A Change of Guard

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Saturday, 31 July 2010

(Siamese) PM Refutes Cambodia's Claim about Preah Vihear

31 July 2010
Source: Thai-Asia News Network

Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, who represented Cambodia at the World Heritage Committee meeting in Brazil, claimed the country's management plan of Preah Vihear Temple has received approval by the meeting.

However, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva (pictured) still uphold earlier news reports that the review of the management plan has been postponed to next year's World Heritage Committee meeting in Bahrain. He told reporters to go back and read the resolution of the World Heritage Committee meeting carefully.

Thai-Cambodia border 'normal' but Thai military on high alert

31 July 2010
Source: MCOT

BANGKOK, July 31 -- The Thai-Cambodian border situation remains normal but Thailand's military is on high guard after a United Nations agency agreed to postpone discussions on the disputed management plan around the Preah Vihear temple proposed by the Phnom Penh government to 2011.

Thai troops are now posted some five kilometres from the historic temple on its eastern approach.

They are guarding the disputed area contested by the two neighbouring countries round-the-clock to ensure that Cambodian soldiers do not encroach the Thai territory.

In an attempt to boost morale of Thai soldiers guarding the border, Col Nirut Ketsiri, commander of 16th Infantry Battalion, visited them.

Thailand's foreign minister said Friday that the country is not disadvantaged after UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee (WHC) on Thursday postponed its scheduled discussions on the management plan to next year's meeting in Bahrain.

Foreign Minister Kasit Piromyat praised the Thai delegation at the meeting, led by Suwit Khunkitti, minister of natural resources and environment, for voicing and explaining the Thai perspective on the impasse to heritage committee members until they decided to postpone discussion of the issue.

He said that Thailand should now find a way to resolve the Thai-Cambodian border demarcation problem and submit it to the House of Representatives for consideration.

The immediate challenge, Mr Kasit said, is that Thailand wants to refer to the temple as Phra Viharn, while Cambodia calls it Phreah Vihear. If it is agreed by Phnom Penh then both countries could move jointly to resolve their territorial disputes.

The Thai government wants to resolve the problem according to the 2000 land boundary demarcation Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Cambodia agreeing not to change any environment in the frontier zone, pending the survey and demarcation of the common land boundary.

Thailand will not allow its territory to be lost and the disputed, overlapping boundary must be settled by negotiation, he said, adding that the next round of talks should be done in a friendly atmosphere as the two countries are close neighbours.

Thai MFA: Statement on the World Heritage Committee’s Decision on the Temple of Phra Viharn

Press Release

July 31, 2010, 3:39 pm

With regard to the World Heritage Committee’s (WHC) Decision 34 COM 7B.65 on the Temple of Phra Viharn at its 34th Session in Brasilia, Brazil, on 29 July 2010, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs makes the following statement:

1. Thailand wishes to express its appreciation to Brazil, as Chair of the WHC, for the latter’s pivotal role in helping facilitate the discussions between the Parties concerned leading towards the mutually acceptable WHC Decision on the Temple of Phra Viharn. Thailand also appreciates the understanding of the other WHC member countries on this matter.

2. Thailand’s concurrence with the Decision is based on the understanding that it is without prejudice to Thailand’s boundary claims, and that any document relating to the inscription of the Temple of Phra Viharn on the World Heritage List does not bind Thailand under international law. It is also understood that the ongoing boundary demarcation between Thailand and Cambodia in the relevant area will continue to proceed towards completion through the process of the Thai-Cambodian Joint Commission on Demarcation for Land Boundary (JBC) in accordance with the Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of the Kingdom of Thailand and the Government of the Kingdom of Cambodia on the Survey and Demarcation of Land Boundary of 2000.

3. Thailand underlines the fact that the 34th Session of the WHC did not consider documents submitted by Cambodia to the World Heritage Centre. There was, therefore, neither agreement on nor acceptance of the content of the said documents. Upon receiving these documents, Thailand will carefully consider them.

4. Thailand is determined to move forward, in good faith, its negotiation with Cambodia on boundary demarcation under the abovementioned framework of the Thai-Cambodian JBC with a view to achieving progress ahead of the next Session of the WHC.

Tea Banh rules out joint development

By Panya Tiewsangwan
The Nation
"Cambodia never thinks about violating Thailand's sovereignty," Tea Banh said. When asked if a joint development of the site would be a solution, he replied: "There are principles for everything. You cannot try to be co-owners of properties you don't have rights over them."

The World Heritage Committee's decision to delay the Preah Vihear management issue to next year must have hit Cambodia hard, but Phnom Penh's Defence Minister Tea Banh (pictured) took it on the chin, albeit quiet bitterly.

"We know from history what the issue is like," he told The Nation in a phone interview. "What has happened doesn't give any new signal. It's an old issue, nothing new."

While saying that the Unesco setback will not create military tension at the border, Tea Banh, who is also deputy prime minister, couldn't help feeling Thailand could have just stopped being "stubborn" and learned to "let go".

"To us it's deja vu all over again. Thailand has never let go in spite of the World Court verdict and Thais have tried everything" to oppose Cambodian rights over the temple, he said.

Members of the People's Alliance for Democracy, who demonstrated at the Bangkok head office of Unesco yesterday against Cambodia's management plan for the temple, cheered the World Heritage Committee's decision. But observers believe the one-year postponement is unlikely to soften the PAD's sometimes vociferous campaign for Thai territorial claims around the temple.

It was the PAD's strong protests that galvanised the government to resort to tough diplomacy that saw Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva threatening this week to sever ties with the Unesco committee.

The World Heritage Committee, part of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, had been scheduled to rule on Thursday on the Cambodian management plan for the 11th-century Hindu temple. But at the meeting in Brasilia, the Thai-Cambodian conflict flared up. As a result, the 21-member committee decided to postpone the decision until next year's meeting in Bahrain, after Thai accusations of procedural errors.

"The Thais know best what they want and I can't speak for them," Tea Banh said. "You don't have to ask me what caused the delay after Thailand threatened to end its Unesco membership.

