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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

PM Abhisit takes border peace one step back with new conditions

By Piyanart Srivalo,
Supalak Ganjanakhundee
The Nation

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva took the Indonesia-brokered peace solution back to square one yesterday as he insisted that Cambodia withdraw its troops "before" a team of observers can be accepted and added an extra condition by requesting that Jakarta dispatch an advance survey team to the border area.

Foreign ministers from Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand met in Jakarta on Monday and agreed to combine all conditions and demands from both sides into one package. However, under the package, all parties must refrain from setting prerequisites before the package is implemented.

"We talk about who must do what in advance before taking the next step. It is a process, not an event-by-event thing," Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said.

To be more precise, he said it would happen when Thailand had formally agreed with the terms of reference (TOR) of the team of Indonesian observers, and at the same time Phnom Penh had announced the meeting of the military-run General Border Committee (GBC).

Initially, both sides agreed to the text of the TOR, but Thailand would not officially accept it until Cambodia withdrew its troops from the disputed areas and the Preah Vihear temple. Bangkok wants the troop withdrawal to be discussed by the GBC.

For its part, Cambodia has rejected the condition and is refusing to call the GBC meeting until Thailand formally accepts the team of observers.

In the Cabinet meeting yesterday, Abhisit said he would have the new peace package considered by the Cabinet as well as propose that Indonesia send an advance survey team to the border before the TOR and troop withdrawal is discussed.

Premier's proposal of an advance team is a modification

Abhisit's proposal of an advance team is a modification, because the four-page TOR - a copy of which was seen by The Nation - does not mention any advance teams. The TOR mostly indicates the role of the team of observers and the location where they will be stationed.

The prime minister also said he wanted the conflict in the border areas of Ta Muen Thom and Ta Khwai in Surin province, where a serious military clash broke out in late April, to be included in the peace package.

Cambodia has not put any additional conditions in the package because, as Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told Kyodo News, his government was ready to accept the package, which involves a series of steps to be taken by the two countries under a specific timeline.

Speaking to reporters upon arrival from the Jakarta peace talks, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said there would be no implementation of the peace package until Cambodia withdrew its troops from Preah Vihear and adjacent areas.

Thailand has been consistently calling for the withdrawal of Cambodian troops, because a military presence goes against the spirit of the Hague Convention for the protection of cultural property and the memorandum of understanding signed in 2000 by both countries, he said.
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US-Cambodian Group Prepares Lobbying Effort

US congress, located at Washington DC
 A Cambodian-American advocacy group has begun a lobbying campaign in the US Congress for hundreds of thousands of Cambodians living in the US.

“We will educate the members of Congress about what the Cambodian people are facing,” said Theanvy Kuoch, founder of the National Cambodian American Health Initiative.

Cambodians who survived war and made it to the US are not well understood, she said. “We work together in the United States to meet congressional members and educate them who Cambodians are. If not, they don’t know us.”

About 15 US-Cambodians will talk to lawmakers May 24 and May 25 to discuss issues ranging from diabetes and high blood pressure to mental trauma and psychosomatic conditions, she said.

The group will also organize about 500 Cambodians to hold a candlelight vigil in front of the White House in Washington this fall, she said.

Dani Morton, a grassroots activist from Seattle, Wash., who has worked closely with Theanvy Kuoch, said Cambodians are often heard at the national level.

“There are all kinds of consequences we see in Cambodian communities, which are mainly language and cultural barriers,” she said.

Both Morton and Theanvy Kuoch traveled to Washington last week to join the 32nd anniversary of Refugees International.
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Cambodians must join to oust Hun Sen

A. Gaffar Peang Meth
 Thirty-two years ago, more than 100,000 Vietnamese troops invaded Cambodia, smashed Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge guerrillas, took over Phnom Penh, installed a puppet regime in January 1979, and staffed the Hanoi-instituted Cambodian administrations with Vietnamese to oversee the puppet government's activities.

Several thousand Cambodian youths taken in 1954 by the Viet Minh for education, indoctrination and training in Vietnam -- by 1979 in their forties and fifties and fully acculturated in Vietnam -- were brought back to Cambodia.

The puppet government leaders and their Vietnamese masters allowed Vietnamese citizens unrestricted access to live in Cambodia in support of Hanoi's long-term economic and expansionist goals. The immigrants, like the Hanoi-backed Cambodian regime, were illegally installed in Cambodia.

These illegals were integrated into different aspects of Khmer society. There are Vietnamese who speak Khmer and act Cambodian, and many Cambodians who speak and enjoy Vietnamese ways, as this helps get them closer to privileges. An officer of Premier Hun Sen's army told me it's no longer easy to tell who is Vietnamese and who is Cambodian.

Nationally conscious Cambodians hate what has happened in the country, acknowledging their fear that Cambodia and the Khmer race may be subsumed by the country's eastern neighbor. As Cambodian anger mounts, Vietnamese who migrated and have lived in Cambodia since France ruled Indochina, who have families who have lived all their lives in Cambodia, also are threatened by the new arrivals. The "old" Vietnamese know no other place but Cambodia; the "new" Vietnamese are exploiters of Cambodia's resources.

