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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Cambodian ruler's son enjoys rapid rise

By Michelle Fitzpatrick

PHNOM PENH, (AFP) -- When Hun Manet was promoted to a two-star general last month, Cambodia's premier had to defend his eldest son's rapid rise, dismissing claims it was an attempt to engineer an eventual succession.

One expert even drew parallels with dynastic plans in secretive North Korea, where communist ruler Kim Jong-Il has seemingly hand picked son Kim Jong-Un to take over the reigns of power.

Thai-Cambodian border clashes, the heaviest in years between the neighbours, have boosted 33-year-old Manet's military credentials, observers say, a small victory for Prime Minister Hun Sen as the row with Thailand rumbles on.

Described as "a pretty humble guy" by a Phnom Penh-based diplomat who has met Manet on several occasions, the first-born of Hun Sen's six children does not seek out the spotlight.

Much has been made in Cambodia of his foreign education and despite his young age, Manet is already chief of the ministry of defence's anti-terrorism unit as well as deputy commander of his father's personal bodyguard unit.

He was promoted to a two-star general in January, a move that prompted some observers to suggest he was being groomed to succeed his father, 59, who has ruled Cambodia since 1985 -- making him the longest-serving Asian leader.

The premier hit back, saying Manet -- who graduated from the US Military Academy at West Point in 1999 and earned a doctorate in economics from Britain's University of Bristol -- was well-qualified for the roles.

"He has been in the army for 16 years and there is promotion within the army ranks," Hun Sen said at the time.

Chhaya Hang, executive director of the Khmer Institute of Democracy, a local policy group, believes the premier is trying to consolidate power by "orchestrating the future of Cambodia's leadership".

"We saw a similar story last year when the North Korean president promoted his son to a four-star general," he said.

When a long-running border dispute with Thailand boiled over earlier this month, resulting in four days of deadly violence, Thai news outlets were quick to point out Manet's role in the fighting.

Some even claimed -- wrongly -- that he had been injured.

Hun Sen set the record straight, explaining in a speech that his son was involved in border strategy and negotiations with Thai counterparts -- from the safety of the Cambodian capital.

"Manet is so famous in Thailand now," said Hun Sen, sounding like a proud father as he took a swipe at the Thai reports.

"The invaders curse you, son," he said, before adding jokingly: "Let's fight, son, your father encourages you."

A few days after the violence died down, Manet travelled to the tense border to meet troops, stepping into the limelight at last.

"He paid a visit and encouraged our troops at the frontline," said a Cambodian field military commander who did not wish to be named. "He also gave some advice to our soldiers regarding fighting tactics and self-defence."

Many of the Cambodian soldiers on the border are thought to be former Khmer Rouge fighters hardened by decades of the now-over civil war.

The visit appeared to serve the purpose of exposing Manet to a "real war situation", said Chhaya Hang, that would help to "legitimise his role in the military as one of the modern world's youngest generals".

But some analysts cautioned that it was important not to overstate the importance of Manet's rapid rise to prominence.

"Ordinary Cambodian people don't feel too concerned" about his career progression and where it might eventually lead, said political commentator Son Soubert.

He also said it was too soon to speculate whether the premier was paving the way for his son to take the top job, hinting at opposition within the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) to the idea.

"Many people think he is being groomed to succeed his father but whether he will succeed in convincing everyone in the CPP circle is another question," said Soubert.

If Manet is to rise to the top, he may have to wait a long time -- his father has vowed to stay in power until he is 90.

"I think for the moment that we should take Prime Minister Hun Sen's statements about staying on in his role for many years to come at face value," said Milton Osborne, a visiting fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney.
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Observers invited to embed with Thai troops: Thai FM

By The Nation

Thailand planned to invite Indonesia to send observers to "embed" with Thai soldiers at the border where Thai troops clashed with Cambodia, Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said Sunday.

The observers will be witness for the Thai side that it respected the ceasefire with Cambodia.
Kasit was speaking after attending a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva at the Foreign Ministry on Sunday. The meeting is held in preparation for Asean Foreign Ministers' meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia on Tuesday.

