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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

US calls for fair elections in Cambodia

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks to the media at the State Department in Washington, Wednesday, June 13, 2012. Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks to the media at the State Department in Washington, Wednesday, June 13, 2012. Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States is urging Cambodia to allow diverse participation in next year's general elections and release women who were imprisoned last month for protesting a property development.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, in talks Tuesday, discussed the importance of "appropriate participation across the political spectrum" in the 2013 elections.

But Nuland said Wednesday that it was "an issue for the Cambodians" whether opposition leader Sam Rainsy is allowed to take part in the vote. Rainsy lives in exile in France following 2010 convictions in Cambodia that he claims were politically motivated.

This year, Cambodia is the chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a regional grouping that Washington wants to engage more actively as the Obama administration steps up the U.S. diplomatic and security presence in the Asia-Pacific.

Cambodian's prime minister, Hun Sen, has dominated the Southeast Asian nation for nearly three decades. Rights groups accuse him of squelching dissent and intimidating political opponents.

Last month, 13 women were sentenced by a Cambodian court to 2½ years in prison for protesting their eviction from the land where their homes once stood. The case was seen as emblematic of a broader problem of forcible evictions of poor Cambodians to make way for property development in its fast-growing economy.

Their houses were demolished in 2010 to make way for a Chinese company's development of a hotel, office buildings and luxury houses in Phnom Penh's Boueng Kak lake area. The women were found guilty of aggravated rebellion and illegal occupation after attempting to reconstruct their homes. Four have reportedly begun a hunger strike in prison.

Nuland said Clinton urged Cambodia grant the detainees due process, and said their release "would be a sign of support for freedom of expression." Read more!

DefenseChina Denies Delivery of Missile Launchers to N. Korea

North Korea Rocket Launch
North Korea Rocket Launch

Beijing has denied media reports that a Chinese company allegedly supplied Pyongyang with four ballistic missile launchers last year in a breach of UN sanctions.

Japanese media reported on Wednesday that South Korean, U.S. and Japanese satellites detected the delivery of mobile missile launchers to North Korea by sea.

“Chinese companies do not supply North Korea with equipment banned by the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council,”  Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said.

The spokesman said China “maintains constant dialogue with all sides [in talks] on nuclear non-proliferation in N. Korea and strictly complies with UN laws and regulations.”

 In April, Washington accused Chinese company Hubei Sanjiang of selling components used in constructing missile launchers to North Korea.

The accusations came after Western defense experts spotted what appeared to be Chinese-made 16-wheel transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) at a military parade in North Korea to mark the centenary of the birth of its late founding leader Kim Il-sung.

 Japan’s Asahi Shimbun said in its report on Wednesday the vehicles were transported on a Cambodia-registered ship Harmony Wish, which arrived in North Korea on August 4, 2011. Japanese coast guard officials later inspected the vehicle and found a document detailing the export of the vehicles.

 North Korea, which withdrew from the six-party disarmament talks on its nuclear program three years ago, agreed in February to suspend uranium enrichment, as well as nuclear and long-range missile tests in return for U.S. food aid, opening the way for the restart of negotiations.

However, the UN Security Council tightened its sanctions against N. Korea late in April over the failed ballistic launch, which Pyongyang said was to put a weather satellite into orbit. . Read more!

Report: China Shipped Missile Launch Vehicles to North Korea

Japanese officials say China has violated a U.N. embargo by supplying North Korea with vehicles capable of transporting and launching ballistic missiles.

 Local media Wednesday quoted government sources as saying that a Chinese company sent four giant, 16-wheel missile launch vehicles to North Korea last August.

The Asahi Shimbun, which first reported the story, said the U.S. has not publicly criticized China over the matter because it does not want to embarrass Beijing and because it needs China's support to help stifle Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.

 Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Weimin denied the allegations Wednesday, saying Beijing has not violated the U.N. resolutions prohibiting the sale of arms, training,  and other assistance to Pyongyang.

“I want to stress that Chinese companies did not export items banned by relevant security council resolutions and China's own laws and regulations. The relevant reports were not true.”

 In April, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta acknowledged that China has provided “some help” to North Korea with its ballistic missile program through trade and technology exchanges.

 His comments came after Western defense experts spotted what appeared to be Chinese-made missile launch vehicles prominently displayed at a military parade in North Korea, which does not have the technology to make such vehicles.

 The Asahi Shimbun said in its report Wednesday the vehicles exported from China were likely the same ones in the military parade.

The report said the vehicles were transported on a Cambodia-registered ship, which was tracked U.S., Japanese and South Korean spy satellites as it arrived in North Korea on August 4. Japanese coast guard officials later inspected the vehicle and found a document detailing the export of the vehicles.

 After defense experts spotted the missile launch vehicles in April, China's foreign ministry vigorously denied any wrongdoing on Beijing's part, saying China had not violated the resolution.

 Beijing has been uncharacteristically critical of its ally North Korea following Pyongyang's failed satellite launch in April, which Western nations said was a disguised long-range missile test – also banned under U.N. sanctions. Read more!

China may fund Cambodia-Vietnam rail

A tuk-tuk crosses railway tracks on the outskirts of Phnom Penh last year. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

Cambodia was in discussions with the Chinese government on funding for a 250-kilometre stretch of rail line between Phnom Penh and Vietnam, in what Cambodian officials yesterday called a move away from a “complicated” Asian Development Bank loan.

Va Sim Sorya, director general at the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation, said the government could do without the requirements tagged to ADB loans, and fund the project with up to US$600 million in Chinese backing.

 “China doesn’t have so many conditions, but Chinese technicians are still well-studied,” he said yesterday at a workshop on infrastructure, although he did not specify which conditions were undesirable.

Interest rates on ADB concessional loans averaged an annual 1.32 per cent after grace periods, according to data compiled by NGO Forum for Cambodia last year.

China’s concessional lending held the highest rates from any institution or country at an average 1.83 per cent per year.

 ADB’s social safeguard policy from 2009 listed several requirements for compensating and restoring income to those affected by its rail project, although some NGOs have claimed that the bank has not followed some of the specifications.

Loans from China did not appear to have any such conditions.

 “ADB stands by its very comprehensive and well-developed safeguards. That’s something that comes along with the loans,” Peter Brimble, deputy country head at ADB Cambodia, said yesterday. Projects implemented by China happened more quickly than those by “other parties”, Tram Iv Teuk, Minister of Public Works and Transportation, added yesterday.

The railway rehabilitation project on the country’s northern and southern lines – of which the majority was funded by ADB – saw substantial setbacks earlier this year when concessional holder Toll Royal quietly suspended its operation, reportedly because the project was taking too long.

 Now, a 300-kilometre section of track on the northern line lacks the funding to be completed, ADB said last month.

Finding new sources of funding was the responsibility of the government, the bank noted. Yesterday’s announcement from the government met with strong opposition from Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay, saying Chinese companies have built low-quality roads and other infrastructure at higher interest rates.

 “We don’t oppose the need to get funding to serve the national economy, but it must be done transparently,” he said, adding that no bidding process existed for such projects. Read more!