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Monday, April 02, 2012

Far From Meetings, Evictees Ask Region for Help

“I would like to ask all the ministers to help all the people here, whether they are inside or outside tents, who are in miserable conditions.”

Nearly 200 families were moved here from the city, following a forced eviction at Borei Keila, a Phnom Penh neighborhood slated for development by the company Phan Imex.

Far from the Asean ministerial meetings underway on Monday, victims of forced evictions in Cambodia say they need regional leaders to help enforce human rights.

At a squalid relocation camp at Phnom Bath mountain, where many displaced families live in poverty, Nhim Sopha, 29, told VOA Khmer she needs Asean’s leaders “to help solve the problems, so that I can have a plot of land.”

Nhim Sopha, who is a widow with one child, said she was forcibly evicted with around 300 families from the Phnom Penh neighborhood of Borei Keila earlier this year. They were brought by truck to this desolate mountain location, 50 kilometers from the city.

A piece of land, she said, “would be enough for me, and then I’ll demand nothing else.”

Rights advocates say the ongoing forced evictions of rural and urban Cambodians goes against the “spirit” of Asean. Cambodia is hosting an Asean summit in Phnom Penh, with the leaders of all 10 countries expected to meet on Tuesday.

The site at Phnom Bath lacks clean water, electricity, schools and health facilities. The displaced here say they are vulnerable to heavy winds and rainstorms, and they fear poisonous snakes and insects.

“I would like to ask all the ministers to help all the people here, whether they are inside or outside tents, who are in miserable conditions,” Sin Vanny, who is 70 years old and was among the Borei Keila evictees, told VOA Khmer.

Residents from the neighborhood have had little success in getting their complaints heard, despite protests in the city and requests for help from the administration of Prime Minister Hun Sen, Cambodia’s parliament and foreign embassies.

Sia Phearum, director of the Human Rights Task Force, a housing rights advocacy group, said Cambodia’s role as head of Asean should compel it to be a role model for other member nations.

“This seems like a small issue, so it is not necessary for other Asean nations to step in,” he said. “Doing so would embarrass Cambodia. So now the government should solve the problem for the people quickly, so that they won’t have to wait and won’t protest, because this won’t make a good image for Cambodia as chair of Asean.”

Some evictees believe Asean can do little for them.

Chay Kimhorn, 33, who was forced from Borei Keila but refused to move to the relocation site, said the government is not likely to bring up such issues at a regional forum.

“They’ll raise only the development of new buildings and so on,” she said. “I don’t think they know how miserably we are living these days, because we talk to all the media and they simply ignore us.”
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Burma, S. China Sea Dominate ASEAN Summit Discussions

“As far as Indonesia is concerned, this is a very good development."

Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN Foreign Ministers
Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN Foreign Ministers from left, K. Shanmugam of Singapore, Surapong Tovichakchaikul of Thailand, Pham Bihn Minh of Vietnam, Hor Namhong of Cambodia and Lim Jock Seng of Brunei wait for their counterpart from Myanmar Wunna Maung Lwin, bottom, prior to the photo session of their meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia April 2, 2012.

This week leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are meeting in Phnom Penh, where competing claims to parts of the South China Sea, Sunday's election in Burma and North Korea’s planned satellite launch are dominating discussions.

Burma’s political reform process has been a high-profile objective for the 10 member bloc of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Last November the group agreed to grant Burma the chair of the bloc in 2014 on the basis of its democratic reforms.

After Sunday’s by-election, which Burma had invited ASEAN representatives to observe, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa praised the vote’s execution.

“As far as Indonesia is concerned, this is a very good development. An important step in further making irreversible the democratization process in Myanmar," Natalegawa said.

This year's chair, Cambodia, released a statement calling the election "successful" and "peaceful" and urged the international community to consider lifting longstanding economic sanctions.

ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said he was "encouraged" by the vote in Burma, also known as Myanmar.

"We hope that this will contribute to a more effective integration of Myanmar [Burma] in the global community and Myanmar and ASEAN will be able to work on other issues that will be more meaningful and contributing to the well-being of the people of Myanmar, rather than being stuck on the issue of instability and lack of political reconciliation in Myanmar," he said.

