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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cambodia dismisses Human Rights Watch criticisms as 'lie'+

PHNOM PENH, The Cambodian government on Tuesday dismissed as a "lie" a report by a U.S.-based human rights advocacy group that accused it of stepping up its repression of freedoms of expression, assembly and association last year.
Tith Sothea, spokesman of the Office of the Council of Ministers, slammed the accusations made in Human Rights Watch's annual report, calling it "inaccurate and a lie" and rejecting it as devoid of value.

He said the report ignored the Cambodian government's commitment to implement and strengthen the country's rule of law.

Human Rights Watch's report said the government in 2010 used the judiciary, new laws, and threats of arrest or legal action to restrict free speech, jail government critics, disperse workers and farmers peacefully protesting and silence opposition party members.

The report also said the government violated Cambodia's obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention by deporting to China some 20 Uighur asylum seekers at risk of torture and mistreatment there, which happened on the eve of a visit by senior Chinese officials that finalized a massive aid package to Cambodia.

It said journalists who criticize the government face biased legal action, imprisonment, and violence, while politically motivated court cases continue to target opposition members.

Pending legislation on nongovernmental organizations and trade unions is expected to further tighten restrictions on freedom of association, it said, noting that a new law already allows local officials to ban protests deemed threats to "security, safety, and public order."

The report said years of international donor funding for judicial reform in Cambodia have had little effect, and it noted that a report submitted in September by the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia strongly criticized the lack of judicial independence.

Japan, Cambodia's largest donor, "maintained its practice of not publicly confronting the government about its rights violations," while China, another major investor and donor, "continued to increase aid to Cambodia with no conditions made to improve human rights," Human Rights Watch said.

The rights group faulted the United States for continuing to aid and train Cambodia's armed forces, including units with records of serious rights violations

But according to U.S. Embassy spokesman Mark Wenig, "Every individual who is trained is thoroughly vetted both in Phnom Penh and Washington in accordance with U.S. law and Department regulations."

"The U.S. government provides training to Cambodian security forces to advance our goals of creating a more professional force and to advance U.S. objectives in areas such as counterterrorism and peacekeeping operations," he said.

The rights group also took Washington to task for U.S.-funded regional peacekeeping exercises last July, which it said took place on land transferred from a military unit involved in illegal land seizures.

Such illegal land seizures and forced evictions continue to escalate, it said, with thousands of families newly affected last year and dozens of people imprisoned or awaiting trial for protesting forced evictions and land grabbing.

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Tourist Visa on arrival for Myanma, Indonesia citizens

NEW DELHI: India on Tuesday extended the Tourist Visa on Arrival (TVOA) scheme for the citizens of Myanmar and Indonesia.

Nationals of nine other countries -- Japan, Singapore, Finland, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Philippines -- are already availing this facility in India.

"The TVOA is allowed for a maximum validity of 30 days with single entry facility by the Immigration Officers at Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata Airports on payment of a fee of US $ 60 or equivalent amount in Indian rupees per passenger (including children).

TVOA is allowed for a maximum of two times in a calendar year to a foreigner with a minimum gap of two months between each visit. TVOA shall be non-extendable and non-convertible", said the Union home ministry.

The foreigners of such may, however, also avail of TVOA for up to 30 days for medical treatment, for casual business or to visit friends/relatives. The TVOA facility is not applicable to the holders of Diplomatic/Official Passports.

The TVOA will also not be granted to the foreigners who have permanent residence or occupation in India. Such persons can visit India on normal visa, as applicable.

The ministry said: "In order to promote tourism, the TVOA scheme was first introduced for the nationals of five countries -- Japan, Singapore, Finland, Luxembourg and New Zealand -- on January 1, 2010. The scheme has been found to be useful by the foreign nationals. Up to December last year, 6569 nationals availed the facility of TVOA. Government had later extended the scheme for the nationals of four more countries -- Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Philippines – on January 1 this year".
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PAD activists start fresh rally, block traffic on Ratchadamnoen Avenue

BANGKOK, Jan 25 -- The 'Yellow Shirt' People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) kicked off their fresh demonstration on Tuesday afternoon at Makkhawan Bridge on Ratchadamnoen Nok Avenue to press the government to accept their demands over the Thai-Cambodian border disputes.

Ratchadamnoen Nok Avenue between Misakawan intersection and Makkhawan Bridge was totally closed for vehicles as a stage, tents and facilities for encampment were set up.

Key PAD leader Maj-Gen Chamlong Srimuang threatened to prolong the rally nearby Government House until Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva responds to their demands.

He said firstly the government must revoke the 2000 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by Thailand and Cambodia concerning their border disputes. The ultra nationalist movement claimed that the 2000 MoU puts Thailand at a disadvantage in handling such disputes with the neighbouring country.

Second, the government must withdraw from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee and remove Cambodian people from disputed border areas near Preah Vihear Temple.

Gen Chamlong stressed that there would be no negotiation with the government on its request to end the demonstration.

The former Bangkok governor said that he was well aware that the rally would affect the traffic and student access to schools as there are many schools around the protest site, but he asked for understanding as the issue of territorial integrity was very important.

