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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Big 3 top leaders to go to Cambodia for 'peace talks'

HONGKONG, Feb 10: Top leaders of the three major political parties in Nepal are scheduled to reach Cambodia to discuss the peace process that has been marred lately by political misunderstandings.

Newly-elected Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal along with Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Nepali Congress President Sushil Koirala are going to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, to take part in ´peace talks´ related to Nepal being organized jointly by the Cambodian government and the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAP) at February-end.

It is learnt that representatives of Japan, China and India will be present as observers at the talks between the three senior leaders.

Prime Minister Khanal has already said that his first visit abroad after assuming the post of prime minister would be to Cambodia. Khanal had received an invitation in his capacity as chairman of the CPN-UML prior to his becoming prime minister.

Sources said Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is sending a separate invitation to Prime Minister Khanal to make his visit an official one.

Outgoing prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal had also visited Cambodia some two months ago to take part in the sixth general assembly of ICAP.

ICAP, in its official website, has termed the talks on Nepal ´informal´ and claimed that the date of the meeting was scheduled to suit the convenience of all three top leaders. Details of the program, however, have not been disclosed.

This will probably be the second such talks in a foreign land after political party leaders inked a 12-point deal in New Delhi, India, back in 2005. Though the New Delhi talks included only representatives from India, the talks in Cambodia will have representatives from India, China and Japan as observers.

A three-member ICAP delegation that arrived in Kathmandu on January 19 had fixed the date and venue of the talks after holding consultations with the political party leaders concerned. Senior UML leader Madhav Kumar Nepal is the representative from Nepal in the South Korea-based organization.

A Standing Committee meeting of ICAP held two months ago had decided to organize peace talks in order to resolve the deadlock in the ongoing peace process in Nepal. Accordingly, ICAP sent a delegation to Nepal to fix the date and venue for the talks.

ICAP is also planning to organize similar talks in some other countries for the leaders of India and Pakistan to resolve the long running stand-off between the two neighbors. .
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Ethiopia Seeks to Keep Trade Restrictions While Joining WTO

Ethiopia is asking to join the World Trade Organization without meeting WTO standards for liberalizing key sectors of its economy. The move is an attempt to kick-start Ethiopia’s WTO accession process, which has been stalled for seven years.

Senior World Trade Organization officials joined a delegation from Ethiopia’s Trade Ministry this week for a U.S.-government sponsored workshop. The objective was finding a middle ground between Ethiopia’s refusal to open sectors such as banking and telecommunications to foreign competition, and the WTO open trade regime.

Reuters news agency quoted State Minister for Trade Yacob Yalla as saying that surrendering sensitive areas such as banking and telecoms would harm national interests. He expressed confidence Ethiopia’s accession would be finalized, but said "we expect them to respect our sensitivities”"

But the head of the WTO working party on Ethiopia, Steffen Smidt, says the country’s future trading partners would likely insist on an end to restrictive trade practices.

"When you enter into a trading arrangement, you automatically get access to other countries’ trade, based on the principle we called MFN. Most Favored Nation," he said. "Similarly, other countries get access to yours. So in that sense there is automatically in some areas some opening up, or liberalization."

But the WTO representative said Ethiopia’s position as one of Africa’s poorest and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) might warrant consideration from trading partners.

"Those are the future partners in the WTO who would insist on having some sort of access in this area," he said. "So that they will respect that Ethiopia is a Least Developed Country, and Least Developed Countries have special principles people should adhere to, sort of guidelines that speak about restraints from other partners, so yes, there will be a deep negotiation on this."

The two-day workshop featured presentations by representatives of Cambodia and Yemen who led their countries’ WTO accession process. Cambodia’s Sok Siphana said his country has been transformed since emerging from economic isolation on joining the WTO in 2004.

"We knew what isolation means, we knew what poverty is, we went through a very difficult period, so for us, we want to be part of the world trading community, and we felt that the WTO gave us that overarching development objective, and from there on, we never looked back," he said.

Siphana told Ethiopians at the conference that opening Cambodia’s banking sector triggered a surge in rural development.

"Our banking sector is thriving, now they are in position to move to rural areas, to start lending to rice millers, rice exporters, not something you would see from a banking sector that is cash poor," he said. "[They are] cash rich, they see the country developing. "

He says Cambodia has dreams of becoming one of Asia’s information technology centers.

"We even have as recently as two-three months ago formation of all IT companies in Cambodia, and their vision is in five years, they want to position Cambodia as one of the Asian Silicon Valleys," he said. "Now that’s bold."

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, a former Marxist rebel leader who seized power 20 years ago, said in 2009 he hoped to complete WTO membership within three years. WTO representative Smidt expressed hope the accession could be done promptly, but cautioned that the process is still in a preliminary stage after a seven-year hiatus.

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Villagers rally to call on PAD to stay away

Chamlong insists visit will go ahead

SI SA KET : Plans by the People's Alliance for Democracy to visit a village bordering Cambodia tomorrow are running into stiff opposition from local people.

Villagers from Ban Phum Srol staged a rally yesterday to denounce the visit.

"You have created the war. You troubled us. We don't welcome you," said Wichit Duangkaew, 46, yesterday of the PAD, attributing the latest skirmish between Thai and Cambodian soldiers to the yellow shirts' rally being held in Bangkok.

The PAD began its street demonstration on Jan 25 to pile pressure on the Abhisit Vejjajiva government to submit to several demands including the ejection of Cambodians from overlapping border areas that the group claims belong to Thailand and the revocation of the memorandum of understanding signed in 2000 with Cambodia on border demarcation negotiations.

