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Monday, October 29, 2012

Iranian Warships Dock in Sudan

Iran says two of its warships have docked in Sudan, days after Sudan accused Israel of bombing an arms factory in Khartoum.

Iran's state-run news agency, IRNA, says a destroyer and a helicopter carrier arrived in Sudan Monday to ensure security for shipping lanes.  It said the vessels were also bringing a message of peace and friendship.

Iran's semi-official Fars news agency said the Iranian fleet's commanders will meet their Sudanese navy counterparts during their visit.

Last week, the Sudanese government accused Israel of using warplanes to bomb an arms factory in Khartoum.  Officials say the alleged bombing was an attempt by Israel to "frustrate" Sudan's military capabilities.

Israel's military has declined to comment on the accusations.

Israel has previously accused Sudan of supporting Palestinian militants.

Sudan has blamed Israel for previous attacks, including a deadly 2009 air strike on a weapons convoy. 
Read more!

US, Cambodia to Resume Child Adoptions

Cambodia announced Monday that it has agreed to resume child adoptions with the United States beginning next year.

Cambodia's secretary of state for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Long Visalo, announced the move, a decision that reverses a ban on foreign adoptions that has been in effect since 2009.  He said after a meeting in Phnom Penh with the U.S. special advisor for children's issues, Ambassador Susan Jacobs, that adoptions will resume on January 1.

Long Visalo says that only 200 Cambodian children at most will be allowed to be adopted each year by U.S. families.

“We have now set on a quota, like for instance, we allow the U.S. to adopt between one hundred up to two hundreds children, annually.  No more than that," said Visalo.

Visalo said Cambodia has put regulations in place to ensure safe adoptions.  He said his country passed a law in 2009 to better regulate adoptions, following criticism that some children were being sold to adoption agencies and others were ending up in human tracking rings.

“We pay great attention to the future of those kids and we also take into consideration those who wish to adopt a child.  Some don’t have a child and wish to adopt one, and they meet our legal requirement so we have to do it," Visalo said.

Ambassador Jacobs is on a trip through Asia to discuss international adoptions as well as child abductions.
Read more!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Laos Offered WTO Membership

BANGKOK — The World Trade Organization has offered membership to Laos, an impoverished, one-party communist state. After years of slow negotiations the Southeast Asian Nation has moved its economy away from centralized control toward a market-oriented one.

Handicraft and souvenir vendors wait for customers and tourists at the night market of Luang Prabang, October 18, 2009.

After 15 years of negotiations, the World Trade Organization on Friday officially invited Laos to become a member.

 The invitation is recognition of the country’s efforts to change laws and policies to comply with the trade club’s requirements and the market access demands of its more than 150 members.

  It also comes after years of steady annual economic growth averaging more than six percent. This year it could top eight percent, the highest in Southeast Asia.

Michael Ewing-Chow, the WTO chair at the Center for International Law in Singapore, says membership for Laos gives it access to WTO benefits - but it signals a more fundamental change for the nation.

 "The real value for Laos is really that they're moving their economy away from the more centralized, planned one of the past to one where they're really looking at how best to create entrepreneurship, free markets in their country," Ewing-Chow noted. Small, poor, and land-locked, Laos is run by the same communist party that took power in 1975.

Like most communist states, Laos' economy was centrally controlled and it aligned itself with the former Soviet block countries.

But from the mid 1980s Vientiane slowly moved toward a more market-oriented economy.

Now, a country that was once reliant on foreign assistance is becoming a major destination for foreign investment, which this year topped $2 billion.

 It is the last of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations to be welcomed into the global trade club.

WTO information officer Peter Ungphakorn says, once Laos ratifies the agreement, ASEAN will be able to speak as one voice at the WTO.

He says membership could also give the Lao economy a boost as it did for other former centrally planned economies China and Vietnam.

 "It can also make Laos more attractive for foreign investment because it will be showing that it can apply predictable, transparent, ruled-based principles to its economy," said Ungphakorn.

The biggest investors in Laos are also its major trade partners and neighbors - China, Thailand and Vietnam.

But most investment is in natural resources such as agriculture, hydropower and mining, much of which is sold to its neighbors.

