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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Opposition Activist Fears Arrest Ahead of Election

An opposition party activist in Kandal province says the court there is trying to detain him ahead of local elections next year.

Meas Peng, a Sam Rainsy Party second deputy commune chief in Kien Svay district, is accused of initiating the destruction of private property in a land dispute in the province.

However, he said Tuesday he feared the courts were seeking to detain him to prevent him from contesting commune council elections next year.

“I am living in a safe area and am worried that the Kandal authorities will arrest me,” he said. “My case involves politics, because the commune election is coming soon.”

He said he has asked international and national rights groups to intervene on his behalf.

The court summoned him on Friday, claiming he had incited villagers to violence in a dispute with Prak Savuth, a provincial council member who was awarded 40 hectares of land by the courts. More than 100 families have contested the decision.

Meas Peng said he had observed demonstrations by the villagers in his role as a commune official, but he denied inciting them.

Kandal court judge Lim Sokhuntha called for his arrest, but when police detained Meas Peng and brought him to the local prison, there was no official documentation, so his lawyer, Chhoung Chu Ngy, said he took him back home.

Chhoung Chu Ngy said Tuesday the judge had acted outside the law and could be sued for ordering an arrest without a proper detention order.

Lim Sokhuntha could not be reached for comment Monday. However, In Van Vibol, chief judge of the Kandal court, said the judge had not acted improperly. He declined to give more detail, saying the case was ongoing.

Adhoc investigator Chan Saveth said Monday the court must not act under political pressure. Meas Peng had not committed incitement, according to Adhoc observations, he said.

The detention order for Meas Peng follows a request last week from the Sam Rainsy Party that another of its Kandal activists, Mouek Chea, be freed from similar charges after leading a protest in Phnom Penh last month.
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No transfer for Veera, Ratree

Two Thai nationalists jailed in Cambodia for “spying” do not qualify for a transfer to serve their terms in Thailand as their charges are a security concern, Justice Minister Pracha Promnok said yesterday.

Pracha’s statement kills any chance of yellow-shirt activists Veera Somkwamkid and Ratree Pipattanapaiboon being released from prison in Cambodia soon. The pair were jailed on charges of espionage, receiving eight and six years respectively in December 2010.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen reportedly initiated an idea to exchange the pair for Cambodian nationals jailed in Thai prisons when he met Thai Defence Minister Yuthasak Sasiprapha last week.
Currently, there are 39 Thais detained in Cambodia, while more than 2,200 Cambodians are jailed in Thailand.

Thailand and Cambodia signed an agreement on the transfer of prisoners that came into force in 2009, but it was not an agreement to exchange prisoners, Pracha said.

Prisoners qualified for transfer under with the agreement must serve at least a third of their jail term first and their charges must not involve security matters, he said.
“Basically the cases of Veera and Ratree are not qualified for transfer and so far the Justice Ministry has not yet received a request from concerned parties,” Pracha said.

The prisoner transfer could only be conducted with the consent of three concerned parties; the prisoners themselves, their countries of origin and the host country where they were sentenced, Pracha said. Thailand has similar agreements with 31 countries around the world.

Since the agreement with Cambodia, Phnom Penh requested the transfer of four prisoners detained on charges of smuggling drugs and two had already been sent to Cambodia, he said.
Phnom Penh is now requesting the transfer of five more prisoners and all qualify, Pracha said, noting the five did not include any charged with spying.

Attempts to free Veera and Ratree failed several times during the previous government due to poor relations. The new government has sparked hopes as it was on good terms with leaders in Phnom Penh.

Hun Sen promised Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra when she visited Cambodia early this month he would seek ways to reduce the jail terms of the Thai activists as the chance of a royal pardon was slim. Officials said they would only qualify for a royal pardon once they have served two thirds of their jail term.
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Feeding dead, Pchhum Ben festival in Cambodia

By Nguon Sovan

KANDAL, Cambodia, Sept. 27 (Xinhua) -- Since early Tuesday morning, Chhin Som, 65, has got up to prepare food, fruit, candles and incense sticks in order to bring to pagodas to dedicate to his deceased wife and ancestors on the occasion of Pchhum Ben festival, the country's second largest religious festival.

Chhin Som had spent his one-month savings of 100,000 riels (25 U.S. dollars) from his sales of farm-grown bananas to buy fragrant rice and meats to cook for his deceased wife and ancestors.

He believed that the food would be reached his wife and other ancestors through the Buddhist monks' dedication.

"This is the only way through the Buddhism that I can express my affection and memory to my wife who died last year and to other ancestors," said Chhin Som, a resident of Kandal province's Mukampol district, some 45 kilometers east of Phnom Penh.

During the jubilant occasion of Pchhum Ben day, Cambodian Buddhists bring food, cash, and praying things to offer to Buddhist monks in pagodas in order to dedicate to their deceased relatives and ancestors; in return, they wish for longevity, good luck, happiness and prosperity.

Chhin Som said he would bring food, some cash and other stuff to three pagodas in the district to wish his wife to be re-born in a better life.

The Pchhum Ben festival is usually celebrated on the 15th day of the tenth month in the Khmer calendar. Before the day of Pchhum Ben, there is Kan Ben festival lasting for 14 days.

