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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Let ‘the ASEAN way’ take reins in region’s democratization

High-level tourists: ASEAN foreign ministers ( from right) Marty Natalegawa of Indonesia, Wunna Maung Lwin of Myanmar, Thongloun Sisoulith of Laos, Hor Namhong of Cambodia, and ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan pose for photographs during a tour to the famed Angkor Wat after the ASEAN Foreign Minister’s retreat forum in Siem Reap province, some 230 kilometers northwest Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Wednesday. AP/Heng Sinith

ASEAN enjoyed good news this week as Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi confirmed her parliamentary bid and her Malaysian counterpart Anwar Ibrahim was acquitted of sodomy charges by a Malaysian court.

Observers here have agreed, however, that political reforms in ASEAN will remain sluggish, and the member states have their own “ASEAN way”, which prevents any chance for the region’s own version of the Arab Spring.

“The news [from Myanmar and Malaysia] surely brings a fresh wind to ASEAN. Reforms are indeed ongoing [in the two countries],” Parahyangan University ASEAN expert Mira Permatasari said Wednesday.

“But we can’t be too optimistic over how this will impact on the region. After all, ASEAN has that ASEAN way, with its non-interference principle.”

Although allowing only slow political process, Mira said the principle was a fit for ASEAN and was partly the reason why the organization could survive since its establishment in 1967.

She added other ASEAN member states should not pressure Myanmar or Malaysia to speed up their political reforms, saying such efforts might harm stability in the region instead.

Indonesia Center for Democracy, Diplomacy and Defense researcher Teuku Rezasyah extended the call against interference to countries outside the region, saying it might be counterproductive to the ongoing reforms.

He specifically commended the Indonesian government’s respect for the ongoing political process in Myanmar, and its establishment of good communications with both the military-linked government and the opposition.

“Indonesia has been paying attention to the process, while Western nations see only the end result but hardly the process,” Rezasyah said.

Separately, University of Indonesia international relations observer Makmur Keliat said the reforms in Myanmar and Malaysia were expected to support political reforms within ASEAN in general, particularly in regards to its handling of human rights issues.

“[These reforms] might not have a direct impact, but they can hopefully ease the review of the ASEAN Charter two years from now, specifically the clauses on the ASEAN Human Rights Council,” Makmur said.

The council, established two years ago, has been considered toothless and has hardly addressed human rights issues in the region.

Political reforms within ASEAN have been subject to the close watch of Western nations, including the US and Australia.

In his visit to Indonesia on Monday, Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd reiterated his government’s interest in Myanmar’s domestic affairs, commending the Indonesian government for its soft approach to the country that will chair ASEAN in 2014.

“I congratulate Indonesia through ASEAN for its fine diplomacy on Burma. This has been good work by our friends in ASEAN, and good work, in particular, by Foreign Minister Natalegawa,” Rudd said.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa recently visited Yangon in December, meeting with both his Myanmarese counterpart U Wunna Maung Lwin and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Marty said on the sidelines of the visit that Indonesia would continue working closely with Myanmar in promoting democracy and political reforms in the country, especially through capacity building programs.
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More Silence From Khmer Rouge Leaders on Trial

“When they do not cooperate with the court, it means they have something to hide.”

Former Khmer Rouge second-in-command Nuon Chea, former President Khieu Samphan and former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary (L-R) attend their trial at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, file photo.

Jailed Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan refused to answer questions from the UN-backed tribunal on Thursday, cutting short the day’s session.

Khieu Samphan, the former head of state for the regime, is on trial for atrocity crimes alongside the regime’s ideologue, Nuon Chea, and its former foreign minister, Ieng Sary.

Nuon Chea refused to answer questions about a revolutionary magazine on Tuesday unless presented with the original copies, and Ieng Sary has said he will answer no questions from the court.

Their trial is the second of the court and likely to be its most complicated. It has taken years for this case to reach the trial stage, and the defendants have proven recalcitrant at every turn.

Trial Chamber judge Nil Nonn called an end to Thursday’s hearing early after Khieu Samphan exercised his “right not to respond.”

“When they do not cooperate with the court, it means they have something to hide,” said Lao Monghay, an independent political analyst. “But it will not be an obstacle.”

Earlier this week, prosecution at the court has questioned Nuon Chea over the creation of the regime’s armed forces, how it shared power and the establishment of security centers prior to the regime’s takeover of the country.