"Should this conflict be mediated by a third party? I really don't want to comment. Let me just say if one side refuses to accept truth, it will be very difficult to move on."

The stone Hindu temple ruins were listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site two years ago and Phnom Penh was required to submit a management plan to the committee. Thai opponents of the management plan feared it "hid" some sensitive territorial information that would bolster Cambodia's territorial claims in the future.

"Cambodia never thinks about violating Thailand's sovereignty," Tea Banh said. When asked if a joint development of the site would be a solution, he replied: "There are principles for everything. You cannot try to be co-owners of properties you don't have rights over them."

Tourism firms eye Cambodia market

July, 31 2010 08:35:24
Source: VNS

HA NOI — The domestic tourism industry plans to focus on attracting holidaymakers from traditional markets in the world to meet its target of drawing 4.5 million foreign visitors to the country this year.

Figures from the General Statistics Office show that the number of Cambodian holidaymakers coming to Viet Nam has grown markedly in the first six months of this year, reaching 117,000 – a year-on-year rise of 36 per cent.

HCM City leads the nation in terms of attracting Cambodian visitors, who make up 60-70 per cent of the total number of visitors from the country to Viet Nam. The southern city is followed by the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong, the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta province of An Giang and the southern province of Binh Duong.

Industry insiders said visa exemptions, high-quality goods, attractive tourist destinations and convenient travel arrangements are the main draw for Cambodian holidaymakers.

Transport firms such as Mai Linh and the Sai Gon Passenger Transportation Company (Sapaco) are cashing in on regional demand for travel. Everyday, about 80 coach trips are made between Viet Nam and Cambodia.

In a recent interview, He So Somara, the secretary of state of the Cambodian Ministry of Tourism, said Cambodians used to prefer travelling to Thailand but that Viet Nam had become more attractive because it was closer, there were numerous entry points, it was inexpensive and the food was similar.

He also said the country now offered a variety of attractions, from beach holidays to health tourism.

Phan Thanh Hai, director of the HCM City-based Medic centre, said about 100 Cambodians come for check-ups daily, accounting for about 10 per cent of the total number of the centre's patients. Other hospitals such as Cho Ray, Traditional Medicine and Vu Anh are also regular stops for Cambodian travellers.

However, tourist firms attributed the rise in the number of Cambodian visitors to tourism fairs showcasing Vietnamese products and visits to the country by Vietnamese medical staff. — VNS

Hun Sen's office denies granting any casino licence in Siem Reap

Click on text to read the letter.

By Khmerization

The office of Prime Minister Hun Sen has issued a statement denying media reports that he had granted casino licences to foreign investors to build casino the site of the Angkor Wat temple.

On 29th July, Bloomberg reported that the Cambodian government had granted a licence to South Korean Developer Courts Harrah to build a casino and resort near the temple complex and on 30th, the English-language The Cambodia Daily had follow suit.

Mr. Hun Sen's office immediately written a letter to the editor of The Cambodia Daily denying that the Cambodian government had authorised the construction of any local or foreign-owned casino in Siem Reap. "The office of the prime minister denies totally the information published in your newspaper", the letter said, which was signed by Mr. Hun Sen's chief of cabinet, Mr. Ho Sithy.

"I am informing you that, in the past, the Cambodian government had never authorised any foreign or local companies to open a casino within the territories of Siem Reap province, and in the meeting with the Intercity Group on 29 July 2010, the prime minister did not authorise Intercity Group to open a casino as reported in your newspaper. Therefore, the report is totally false", added the letter.

In a visit to the Bellus Angkor website and Intercity Group, this reporter has found evidences that an "entertainment gaming center", or casino, had been included in the master plan of a resort centre near the Angkor Wat complex.

Cambodia reports new death of Mekong River dolphin

The Mekong River dolphin known locally as Kampi dolphin, named after the town in Kratie province where they were found.

July 30, 2010

A Mekong river dolphin was found dead in Kratie province in Cambodian's north eastern part, a government official said Friday.

Touch Seang Tana, chairman of Cambodia's Commission for Conversation and Development of the Mekong River Dolphins Eco- tourism Zone, said the river dolphin believed at age of 27 was found dead on Thursday as it was netted in a laying fishing net in the stream.

He said the dolphin, male, was already old and it had swum out of the protected zone looking for foods and accidently spotted in the fishing net.

He said it weighed 156 kilograms with 2.3 meters long.

Touch Seang Tana estimated dolphins numbered at about 150 to 170 today are living in Cambodia's two provinces of Stung Treng and Kratie, while there were only about 120 in 2000.

Last year, International conservation watchdog, known as WWF issued a report saying and warning that pollution in the Mekong River has pushed the local population of Irrawaddy dolphins to the brink of extinction.

The Mekong River Irrawaddy dolphin has been listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species since 2004.

Source: Xinhua

A Temple Too Far?

Friday, July 30, 2010
Op-Ed by MP

NATIONALISM at its heart is an emotive force and can be a dangerous aberration as the tone of some of the reports we have coming from the Thai press and media would seem to indicate.

Most Thais have learned through selective history texts only of 'Thai territories' lost to the French at the turn of the last century. Indeed many Thais have been led to believe that all of present-day Cambodia had once been part of their domain. Some prominent Thai officials have even claimed that the Thais love Cambodia more than the Cambodians themselves love their own country. If this refers to the Thais' insatiable appetite for more portions of Khmer land or to the disunity and incompetence in sections of the Cambodian elite down the centuries, then it is perhaps a claim difficult to dismiss out of hand. The point is, if the Thais feel genuine grievances over these so-called 'lost territories' which had been under continued Thai/Siamese subjugation or influence for perhaps a few hundred years at the most, how much greater might be the sense of injustice and grievance the Khmer people have had to bear over territories ceded by one means or another to both Vietnam and Siam, and in view of the fact that these territories had also been known to be part of the Khmer Universe since before recorded history?

The ICJ's resolution could not have been 'murky' or 'unclear' about the Temple's environs or its proximities including ludicrous references - in some sections of Thai influenced media - to 'the land underneath the Temple' itself. Not if the Resolution rules that the Temple stood on Cambodian soil - unless one imagines that the Temple can be sustained in mid-air?

