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Friday, May 06, 2011

Thai resolve tests SBY's regional clout

INDONESIA'S claims to regional leadership will be roughly tested at this weekend's ASEAN leaders' summit as Thailand continues to resist its attempts to mediate a volatile border dispute with Cambodia.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is controversially considering backing Burma to chair the group, and also losing his campaign to win a place at ASEAN's table this year for tiny neighbour East Timor.

Dr Yudhoyono and Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa have been striving to crown Indonesia's 2011 ASEAN chairmanship, and to underscore Jakarta's regional leadership, by admitting East Timor as the 11th member.

But another foundation member, Singapore, backed by the more recent joiners Vietnam and Burma, is reportedly poised to block East Timor.

Mr Natalegawa confirmed yesterday that Burma's new President Thein Sein was seeking Indonesia's support for the army-dominated regime government to take the ASEAN chair in 2014.

"I have a feeling that this is not a matter that will be decided here and now but perhaps there will be a process to ascertain the readiness of Myanmar to assume then chairmanship in 2014," he said.

Human Rights Watch's Asia deputy director Elaine Pearson said giving Burma the chairmanship after last year's "sham elections" and while the regime still imprisoned 2000 political prisoners would render ASEAN a laughing-stock in world forums.

Nine leaders gathered in Jakarta last night, without Singapore's Lee Hsien Loong, whose government is up for re-election today.

Thailand's Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, flew in after obtaining a parliamentary dissolution from ailing King Bhumibol Adulyadej, clearing the way for an election next month. The election campaign, with nationalist fervour focused on the disputed Preah Vhihear temple complex, is likely to complicate attempts to settle the border dispute.

Mr Abhisit has refused a sideline meeting today with Cambodia's Hun Sen. The International Court of Justice in 1962 ruled the 10th-century temple, on an escarpment defining an eastern border, belonged to Cambodia, but the Thais continue to claim ownership. About 30 soldiers have died, and 150,000 villagers have been displaced, since the dispute erupted in clashes in February.

The fighting is an embarrassment to other ASEAN members, whose 2009 Political Security Community Blueprint pledges them to "rely exclusively on peaceful process in the settlement of intra-regional differences".

Cambodia's appeal for intervention to the UN Security Council, rather than ASEAN, was a slight, and even more so Thailand's reluctance to have Indonesia or other members involved.

After the February clashes, Mr Natalegawa brokered agreement with the other foreign ministers - including Thailand's Kasit Piromya and Cambodia's Hor Namhong - to station Indonesian civilian and military observers in the disputed areas, as first step towards a permanent ceasefire.

But Thai army chief Prayut Chan-o-cha and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, a retired general, rejected the presence of foreign observers at Preah Vihear.

They asserted they were only supporting long-standing government policy that the dispute should be resolved between the two countries, not multilaterally.

But the Thai military is suspected of once again contemplating an intervention in civilian politics.

After meeting his Thai and Cambodian counterparts yesterday, Mr Natalegawa said they agreed Indonesian observers should be sent, but did not expand.

Mr Hor Namhong rejected a pullout of Cambodian troops from Preah Vihear, Thailand's pre-condition for allowing observers. "We can never withdraw our troops from our own territory," he said.
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Bank of China sets to launch Cambodian branch

PHNOM PENH, May 6, 2011 (Xinhua News Agency) -- The Bank of China (OOTC:BACHY) pledges to bridge closer economic ties between the two countries, said the visiting Yue Yi, vice president of Bank of China, on Friday.

"The presence of the Bank of China in Cambodia is to strengthen and expand friendship and economic cooperation between Cambodia and China," Yue Yi said at a meeting with the governor of National Bank of Cambodia, Chea Chanto.

The Bank of China Phnom Penh Branch is scheduled to launch officially on May 7.

He said that with the bank's presence here, it will help facilitate business activities between the two countries. "We will also help to encourage more Chinese investors to Cambodia."
Meanwhile, Chea Chanto expressed his full support for the presence of the bank in Cambodia.

"The operation of the Bank of China in Cambodia reflects the trust of foreign investors on Cambodia," he said, "It's also a sign of progress in Cambodia's banking industry."

The governor said that Cambodia's banking industry, currently, is quite stable.

By the end of 2010, the customers' deposits grew by 26 percent to 4.16 billion U.S. dollars, while the customer credits increased by 26.7 percent to 3.18 billion U.S. dollars.

Also, the ratio of the non-performing loan in the banking industry has declined to only 3 percent as of April, said the governor.

Including the presence of Bank of China, there are 30 commercial banks in the country so far.
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Cambodia insists on Thailand's agreement to observers before troop withdrawal

May 06, 2011 (BBC Monitoring via COMTEX) -- [Report by Achara Ashayagachat: "Cambodia: Our Troops Will Not Leave"]

JAKARTA -Cambodia would not withdraw its troops from its own territory and was still waiting for Thailand's agreement on the Jakarta terms of reference (TOR) for the stationing of Indonesian observers near Preah Vihear, Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Nam Hong said on Friday.

He was speaking after emerging from 30-minute talks with the Asean chairman, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, at the Jakarta Convention Centre.

Mr Hor Nam Hong said the problem with the border conflict clearly remained on the willingness of Thailand to agree with the deployment of Indonesian observers under the terms of reference.

"Cambodia has already sent a letter of acceptance to Indonesia's proposed TOR on May 2, and we hope will Thailand do likewise," said the Cambodian minister.

He thanked Mr Natalegawa on his efforts to address the border conflict and looked forward to seeing the deployment of observers.

Mr Natalegawa thanked Cambodia for the formal agreement to the terma of reference which Indonesia proposed at the special foreign ministers' meeting in Jakarta, right after the meeting at the United Nations in New York.

The UN General Assembly has tasked Indonesia will helping facilitate a solution to the border conflict between the regional partners of Asean, because Jakarta is the chairman this year. Cambodia is due to take up the rotating chairmanship next year.

Thailand has lobbied for a bilateral meeting during the 18th Asean summit, however, Cambodia was not interested in either meetings between foreign ministers or prime ministers, diplomatic sources said.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, in Bangkok, said before leaving for Jakarta that he has no plans to meet Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen during the Asean Summit to discuss the border dispute.

Hun Sen is also due to arrive today. Possibly, he would speak about the border dispute when the summit begins tomorrow, sources said.

Diplomatic sources said Phnom Penh was taking a beyond-Asean strategy, however, they wanted to show goodwill about possible options for a trilateral meeting on the sideline of the summit here, as a face-saver for Indonesia, which was embarrassed by the refusal of Thailand's military to attend last month's meeting in Jakarta.

Cambodia, sources said, was looking forward to the May 30-31 hearing at the International Court of Justice in the Hague on the Preah Vihear dispute.

The Asean chairman said before meeting with Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya at 12.30pm that he hoped a trilateral meeting could be held later today.

Cambodia has agreed with the three proposed locations - Ta Sem, Chak Chreng and Pram Makara - for the deployment of Indonesian observers on its side, while the Thai cabinet agreed on Wednesday to accept Indonesian observers on condition that there would be no foreign troops (including Cambodian troops) in the disputed territory.
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