"We would ask Indonesia, chair of Asean, to dispatch observers to embed with the Thai troops at the border where the Thai troops clashed with Cambodian troops. The observers will be our witness that we respect the ceasefire," Kasit said.

Fighting between Thai and Cambodian troops erupted on February 4 and continued although both generals had met on the following day and agreed for the ceasefire.

Recently UN Security Council issued a statement calling for immediate ceasefire between the countries.

Kasit said Cambodia should also agree to accept the observers to embed with their troops.

Responding to reports that both countries have signed a temporary ceasefire during a meeting between Thai and Cambodian generals in a restaurant in Along Veng of Cambodia on Saturday, Kasit said that both sides did not sign any ceasefire.

What they did was just talking not negotiating and they did not sign anything, he said.

Meanwhile an informed source said representing the Cambodian side in the Saturday meeting was not Maj Gen Hun Manet, the eldest son, of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen but Deputy Supreme Commander Jia Dara.

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Border ceasefire brokered

By Cheang Sokha

Cambodian and Thai military commanders have reportedly agreed to a ceasefire in the disputed areas close to Preah Vihear temple, after clashes in the area earlier this month left at least 10 people dead and dozens injured on both sides.

Touch Ra, deputy chief of the border relations office in Oddar Meanchey province, said today that military commanders from the two sides met for a two-hour closed-door meeting on Saturday attended by Hun Manet, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s eldest son.

“The result of the meeting has not been revealed as it was held secretly,” Touch Ra said.

But he added that since the meeting was conducted, the situation along the border has returned to normal.

“Most of the people have returned to their homes and are continuing with their businesses.

“The situation has calmed down and the people have no more fear of gunfire along the border.”

Chea Morn, commander of Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Military Region 4, declined to comment today.

The talks followed four days of clashes from February 4-7, in which troops traded artillery, mortar and small arms fire in disputed areas close to Preah Vihear temple, which sustained damage in the skirmishes.

The Bangkok Post reported today that military commanders from both sides had inked a ceasefire agreement following Saturday’s talks, though it is unclear whether the agreement will hold.

A previous truce was called on February 5, but violence flared up again the next day.

The paper quoted an army source as saying Second Army commander Thawatchai Samutsakhorn was part of a Thai delegation led by Army chief-of-staff Daopong Rattanasuwan. The Cambodian delegation was led by Hun Manet, according to the report.

“All is well,” said Thawatchai Samutsakhorn after the agreement was signed at a restaurant near the Choam Sa-Ngam border crossing between Oddar Meanchey and Sisaket provinces.

The apparent agreement has stoked nationalist sentiment in Thailand, with Yellow Shirt activists from the People’s Alliance for Democracy claiming it could disadvantage Thai claims to disputed territories close to Preah Vihear.

At a press conference in Bangkok, Yellow Shirt spokesman Panthep Puapongpan said the conditions under the ceasefire deal had put Thailand in an underdog situation and would lead to a permanent loss of Thai land to Cambodia, the Bangkok Post reported.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva denied the claims in his weekly address today, saying the agreement “will not lead to any loss of Thai soil as speculated”.

The agreement comes ahead of a meeting of ASEAN’s foreign ministers in Jakarta tomorrow, which is set to discuss the stand-off between Cambodia and Thailand.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said last week that at the meeting Cambodia will press Thailand to sign a permanent ceasefire under ASEAN’s auspices, requesting that the bloc deploy observers into disputed border areas.

Thailand has been steadfastly opposed to a multilateral solution to the border conflict, which has erupted into sporadic violence since July 2008, when UNESCO listed Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage site over Thai objections.

Cambodian Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said Foreign Minister Hor Namhong will lead a delegation to Indonesia today to attend the meeting.