In fact, any structural dimension of this Temple whether it consists of a causeway or staircase forms an integral part of the Temple as a whole and must be considered inextricably linked to it. Otherwise, what we have is a dismembered rather than a single compact structure. On the other hand, If the Temple is more accessible from the Thai side of the border it is more an evidence of the ICJ’s or the Franco-Siamese Treaty’s shortcomings in ensuring that Cambodia would have ownership over the house as well as the entrance path leading up to it than any supporting factor in favour of the Thais’ claim to the area, or indeed the fault of geography itself.

Of course, at the time of the Temple’s construction, Thailand or Siam had not even existed on the mainland of South East Asia. Moreover, as I understand it the ‘watershed principle’ is only meant as a general operating norm subject to variations as to existing topographic, cultural features or details where necessary, exemplified perfectly in this case by the Temple complex as such, and I think this basic assumption is what is subsumed in the Franco-Siamese Treaty of 1906-1907 and what underlies the ICJ's judgement of 1962 in Cambodia's favour.

The Khmer people may be a little lost and confused after centuries of wars and strife (starting with the cultural genocide committed against the Khmers by the Siamese Kingdom of Ayutthaya around mid 14th century onward) as to certain forms of cultural identity, but they would never have sufficient cause to resort to applying alien appellations such as the prefix ‘Hindu’ by which to identify their historical roots and ancestral heritage. That such a term is used at all is indicative of both intellectual dishonesty and a shameless, contrived instance of Thai political correctness gone mad. One could write many books about the Hindu civilisation, but they would be more pertinent to that dawn of Indian civilisation that arose over several thousand years ago in the Hindus Valley somewhere on the Indian sub-continent, than it is to the sacred Prasats built by the Khmer kings, even if Brahmanism – but not this religious influence alone - can be said to have informed their world view or religiosity.

The latest news is that the WHC has postponed its discussion of Cambodia’s management plan proposal to another year on technical procedural grounds. This decision should not be allowed to overly impinge upon or hinder Cambodia’s desperate need for economic investment and rebuilding in the area concerned notwithstanding Bangkok’s delaying tactics and objecting nuisances of which Cambodia already has more than enough.

Legally or technically, it may appear that the Thais are not after the Temple itself, but only the so-called ‘disputed’ surrounding areas. Yet, if the Thais are to have their way over this dispute, it is the actual intrinsic capital that the Temple contains as mediated through its commercial and economic appeal and repercussions that will ultimately sooth their appetite. So yes, in other words, it is the Temple that they really want first and foremost, over and above even considerations of national sovereignty or security; something they have ostensibly invoked to front their true motives, fooling the Thai public and international opinion alike in the process.

How could any decent soul be swayed by a ruling elite that has seen nothing wrong in formally churning hard foreign currency out of the flesh and humiliation of thousands of poor vulnerable young women; who even jest that ‘the flesh industry’, whatever else it implies, is still nonetheless ‘good for the national balance of payment’? Even our much derided and uncultured Prime Minister who had never been to Eton or Oxbridge for learning has shown far better moral scruples on this subject of vice, even if he has been somewhat ineffectual in matching his rhetoric with action.

There is nothing wrong with the proposed Management Plan in the area around the Preah Vihear temple. After Siem Reap and Angkor Wat, Preah Vihear has the potential to become Cambodia's second most popular tourist destination owing perhaps to its breath-taking location and topography and therefore any resulting economic benefit will have been felt far beyond the immediate region, not excluding Thai businesses and local people on either side of the Dangrek Range. Cambodia also has every right to construct highways and erect facilities to integrate this landmark region into her own national setup in order to engender or stimulate rural development.

One could only hope that there are cooler heads and more sensible forces within the Bangkok administration than the ones penning one-sided – if amusing - pieces that have been appearing on the pages of The Nation and Bangkok Post newspapers in the last few years. Politicians –like most mortals - are capable of reacting and/or succumbing to pressure exerted upon them through the media. The most potent and sinister influence that could drive the Thais into a fateful armed collision with Cambodia over the Preah Vihear temple issue again, however, will have to be their own self-perpetuated delusion that their nation’s habitual imperial rise – manifest destiny - in the region has been rather unnecessarily inconvenienced by a small, poverty-ridden nation like Cambodia. Such a scenario is of course something to be dreaded, not least because of war’s inevitable ‘collateral’ exactions upon humanity.

The Khmer people have been no strangers to such things as grief and suffering, but if come under attack they will likely summon all their resolve and strain their every sinew to defend their sacred ancestral grounds. As for the Thais, should they decide to make good their threat, my hunch is, Preah Vihear could prove ‘a bridge too far’ for them.

ECCC brought no fairness to the people of Cambodia

Friday, 30 July 2010
Jeffrey Serey Hola
Letter to The Phnom Penh Post

Dear Editor,

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia handed down a reduced sentence of 19 years for Kaing Guek Eav, known as “Comrade Duch”. It is a slap on the wrist for a man responsible for crimes against humanity, which include the murders of as many as 14,000 people, including innocent men, women and children.

Cambodians are still living with reminders of the brutal Pol Pot regime. For those who has lived through one of the most vicious mass murders in history, the sentence is outrageous and beyond comprehension.

The Cambodian Centre for Human Rights welcomed the reduction in Duch’s sentence, as the result of the violation of his rights. They should be ashamed.

Innocent men, women and children were brutally tortured and killed by Duch. Were their lives meaningless to CCHR? How can such comments and the sentence itself be understand by victims and those who lost their love ones?

It is understandable that many wanted him to face the death penalty, even though capital punishment is illegal in Cambodia. The reduced sentence of 19 years for Duch is too lenient for such a vicious mass murder. Duch should at least serve a life sentence.

For those who have not experienced the utter violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I hope they and their loved ones will never be forced to. How could such rights apply to Duch, but not to the 14,000 men, women and children who died by his orders?

