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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Thai, Cambodian troops break cease-fire

From Kocha Olarn, CNNApril 30, 2011 5:34 a.m. EDT

Cambodian soldier on guard near Cambodia-Thailand border on April 28 2011
 Bangkok, Thailand (CNN) -- Thai and Cambodian troops exchanged gunfire near a disputed temple Saturday despite a cease-fire agreement between the two nations.

The brief rounds of fighting near the Ta Kwai temple involved small arms weapons, said Col. Prawit Hukaew, a regional Thai army spokesman. It started late Friday into early Saturday.

Fighting may be a result of Cambodian soldiers not being aware of the cease-fire set Thursday, the spokesman said.

It should cease once Cambodian soldiers in the conflict area learn about the truce, he said.

Cambodia's government spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Fighting along the turbulent border has raged since April 22 as the two sides accuse each other of trying to seize ancient temples. Thailand calls the temples Ta Kwai and Ta Muen, while Cambodia calls them Ta Krabey and Ta Moan.

Much of the border between the two countries remains in dispute.

At least six Thai soldiers and one civilian have been killed in the clashes, authorities said. Cambodia has said three of its troops have been killed in the fighting.
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Guest Commentary: Empowering women key to healing Cambodia

By Micah Greenstein, Special to The Commercial Appeal

Courtesy Micah Greenstein
Rabbi Micah Greenstein shares a meal with students of the Harpswell Foundation's leadership center in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Since I returned from Phnom Penh in January, I've been asked, "What's a nice Jewish guy like you doing helping Buddhist and Muslim girls in Cambodia?" My usual response: "Because this is what Jews are called to do."

Each of the world's great religions suggests a fundamental problem with the world and a solution to that problem. For Judaism, the predicament facing the world is brokenness -- the absence of shalom. Judaism's solution? Being God's partner by healing this broken world whenever and wherever possible.

It's called tikun olam, literally "the repair of the world." A lofty goal certainly, but one which requires recognizing the pain of humanity and bringing hope wherever one can. Even as an American Jew in Cambodia.

In January, I had the privilege of spending three days with students at the Harpswell Foundation's leadership center for university women in Cambodia's capital city.

My time there culminated with an Interfaith Symposium on Spirituality attended by members of the Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist communities in Cambodia, with guests from Bangkok to Boston. It was the first time Buddhist, Muslim and Jewish or Christian leaders had ever convened in Cambodia, and it was a sublime and unforgettable experience.

The Harpswell Foundation is a nonprofit organization founded by former Memphian Alan Lightman, the MIT professor and best-selling author. "When I was in Cambodia," Alan told me 12 years ago, "I met with the children of the survivors, and there is a unique determination and spirit to go on despite the odds."

As I heard Alan speak about the resilience, talents and desire of these children of Cambodia to survive, I couldn't help but think of the eerie parallel to the Jewish experience. Cambodia and Israel form the bookends of Asia, but the stories of the Cambodian people and Jewish people in the 20th Century are more than a matter of geography.

From 1975 to 1979, more than one in four Cambodians -- about 2 million people -- were exterminated by the Khmer Rouge. This genocide occurred only decades after the murder of 6 million Jews by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. In 1945, the Jewish people shouted, "Never Again!" Thirty years later, the world let it happen again.

Cambodian men, women and children were tortured, forced to dig their own mass graves, then beaten to death with iron bars and hoes. Some were buried alive. The instigator of this genocide, Pol Pot, said to those he murdered, "To keep you is no benefit, to destroy you is no loss." Every Cambodian lost relatives and friends. Many lost their entire family. But what sadly distinguishes the Cambodia genocide is that educated people were singled out for extermination.

The mission of Lightman's Harpswell Foundation is to empower a new generation of women leaders in Cambodia and the developing world, specifically through housing, education and leadership training.

In January, I lectured and learned at the leadership center in Phnom Penh, two dormitories which provide a safe place for about three dozen women to live while they attend college. Harpswell believes that those educated women with the magnetism and creative vision to match constitute the most powerful force to bring about positive change in Southeast Asia's poorest country.

