A Change of Guard

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Monday, 31 January 2011

Six people arrested for distributing anti-government leaflets

Leaflets land six in custody

Monday, 31 January 2011
By Phak Seangly
Phnom Penh Post

Six individuals have been arrested on suspicion of distributing anti-government leaflets in Takeo and Phnom Penh provinces.

The suspects allegedly dropped about 80 leaflets early on Friday morning in Chamkarmon and Prampi Makara district in Phnom Penh. The men were arrested in separate instances on Friday and Saturday.

National police spokesman Kirt Chantharith said that police arrested three people in Takeo, Kandal and Kratie provinces, and three in Phnom Penh in connection with leafletting, but did not elaborate on how they identified the suspects.

“The six confessed that they delivered the leaflets,” said Kirt Chantharitha, adding that four were sent to the Takeo provincial court and two were detained in Phnom Penh.

“The leaflets allegedly cursed and accused the government of allowing Vietnamese to kill Khmers and selling land to Vietnam,” he said.

Tep Sophorn, deputy governor of Prampi Makara district, said 33 anti-government leaflets were collected from two communes in his district on Friday morning.

“I don’t remember it all, but it is a one-page leaflet that curses ... Hun Sen,” he said.

An American Mosque in Cambodia

The Diplomat
January 31, 2011

Cambodia is a rare bright spot in the fight against Islamic radicalism. Thank an unusual combination of a local imam and US soft power.

Haji Yusof bin Idris lives opposite the riverfront in Phnom Penh, on the peninsula that divides the Mekong River from the Tonle Sap. He’s the unassuming imam of the modest Alazhar Mosque, which boasts about 2,600 followers. He’s also a pivotal player in the West’s counter-terrorism effort in Southeast Asia.

Real victories have often been elusive in the so-called War on Terror since it was launched in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.From the Taliban battlefields of Afghanistan to al-Qaeda in Iraq to Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) in the Southern Philippines and Indonesia, the results have been mixed at best.

But in unlikely corners of the globe, smaller fights have been fought and are actually being won. Among them is Cambodia, a country whose recent political history had placed it on the least likely list of jihad producing nations.

‘It’s good, the situation, we understand now,’ says bin Idris, who has played a key role in improving relations between the Cambodian government and Western countries that not that long ago had grown deeply suspicious about the arrival of orthodox Wahhabism and Dawa Tabligh into local Muslim Cham communities.

Flanked by senior members of his congregation, he chooses his words carefully. ‘We work closely with the authorities to protect our community from bad influences,’he says.

Western intelligence sources say that at one point Cambodia was an arsenal for sale. Tamil Tigers—and indeed most other would-be regional rebels—would dine at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club before deciding on their weapons of choice.

The lawless thrived on impunity, and amid all this lived a significant Muslim population that had been targeted for proselytizing by Middle East Wahhabis whose code was the virtual antithesis of the moderate, maternal brand of Islam that was traditionally practiced by Cambodia’s Cham.

Bin Idris lets out an audible sigh when recounting those days, as the country struggled to recover after decades of war and insurgency. Cham communities were building separate mosques and fighting among themselves. Outsiders were feared. Mothers effectively accused Saudi missionaries of stealing fatherless children to be reared by Madrassas in the Middle East.

‘Ten years ago, people didn’t understand. We didn’t understand,’ bin Idris says. ‘In the mosques we had divided communities arguing among themselves. Women were being coerced into wearing veils. There were different styles of prayers, it wasn’t Cham.’

The plight of the Cham was made even more difficult after it was learned that JI’s military leader, Riduan Isamuddin, or Hambali, had planned the October 2002 Bali bombing, which left more than 200 people dead, from a guest house built behind the Phnom Penh mosque.He reportedly intended to use Cambodia as a base for terrorist operations across Southeast Asia. Two years later, three men were jailed after a plot was discovered to blowup overseas embassies in Phnom Penh.

‘This wasn’t a very good time,’bin Idris says dryly.

Like Muslims in other parts of Southeast Asia, Chams traditionally follow a syncretic form of Islam that incorporates elements from Buddhism and pre-Islamic belief systems. But between 1998 and 2002, an estimated 40 percent of Chams had switched over to the more orthodox Dawa Tabligh and Wahhabi branches of Islam.

It’s an extraordinary number. Chams account for just 700,000—about 5 percent—of Cambodia's population of 13 million, and have long been victims of discrimination, making them ripe for outsiders bearing gifts and what at first seemed not unreasonable demands.

In the late 1970s, the bloody reign of the Khmer Rouge came close to annihilating them. By the early 1990s, after three decades of civil war, there were just 20 mosques left in the country. And following the 2001 terrorist attacks and the Bali bombing, the Cham were again under suspicion simply for being Muslim. Allegations of police harassment and bullying weren’t unusual. By this point, the situation in Cambodia had become highly combustible.

Fortunately, calmer heads prevailed.

The US embassy took the lead with a proactive campaign that supported Cham traditions and helped build a bulwark against unwanted outside militants, an effort bin Idris praises.

‘The US embassy has helped us, the Cham community, a lot,’ he says. ‘They’ve helped so we can buy traditional clothes, and provided funds to help us study English and they have helped the poor and disabled people.’