Thai state media also reported on Saturday that former UNESCO Director General Koichiro Matsuura will next week pay a visit to Bangkok and Phnom Penh to hear both sides’ views on the recent conflict, though he will not visit disputed areas along the border.
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Cambodia Successfully Hosts ASEAN Tourism Forum 2011

By Jojie Alcantara

Philippine delegates to the Asean Tourism Forum in Cambodia (photo by Jojie Alcantara)

ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) 2011 launched its opening ceremony in Cambodia (dubbed Kingdom of Wonder), and was hosted by the Ministry of Cambodia on January 18 at the Diamond Island Convention and Exhibition Centre in Phnom Penh. The week long event welcomed over 1,600 heads of National Tourist Organizations (NTOs), Tourism Ministers, travel suppliers, international buyers, media and other tourism professionals from around the world.

After welcoming speeches by Kingdom of Cambodia’s Prime Minister Samdech Akka Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen, Deputy Prime Minister H.E. Dr. Sok An, (Minister in Charge of the Office of the Council of Ministers and Chairman of the Organizing Committee for ATF 2011) and H.E. Mr. Thong Khon (Minister of Tourism, and Permanent Vice-Chairman of ATF 2011 Organizing Committee), delegates were treated to a 30-minute spectacular fireworks display, and a fascinating cultural extravaganza of 500 performers amidst pyrotechnics, set in an open area by the riverside. A stunning sunset and full moon enhanced the wonderful scene.

Occupying a huge exhibition area of 8,430 sqm, the ATF TRAVEX – a three-day travel trade-only exhibition and business meetings platform – featured 518 booths from 434 exhibiting companies of 10 ASEAN countries. International buyers with a keen interest to buy destinations, products and services were ready to do business and source at this annual leisure travel trade event, showcasing the largest contingent of ASEAN sellers, from small to large suppliers.

Philippine Secretary of Tourism Alberto Lim was among several delegates of Filipinos who attended, including travel agents and resort operators. We bonded together over hosted lunch, dinners, and at the Travex exhibition booth. The Philippine media comprised of my colleague Ian Garcia (M Magazine and Mindanao Times) and I, who travelled along with DOT XI Regional Director Art Boncato.

ATF 2011 became a widely publicized event by both trade and consumer media, with 148 media delegates from across 32 countries in attendance. We received first-hand information on the latest updates and developments taking place across 10 ASEAN destinations through dedicated media briefings, showcasing travel attractions.

Exciting networking opportunities were offered to buyers and hosted media delegates through pre-event city tours of Phnom Penh, highlighting the city’s wonderful attractions which include The Royal Palace, National Museum of Cambodia, Tuol Sleng Museum (S-21 Prison), Toul Tum Poung Market, Phsar Thmey (Central Market) and Wat Phnom Daun Penh. Post event tours were also given at a discounted rate to Sihanoukville and Siem Reap, home to the ancient Angkor Wat.

Delegates were treated to a wide range of networking activities over the next few days, including friendly golf, hosted luncheons and dinners by Cambodia Angkor Air, Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Indonesia, Bangkok Airways, Tourism Malaysia and Ministry of Tourism. Late night functions at Raffles Hotel Le Royal and Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra gave them a chance to relax and party after a hectic day.

A cooperative regional effort to promote the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as one tourist destination, ATF is an annual event involving the tourism industry sectors of 10 member nations of ASEAN: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Each year, the hosting of ATF is rotated among the member countries. ATF 2011 marks the 30th anniversary of this event since its inauguration in Malaysia in 1981. This year’s theme was “ASEAN, A World of Wonders and Diversity”. ASEAN Tourism Forum 2011 with the ATF TRAVEX (Jan. 19-21) was held from 15 to 21 January 2011 at Diamond Island Convention and Exhibition Center in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Manado, Indonesia is now preparing to host ATF 2012.

Special thanks to the following who made my trip fun in more ways than one: Cebu Pacific Air (Davao–Manila-Saigon connecting flight), DOT XI and Director Art Boncato, Nino Carandang and Western Digital (all my precious 20gb worth of images throughout the trip stored in my new 1Tb passport!), NCCC, Mayor Sara Duterte, Mayor Michelle Rabat of Mati, and Miss Gina Espejo for the MX3 capsules which I regularly take to energize me after the long haul.

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