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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Defence Minister confident five Thais detained in Cambodia will be free soon

BANGKOK, Jan 15 -- Defence Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan urged all parties to be patient and expressed confidence that all seven Thais detained in Phnom Penh since late last year would be released soon as the Cambodian authorities understood that they were not ill-intentioned people.

Gen Prawit said the defence ministry was not idle regarding the jailed Thais, but said it had done its best and explored options to help them.

He said the ministry had given its full attention at the beginning to help the seven Thais. After Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva assigned the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defence to coordinate with Cambodian authorities to help the Thai detainees, the talks between the top military officials of both countries were already going on.

He urged all parties to be patient and said he believed all seven Thais would be released soon.

"Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for National Defence Tea Banh and I have been in contact and discussed the matter. We are neighbouring countries. We should talk, so don't worry. The bilateral committees at the government-to-government and ministry levels have still contact each other," he said.

He also denied the accusation that the Thai military at the border have taken no action because they had received payoffs on the border.

The minister warned against spreading the accusation and accepting it without any evidence as it could damage other people.

Gen Prawit said he would ask the Ministry's Judge Advocate General's Department to determine if legal action can be taken against the accusers.

The army chief said that the soldiers are Thais too and they love their country just like other Thais.

The so-called Thailand Patriots Network (TPN) group claimed that senior Thai military officers were somehow profiting from the border troubles and criticised their slow action in helping the detainees.

On Friday, TPN activists rallied at Thailand's defense ministry, calling for the resignation of the prime minister, Foreign Affairs Minister Kasit Piromya and Gen Prawit.

They charged that senior military officers chose to stay idle regarding the jailed Thais as they believed the seven were on Thai soil when they were taken into custody by the Cambodian authorities and that several Thai military officers had received payoffs on the border.

Chaiwat Sinsuwong, leader of the Thailand Patriots Network, said Saturday that the group viewed that the government and the military ignored helping the Thais and failed to protect Thai territory, which they believed could put Thailand at risk of losing territory in the future.

The network, therefore, will march from Government House where they will rally to the Palace to submit a petition to His Majesty the King on Tuesday (Jan 18) at 9.59am asking for help.

The network would discuss later whether to stop their demonstration after submitting their petition and would decide later whether to go to Sa Kaeo province on the Cambodian border.
The Thais were captured by Cambodian soldiers on Dec 29.

At present, five are still in custody and have been denied bail by the Cambodian court while two, including Panich Vikitsreth, an MP representing Bangkok and member of the ruling Democrat Party, have been released on bail but are not allowed to leave the country, as they must attend court hearings when they take place.

The detainees face two initial charges -- illegal entry into the Cambodian kingdom, with possible punishment of three to six months jail and deportation, and also trespass on a Cambodian military zone, punishable by three to six months jail and Bt7,500-15,000 in fines.

Veera Somkwamkid, leader of the Thai Patriots Network, and his secretary Ratree Pipattanapaiboon, however, face additional spying charges on top of illegal entry and trespassing on a Cambodian military area, which has been already heard.

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Kep, Cambodia: Asia meets France by the seaside

By Trish Lorenz

Trish Lorenz enjoys a fusion of flavours in the sleepy coastal village of Kep in Cambodia.

The sky was deep blue, the sand soft and sugary white, and the only sound to be heard was the gentle swish of water as small waves hit the shore and then retreated. White crabs scuttled out of sand holes and back again, and picture-perfect seashells, the type you normally only find in shops – glossy and perfectly curved – lay dotted all around.

Lying in the dappled shade of a stumpy tree on a beach on Koh Tonsay – a tiny island known to locals as Rabbit Island – just a few miles off the Cambodian coastal village of Kep, I felt an overwhelming calm. After a week in Kep we had taken a day trip to the island on our penultimate day. Tellingly, it had taken us this long to muster the energy.

Kep is a tantalising combination of faded French Indo-China glamour, Asian and French cuisine, and the clear waters and white sands of the tropical beachside. The village was popular with wealthy holidaymakers from the Thirties right up until the Khmer Rouge took over the country in the Seventies, when it faded from view for more than 30 years.

Even locals forgot its existence. "I grew up just 15 miles from here and I didn't know there was such a town as Kep until 2002," Lee Lim, now a resort manager in the village, told me.
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Cambodia sees Chinese visitors as potential boost to tourism

In addition to the significant roles contributed by China to the country's development that is admired by Cambodian leaders, Cambodia is also seeing Chinese visitors as a potential boost to tourism.

Tith Chantha, director general of Cambodia's Ministry of Tourism highlighted China as a future main source of the Kingdom' s visitors.

"I am viewing and hoping that Chinese tourists will visit Cambodia just like the Mekong River that flows from China," he said.

China is now recorded as the third largest source of foreign tourists to Cambodia, according to statistics of the tourims ministry.

The latest figure showed that 177,636 Chinese visited Cambodia in 2010, an increase of 38.55 percent over 2009.

Cambodia has 438 hotels with 25,000 rooms and it is expected to have 40,000 more rooms by 2015 and 70,000 more rooms by 2020.

Tith Chantha said the tourism sector will generate as much as 4 billion U.S. dollars in revenue in 10 years.

In many forums, Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen has praised China for its major roles in helping his country including hard and soft assistance.

He said that he has gradually built good relationship with China since 1994, from good neighbor cooperation to mutual trust cooperation in 2006 and now it has reached a comprehensive strategic partner of cooperation.

In terms of investment, Hun Sen said China is seen as the largest investors of all in 2010.

And on tourism, he has encouraged local people and services to accept China's Yuan currency in a way to facilitate Chinese visitors to his country.

Hun Sen said his country's tourism has contributed 10 percent to Gross Domestic Product.

He also said tourism is playing an important role in boosting economic growth and the happiness of all people around the globe, and thus his government set tourism as one of the priority sectors for development, saying it is considered as "green gold" which is helping to promote the good living standard of the people, especially, those who are living in the touristic sites.

Cambodia is forecasting that foreign tourists will reach 6 million by year 2020.

In 2010, Cambodia hosted 2,508,289 tourist, an increase of 16 percent compared to 2,161,577 in 2009.

While many countries around the world are working hard to attract foreign tourists, Cambodia will be extremely busy hosting the 30th ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF 2011) this weekend through next week.

More than 2,000 delegates from 10 member states of Association of Southeast Asian Nations are ready to take part in the upcoming ATF 2011 which will be held from Jan. 15 to Jan. 21, 2011 at the newly built Diamond Island Convention and Exhibition Center in Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia.

During the ATF 2011, there will be travel exchange (TRAVEX) which will give the venue for the ASEAN's package tour sellers and potential buyers from the region and the world, and friendship golf tournament for ASEAN Tourism Ministers and senior officials, organized and sponsored by international television network.

As planned China will also take part in the forum as a dialogue partner, according to organizers.

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