 Analysts say membership in the WTO should help diversify foreign investment and trade into other sectors.

 Nicolai Imboden is executive director of the Idea Center in Geneva, a group assisting developing countries like Laos to integrate into the world economy.

He says Laos is not yet able to compete as a production base, so European and American companies will be slower to invest.

 "Thailand is very big in investments. Vietnam starts now. Singapore is doing a lot, you know. I think Korea will come," he said. "There is clearly, as you know also, there is a moving out of low-cost manufacturing from China towards the south and I think Laos will profit from that," said Imboden.

 ASEAN plans to form an economic community by the end of 2015 linking up the region. Beijing plans to spend billions on train and road connections through Laos.

Ewing-Chow says that puts Laos in a prime position to become a hub for ASEAN-China trade.

"China is its big neighbor to the north and its major neighbor to the south is Thailand. Both of these are increasingly players in the Laotian economy and will continue to be the case for many years to come," he said. "However, if Laos becomes a major hub for the region it then becomes able to tap into the network of the other economies which seek to move goods and services and people up and down that particular corridor connecting China with ASEAN."

Despite the development and rapid growth in Laos, more than a quarter of the country's six and a half million people are still living in poverty.

The United Nations ranks Laos at 138 of 187 countries in terms of development. Laos hopes membership in the WTO will help it break free from its "least developed country" status.

 Its lawmakers are expected to officially accept the WTO membership offer in December. . Read more!

US Economy Advances 2 Percent in 3rd Quarter

The United States says its economy grew by 2 percent in the July-to-September period, a slightly faster pace than economists had projected.

The government said Friday that increased consumer spending, accounting for 70 percent of the world's largest economy, led the advance. American economists had projected growth of 1.8 percent in the third quarter, up from the 1.3 percent figure recorded in April, May and June.

 In addition, the U.S. said increased spending on defense projects and renewed residential construction pushed the economy ahead. That helped offset flat spending by businesses for new equipment and software, the weakest reading in that category in three years, and the economic effects of last summer's severe drought in the country's vast farmlands.

 The U.S. has struggled to recover from the depths of the recession in 2008 and 2009, the country's worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s. More than 12 million workers remain unemployed, and the modest growth has not been robust enough to significantly cut the high jobless rate.

The state of the U.S. economy, and voters' perception of it, is a central issue in the U.S. presidential campaign, leading to the November 6 election.

U.S. President Barack Obama, a Democrat, says the economy is on a path to recovery. But his Republican challenger, wealthy businessman Mitt Romney, says his policies would boost job growth and lead to a faster advance. . Read more!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

‹ Back to ASEAN Beat Human Rights Plague Cambodia’s UN Bid

cambodiaWhen Cambodia’s bid for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council first got into full swing the authorities in Phnom Penh were boasting more than 100 countries had decided to throw their backing behind the tiny Southeast Asian nation.

There was an additional advantage. Cambodia’s unflinching support for China’s regional foreign policy meant Beijing’s support and that of its friends and allies was a given. Its main competition was Bhutan – enormously popular but a diplomatic minnow even when compared with the likes of Cambodia. A required two-thirds majority from the General Assembly seemed assured.

But it was not to be. Outside countries and civil society groups – incensed by Cambodia’s human rights record – objected. The entourage who accompanied the Secretary General Ban ki-Moon to Cambodia in 2010, when Prime Minister Hun Sen apparently made some stunning faux pars, was also determined.

The net result was South Korea made a late bid and won.

Of those most opposed to Cambodia’s bid, Baroness Glenys Kinnock – a member of British House of Lords and the Global Witness advisory board – was perhaps the most cutting. Writing in the New York Times, she said Cambodia alongside other “state-looting dictators” should not be running at all.

“Cambodia is in the grip of an unprecedented land-grabbing crisis as an increasingly confident and insatiable elite helps itself to pretty much any natural resource it wants, ignoring its own laws and bulldozing local communities and dissenters out of the way,” she said.

 Kinnock reserved most of her criticism for Hun Sen, adding: “It is tempting to describe what is happening as a descent into chaos. It is not chaos: It’s the systematic capture of the state and its resources and the elimination of free speech by a profoundly corrupt regime, and it can be stopped.”

