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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Thai-Cambodian border fighting enters third day

In this photo released by Xinhua, Cambodian soldiers gather in a military camp in Banteay Ampil district of Oddar Meanchey province, Cambodia, on Saturday.

Thai and Cambodian troops exchanged artillery fire on Sunday in a third day of fighting that has killed 10 soldiers and uprooted thousands of villagers from their homes.

Officials from both sides said the clashes over disputed territory lasted about two hours on Sunday morning. Cambodian military officials said the shooting resumed in the afternoon.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon called for a ceasefire, but the prospects for peace appeared shaky, with the two sides disagreeing on what triggered the fighting and differing on how to negotiate the conflicting territorial claims underlying the crisis.

Thailand reported no new casualties, after four of its soldiers were killed and 17 wounded over the previous two days. Witnesses saw one Cambodian soldier and a Cambodian television journalist wounded on Sunday. Colleagues said the journalist suffered a head wound but did not appear seriously hurt. Cambodia earlier reported the deaths of six soldiers.

The dispute between the neighbours stems from their claims over small swaths of land along the border, with nationalistic politics fuelling tensions. Clashes have erupted several times since 2008, when Cambodia’s 11{+t}{+h} century Preah Vihear temple was given U.N. World Heritage status over Thai objections.

The current round of clashes is the first reported since February, when eight soldiers and civilians were killed near the Preah Vihear temple. The latest fighting is about 160 km west of there.

Mr. Ban has called on Cambodia and Thailand to implement an effective and verifiable ceasefire. A U.N. statement late Saturday said Mr. Ban believes the dispute cannot be resolved by military means, so the two countries must engage in a serious dialogue to resolve the underlying problems.

Indonesia, a fellow member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, has tried to mediate, but its efforts have been stymied so far by Thailand’s reluctance to allow Indonesian military observers in the area of dispute. Thailand insists the problem should be solved through bilateral talks with Cambodia, but Cambodia wants third-party mediation.

On Saturday, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said his government is willing to accept Indonesia’s assistance in solving the crisis, but he was awaiting approval from Thailand’s Defence Ministry.

Sunday’s flare-up came after it seemed that calm might have been restored. Witnesses on the Cambodian side said an important border crossing that had been closed for two days had been reopened, and Thai media said some of an estimated 20,000 civilians who had been evacuated from the battle zone were starting to move back. The border crossing, which is not in the battle zone, was shut again shortly after fighting resumed.

Each side has accused the other of starting the latest fighting, which has mainly involved artillery duels at long range.

Thailand rejected accusations Saturday that it had used chemical weapons against Cambodian troops.

A Cambodian Defence Ministry statement charged that Thailand had fired 75- and 105-millimeter shells “loaded with poisonous gas” into Cambodian territory, but did not elaborate. Col. Suos Sothea, a Cambodian field commander, said separately that Thailand had used both cluster shells — anti-personnel weapons banned by many countries — and artillery shells that gave off a debilitating gas.

Mr. Kasit said the allegations were not true, and Col. Tawatchai Samutsakorn, commander of Thailand’s 2nd Army Region, denied that cluster bombs or poison gas had been employed by his forces.

Cluster munitions contain dozens or hundreds of small bomblets that scatter over vast areas. Some can lie dormant for decades until disturbed, posing enormous danger to civilians.

Thailand acknowledged using cluster-type munitions in border fighting in February, but argued that they were not of the type banned from use by 108 countries under an international treaty. Thailand has not signed the pact, but has publicly pledged not to use such weapons.

The fighting comes as Thailand’s military raises its profile in domestic politics ahead of general elections expected by early July. The Army previously effectively vetoed a plan to station Indonesian observers to monitor the border situation.
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N.Y. Doctor held in Cambodia on child sex charge

A New York doctor who traveled to Cambodia to volunteer at a children's hospital is being held in a Phnom Penh (puh-NAHM' pehn) prison on a charge he had sex with a 14-year-old boy.