Cambodians called on the Vietnamese to leave Cambodia and for Premier Hun Sen to step down. But the Cambodian-ized Vietnamese are not going anywhere, nor is Hun Sen, elected again and again.

Some Cambodians call for the "reactivation" of the 1991 Paris Peace Accord to restore individual rights, freedom and democracy in Cambodia, and protect her independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The international community's $3 billion U.N.-managed peace initiative never required the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese-propped Heng Samrin/Hun Sen factions to disarm, nor created a politically neutral environment essential for the accords to work. The naïve nationalist KPNLF/KPNLAF and royalist FUNCINPEC/ANS were happy to empty their pockets, in the name of "national reconciliation," with hungry alligators to get closer to the seat of power.

Recall the wide-eyed international community, which thought it could make Cambodia a "success" story, leaving town after the first U.N.-organized elections in 1993.

Today, in the midst of economic crises and world political upheavals, which government would step in to implement the accords?

Hun Sen is now a recipient of so-called Chinese "aid without strings attached" -- no strings so long as Hun Sen agrees to a "one China" policy, deports the Uighurs seeking political asylum and allows unfettered Chinese investment in Cambodia. He and his ruling party can do what they please with the land and national wealth, and thumb their noses at Western financial donors and the U.N.

Frustrated, some bloggers have chided me for not providing a "solution." Actually, they wanted an ABC manual to bring Hun Sen down; ideas and thoughts seem too complicated. Yet, in my column last week, "Stop giving Hun Sen power to rule," I suggested what to do, and not do -- to converge the different efforts by individuals and groups, to disintegrate a dictatorship. A reader emailed to tell me not to "bark" too much and return to Cambodia "to fight" and he will join me. Oh dear.

Last month, an email from a friend from a different continent referenced the necessity to create a "critical mass" in Cambodia to bring a long-lasting change and led me to write on the subject.

Last week, an old Cambodian friend emailed from Phnom Penh to urge continued "fighting" on two main fronts: education and economy. "At least 80 percent of the population (of 14 million) must have at least 10 years of schooling; at least 40 percent of the population must be college graduates, and at least 10 percent must have Ph.D. degrees, ... and the GDP per capita must be at least $10,000," he wrote. Ah, the man of my dreams, I said to myself as I scratched my head. When will we reach that level of education and economic development?

Unless we do, Cambodians have every reason to worry about the disappearance of Cambodia and the Khmer race.

Only last week I quoted statistics by the U.N. Children's Fund that recorded Cambodia's net secondary school enrollment for 2005-2006 at 36 percent for males and 32 percent for females. My questions were: Out of these enrollees, how many actually attend school (which is open only a few hours per day), how many actually graduate from secondary school, how many go on to high school, etc.

So my friend's email made me want to cry to heaven for help. And when I think of the finding that nearly 40 percent of the Cambodian people live under the poverty line of $2 a day -- many live on 50 cents a day -- the suggested $10,000 GDP per capita makes me look for my spiritual balance.

Yet I cannot accept despair. And so I keep on writing and hoping more readers will not remain complacent and will join with others to do something, do many things, which will converge to create a tipping point to cause Hun Sen's government to disintegrate.

A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., is retired from the University of Guam. Write him at
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Government, Adhoc To Form Land Investigation Team

Phnom Penh city workers demolish wooden houses in Boeung Kak lake as a man in the water collects his belongings in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Jan. 14, 2011.

The government’s human rights committee and Adhoc, a local rights NGO, have agreed to establish a joint working group for investigating land disputes, which have become an increasingly thorny problem nationwide.

Om Yentieng, head of the government’s Human Rights Committee, said the working group will investigate land disputes together and issue a joint report, even if both sides are not in total agreement.

“It does not mean that the working group must have only one voice in a joint report, but that the working group works on the same case,” he said, opening a land dispute workshop in Phnom Penh Tuesday.

Om Yentieng, who is also a senior adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen and the head of the Anti-Corruption Unit, said the working group made for a “concrete step” in addressing the problem of land disputes, where the rural poor are often ousted from their land by powerful business interests.

Findings by the working group would be put forward to the National Authority for Land Dispute Resolution, members of the government and the courts, he said. “But we do not need others to respect our decisions, because our recommendations or points of view are not a verdict. Our decisions are a light.”

Thun Saray, president of Adhoc, which has a vast network of rights workers across the country, told reporters Tuesday that a joint working group would be more productive than to have his group and the government at odds with each other.

“We want to provide the authorities our findings, testimony and recommendations for solving land disputes,” he said, adding that the courts or national land resolution committee would ultimately be responsible for solving any one issue.

Adhoc received more than 200 land dispute cases in 2010, accounting for more than 300 victims.

“We’ll work jointly to find the facts,” he said. “We’ll help to solve some complicated cases. It is good. This cooperation will not silence us from speaking out.”

Yem Ponhearith, lawmaker for the Human Rights Party, called the working group a good step toward resolving land disputes, but its success would depend on both sides’ gathering of the facts.
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