For those who have lived and experienced such horrors, how could this sentence ever be considered justice? For them, it is just a slap on the wrist. Justice was not served for the people of Cambodia.

Jeffrey Serey Hola
Lancaster, California

Verdict short on justice but a good beginning for next time

Friday, 30 July 2010
Ronnie Yimsut
Letter to The Phnom Penh Post

Dear Editor,

First of all, Duch’s recent conviction and sentencing to 35 years imprisonment by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia represents a day of reckoning for many.

At least one of our former tormentors had, at long last, faced the docket in a relatively fair trial.

Duch’s case also represents a minor yet invaluable test for the ECCC, which was made much easier by Duch’s willing cooperation – hence the reduction in his prison term to just 19 years.

Suffice to say, Duch is only a “small potato” or a “small fry”, one of about 120 or so who should be prosecuted as well.

Indeed, Duch is only a scapegoat for countless other of his former comrades.

It is impossible (and also impractical) to prosecute them all, due to the lack of resources, and more importantly, due to the lack of political will.

Still, Duch only has to serve approximately 11 minutes for every single life he had directly and personally murdered (reportedly 14,000 to 16,000 lives, if not more, snuffed out). Duch is expected to serve much less time in prison, assuming that he will get time off for good behaviour, a very good chance for this convert to fundamentalist Christianity.

So we may see Duch on the street, among all of us, sooner rather than later.

That’s a reality – not justice. It’s a slap in our face, to state it simply.

This is one (of many) reasons why I personally did not file a complaint application to the ECCC’s Victims’ Participation Unit.

It would have been a good exercise and might have even made me feel just a tidbit better, as a survivor.

Still, half-full is better than half-empty, right?

It was still a very good day for humanity, all things considered.

Realistically speaking, Duch may sooner or later face street justice (or, the people’s court) in Cambodia.

Regardless of the countless flaws, Duch’s trial was a good exercise and a warm-up for the next case, involving much-higher ranking policy makers during the Democratic Kampuchea regime.

This next case will be a much bigger test and a challenge for the ECCC. It shall make or break the ECCC with its complicated and relatively pricy processes.

My hat is still off for the ECCC and its dedicated staff.

It was Joseph Stalin who once said, “Kill one is murder, kill millions is only a statistic.” My nine dead family members and millions others are simply a statistic. Really?

Lastly, I have only one simple request, as a victim and a survivor (and a somewhat devout Buddhist).

My request is that once the trial (exercise) is over, all these pathetic old men (and an old woman) should be either set free to roam the streets of Cambodia or else be sent to a good old folk’s home in China to live out the rest of their lives freely.

No sense in keeping the old folks locked up in prison (a waste of Cambodia’s limited resources) since there is no death penalty.

Ronnie Yimsut
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Cambodia-Thai talks on Preah Vihear temple postponed

Aerial view of Preah Vihear temple.

Radio Australia News

Talks on the future of the disputed Preah Vihear temple on the Cambodia-Thai border have been postponed for another year.

The United Nations committee mediating the dispute over the Preah Vihear temple have given Thailand and Cambodia more time to try to close the gap between their two management plans.

Despite being told to submit a proposal six months ahead of this week's talks in Brazil, Cambodia only handed over its plans with 24 hours notice.

The Bangkok Post newspaper reports the UN's World Heritage Committee will resume the talks in Bahrain next year.

Brazil's culture minister Juca Ferreira, says it was important to get the two sides together without the presence of any outsiders.

"That was fundamental in order for us to start a dialogue."

"They will have one year to try to reach an agreement and negotiate. So, I think this was the best direction," he said.

"What we had to overcome in the first place was Thailand's understanding that Cambodia had met all the demands of the (Heritage) committee's document. And as to Cambodia, we had to get them to acknowledge that there is a contradictory point that must be incorporated so that an agreement may be settled."

Thailand's environment minister, Suwit Khunkitti, says the postponement is satisfactory.

"And this item of the agenda will be postponed to the next session and will allow us to have more time to have bilateral discussions and communications to find the common and the mutual agreement between two countries."

Thai civil network demands Cambodian pushback from contested Preah Vihear zone

BANGKOK, July 30 (MCOT)– The “Thais Love Nation” network called on the government to push back Cambodian troops and residents from the area around the Preah Vihear temple and not to support the listing of Preah Vihear as a World Heritage SIte until the border demarcation is clarified inline with the natural watershed.

Chaiwat Sinsuwong and Karun Sai-ngam led their civil society group to gather at Government House Friday and submitted a letter to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva through Chavanond Intarakomalyasut, Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The protesters called on the government to revoke all agreements that put Thailand at a disadvantage with Cambodia after the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee (WHC) on Thursday postponed discussing Cambodia’s management plan for the Preah Vihear temple to its meeting next year in Bahrain.

They gave the government a seven day deadline to act on their demand and said they will come back to hear the government's answer.

Mr Chavanond said the Thai government was adamant that the border demarcation under the 2000 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Cambodia must be completed before the endorsement of the management plan for the area around Preah Vihear.

He said it was not certain that the border demarcation will be finished in one year.

The issue has to be considered by Parliament and bilateral talks between Thailand and Cambodia will be arranged later.

He said the postponement of management plan consideration by the WHC would not have an impact on Thai-Cambodian relations.

One year from now, Thailand will clarify the issue to the WHC members to understand that Thailand does not want to have conflict but it asks only for fairness and opportunity to explain the matter to all sides, he said.

Meanwhile, Deputy Permanent Secretary for Culture Somsuda Leeyawanit, one of 21 WHC members, said from Brasilia where the WHC is meeting that all Thai related parties including foreign affairs, culture, natural resources, and environment ministries and security agencies discuss the issue seriously on returning to Thailand.

Mrs Somsuda said an operations office may be set up to consider the issue thoroughly, such as whether the map Cambodian used is correct or how Cambodia's move affects Thailand.

She said Natural Resources and Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti will lead the Thai working team as he has been monitoring the issue from the beginning.

In 1962, the International Court of Justice awarded the temple and the land it occupies to Cambodia.