 Such criticisms are becoming all too common. But more disturbing was the government’s response to Kinnock, which would have failed to pass muster even in an elementary primary school debate.

 Kuoy Kong, spokesperson and Undersecretary of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was charged with writing back and included such pearls of wisdom as: "Do you really believe a nation could get out of poverty by selling weaving baskets to tourists?"

 Kong continued: "You should know also that the billions of dollars of aid which came in Cambodia went the most part to feed the army of NGOs, including the one you are now sitting on the advisory board and enjoying its perks and writing this article on its behalf in your comfortable sofa in London, and drinking cappuccino, if not martini. And you are talking about poverty in Cambodia. Please.”

 Throughout the response it becomes clear that Cambodia can do with a bit more help. Its criticisms of Kinnock – whose arguments were based on undisputed facts -- were little more than childish tantrums.

Instead the authorities in Phnom Penh might be better off following the General Assembly’s lead and take a good hard look at themselves.

 None of the three bidding countries gained the required 128 votes from the assembly for victory. South Korea secured 116 votes and Cambodia scored 62, well ahead of Bhutan which was dropped from the second round of voting.

 South Korea then won easily with 149 votes leaving Cambodia to lick its wounds with just 43 votes, devastatingly short of the promises and expectations raised through Cambodia’s relations with China and other members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) who also promised votes.

As a measure of Chinese influence, and of what diplomats really think of Cambodia, this vote was telling.

Chinese influence is not what it claims to be but, more importantly, Cambodia was judged by the heavy-handed tactics too often deployed by the authorities to ensure the whims of the moneyed elites and the designs of big corporations are met while silencing dissent.

If Cambodia fails to deal coherently and meaningfully with this issue then it should expect to see its place on the international stage further marginalized and any future overtures for a non-permanent seat on the Security Council rebuffed in equal measure. Read more!

Monday, October 22, 2012

U.S. Leads Naval Exercises In Cambodia

PHNOM PENH: Members of the United States Navy aboard the USS Vandegrift will join the Royal Cambodian Navy to conduct an exercise from Oct. 22-26 in Cambodia’s Sihanoukville in order to boost naval cooperation, according to a press release from the U.S. Embassy to Cambodia on Saturday.

The third Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Cambodia exercise will focus on enhancing maritime security skills through activities such as maritime interdiction, diving and salvage operations, maneuvering, and disaster response, the press release said.

In addition, the five-day exercise aims to increase cooperation, promote understanding, and build trust between the U.S. and Cambodian navies through sports and social events.

In 2010, Cambodia participated in the CARAT exercise for the first time. Other CARAT participants include Bangladesh, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, Singapore, and Timor-Leste, the press release said. Since 1995, CARAT exercises have taken place on an annual basis in the Southeast Asia region. . Read more!

Royal faux pas sparks Cambodian factory unrest

PHNOM PENH — Police in Cambodia were called in on Monday to prevent a riot at a factory whose Chinese manager angered 1,000 workers by ripping up photos of recently deceased former king Norodom Sihanouk.

Police handcuffed Wang Zia Cha, manager of the Top World factory in Phnom Penh, and escorted her to the nearest makeshift shrine honouring Sihanouk where she lit incense and knelt down as employees looked on.

"The workers were very angry with her. If we hadn't stepped in on time, the situation could have turned serious," said Phnom Penh police chief Chuon Sovann.

Wang will remain in detention as authorities investigate whether she broke the law, he said. Unlike neighbouring Thailand, Cambodia does not have specific legislation against insulting the monarchy.

The incident happened after some employees at the factory stopped work to gather around two pictures of Sihanouk.

"When the Chinese lady saw the pictures, she grabbed them... she tried to tear the photos, but she was unable to and she used scissors to cut them," factory employee Sroy Phalla, 42, told AFP.

 Top World said staff had been given the day off after the "regretful" incident and Wang had been removed from her role as chief of a production unit.

Sihanouk, who steered Cambodia through decades marked by independence from France, civil war, the murderous Khmer Rouge regime and finally peace, died of a heart attack on October 15 aged 89. Read more!