But in many of his responses, Nuon Chea, known as Brother No. 2 and the lieutenant of Pol Pot, said he couldn’t recall.
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Sino-Cambodian ties see remarkable progress in past year: Chinese ambassador

PHNOM PENH, Jan. 12 (Xinhua) -- The relations between China and Cambodia have seen significant progress in 2011 in terms of political, economic, trade and humanitarian cooperation, the Chinese ambassador to Cambodia Pan Guangxue highlighted on Thursday evening.

Addressing at a reception ceremony to greet the upcoming Chinese New Year at the embassy residence, the ambassador said that the Sino-Cambodian political ties had rapidly developed in the past year.

"Top leaders of the two countries had exchanged visits to strengthen and expand the bilateral ties," he said.

In terms of trade, he said, the two-way trade volume was over 2 billion U.S. dollars in 2011 and it is believed that the volume will hit 2.5 billion U.S. dollars before the year 2015.

Pan also noted that last year, many investors had come to do businesses in Cambodia and an eminent achievement of Sino- Cambodian economic tie was the launch of the China-invested 193 megawatt Kamchay hydroelectric dam in December.

On the humanitarian cooperation, the ambassador said that China had provided nearly 10 million U.S. dollars to Cambodia during the period that Cambodia had been hit the worst from the floods between August and October.

"In the past year, we had achieved a great success to flourish our bilateral ties and I believe that the good ties will continue to be stronger and stronger in years to come for the interests of the two countries' peoples," he said.
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Vagabond Tales: Lunch on Guilty Beach, Cambodia

by Kyle Ellison (RSS feed)
Lunch on Guilty Beach was a tough meal to swallow

If you look on a map of Sihanoukville, Cambodia, you'll find beaches such as Victory Beach and Independence Beach, but you'll find no such place as Guilty Beach. Regardless of what a map might say, unofficially, every beach in Cambodia is Guilty Beach.

Guilty Beach is not just a Cambodian phenomenon, but rather a global destination that can be found along coastlines the world over. It's in Los Cabos, Mexico, in the shadow of the famous Cabo arch. It's in Jaco, Costa Rica, backed up by sagging palm trees and world class surf. It's in Asilah, Morocco; it's in Mabul, Malaysia. Guilty Beach is every beach in the world where those unfortunate individuals living well below the poverty line--many of them children--work the beach in the hope of squeaking out much less than a living; most likely, they're just trying to make that night's dinner.

While beach merchants and scam artists can often be viewed as hawkers selling goods you would never want, Guilty Beach, Cambodia is thusly labeled because here it is different. Children don't prod you to buy some fake sunglasses--they simply ask for a bite of your food. Men don't sell knockoff jewelry for extra beer money. Rather, children sell bracelets while carrying their infant brother in their arms because their parents are too sick, or worse, dead.

Guilty Beach is thusly named because I no longer want that $2 plate of fried noodles, or that $1 can of beer. How can I accept that $2 plate of food when I just told an 11 year-old girl I didn't want her $2 bracelet? Then to eat it in front of her, as her eyes fail to flinch from the fried fare before me.

So why not buy the $2 bracelet? Why not donate my meal? Because the sad reality is knowing you cannot help them all; that there are no amount of bracelets that will heal this heart wrenching dilemma. Furthermore, the precedent set by rewarding begging can be far more disastrous than the apparent problems you're trying to prevent.

Finally, it's a somber truth knowing that these innocent faces, with bulging stomachs and bulging eyes, are merely working for someone above them, whether it's family or otherwise. The average tourist won't buy sliced mango from a fully grown man, but they'll open up their wallet for a child. And sadly, everyone knows it. These are merely conscripted child soldiers in a brutal reality of poverty and survival.

"They tell us to say that," the little girl confesses. She has just asked us to "open our hearts by opening our wallets." It's a heavy line that's been proven to work.

How do you deny an 11 year-old girl of $2 while she holds an infant and tries not to cry? How do you not look at all of them, 20 or 30 deep, wishing you could buy all of their bracelets so they can go play in the water like all 9 and 11 year-olds should?

Even if you buy them from two, three, or eight different children, eventually you have to tell one no, and is their pain dampened any by the fact you just helped the eight previous? The guilt is nonetheless the same. A line intrinsically must be drawn somewhere, but that line never gets any less painful, or justifiable. We gave the girl $1 for a smaller bracelet, and she left despondently, a sense of failure in her face. Nobody wins in this game.