The site of the historic structure, on the disputed Thai-Cambodian border has long been a point of contention between the two neighbours.

On July 7, 2008, Preah Vihear temple was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Under the terms of the listing, Cambodia is required to submit a management plan for WHC approval. (MCOT online news)

The elephant king [and the U.S president]

July 31, 2010
The Age, Australia

THEIR time in the Oval Office was up, and US President Barack Obama was already halfway out the door when Tuy Sereivathana took his chance.''Sorry, Mr President,'' he said, causing the leader of the free world to turn on his heel. ''You forget my name card,'' he said, politely proffering same.

Obama carefully read the card. And then he took it with him.

So somewhere in the White House lurks a business card for the man known in Cambodia as ''Uncle Elephant'', a man who has dedicated his life to saving the animals from extinction in his native country.

To call back a president shows rare poise, even more remarkable in a man who speaks English as his third language, who was schooled secretly reading illegal textbooks hidden from the Khmer Rouge, and who spends the best of his days in the jungles of Cambodia.

Retelling his Obama story to gentle laughter, Sereivathana is concerned. ''Is this a rude thing to do in a Western culture?''

No, he is assured, but not many would have the presence of mind to remind the President he may one day need to call.

''This is my style as a countryside man,'' he says. ''I do like this when I want to say something. I say 'sorry' and then I say what I need to. I talk to everybody the same.''

Vathana, as Sereivathana prefers to be called, has dedicated his life's work to saving the Cambodian elephants. For decades, the animals teetered on the brink of extinction as they were hunted for ivory, or attacked and killed when humans, seeking new farmlands, came into conflict with them over territory and food.

Today, their numbers are still perilously low; it's guessed no more than 500. But they are not being killed in Cambodia any more, and Vathana hopes their numbers might double in coming decades.

It was for his work with the elephants that Vathana was invited to the White House to meet the President, honoured as one of six Goldman Prize winners from around the world recognised for their grassroots environmental activism.

''My father, who is old now, was very happy. He said: 'From the struggle in your early life, now you can shake hands with the President of the United States. I am proud of you.' ''

Vathana's fascination with elephants began early. As a child he heard stories, made figurines from mud and nagged his mother with questions.

But he had never laid eyes on one until he was nine, when a pair of mahouts and their animals spent a night in a neighbouring village across a lake. With a couple of friends, he paddled a palm-tree raft across to stare at the giant animals, and talk late into the night with the mahouts, quizzing them relentlessly: What do your elephants eat? How strong are they? How are they trained?

He remembers being amazed by the understanding between the mahouts and their animals, and by a sense of partnership. ''I knew then I wanted to be an elephant protector.''

The encounter might never have happened were it not for the darkest period of Cambodia's history. Vathana was born a city boy in the then cosmopolitan Phnom Penh. His father worked for the finance ministry, and his family were part of the capital's emerging middle-class.

In 1974, the communist Khmer Rouge took control of Cambodia. Pol Pot's twisted philosophy envisaged a return to ''Year Zero'', with Cambodia reformed as an agrarian utopia, without religion, private property or money.

Education beyond the Khmer Rouge's basic principles was not needed, as everyone would subsist on the land. The regime was prepared to purge anybody who disagreed with it. The cities, hives of capitalism and intellectualism to the Khmer Rouge's thinking, were emptied.

Vathana's family was marched into the countryside, to his father's family's village, Sithor Kert, south-east of the capital. The five-year-old Vathana had to change everything about himself, and learned to live the life of a farmer's son.

Life was still dangerous. ''My father had education and the Khmer Rouge hate these people so much. The Khmer Rouge put all the members of my family on a list of people they would kill, but not now, they wanted to investigate us first.''

The Khmer Rouge watched his family intently. Every night, Vathana says, soldiers crawled underneath their raised thatched house, to listen to the family's conversations. ''They killed our dog, because the dog would bark when the soldiers came to our house.''

The regime did not hesitate to kill those it believed opposed its rule. Over four bloodstained years, 1.7 million Cambodians, a quarter of the country's population, were murdered by the Khmer Rouge or killed by overwork, starvation or illness.

After the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, Vathana's family did not return to Phnom Penh, deciding to stay on the land. At nine, Vathana loved the outdoors. ''After this hard life, I became very strong. I could swim, I could run very fast, I could look after big water buffalo.''

He was also clever, and his parents had run great risks to give him some sort of education. ''The Khmer Rouge burned every book in the village. But my mum hid one book for me that I can read. She hid it between the walls. She was concerned I would not learn to read and write.''

Another relative had a university-level mathematics text, far beyond the young Vathana's capabilities. ''It was too difficult for me, but I practised with my cousin every day, until I understood.''

At 13, Vathana was sent to Khsach Kandal secondary school, several hours away. He had nowhere to live and his parents could not afford his board. With the headmaster's permission and help, he built a small house on the school grounds and learned to look after himself, growing vegetables and keeping animals.

At 14, Vathana was the only child in his province to solve a maths problem set for every student in the country. He posted his solution to the education ministry, which, astounded to find the right answer coming from a child so young, and so far from the capital, sent a bureaucrat on a motorbike to congratulate him in person.

''I became like a hero in my school. But it also inspired my parents to support me to keep me at school, even when they had not very much.''

Cambodia still had few links with the outside world. Most countries had broken off diplomatic ties during the Khmer Rouge years, save for those behind the iron curtain. With his secondary schooling complete, the only option for further study was through a scholarship program with the Soviet Union.

In 1989, Vathana won a place to study wood technology at the University of Belarus Technology. ''I did not know anywhere on the earth could be so cold.''

Studying in the dying empire of the USSR, as it struggled with perestroika and the rouble's plummeting value, Vathana found himself again short of money. He became his university house's unofficial cook, walking to the market in a World War II Soviet Army greatcoat to buy food.

During seven years in Belarus, completing first a bachelor's degree, then a master's, Vathana did not once go home. ''I never had the chance to visit my family. My parents cannot send money to buy the air ticket.''