In a world filled with darkness, the Harpswell community in Cambodia is pure radiant light. These top female leaders whose parents somehow survived the genocide represent every part of the country and are the best hope for their nation. All have earned scholarships to colleges and universities. Many are the only female students in their fields and are already at the top of their class.

The girls at Harpswell truly believe that if they can become college-educated only years after living in squalor, anything is possible. They are the seed of a global movement to emancipate women and girls for the improvement of humankind.

While I was there, I thought of parallels to Memphis and the occasional words of hopelessness and despair heard from naysayers when it comes to finding solutions to our most pressing problems. Interestingly, these future Cambodian leaders in government and business who came from nothing expressed an interest and willingness to show our youth in Memphis what's possible when you follow a dream and work hard.

As a result, I am hopeful that my next visit to this global role model will result in strengthening the learning link between Cambodia and Memphis to help alleviate poverty, improve education, and elevate the plight of women from violence and fear to hope and optimism.

Tikun olam, the repair and healing of this world, mandates that we join hands with God as Abraham did, and respond to a world in pain. By putting out the fires of violence, ignorance and tyranny, we begin to build the kind of world God wants and needs us for in this lifetime.

Harpswell and Memphis are good places to start.

Micah Greenstein is senior rabbi of Temple Israel.
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New skirmishes on Thai-Cambodian border

By Michelle Fitzpatrick (AFP)
PHNOM PENH — Thai and Cambodian troops exchanged fire on their disputed border for a ninth straight day on Saturday, both sides said, casting doubt on efforts to end the countries' bloodiest conflict in decades.

The latest hostilities at two ancient temples on their shared jungle frontier erupted just hours after Cambodia announced a second truce in as many days, although Bangkok denied knowledge of a new peace deal.

Each side has traded accusations of untrustworthiness in solving a dispute that has killed 16 people and displaced more than 85,000 civilians.

"Even though there is a recent ceasefire... Thailand still breached it," Cambodia's Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told reporters in Phnom Penh on Saturday.

"It shows that we cannot trust our counterpart," he said in comments that echoed those made by Thai officials a day earlier.

The latest flare-up was confirmed by both countries, but while it was followed by a lull in fighting, frontline soldiers remained on alert.

"Clashes could happen at any time," Cambodian field commander Suos Sothea told AFP by telephone.

There were no reports of new deaths, although at least 10 Thai soldiers were injured in clashes on Friday night and Saturday morning, army sources in Thailand said.

Cambodia's defence ministry accused Thailand in a statement of using grenades and firing mortar rounds at Cambodian troops in the latest clashes.

The two neighbours have come under increasing international pressure to stop the violence.

A first attempted truce on Thursday, confirmed by the two countries, proved short-lived and Bangkok has contradicted Phnom Penh's latest claims, saying Friday's talks between commanders on the ground did not amount to a genuine breakthrough.

"We actually have talked at local officers' level which I hope will lead to a real ceasefire," said Thailand's government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn.

Hor Namhong returned Saturday from The Hague where he had submitted a request to the World Court to clarify a 1962 ruling about land around the ancient Preah Vihear temple -- an area that has inflamed tensions between the two neighbours.

"The request for the interpretation by the court is a way to resolve the problem peacefully," he said at Phnom Penh airport.

The court ruled more than four decades ago that the 900-year-old temple belonged to Cambodia, but both countries claim ownership of a 4.6-square-kilometre (1.8-square-mile) surrounding area.

Thailand said it had hired legal advisors and would fight the case.

The stone structure has been the focus of border tensions since it was granted UN World Heritage status in 2008 and 10 people died in hostilities between the neighbours there in February.

The Thai-Cambodian frontier has never been fully demarcated, partly because it is littered with landmines left over from years of war in Cambodia.

The current unrest is centred around two other contested temple complexes 150 kilometres (90 miles) west of Preah Vihear, although there was some fighting at the site itself on Tuesday.

Seven Thai troops and eight Cambodian soldiers have died since the fighting began on April 22, and Bangkok has said a Thai civilian was also killed.
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