Even more, who am I that you should even feel the need to beg to me? I don't deserve this phony pedestal you place me upon. I don't deserve this plate of food you lust after. I don't deserve to sit on this beach, in this comfortable chair, and lead an easier life than you.

Lunch on Guilty Beach was a tough meal to swallow.
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Minister: ASEAN wants more Indian visitors

Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Mari Elka Pangestu
  Image via
 Indonesia's Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Mari Elka Pangestu said on Wednesday that ASEAN targeted to boost the number of Indian tourists visiting the region.

“The number of Indian tourists coming to the region has been increasing from year to year. The growth has been improving,” Mari said on the sidelines of the ASEAN Tourism Forum in Manado, North Sulawesi.

“Indian tourist arrivals to the ASEAN region stood at 14 million last year. The trend has shown an improvement [in the number of tourist arrivals],” she added without further elaboration.

To lure more tourists from India, the minister continued, ASEAN would open a representative office in Mumbai to promote the region’s tourism to Indian residents.

ASEAN tourism ministers will sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the tourism cooperation with the Indian tourism minister on Thursday.

Indian Tourism Minister Subodh Kant Sahai said that he hoped the cooperation would boost the number of tourists bound for India from the region.

“We have heritage, historical and religious tourism - everything is there. ASEAN countries share cultural roots with India somehow. [The cooperation] is a great thing,” Sahai said.

Mari said that she hoped the cooperation would boost the number of tourists from India to Indonesia.

“The number of Indian tourists coming to the region is still low compared to that of our other counterpart countries like China or South Korea,” she said, citing a lack of flight routes connecting the two countries as one of the reasons for the low number of Indian tourists coming to Indonesia.

"I hope [national flag carrier] Garuda Indonesia will open routes to India," Mari said.

According to the Central Statistics Agency, the number of Indian tourists coming to Indonesia reached 149,432 in 2011, increasing from 137,027 in 2010.
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Cambodia: Release peaceful protesters detained over forced eviction

The women and children are some of Cambodia’s poorest, most vulnerable people – and when they’ve stood up for their legitimate rights they’ve been rounded up and locked away.

            Some 300 families in Borei Keila had their homes destroyed on 3 January 2012

The Cambodian authorities must immediately release 24 women and six children detained yesterday while peacefully protesting their forced eviction.

The group of 30 were arrested while protesting last week’s violent forced eviction of some 300 families from the poor Borei Keila neighbourhood of Phnom Penh.

“These people never should have been arrested in the first place,” said Donna Guest, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Asia-Pacific.

“The women and children are some of Cambodia’s poorest, most vulnerable people – and when they’ve stood up for their legitimate rights they’ve been rounded up and locked away. This kind of heavy-handed intimidation must stop.”

On 3 January, the families’ homes were destroyed by construction company workers accompanied by a heavy security presence. Human rights monitors and media reported that security forces used tear gas and rubber bullets against residents in an apparent use of excessive force.

Rocks, logs and bottles were thrown during clashes, and at least eight residents were arrested and remain in detention. More than 64 people were reportedly injured in the eviction.

“The authorities need to initiate a full and independent investigation into allegations of excessive force, and into why the forced eviction happened in the first place,” said Donna Guest.

The 30 women and children detained on 11 January are being held in Prey Speu Social Affairs Center in Phnom Penh, a facility regularly used by authorities to arbitrarily detain homeless people, drug users and sex workers rounded up from the streets. Human rights NGOs have reported that some detainees there have been raped or even murdered in the past.

“We have serious concerns that the 30 women and children arrested yesterday are at risk of ill-treatment,” said Donna Guest.

Amnesty International is also calling for the eight people detained during the 3 January eviction to be released, pending further investigation.

Forced evictions are a breach of Cambodia’s obligations under international human rights law, which prohibits evictions without assurances of adequate alternative accommodation, adequate notice, proper consultation, or legal safeguards.

Most of those evicted have been moved to two separate sites. Conditions at one site, Srah Po, are reportedly poor with no adequate sanitation or housing. Some families are living under tarpaulins, and others have not been given any land to settle on at all.

Borei Keila has been the home to a large poor urban community for many years. The government designated the area as a ‘social land concession’ in 2003, sharing land with a private developer which promised to build housing for the poor.

However in April 2010, the developer claimed that it could not afford to build all of the housing it had promised. The 300 families have been protesting against the company and local authority since then.
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