cambodian territory while carrying a land mine, according to the court's record.

Speaking through an interpreter, the defendant said he was a former member of Thailand's paramilitary Rangers force — which operates mostly along the borders — and that he had been hired by his former commander to plant mines.

He said he had already planted five mines near the border before being arrested, and had received 2,000 baht ($60) for each mine.

In Bangkok, a Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman, Thani Thongphakdi, said Suphap was not affiliated with any Thai government agency. Thani said the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh was seeking access to him to offer consular assistance.

Suphap's lawyer, Sam Sokhong, said he would consult with his client to see whether he wanted to appeal the verdict.

In a high-profile case last year, Cambodia convicted a Thai citizen employed by Cambodia's country air traffic control company on a spying charge.

The arrest of Siwarak Chothipong became a major issue in bilateral relations and in Thai domestic politics because of the involvement of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in a 2006 military coup.

Thaksin is a fugitive from Thai justice, but was appointed an adviser to the Cambodian government and given a VIP welcome in November by Cambodian Premier Hun Sen.

Siwarak was accused of passing Thaksin's flight plans to the Thai Embassy. He was convicted of stealing information that could impact national security and sentenced to seven years in prison, but was pardoned less than a week later.

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The world is her stage

By Myles Murphy
Ashland Daily Tidings

Helena de Crespo always has been fascinated by the ancient complex of elaborately constructed temples of Angkor Wat deep in the jungles of Cambodia.

During a trip to the nearby island city-state of Singapore three years ago, de Crespo couldn't resist taking a side trip to satisfy her lifelong curiosity.

It was a decision that would set her life on a new track.

"I really stepped into another world," de Crespo said.

While returning from the temples, she saw a huge, colorful stage set up on the side of the road, complete with proscenium, painted curtains, lights and a large group of actors, stagehands and theater artisans. Herself an actor (she appeared most recently in Ashland in the one-woman Oregon Stage Works production of "Shirley Valentine"), she felt compelled to stop and learn more about the group.

"As I began talking to them, I began to learn more about Cambodia," de Crespo said.

A period of political unrest and violence in Cambodia in the 1970s climaxed when the Khmer Rouge took power in 1975. For the next four years, people were forced out of cities to work in the fields, banking and currency were abandoned in favor of an agrarian society, torture centers were created and public executions became common. Between starvation and killings, as many as 3 million people died during that period. Cambodia's population at the time was about 7.5 million, according to the U.S. State Department.

"Actors were among the first killed by the Khmer Rouge because they were keeping alive cultural traditions," de Crespo said. "Anyone closely resembling an intellectual was killed."

Many villages across the country had their own theater groups, which traveled from place to place retelling old stories, histories and mythologies. De Crespo had come across one such group that has been struggling to revive the tradition.

She decided to help. By using her connections to the theater community in the states, she was able to draw support and funds toward building a theater and housing for the group in Cambodia.

She also made contact with the Cambodian community in the U.S., which is how she met Portlander Kilong Ung, himself a refugee from Cambodia. Ung is speaking Saturday at the Ashland Branch Library as part of a collaboration cosponsored by Gallerie Karon and the Friends of the Ashland Library.

"He lived through it," de Crespo said. "I'm just a peripheral observer."

Searching for the most efficient way to help the Cambodian thespians, de Crespo learned that they were essentially homeless and that in the rainy season, their incomes dropped to nothing.

"They can't perform during rainy season and the company goes through hard times," she said. "The best way to help was to build a permanent housing complex with a performing area, stage, housing and buildings to construct costumes, sets and puppets."

The puppets are made from cow and buffalo leather punched with holes to allow light through to make for interesting silhouettes.

De Crespo has brought many examples of these puppets to Ashland for the show at Gallerie Karon.

De Crespo also will give a talk and slide show about her experience in Cambodia from 7 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Gallerie Karon, 500 A St. No. 1. For information on de Crespo's Cambodia project, see the Web site

Myles Murphy is an editor and reporter with the Daily Tidings. Reach him at

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