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Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Opposition Party Wary of Revamped NGO Law

Despite concessions made in the drafting of a law to govern NGOs, officials from the main opposition Sam Rainsy Party say the legislation still risks limiting freedoms and can be a setback to good governance.

The NGO law is being drafted by the Ministry of Interior and contains provisions for the regulation of the non-governmental sector. But critics warn that it can bog down organizations in red tape and could limit their functions or efficiency.

Mu Sochua, a Kampot representative for the opposition, told VOA Khmer the government could instead focus on strengthening existing registration mechanisms.

“We don’t see any need to have this law,” she said in an interview Friday. “There should not be such a restrictive law, because it is the people who will lose benefits.”

NGOs contribute to sectors spanning education, health, infrastructure, human rights and democracy, she said, and a law that is too restrictive will inhibit rights guaranteed under the constitution.

The Ministry of Interior last week said it was adjusting provisions in the law that were main areas of concern for many NGOs, and its supporters say the law will not run counter to rights and freedoms.

“This law does not contradict the constitution,” Nuth Sa An, secretary of state for the Ministry of Interior and head of the drafting task force, said. “With the law in place, there will be smooth operation” for NGOs.

The most recent draft of the law reduces the number of founders required for an organization, lower requirements for registration and an amended provision for unregistered NGOs, he said.

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Cambodia jails Thais over border

A Cambodian court handed down jail terms of eight and six years to two Thai activists who were found guilty of trespassing and spying.



A Cambodian court on Tuesday handed down jail terms of eight and six years to two Thai activists who were found guilty of trespassing and spying, a verdict that could raise political tension in neighbouring Thailand.

The decision could add momentum to a small but prolonged protest by Thailand's "yellow shirt" activists angered by Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's diplomatic approach to dealing with a long-running border dispute with Cambodia.

Relations with Cambodia have become a bone of contention in long-running hostility between Thai political factions with the pro-establishment yellow shirts accusing their bitter foe, ousted former populist premier Thaksin Shinawatra, of colluding with Cambodia to Thailand's detriment.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has also used age-old rivalry with Thailand for his domestic interests.

The Cambodian court verdict also raises concerns about instability along the militarised border between the two countries. Both governments have had heated rows in recent years that have led to deadly skirmishes between troops.

Veera Somkwamkid, leader of a splinter faction of the yellow shirts, and his secretary, Ratree Pipatanapaiboon, were among seven Thais arrested by Cambodian soldiers on Dec. 29, when they entered a disputed border area.

The court in Phnom Penh sentenced Veera to eight years and Ratree, six years, for trespassing into the Cambodian territory, illegally entering a military zone and espionage.

"The decision is not acceptable," Veera told reporters. "There is no justice. We will fight this in a higher court."

The five other arrested Thais included a parliamentarian from Abhisit's ruling Democrat party. They were found guilty of trespassing late last month and were released after being given a suspended sentence.

The yellow shirts, formally known as the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), have demanded Abhisit revoke a decade-old Memorandum of Understanding with Cambodia aimed at resolving border disputes.

Protest leaders earlier said Abhisit had not done enough to secure the release of the two convicted Thais and accused him of risking a loss of Thai sovereignty by failing to evict Cambodians from the disputed land.

Reuters

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U.S senior defense official wraps up visit in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, (Xinhua via COMTEX) --

Derek J. Mitchell, U.S. principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, on Tuesday concluded his two-day visit to Cambodia focusing on strengthening and expanding bilateral cooperation on defense.

During his visit in Cambodia, Mitchell had held the inaugural U. S.-Cambodia defense policy discussion with Neang Phat, secretary of state for the Cambodian Ministry of Defense, according to the press release from U.S Embassy in Phnom Penh on Tuesday evening.

The objective of this defense talk was to highlight the U.S. department of defense's commitment to assisting the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces to develop a professional force, while encouraging Cambodia to continue on a path of improved transparency, governance, commitment to the rule of law, sustained democratic development, and respect for human rights, it said.

Mitchell said on Tuesday in the press briefing at the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh that Cambodia has annually received 1 million U.S dollars from the United States for its military training.

During the visit, Mitchell also conducted site visits to the peacekeeping training center in Kampong Speu province, the National Counter-terrorism Special Force, and other sites that has benefited from U.S.-Cambodia defense cooperation.
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Cambodian court sentences Thai nationalists up to 8 years in prison for spying, illegal entry

By Sopheng Cheang, The Associated Press


PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - A Cambodian court sentenced two Thai political activists to lengthy prison terms Tuesday for illegally crossing the border and spying in a high-profile case that could have ramifications for Thai domestic politics.

In a one-day trial, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court found Veera Somkwamkid — who heads a political pressure group, the Thailand Patriot Network — and his assistant Ratree Pipatanapaiboon guilty of espionage, illegal entry and trespassing in a military zone. Veera was sentenced to eight years in prison and Ratree to six.

Veera's group promotes the claim that border lands held by Cambodia actually belong to Thailand. It has accused the current Thai government of failing to help the men in their court fight and tried to use the arrests to inflame nationalism at home.

Veera and Ratree were among seven Thais people arrested Dec. 29 after they crossed into northwestern Cambodia. The five, including a lawmaker from Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's ruling Democrat Party, were given suspended sentences last month and allowed to return to Thailand.

The Thailand Patriot Network's members been demonstrating in Bangkok for the detainees' release, and their protests have attracted much attention in the press and the participation of the larger People's Alliance for Democracy, whose streets protests helped trigger a military coup in 2006 and topple two other prime ministers in 2008.

It was widely thought that the PAD had taken up the network's cause as a way to rally support. Though the demonstrations began as anti-Cambodian, they are now more critical of Abhisit's government — and what they say is its failure to protect Thai interests against its neighbour — and have inspired rumours of a coup against him.

The crowds have been small so far, but the harsh sentences given Tuesday may spur the protesters.

At the hearing, the two defendants denied the charges and claimed they were on Thai territory when arrested.

There was no explanation as to why the two were given more severe punishments than the others arrested, but Veera is an outspoken activist who has crossed illegally into Cambodia before. The two were also fined 3 million riels ($750) each.

The case has its origins in a dispute between Cambodia and Thailand over land near a landmark temple on their border.

The International Court of Justice in 1962 ruled that the 11th century Preah Vihear temple belongs to Cambodia, but the decision rankled Thailand, which still claims land around the temple.

The issue was virtually dormant until Cambodia applied in 2008 to UNESCO to have the temple declared a World Heritage site, an application backed by the government in power in Bangkok at the time.

Thai nationalists claimed that the action threatened Thailand's sovereignty, though their protests were seen as mainly a way of rallying opponents to the government then in power. Both countries' leaders, defending their patriotic credentials, then built up military forces at the border, which have engaged in several brief clashes.
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