During the 15-day period, every early morning at four, monks chant in religious language and laypersons gather at the pagodas to toss small and round pieces of sticky rice on the ground to feed the sinful dead ancestors and then offer food to the monks.

"Some ancestors had committed bad acts in former lives, so after their deaths, they become sinful spirits; and the toss of sticky rice is to feed them," venerable Seng Sovannarith, chief of the monks at Machoeum Sararam pagoda in Mukampol district, said Tuesday during a sermon.

According to Buddhism, it is believed that, during the 15-day period, the spirits of the dead ancestors walk the Earth.

"The period is the annual holiday for ghosts and spirits--they are allowed to visit their descendants on the earth and they go to seven pagodas searching for food that is offered to them through the monks," he explained.

Departed souls try to find their relatives at seven pagodas if they fail to find their families making offerings to dedicate to them, it is believed that departed souls will bother and curse their descendants throughout the year, he added.

"Traditionally, the festival is to dedicate to the souls of spirits, ancestors and the dead through reciting by Buddhist monks," he said. "It is also the time to pay gratitude to their parents and elderly people through offering cash and other gifts."

Buddhism is the state's religion in Cambodia with more than 90 percent of the country's 14.3 million people holding it.

The country has approximately 4,400 Buddhist pagodas with more than 50,000 monks in all 24 provinces and cities, according to the records of the Ministry of Cults and Religion.

About 80 percent of the population in this Southeast Asian nation lives in rural areas; however, most young adults have migrated to cities and towns for jobs, mostly in garment industry.

Pchhum Ben festival is also a time for family reunion.

"It's the jubilant occasion we can re-unite our family," Long Vicheka, 22, a garment worker in Phnom Penh, said on Monday before catching a taxi to his hometown in Kampong Cham, some 120 kilometers East of Cambodia.

Vicheka has 6 siblings living in different provinces in Cambodia.

"At this time of the year, all my siblings and their spouses always travel to the hometown to see my parents and other relatives," he said.

This year's celebration was made amid the disaster of Mekong River and flash floods hitting most parts of the country since last month. The floods have claimed at least 97 lives and affected 90,300 families, according to Phay Siphan, the spokesman for the Council of Ministers, on Monday.
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Surapong: Hun Sen will help Veera, Ratree get pardons

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has shown an intention to help Thai Patriots Network coordinator Veera Somkwankid and his secretary Ratree Pipattanapaiboon get a royal pardon, Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said in New York on Tuesday.

Mr Surapong said the matter was discussed with Hun Sen when he and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra visited Cambodia on Sept 15.

The Cambodian prime minister said he would help by getting a reduction of the jail terms they were sentenced to by the Phnom Penh Court. This would enable them to meet the requirement for seeking a royal pardon.

Steps must be taken before reaching that stage but it was unlikely to be too long before they were freed because Hun Sen had expressed his intention to help, said the foreign minister.

Mr Surapong said this move to help Veera and Ratree out under a royal pardon was not the same as that mentioned by Justice Minister Pracha Promnok on Monday.

Pol Gen Pracha said the two could not be freed early under a presoner exchange programme, in which a prisoner can be sent home after having served one-third of the sentence first and the case must not concern national security.

Veera and Ratree were among the seven Thais arrested by Cambodian authorities for illegally crossing the border into Cambodia on Dec 29 last year. Five of them confessed to the illegal entry charges, were sentenced to jail terms, and released shortly after some time in jail.

Veera and Ratree were additionally charged with spying. The court sentenced Veera to eight years in prison and Ratree to six years after finding them guilty as charged.

Under Cambodian law they must first serve two-thirds of their sentences to be eligible for a royal pardon.

Mr Surapong also said representatives of all countries he met with had asked about the state of Thai-Cambodian ties and they were pleased to learn from him that the two countries could now resume their normal relationship.

Relations between Thailand and Cambodia soured during the Abhisit Vejjajiva government because of internal political pressure within Thailand.

Prospects for improved relations came with the Pheu Thai Party's victory in the July general election.

“Many countries are glad that Thailand can now talk with Cambodia, so the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (Asean) can now move toward becoming a single community in 2015,’’ said Mr Surapong.

They included German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.

Mr Thailand is expected to expand relations with Germany through exchanges of science, renewable energy and other innovations in which Germany has expertise.

During a meeting of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), Thailand asked to opt out of hosting the CICA meeting because of budget and personnel constraints.

However, Thailand affirmed its firm policies on small and medium enterprises (SMEs) promotion and drug suppression as it wanted CICA to promote the cooperation of the border security and transnational crimes.

With Ukraine, Thailand has sought cooperation with it on trade expansion.

Thailand has asked Ukraine to allow multiple visa entry for Thai agro-business giant CP Group and Boonrawd Brewery, which have started doing business in that country.

In return, Ukraine asked Thailand to consider a 30-day visa free privilege for its citizens to visit Thailand, said Mr Surapong.

He also said Iran has asked Thailand for support it during the Human Rights Council meeting after it Teheran was condemned for not allowing women to drive cars.
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