When he did return, it was to find a Cambodia largely unchanged, save for scores of UN agencies and NGOs trying to pull the country away from its years of neglect. His ability to speak Russian soon found him work with the UN, but the environment remained his first love, and he moved at the first opportunity to work for the government's forestry department.

Cambodia had held some of the largest tracts of untouched forest in south-east Asia. But a corrupt government saw the quick dollars to be made felling them, and sold off nearly 40 per cent of the country to cronies and family members.

A leaky moratorium was imposed in 2002. Vathana fought constant battles before, after one too many arguments with a logging company, moving to the environment department.

An offer from Fauna and Flora International, a non-government organisation, gave him a chance to rekindle his fascination with elephants.

The animals have long been revered in Khmer culture. They are honoured in the Buddhist tradition, and rare white elephants are still regarded as auspicious symbols that bring glory upon the country. The temple of Angkor Wat was built in the 12th and 13th centuries largely with elephant muscle.

But in modern-day Cambodia, with human settlements expanding, conflicts between elephants and humans increased.

''People sometimes threw acid at the heads of elephants,'' Vathana says. ''They made bamboo spears to throw at them, or they put poison inside jackfruit and throw it to the elephant. Some villagers dug holes and put a sharp stone inside so the elephant will be injured.''

Fauna and Flora International recruited Vathana in 2003 to head a new taskforce and find a way to broker a peace. The person who hired him, Joe Heffernan, saw a man ''made for the job''. ''For the first couple of years, he blazed his own trail of work. He'd turn up from the field requesting $50 for some sandbags for dams or $25 for some seedlings, so I made sure it was there.''

Vathana's brief was to find ways that people could grow their crops, prevent elephants from raiding them, keep everybody safe, and do it cheaply. He read widely about the African experience, and adapted methods used there.

There was plenty of trial, and more than a little error, but he found many simple and creative ways to keep elephants and humans from hurting each other.

At Vathana's suggestion, scores of Cambodian villages have rows of hammocks, each with a sleeping, hat-wearing scarecrow ''farmer'' who has been sprayed with perfume to make him smell a little more human, as a first-line deterrent. Others have solar-powered electric fences, with enough charge to discourage an elephant without injuring it.

Vathana has helped villages build lookout posts, or rig loudspeaker systems through which they can play music or horns. He has marshalled volunteer guard groups, organising rosters of villagers to mind consolidated fields at night. Sometimes it is as simple as changing the crops, from watermelons and bananas, which elephants love, to crops they don't, such as eggplants. All around the country he goes, talking to villagers and to officials, many of whom, initially at least, don't want to hear what he's got to say.

It is Vathana's great strength. ''He is a communicator, that's what he does so well, he engages with people on any level,'' FFI's Matt Maltby says. ''He is able to present a problem to people in such a way that they can see it can be solved, and that he is trying to help. People trust him.''

It has not always been smooth. ''For months, Vathana would head to the villages, being shouted at, and sometimes threatened when elephants destroyed their homes and crops,'' Heffernan says. ''It was a pretty thankless task, but slowly he managed to bring these tough farmers round. I think Vathana's ideas and enthusiasm always won out.''

Maltby says Vathana knew it would take a long time to change attitudes. ''He's one of the few Cambodians I've come across who knows where he wants things to be in 10 years, 20 years. He's quite visionary.''

VATHANA is already planning for the next generation. His team has established four schools, with plans for more, in villages in forests that are known elephant habitats. FFI provides a wooden schoolhouse, a teacher's salary, and schoolbooks and a bag (unsubtly marked with a picture of an elephant) for each child.

''For four days a week, they do regular school lessons, then one day a week, they learn about elephant conservation. After a short time, the kids know a lot. They talk with their parents. Then the whole community looks after elephants, instead of killing or harming them.''

He takes great pride in the knowledge that since 2005, no elephants in Cambodia have been killed through conflict with humans.

Sporadic hunting continues but Vathana has turned more than a few elephant poachers to conservation. Challenges remain, particularly as Cambodia's lethargic rate of development inevitably quickens, but Vathana is confident that a balance can be struck between progress and conservation.

''I would like to see 1000 wild elephants in natural habitats in Cambodia. I want them to exist for many, many years. I don't want them gone from my country.''

US and Cambodia in controversial lockstep

Angkor Sentinel military exercise with 26 countries participating which took place in Kampong Speu province on 17th July, 2010.

By Clifford McCoy
Asia Times Online

BANGKOK - Cambodia's first-ever multinational military exercise is part and parcel of intensifying competition between the United States and China for regional influence.

The recently completed US-Cambodia military drills, known as "Angkor Sentinel 10", involved 1,200 soldiers from 23 countries and were ostensibly part of Washington's Global Peace Operations Initiative, a program run jointly by the US Department of Defense and State Department to help train global peacekeepers against insurgency, terrorism, crime and ethnic conflict.

The largest contingents of troops in the exercise were from the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) and the US Army Pacific, even as it was billed as a multilateral peacekeeping operation.

Warming bilateral relations come as the Barack Obama administration puts new policy emphasis on Asia and moves to compete with, if not contain, China's growing influence in Southeast Asia. Cambodia, as well as Laos and Myanmar, are viewed by many observers as already firmly in China's orbit. China's influence in Cambodia has grown considerably in the past decade. While not the largest official donor to the country, its aid projects and investments are strongly publicized and come without demands for improved human rights, better governance or less corruption.

The US has provided over US$4.5 million worth of military equipment and training to the Cambodian military since 2006, and this was the first time the two sides jointly put the equipment to use. Recent statements by US officials highlighted the cooperation between Cambodia and US forces.

At the May 3 opening of the now-completed, US Defense Department-funded Peacekeeping Training Center, US charge d'affaires Theodore Allegra said the US remained ''committed to enhancing military relations with Cambodia in the areas of defense reform and professionalization, border and maritime security, counter-terrorism, civil-military operations and de-mining."

The $1.8 million training center was "evidence of the US government's commitment to enhancing partner capacity with Cambodia", he said.

At the July 12 opening ceremony of the military operations, US ambassador to Cambodia Carol Rodley said Washington was committed to enhancing its military relationship with Phnom Penh and called Angkor Sentinel a "unique opportunity" to expand the friendship between the two countries.