The Post-Standard reports Sunday that Dr. James D'Agostino was arrested Feb. 16 and charged in the Phnom Penh municipal court with purchasing child prostitution.

A judge says the 56-year-old D'Agostino could be held up to six months while the court reviews the case before deciding if it goes to trial.

If convicted, D'Agostino could face seven to 15 years in prison under Cambodian law.

Pek Vannak, a lawyer representing D'Agostino, says the doctor denies the charges.

D'Agostino is a pediatric emergency doctor at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse. He went to Cambodia in January 2009.
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Chong Sa-ngam border crossing closed after Thai-Cambodian clashes

SI SA KET, April 24 --- Si Sa Ket’s Chong Sa-ngam border crossing has been closed since Sunday’s noon for safety reasons after fresh Thai-Cambodian fighting reerupted in neighbouring Surin province in the morning, a local customs officer said, while border trade at Rong Kluea Market in Sa Kaeo's Aranyaprathet district continued.

Trade and tourism along Thai-Cambodian border in Si Sa Ket province have been suspended, following the Sunday’s closure of Chong Sa-ngam border crossing after it had been opened for four hours in the morning.

Orawan Boonsang, a head of the customs officers at Chong Sa-ngam border crossing, explained that the closure was for safety reasons for Thai and Cambodian people after the sounds of gunfire was heard along the border in Surin.

Earlier, Chong Sa-ngam border crossing was temporarily closed on Friday (April 22), following the skirmish along Thai-Cambodian border in Surin’s Phanom Dong Rak district. Later, officers reopened the crossing for trade and tourism, depending on the situation.

Initially, it was projected that the closure of the Chong Sa-ngam border crossing will cause Bt10 million (over US$333,000) in losses.

Meanwhile, the Aranyaprathet border crossing in Sa Kaeo province remains opened on Sunday with ten thousand of Cambodian people flocking to Rong Kluea Market to buy commodity products back to their country.

Army Captain Chan Vongvaimathee, commander of ranger company 1206, under Burapha Task Force, said there is no reinforcement of Thai troops at the Thai-Cambodian border in Aranyaprathet district, but he has been instructed to closely monitor the situation and for troops to be on standby at their base.

10,000 Cambodians reportedly crossed into Rong Kluea Market for work and trading since the border crossing opened at 7am after the crossings in Surin and Buri Ram provinces were temporarily closed.

Tourists, both Thai and foreigners, also continued travelling to Cambodia's Poi Pet town in Banteay Meanchey province as usual, but about ten tour groups have already cancelled trips to Angkor Wat in Siem Riap. (MCOT online news)
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Cambodia, Vietnam sign investment contracts of nearly 1 bln USD

PHNOM PENH, Apr. 24, 2011 (Xinhua News Agency) -- Some 500 Cambodian and Vietnamese businessman met here on Sunday in the 2nd Cambodia- Vietnam conference and some investment projects worth nearly 1 billion U.S. dollars were signed.

The annual conference was chaired by the two countries' prime ministers.

Speaking in the conference, the visiting Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said that to date, excluding the investment costs, which would be signed in the conference, Vietnamese investments in Cambodia have mounted to more than 2 billion U.S. dollars in the fields of telecommunication, aviation, banking and finance, mineral resources, and rubber plantations.

Cambodian investments in Vietnam have mounted to 51 million U.S. dollars.

Nguyen Tan Dung encouraged more Vietnamese investors to consider their ventures in Cambodia, and urged existing Vietnamese investors to strengthen and expand the investment to build closer economic cooperation.

Meanwhile, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said that Cambodia is implementing favorable investment policies for overseas investors.

"There are good opportunity for investors in growing rice, corn, cassava, bean, rubber industries," he said.