A clash between Thai and Cambodian soldiers erupted on Friday last week near Phum Srol village in Si Sa Ket's Kantharalak district. One villager was killed and many buildings in the village were damaged.

The clash forced villagers to flee for their safety, leaving the village almost deserted.

"When Cambodian solders fired missiles and artillery pieces at us, were you [the PAD] with us?" Mr Wichit asked.

The PAD has announced it planned to visit Thai soldiers and villagers in Kantharalak district to boost their morale and hand out aid supplies.

Key PAD leader Chamlong Srimuang insisted yesterday his group would not cancel its visit tomorrow. Members of a PAD-appointed committee on territorial defence would take relief supplies to Kantharalak district office about 5pm.

Chokchai Saikaew, head of Sao Thongchai tambon administration organisation, believed the villagers would not oppose the visit if it was aimed at helping victims. But they would lose patience if the PAD set up a stage and talked about the border conflict.

The PAD-affiliated Thai Patriots Network decided early last month to call off a rally near the border with Cambodia in Sa Kaeo province after it ran into fierce opposition from villagers in Khok Sung district.

The group planned to mobilise people, including PAD supporters in the province, to join the rally aimed at putting pressure on Phnom Penh to release seven Thais arrested in December on charges of illegally entering Cambodia.

Villagers in Khok Sung, the district close to the area where the Thais were arrested, staged a counter-rally to oppose the group's move.

Like the Ban Phum Srol villagers, residents of Khok Sung did not want the network to worsen the border conflict.

The dispute involving the detained Thais caused them a great deal of trouble. The border was closed and Cambodian labourers were unable to report to work in Sa Kaeo.

Five of the seven detainees have been convicted of illegal entry and released. The government is finding ways to help Thai Patriots Network coordinator and PAD key figure Veera Somkhwamkid and his secretary, Ratree Pipatanapaiboon, who remain in a Cambodian jail after they were convicted of espionage.

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UNSC to hear border claims

Cambodian PM accuses Abhisit of war crimes

Thailand and Cambodia have agreed to address the UN Security Council on Monday as part of efforts to resolve the border conflict.

M60A1 tanks are transported to Si Sa Ket’s Kantharalak district to reinforce troops along the Cambodian border following clashes over four days starting last Friday near Preah Vihear temple. JETJARAS NA RANONG

The meeting is expected to present an opportunity for Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya to come face to face with his Cambodian counterpart Hor Namhong to discuss a solution.

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Thani Thongpakdi said the UNSC had invited the Asean chairman, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, Mr Kasit and Hor Namhong to clarify events surrounding the recent military clashes and the issues dogging efforts to find a solution to the border problem.

Mr Kasit would take the opportunity to discuss solutions with Hor Namhong on the sidelines of the meeting, Mr Thani said.

The spokesman reiterated the UNSC was not acting as a mediator but both sides had agreed that if they present the facts directly to the world body, it would be useful for the council.

Despite apparent headway in diplomatic efforts, tensions remained evident on both sides of the border near Preah Vihear temple yesterday.

More heavy armament was seen being deployed along the border by both countries which has raised concern over possible renewed fighting.

More than 30 M60A1 tanks from the Lop Buri-based 5th Cavalry Battalion rolled into Si Sa Ket's Kantharalak district yesterday morning, much to the excitement of local residents.

A large number of troop reinforcements were mobilised in the province under what the army called a "territorial defence plan".

An army source said the mobilisation of extra forces was intended to send a signal to Cambodia and back the Foreign Ministry's and the government's planned talks with Phnom Penh.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen indicated yesterday he had no intention of backing down soon, accusing Thailand of committing war crimes in the four days of cross border shelling that resulted in at least eight deaths and scores of injuries on both sides.

He and Cambodia's deputy army chief, Gen Hing Bunheang, also accused Thailand of using cluster bombs during the clashes, according to the Phnom Penh Post. Thai army sources furiously denied the claims, saying only conventional weapons were being used.

"Thailand is making this war, not Cambodia, and Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva must take responsibility for these war crimes," Hun Sen said, adding the conflict was not just an armed clash but a "real war".

"The shelling at the temple and pagoda are one among the war crimes," he said. "We have to take prolonged action, not just one or two days to finish it ... We have to make a long-term strategy to struggle with Thailand ... To struggle with Thailand takes not one day, one year, [but] many years," the Cambodian leader was quoted by Phnom Penh Post as saying.

Prime Minister Abhisit said yesterday he affirmed with United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon that Thailand exercised the right to defend itself when the border clashes erupted.

He said Thai retaliation was proportionate with Cambodia's use of force and it did not target civilians in the military offensive.

He told the UN chief in a telephone call that over 10,000 villagers were evacuated for safety reasons.

He said he was ready to send photos to the United Nations to prove that Preah Vihear temple was being used to mount attacks on Thailand.

The UN chief inquired about the damage to Preah Vihear and agreed to discuss the issue with Unesco, Mr Abhisit said.

"I reminded him of what I told him last year. The listing and the management plan would intensify the tension. The UN chief agreed to discuss the matter with Unesco," he said.

Mr Abhisit said the dispute could still be resolved through bilateral talks as widely anticipated.

"The defence ministers of both countries have agreed to hold talks. So the efforts to resolve the issue at the bilateral level, as the UN wants to see, are still on," he said.

Mr Abhisit expressed confidence that the UN was likely to support attempts to resolve the border conflict at the bilateral level.

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