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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Cambodia: Thai ex-PM Thaksin resigns as adviser

Associated Press Writer

(AP:PHNOM PENH, Cambodia) Thailand's former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, on Monday gave up his post as an adviser to the Cambodian government, nine months after his appointment helped fuel a diplomatic brouhaha.

A royal decree signed Monday by Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni said Thaksin had been terminated from his dual positions of personal adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen and economic adviser to the Cambodia government at his own request. A government statement said he tendered his resignation, accepted by Hun Sen, due to his "difficulty to fulfill his duty."

Thaksin was appointed in November last year, and his subsequent visit to Cambodia set off a row in which the two countries recalled their ambassadors.

Bangkok was displeased because Thaksin is a fugitive from justice. In 2008, a Thai court sentenced Thaksin in absentia to two years in prison for violating a conflict of interest law, but he fled into exile before the verdict. He was ousted by a 2006 military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power.

Hun Sen said Thaksin had been unfairly convicted for political reasons.

Thaksin lives mainly in Dubai, and has been accused by the current Thai government of seeking to undermine it. His supporters and their allies in March to May this year staged aggressive street protests in the Thai capital Bangkok, with related violence leaving about 90 people dead and more than 1,400 wounded.

Cambodia's relation with Thailand have been contentious for several years, with the focus of tension most recently being a dispute over some land on their common border. Relations have become worse since Abhisit Vejjajiva, a political antagonist of Thaksin, became Thailand's prime minister in December 2008.

Some of Hun Sen's antagonism toward Abhisit's government may be ascribed to the Thai leader appointing as his foreign minister Kasit Piromya, who before taking the post had insulted Hun Sen in public speeches as a gangster and a bum.

Abhisit, questioned about Thaksin's resignation, said he was waiting for confirmation, and that if it were true, would welcome a move for the two countries to send their ambassadors back to their posts, but "we must proceed step-by-step."

The Cambodian government statement said that while Thaksin served as adviser, he contributed vital ideas and drew on his experience "to help Cambodia with competitiveness, especially in the fields of investment, tourism, commerce and agriculture."

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Thaksin resigned for personal reasons, and Cambodia did not receive pressure from any country to terminate him. He also said the matter did not affect Cambodia's stance on its territorial claims.

Cambodia did not elaborate on Thaksin's difficulties in fulfilling his duties. However, Noppadol Pattama, a former Thai foreign minister lawyer in Bangkok who sometimes represents Thaksin's interest, said that lately the former prime minister has been traveling a lot for business and other reasons so "didn't have time to dedicate to the responsibilities that accompanied the position."

Noppadol also said Thaksin did not wish to complicate Thai-Cambodian relations.

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Ranariddh Opposes Alliance of Royalist Parties

Prince Norodom Ranariddh announced his opposition to the formation of a single royalist party on Monday, claiming the Nationalist Party that he formed but no longer leads should remain separate from the traditional Funcinpec.

“A combination would make us lose the voice of supporters and the name and honor of the party,” he said in a statement.

Norodom Ranariddh's statement comes after a Constitutional Council announcement Aug. 4 claiming that any party that merges with another will be removed from the Ministry of Interior's list of political organizations.

Funcinpec and the Nationalist Party have been working for reconciliation, announcing in June they would form an alliance to help move voters back toward the royalist parties following a poor showing in 2008's national polls.

Funcinpec was the leading political party when Cambodia emerged from decades of war, garnering 58 of 120 National Assembly seats in the UN-backed election of 1993. But the party was divided when Norodom Ranariddh left in 2006 under allegations of corruption.

The parties competed against each other in the 2008 election, winning only two seats each. Officials from each party maintained on Monday they would be working together.

“We explained to the prince this morning that the combination will not lead to the loss of the party, as the agreement ensures the sovereignty and identity of each party,” said Pen Sang Ha, spokesman for the Nationalist Party.

Funcinpec President Keo Put Reaksmey said the parties had up until six months ahead of the election to combine. The two parties have already been organizing on a grass roots level in the provinces of Svay Rieng, Prey Veng, Siem Reap and Kampong Thom.

“We will make a common list of candidates for the commune elections in 2012,” he said.

The statement was one of the prince's first steps into a political issue since 2008, when he left the National Party, which was then named after Norodom Ranariddh, and was made a senior adviser to King Norodom Sihamoni.

The prince's cabinet chief, Norannaridh Anandayath, said Monday the statement was “not an intervention in politics.”
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Anti-Corruption Unit Seeks To Reassure Investors

The government's Anti-Corruption Unit is preparing a plan to help ensure businesses and investors are protected from corruption, a senior official said Monday.

The new plan will help businesses register with the Ministry of Commerce and receive business certificates and licenses, said Om Yienteng, head of the Anti-Corruption Unit, during the Cambodia-Korea Transparency International Symposium in Phnom Penh.

“For example,” he said, “The Ministry of Commerce lists a company. What documents does it need? How much does it cost? How long is the wait?”

The new plan will also include birth certificates for Cambodians and efforts to prevent officials from asking more money than is legally required, he said.

The Anti-Corruption Unit is also developing internal oversight for its own investigating officials to ensure they are maintaining proper relationships.

Om Yientang also said it was important that people accused of corruption are sent to court as a deterrent. “If someone dares to make corruption, that man cannot make corruption,” he said.

“I am convinced that Cambodia can achieve greater successes for fighting against corruption by reforming the system in the government ministries and institutions in the future,” Shin-Bom Lee, a former member of South Korea's National Assembly and now a member of the Blue Korea Foundation, said.

Savuth Bora, the head of DNL Global Services Co., Ltd, said that the Anti-Corruption Unit's plan would help investment in Cambodia by preventing the bribes many companies complain of making to government officials.

“The Anti-Corruption Unit can make a clear plan by limiting that all businessmen must pay $100 or $120 for their company license or company listing,” he said.

Van Luy, head of Eurotech Import Export Co., Ltd., said the plan will also help government revenue that is lost to bribes and illegal operations.

“If we issue a strong and clear law, it is very good for Cambodia,” she said. “All walks of people will not dare to violate the law.”
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