He also stressed the government has made its efforts to develop new industries such as car assembly plants, electronic manufacturing.
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Prayer breakfast hears horror of sexual slavery in Cambodia

By: Melissa Martin

IT was the eyes he couldn't forget, the piercing stares of seven Cambodian girls sold into sexual slavery, their abuse caught on tape by a Canadian pedophile.

So harrowing were the videotaped gazes that, after helping bust convicted sex tourist Donald Bakker in 2004, forensic expert Brian McConaghy left the RCMP and threw himself behind a singular cause: to help save as many children as possible from the nightmare of sex trafficking.

And to fight against an estimated $43-billion global scourge, McConaghy told around 800 religious, First Nations, government and community leaders at the Manitoba Prayer Breakfast on Saturday, takes faith.

"(Faith) is central to it," said McConaghy, who works with Ratanak International, which operates a safe-house for 59 children rescued from Cambodian trafficking rings. "It is the driving force. Trying to take on a battle like this, and do this on your own strength, is lunacy."

As the keynote speaker at the non-denominational Saturday morning event, which included VIPs such as Winnipeg police chief Keith McCaskill (who read from Bible scripture) and Winnipeg Catholic Archbishop James Weisgerber, McConaghy didn't shy from the ugly truths about sex trafficking in his tough, often tender speech.

McConaghy detailed the cycle of slavery, driven by teen pimps who were themselves sold into slavery as children.

"Twelve is old in Cambodia," he said, as a tense murmur rippled through the audience.

"In Cambodia, they start at age six."

That was the blunt tone that the prayer breakfast's honorary chairwoman, Kildonan-St. Paul MP Joy Smith, was hoping for when she asked McConaghy to deliver the keynote at this year's breakfast. "Now that you know, you can't say you don't know. Now we have to do something about it," said Smith, who championed a 2008 bill that raised the minimum sentence for criminals convicted of trafficking children.

Indeed, after Archbishop Weisgerber offered the breakfast's closing prayer at 9:30 a.m., MLA Bill Blaikie called McConaghy's speech a "call to arms."

After the breakfast, Manitoba Grand Chief Ron Evans stood with Smith and McConaghy to call for more awareness about how sex trafficking has impacted the aboriginal community.

The sex trade is linked to the fate of many of Canada's almost 600 missing or murdered aboriginal women. As an RCMP officer, McConaghy helped close the net on Robert Pickton, many of whose victims were aboriginal.

"The more people talk about it, the more people know about it," Evans said. "We will be more conscious of our surroundings. We will start to see the signs. And we will report."

Remember those eyes, the eyes of the seven girls that haunted him right out of his RCMP career and into a life of healing?

McConaghy still sees them. He last saw them two weeks ago when he took Bakker's seven victims -- now thriving teenagers in Ratanak's programs -- out to lunch in Phnom Penh. "I have things to learn about faith from these children," McConaghy said, before the crowd bowed their heads in prayer.
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UN chief calls for ceasefire between Cambodia, Thailand

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Cambodia and Thailand Saturday to exercise maximum restraint and take immediate measures to achieve a ceasefire.

Ban was troubled by reports of renewed fighting in the past two days between Cambodian and Thai troops along the two countries' border. The fighting has reportedly claimed numerous lives from both sides, according to a statement issued by Ban's spokesman.

"The secretary-general ... also believes that the dispute cannot be resolved by military means and urges Cambodia and Thailand to engage in serious dialogue to find a lasting solution," the statement said.

Ban had been encouraged by initial signs of progress in strengthening bilateral mechanisms to deal with the dispute between the two neighbors, it said.

This is the second consecutive day of military clashes between Cambodian and Thai troops in the disputed border area after Friday's clashes that cost at least 6 lives and injured over a dozen, forcing thousands of both sides' locals to flee home.

The latest violence occurred two months after a deadly clash on Feb. 4-7 at the disputed border area next to the World Heritage site Preah Vihear temple, an age-old row between Thailand and Cambodia.

Source: Xinhua
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