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Friday, April 02, 2010

Cambodia shrugs at US punishment over Uighurs

PHNOM PENH--The Cambodian government on Friday said it was untroubled by a US refusal to send military aid to the Southeast Asian nation as punishment for its deportation of 20 Chinese Uighurs.

The US stopped a shipment of 200 military trucks and trailers on Thursday in response to Phnom Penh's controversial December deportation of the ethnic Uighur asylum seekers to China, where they said they would face torture.

Nations and rights groups deplored Cambodia's move to expel the Uighurs, who had been labelled "criminals" by Beijing after fleeing China's far western Xinjiang region following violent clashes with the majority Han.

Cambodian government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said his country was not concerned by the cancelled donation of surplus US military supplies, part of an American aid programme.

"If the US gives us the equipment, we are happy. And if they won't give it to us, it is also good," he told AFP.

"There will be no effect to our military work," the spokesman added, saying that the UN refugee agency had been too slow in assessing the Uighurs' claim to refugee status.

The decision to deport the Uighurs came a day ahead of a visit by Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, during which he agreed 1.2 billion dollars in aid and loans to Cambodia with Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Clashes between Xinjiang's Uighurs and China's majority Han ethnic group in July left nearly 200 dead and 1,600 injured, according to official tolls.

The US State Department in its last annual human rights report said that China was stepping up cultural and political repression against Uighurs in Xinjiang.
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Briefing Skipper: Cuba, Gration, Karzai, Hu, Cambodia

In which we scour the transcript of the State Department's daily presser so you don't have to. Here are the highlights of Thursday's briefing by spokesman P.J. Crowley:

State Department counselor Cheryl Mills met with Cuban Foreign Minister Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez on the sidelines of the Haiti donors conference Wednesday. "They talked about Haiti in particular," Crowley said. The U.S. also brought up the situation of Alan Gross, the USAID contractor arrested for passing out satellite phones and laptops and such. So is this a thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations? Not so much.

Sudan Special Envoy Scott Gration is in Sudan but seems to not have saved the elections, which are now dangerously in peril. "We have concerns about, you know, the credibility of the election," Crowley said, stating the obvious, but being careful not to characterize the elections as a failure... yet.

The State Department does "not accept [the] judgment" of Afghan President Hamid Karzai that the west was responsible for the "massive fraud" he now acknowledges helped keep him in power in last year's elections as part of a vast UN conspiracy. "Karzai has to step forward, lead his government, you know, in terms of convincing the international community and the Afghan people that they are taking measurable steps to reduce corruption," Crowley said, later adding, "President Karzai has said the right things to us starting, you know, with the promises that he made in his inaugural speech late last year." Peter Galbraith disagrees.

State "welcomes" the decision by Chinese President Hu Jintao to attend the upcoming nuclear security summit in Washington. "China's participation at the highest possible level reflects China's concern as well about nuclear security in the future," Crowley said. But let's not make too much of it. "I think you should take this at face value,' he added.

On China and Iran sanctions, Crowley said, "China has indicated a willingness to be a full participant as we -- as we go through the specifics of what would be in a resolution." That's... encouraging???

The U.S. is suspending "excess defense article" sales to Cambodia, including trucks and trailers, as a response to that country's decision to return 20 Uighur asylum seekers to China, where their future looks bleak. "We said there would be consequences, and this is a step in that direction," Crowley said. The Cambodians are apparently "shrugging off" the punishment.
Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela will begin a week-long trip to Ecuador, Colombia and Peru next week. The topics? Security cooperation, social inclusion, economic competitiveness, democratic governance and human rights, you know, the usual.
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Please crash my wedding day, Cambodians say

In Cambodia, strict social norms about marriage and a high percentage of youths adds up to a lot of wedding day celebrations. They're often seen as a way to raise cash, so everyone is invited.

A Cambodian couple poses for their wedding day photo. Huge marriage celebrations with hundreds of people are normal here, and even newly arrived foreigners can find themselves attending numerous weddings. Julie Masis

Westerners who move to Cambodia are likely to find themselves invited to more weddings than they would be back home. While traveling by motorcycle on a rural road for a half-hour on a recent Saturday afternoon, I passed at least five wedding tents. They are easy to spot – decorated with pink curtains, ribbons tied around chairs, and the names of the bride and groom engraved above the gate.

Hart Feuer, a researcher who has lived in the country for a year, says he has attended at least 15 weddings – including some with more than 1,000 guests and meals served in shifts.

Why so many weddings? It might have something to do with the fact that 64 percent of Cambodians are under the age of 30. And it is culturally unacceptable for Cambodian men and women to live together before marriage, says Rabbi Bentche Butman, who runs the Jewish Center of Cambodia. Another reason is financial. When attending a wedding, it is customary to give money – approximately $20. Because of that, hosts invite many people, and sometimes even people whom they have never met.

Un Chanta, a cook, recently invited all of the employees at her company to her daughter’s wedding – including some foreigners who had arrived in Cambodia just days before.

“It’s prestigious to have a Westerner at your wedding,” says Naomi Robinson, the managing editor of Cambodia-based magazine AsiaLIFE Guide. “And also you’re expected to give money – and if you’re a Westerner, you’re expected to give more.”

Whatever the reason, the enormous number of weddings can be a financial burden.

Phnom Penh college student Dorn Phok, whose monthly salary is $100, was invited to five weddings in February, of which he attended three, but sent money to all.

“When I get married," he says, "I want to make a big wedding to follow Khmer traditions and because everyone owes me money."
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