During the leaders summit this week, territorial disputes in the South China Sea are also expected to be a high-profile issue.

Four ASEAN members claim rights to parts of the South China Sea, along with China and Taiwan.

At a meeting of foreign ministers on Monday, the Philippine's secretary of foreign affairs, Albert del Rosario, urged his counterparts to take concrete steps forward on a collective code of conduct, or COC, for dealing with the dispute. Del Rosario said he hopes ASEAN will formulate its stance by the end of the year, but acknowledged the group remains divided over how to proceed.

“I think the difference of opinion lies in the fact that we are advocating a draft of the COC be prepared before we sit down with China," del Rosario said. "Others are taking the view that China should be invited to come in for the initial discussions.”

ASEAN ministers also expressed concern over North Korea’s announcement of a planned satellite rocket launch. Observers have said the rocket trajectory could see it head south near Philippines, Australian or Indonesian territory.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Natalegawa called on North Korea to refrain from the launch.

"We are obviously deeply concerned by the prospect of the launch of the satellite, both in terms of the safety and security issues," Natalegawa said. "But most of all, and not least, in terms of the disruption it is causing to the conditions conducive for the resumptions of six party talks."

Monday’s meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers is ahead of Tuesday's main leaders' summit.
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Hu's Cambodia trip deepens bilateral ties: Chinese experts

BEIJING, April 2 (Xinhua) -- Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to Cambodia has resulted in significant achievements for the ties and cooperation between the two countries and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said Chinese experts on Monday.

During the 4-day visit which concluded on Monday, Hu met Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni, Senate President Chea Sim, National Assembly President Heng Samrin and Prime Minister Hun Sen, and was warmly welcomed by all walks of Cambodian society.

The two countries signed a variety of agreements on cooperation during Hu's visit, which is the first visit by China's head of state since 2000.

The two countries have also issued a joint communique, vowing to strengthen cooperation in politics, economy, defence, and strategy.

"This demonstrates the traditional friendship between the peoples of China and Cambodia," said Tong Xiaoling, Chinese ambassador to ASEAN, "the friendship was established by the leaders of older generations of both countries, and has faithfully continued through to the present day."

Since the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1958, China and Cambodia have supported each other in various issues. In 2010, the two countries built the comprehensive strategic partnership.

This time around, Hu's suggestions for enhancing bilateral ties during this visit have been echoed by Cambodian leaders.

During Hu's visit, the two countries agreed to expand all-round bilateral cooperation and double bilateral trade between the two countries, reaching 5 billion U.S. dollars by the year 2017.

This cooperation will provide tangible benefits to the peoples of both countries, said Hu Qianwen, former Chinese ambassador to Cambodia.

China has almost 360 investment projects in Cambodia at present, with a total amount of foreign direct investment (FDI) of 1.43 billion U.S. dollars as of 2011. Cambodia's FDI to China currently stands at 130 million U.S. dollars.

Tong said China will further expand its investment in Cambodia's infrastructure, and provide more support to Chinese enterprises going to Cambodia.

In the meantime, this bilateral cooperation is also of strategic importance, said Hu Qianwen, adding that Cambodia understands and firmly supports China in issues concerning China's core interests, such as Taiwan and Tibet. Cambodia also takes a fair attitude toward the South China Sea issue.

In the joint communique announced on Sunday, the two countries agreed that China and the ASEAN countries shall continue to abide by the purpose and spirit of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), give full play to all existing mechanisms including the Guidelines for the implementation of the DOC, facilitate the full implementation of the DOC, and ensure the success of the workshop on the 10th Anniversary of the signing of the DOC.

Experts said President Hu's visit to Cambodia will also help promote understanding between China and other ASEAN countries, especially during a period when international and regional situations are now experiencing profound changes.

President Hu's visit came after the United States announced its return to Asia Pacific at the end of last year. Moving its strategy eastward will have a significant impact in this region, said Zhang Jiuhuan, former Chinese ambassador to Thailand and Singapore.

Cambodia holds the presidency of ASEAN in 2012, and will host the 20th ASEAN Summit starting from Tuesday to Wednesday.

"China, Cambodia and other ASEAN countries all hope to maintain peace and stability of the region. Hu's visit will have positive influence during this period of change," said Zhang.
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