The PAD co-leader said that he is unworried about the security measures even though the seizure of home-made bombs and ammunition, and the arrest of five men claiming that they have targeted causing trouble at the demonstration.

Gen Chamlong said he believes the capability of the police and the cooperation on the security measures to ensure the safety of the protesters.

Security has been tightened around Government House where 24 companies of police -- some 4,000 personnel -- were deployed early Tuesday to ensure law and order. (MCOT online news)

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Protesting Thai Red Shirts call for release of leaders

BANGKOK – About 30,000 anti-government Red Shirts rallied in Thailand’s capital yesterday in another show of strength that heralds a rocky run-up to an election due this year.

It was the second big rally this month by the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) and serves as a reminder of the polarisation that has plagued southeast Asia’s second-largest economy for the past five years.

The mostly rural and urban working-class Red Shirts marched from the upmarket shopping district they effectively closed for much of April and May last year to Democracy Monument in the city’s old quarter.

The protests last year were halted by a military crackdown. In all, 91 people were killed and many UDD leaders remain in detention – one of the reasons for the latest protests.

“We will stay until midnight and will meet again on February 13th,” said Jatuporn Prompan, who managed to stay out of prison because of his status as a politician. “Our rally will get bigger and bigger until the government releases our leaders.”

Some protesters said they were there to show support for former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by the military in 2006 and now lives in exile to avoid a jail term handed down for corruption.

“This government’s policy is no good, I want Thaksin back,” said Boonsri Sudanetr (42), who is from Nakhon Ratchasima in the northeast, a Thaksin stronghold.

Prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has promised an election some time this year, perhaps in the first half, although that timeframe may not appeal to his coalition partners or his powerful backers in the military and royalist establishment.

Analysts say the regrouping of the UDD and the zero tolerance shown by the authorities threaten instability and economic damage if political tensions again spill over into violence.

“Despite [military and government] efforts to contain the situation, Thailand’s political crisis will continue in 2011,” risk consultancy IHS Global Insight said in a client note, adding there was a “high likelihood of further political instability, even if Abhisit manages to win the polls”.

Despite those risks, foreign investors put a net $1.9 billion into Thailand’s stock market in 2010 – the second-highest inflow in the region, behind Indonesia – helping to push the baht to a 13-year high.

Just as the UDD has taken extreme measures to try to bring down Mr Abhisit, the pro-establishment yellow-shirted People’s Alliance for Democracy came out in force in 2006 and 2008 and helped to undermine governments led or backed by Mr Thaksin.

The alliance is planning a rally on Tuesday, its biggest since 2008, to demand a tougher stance by the government in a long-running border dispute with Cambodia.

Its re-emergence on the street adds to the potentially explosive mix in the run-up to a general election. There is no guarantee either side would accept the outcome of the poll.

“The next election would certainly be the one where the risk of violence is greater than any before and it’s likely to be one of the dirtiest, with behind-the-scenes influences that could undermine the democratic process,” said Danny Richards of the Economist Intelligence Unit.

“There isn’t a judiciary that’s accepted by all sides as being impartial, and that undermines how the results will be accepted.” – (Reuters)
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Troops Tighten Thai-Cambodian Border Security

Cambodia has beefed up security at its heritage sites along the disputed Thai-Cambodian border area.

Meanwhile, Thai troops have also implemented similar security measures and urged all Thais to be cautious when approaching the border.

Fully-armed Thai soldiers along the Thai–Cambodian border have set up checkpoints on the roads leading in and out of the disputed Preah Vihear Temple in Si Sa Ket's Kantharalak district.

Troops have prohibited unrelated personnel and individuals from entering the disputed border zone after Cambodia put up a controversial sign at Kaew Sikha Khiri Sawara Temple claiming it was the spot where Thai troops had trespassed on the Cambodian territory.

The move has put a sour note on the already tensed Thai-Cambodian relations.

Second Army Region Commander Lieutenant General Thawatchai Samutsakorn has planned to travel to Kaew Sikha Khiri Sawara Temple to meet with Cambodia's military officials.

Thai residents in Phumisrol village, situated near the disputed Preah Vihear Temple, fear a full-scale war could erupt at any time and some have packed their belongings and prepared for an immediate evacuation.

At the ancient Tamuanthom Temple in Surin's Phanom Dongrak district, Cambodian troops have constructed roads and bunkers just 100 meters away from the temple.

Additional 300 soldiers with heavy weapons are on standby 500 meters from the temple.

More units from the Second Army Region have been dispatched to Tamuanthom Temple area and troops have been put on the highest alert.

Meanwhile, at Takwai Temple in Phanom Dongrak's Bak Dai subdistrict, Second Region Army soldiers and military engineers have constructed a route leading to the temple in order to facilitate troop mobilization, reducing the traveling distance from three kilometers to one.

Cambodian border troops have also built roads leading to the temple and for reinforcements of personnel and firearms.

There have been rumors that Cambodian troops are attempting to lay claim to Takwai Temple and the recently-built roads have attracted a large number of Cambodian tourists to the site while Thai tourists have avoided the heritage site.
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