The drills, which also included participants from France, Indonesia, the Philippines, Australia, India, Italy, Germany, Japan, Mongolia and the United Kingdom, notably coincided with the 60th anniversary of US-Cambodia relations.

The program for the exercises consisted of two main components: a multilateral UN force headquarters computer-simulated command post exercise held in Phnom Penh and a two-week field training exercise at the RCAF's ACO Tank Command headquarters in Kompong Speu province 50 kilometers west of the capital.

However, the exercises did not sit well with some military officers in Thailand, the US's erstwhile security partner in the region. Thailand plays host annually to the region's largest US-led joint military exercise, Cobra Gold. Some Thai officers have expressed dismay that the US is showing increased strategic interest in a country that has emerged as one of its biggest security threats in light of recent border disputes and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's perceived meddling in Thai domestic politics.

United States Under Secretary of State William Burns discounted this view in a July 16 press conference in Bangkok. "We don't see that as in any way contradicting or in conflict with our commitment to working with the Thai military on regional security or peacekeeping operations," he said.

Guns for hire
Cambodia has come a long way since being the recipient of one of the United Nations' largest peacekeeping operations from 1991-1993. After decades of debilitating civil war, the country has in recent years sent peacekeepers, primarily de-mining experts, to Sudan, Chad, Central African Republic and Lebanon.

Human-rights activists argue that while Cambodia may no longer need peacekeepers itself, its population is still in need of protection from its own armed forces, including units involved in the recent joint exercises.

In a July 8 report, Human Rights Watch (HRW), a US-based rights lobby, alleged that many RCAF units selected to participate in the joint exercises had abysmal rights records. HRW said that by allowing the controversial units to participate in the drills, the US had undermined its own commitment to the promotion of human rights in Cambodia.

HRW, Cambodian human-rights organizations and other international rights groups, as well as the US State Department, have all detailed ACO Tank Command units involvement in illegal land seizures. These include the November 2009 seizure of farmland from 133 families in Baneay Meanchey province and the use of tanks in 2007 to flatten villagers' fences and crops in a forceful move to confiscate land.

HRW noted that certain elite units, such as the prime minister's personal bodyguard, Airborne Brigade 911, Brigade 31 and Brigade 70, were all scheduled to participate in the Phnom Penh portion of the exercise. Both the bodyguard unit and Brigade 70 were involved in the 1997 grenade attack on a political rally by the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, according to HRW.

Airborne Brigade 911, meanwhile, has been linked to arbitrary detentions, political violence, torture and summary executions. Brigade 31 has been accused of involvement in illegal logging, intimidation of opposition party activists and land-grabbing, including the use in 2008 of US-provided trucks to forcibly evict villagers from their land in Kampot province.

Cambodian military officers and soldiers operate without fear of arrest or punishment, human-rights groups say. ''Hun Sen has promoted military officers implicated in torture, extra-judicial killings and political violence,'' said Phil Robertson, HRW's deputy Asia director.

While some of these acts have been carried out for the benefit of the business interests of military officers, others have been done at the request of private companies with links to the military. Plans announced by Hun Sen in February for corporate sponsorship of military units to cover defense costs have many worried that the contributions will increase companies' control over military units to do their bidding.

Cambodian government officials dismissed HRW's claims. The US has likewise defended its involvement in the exercises. In a July 11 statement by embassy spokesman John Johnson, he said all participants in the exercises were "thoroughly and rigorously vetted" by the embassy and the Defense and State departments.

This was echoed by Burns during his visit to Phnom Penh. "Any military relationship that we conduct around the world is consistent with US law. And so, we look very carefully, we vet carefully, the participants from Cambodia, from other countries, in any kind of exercise that we engage in."

HRW called on the US government to suspend military aid to Cambodia until an improved and thorough human-rights vetting process could be implemented to screen out abusive individuals or units from receiving US aid or training. However, indications are that the US has little interest in putting the brakes on rapidly improving bilateral ties with Cambodia.

Symbolic gestures
One major symbolic step was the removal last year of Cambodia and Laos from a list of Marxist-Leninist states. The redesignation opened the way for increased US investment by removing restrictions on US Export-Import Bank financing and loans to both countries. Washington is currently one of Cambodia's largest donors with more than $72 million in assistance this year focused on health, education, economic development and government accountability. The US donated $65 million in 2009.

Washington is apparently showing its support in other ways, too. Last month, an American judge sentenced Cambodian-American Chhun Yasith to life in prison for his leading role in an attempted coup in November 2000 by a group calling itself the Cambodian Freedom Fighters (CFF). Although the CFF had previously received some tacit US approval, the verdict sent a message to other Cambodians that support for any anti-government activities from US soil would no longer be tolerated.

Security related ties have also improved, partly out of recognition that several high-profile terror suspects have passed through Cambodia. In January 2008, US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director Robert Mueller made a visit to Cambodia to open a new FBI office at the embassy. Mueller said at the time, "It's an important country to us because of the potential for persons transiting Cambodia or utilizing Cambodia as a spot for terrorism."

Since then Phnom Penh has requested FBI help to solve the assassination of opposition journalist Khim Sambo and his son in July 2008 during a national election campaign. The journalist was known for his scathing criticisms of Hun Sen's administration, including allegations of corruption. The government has also requested FBI assistance in a joint investigation into a failed bomb plot against several government buildings by would-be Cambodian rebels in January 2009.

Prior to opening its new office, the FBI was involved in an investigation into the 1997 grenade attack on a rally by the opposition Sam Rainsy Party in which 16 people were killed and an American citizen was among the injured. The US government and the FBI were later criticized for pulling out of the investigation when it was believed they were on the verge of solving it. A June 1997 Washington Post article cited US government officials familiar with a classified FBI report on the investigation as saying the agency had tentatively pinned the blame on Hun Sen's personal bodyguard unit.

Jousting between the US and China for influence has become more openly apparent. After the US suspended the delivery of military vehicles following the repatriation of ethnic Uighur asylum seekers from Cambodia to China in December, Beijing stepped in with a $14 million pledge of military aid in May. The 256 military vehicles and 50,000 military uniforms covered under the pledge were delivered by China in June.

China has also provided small arms to Cambodia in recent years, including modern QBZ Chinese-made assault rifles for Cambodia's special forces units. With China keen to maintain its edge in Cambodia and expand its influence in the rest of the region, US policymakers may feel Washington can ill-afford to miss opportunities to improve ties. The upshot may be that strategic partners are less rigorously vetted as new friends are sought and military relationships developed.

Clifford McCoy is a freelance journalist.

South Korean Developer Courts Harrah's for Casino at Cambodia's Angkor Wat

Master plan of Bellus Angkor Resort planned near Angkor Wat temple.

By Daniel Ten Kate
Jul 29, 2010

South Korean developer Intercity Group plans to start construction in October on a $400 million casino resort complex near Cambodia’s Angkor Wat temples that aims to draw high rollers from Macau and Singapore.
Harrah’s Entertainment Inc., the world’s biggest casino owner, and MGM Resorts International, the largest casino owner on the Las Vegas strip, are among potential investors to visit the site, James Cho, Intercity’s vice president, said in an interview yesterday. The first phase of the project, Cambodia’s largest casino to date, is set to finish in 2012, he said.

“All these big guys are interested in operation management deals,” said Cho, who holds a graduate degree from Columbia University. “We’re confident because the feasibility is there and gaming concessions in this region are so rare.”

Intercity is betting the casino complex, with an investment value equivalent to about 4 percent of Cambodia’s gross domestic product, will draw Asian gamblers looking for an alternative to more established gambling centers. Singapore opened Resorts World Sentosa in February and Marina Bay Sands in April, and Vietnam has approved a $4.2 billion casino set to open in 2013.

Raising funds may prove difficult in the current financial climate given the project’s scale, which is bigger than most casinos outside Singapore and Macau, said Sean Monaghan, an industry expert who formerly worked as a gaming analyst at Merrill Lynch & Co. Success may hinge on showing investors ties to junket operators in Thailand and China, he said.

“Even though Siem Reap sounds goods, most of the people that go there aren’t really casino players,” Singapore-based Monaghan said. “You have to have a very, very solid team to pull that financing off.”

Temples, Incentives

Yvette Monet, an MGM spokeswoman, and Jacqueline Peterson, a spokeswoman for Las Vegas-based Harrah’s, didn’t immediately respond to e-mails sent after regular office hours or answer calls to their mobile phones.

Intercity declined to reveal how much funding has been raised so far. The tourist draw of Angkor Wat, the 12th century Hindu temple, an international airport and “tons” of incentives from the government, including corporate tax holidays and low gaming levies, will make the project viable, Cho said.

“Not everybody’s going to gamble in Macau or Singapore,” Cho said. “Cambodia is family friendly and it’s cheaper.”

Hyung Joo Kim, Intercity’s chief executive officer, is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Hun Sen today in Phnom Penh, Cho said. He will be accompanied by several partners in the project, including Tobin Prior, a former executive with Kerzner International Ltd. who led the company’s bid for the Singapore concession in 2006 that was eventually awarded to Genting Bhd.

Golf Courses, Water Park

Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan referred questions to the country’s investment board. Sok Chenda, secretary-general of the Council for the Development of Cambodia, declined to comment on the project when reached by phone.

Intercity Group is a Seoul-based global real estate and investment firm founded in 1994, according to its website. It has developed $387 million worth of commercial and residential properties in South Korea, according to the site.

Intercity received a license to develop the Angkor casino in 2008, according to the website.

The Bellus Angkor Resort & City will feature the casino, three hotels, three golf courses and a water park. The 18-hole course will be designed by David McLay Kidd, who created the Bandon Dunes course in Oregon and Castle Course in St. Andrews, Scotland, Cho said.

Cambodia attracted 2.2 million tourists last year, with about 580,000 flying directly into Siem Reap, according to government statistics. The resort will be located about 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) north of Angkor, about a 30-minute drive from the airport, Cho said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Ten Kate in Bangkok at dtenkate@bloomberg.net

[Australia's] Smith hails Duch's 30-year sentence

Sydney Morning Herald
Foreign Minister Stephen Smith has welcomed the decision of a Cambodian court to jail for 30 years one of the architects of atrocities carried out by the Khmer Rouge regime.

The UN-backed extraordinary court chamber in Phnom Penh on Monday sentenced former Khmer Rouge prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, to the 30-year sentence for the execution of about 15,000 people during Cambodia's "killing fields" era.

Mr Smith told reporters in Perth on Tuesday he welcomed the bringing to account of one of the principal architects of the Khmer Rouge regime atrocities for the first time,.

"Australia has supported Cambodia's return to democracy, we have supported financially the establishment and maintenance of the extraordinary chamber and we welcome, very much, the decision yesterday," he said.

CNN Hero Aki Ra Disarms Land Mines In Cambodia He Placed Decades Earlier

The Huffington Post
Watch video here.

Aki Ra, leader of the nonprofit Cambodian Self Help Demining team, works to make his country more safe by clearing land mines on a daily basis. He estimates that he and his team have cleared more than 50,000 land mines -- some of which he planted himself.
At around age ten, Aki Ra was selected by the Khmer Rouge to lay land mines in and around his village. Over the next three years Aki Ra must have planted some 4,000 to 5,000 land mines in a single month.

"I had [bad] feelings, because sometimes we were fighting against our friends and relatives," Aki Ra said. "I felt sad when I saw a lot of people were killed. A lot of people were suffering from landmines. [But] I did not know what to do, [because] we were under orders."
The CNN Hero nominee formed the Cambodian Demining Self Help team in 2008 and continues to work with local Cambodians, former soldiers and war crime victims.

CNN's "Heroes" series honors individuals who make extraordinary contributions to helping others. In November, one CNN Hero will be chosen to receive a large sum of money to continue his/her work. Last year's winner was Efren Pe<&>#241aflorida.