‘The relationship is now much deeper. Before, the Muslim community here didn’t understand the Americans, but now it’s different. Not just here, it’s happening in other countries too.’

More importantly than this, though, is the fact that the in-house brawling over outside influences has abated, bin Idris says.He explains that although funds have continued to come in from many countries, all of the assistance is vetted by the Cambodian government and the Ministry of Religion in conjunction with representatives from the Muslim Cham community. They meet three times a year.

‘No one comes to offer us aid and demands that we follow them. If they do, then we tell the government. Each country has to go through the government,’ he says.

He says that although some Cham children have still been sent to the Middle East for schooling, their curriculum and the Madrassas require government and community approval. Any acts of violence are spurned, he says, particularly terrorism committed in the name of Islam.

‘This,’ he says of suicide bombers and their ilk, ‘is the predicament of the individual. It’s not Islam.’

Still, some concerns remain.

Chhorn Eam, deputy minister for cults and religions, says relations with the Chams have normalized, although the government is still wary of militancy and potential terrorist acts given what has happened since 2001. He says Chams have been free to study outside the country in places like Saudi Arabia where they learn Arabic and how to recite the Koran.

‘Some come back with different beliefs such as using a piece of cloth to cover their face… What we are worried about is that they might bring something that would cause problems in general society and their communities,’ he says.

His sentiments were echoed by Police Lt. Gen. Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, which oversees the country’s security. He says many Chams were members of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

‘There are no Islamic militants in Cambodia nor do Cham communities want any donations from the outside that requires them to become militants or separatists,’ he says. But he doesn’t rule out the possibility that terrorists could use Cambodia as a hideout.

‘Terrorists could strike anywhere at any time in any country, if we are careless,’ he says. ‘We’ve always educated them (Cham) not to become extremists or militants or suicide bombers.’

Given the extended reach of US influence in the area, Cham militancy seems unlikely. As bin Idris notes, many Cham teenagers dine at KFC and wear denim jeans. ‘We look American,’ he says.

In a final gesture, he points to the façade of the Mosque. It’s looking a little run down and bin Idris says he’d like to add an extension as his congregation grows.

‘If the embassy was to help, I’d be happy to call it the Washington Mosque.’

Cambodia As China Appendage, Not So Fast

By: Steve Dickinson, China Law Blog

Posted by Dan on January 30, 2011

In an earlier post, entitled, "Cambodia: China's Newest Appendage," I commented on the rumors of extensive investment by China into Cambodia. The rumor at that time was that the “Chinese” had agreed to make over $3.0 billion in investment in Cambodia's energy and transport sectors. I mentioned in that post that the Cambodians with whom I talked did not seem concerned about the impacts of Chinese investment. In just a few months, things in Cambodia have changed. Resistance to Chinese investment has started and it appears that the projected investments are, at best, provisional plans.

During my most recent visit to Phnom Penh less than a month ago, I noticed protests from locals related to redevelopment of the Boeng Kak Lake in the Northwest corner of town. This polluted and rather miserable lake (swamp is a better description) is where many foreign backpackers stay. It is also one of the primary slums in the PP area. The area has been designated for several years as a major urban renewal project. The project involved demolishing the current homes, ridding the area of the backpacker community (regrettable) and relocating more than 4,000 families. Protests have been centered on inadequate compensation for the families being forced to move, a complaint that resonates for those of us who live in China. During my stay in PP, the protests were focused on the local Cambodian developer, Shukaku, Inc., a company connected with the powerful senator Lao Meng Khin. See

Things began to change at the end of last year. At the end of December, local press reported that the project developer was actually a joint venture between Shukaku and a Chinese partner: Erdos Hongjun Investment Co. Ltd. Protests then turned from the non-responsive Cambodian entity to the equally non-responsive Chinese partner. On January 18, local residents staged a demonstration in front of the Chinese embassy, requesting the embassy force the Chinese partner to confer more acceptable compensation for the loss of property. In good Chinese fashion, the embassy staff refused to communicate with the protesters. Instead they called the police who dispersed the group with clubs and batons.

These recent protests do not fully contradict what my Cambodian friends reported to me earlier. Cambodian still welcomes Chinese investment in infrastructure projects such as the construction of power plants, dams and railroads. On the other hand, as might be expected, locals are not receptive to Chinese participation in large real estate projects which dislocate local residents and provide little or no benefit in return. In the mind of Cambodians, Chinese real estate investment is associated with large casino projects that cater to Chinese and Thai gamblers. These gaudy projects can be found throughout Cambodia. The locals say the Chinese care about money and nothing else. Whether deserved or not, this is the reputation China seems to be developing in Phnom Penh. It does not appear that anyone in the Cambodian government cares, so the matter is perhaps irrelevant.

The more interesting issue is whether the proposed $3.0 billion investment from China is real or or not. The situation is murky, as is usual in Cambodia. The reported facts do raise some questions. The proposed investment was announced as a result of a September, 2010, meeting between Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen and Chinese entrepreneur Wang Linxiang. Wang is the Chairman of Erdos Holding Group. Erdos is an inner Mongolian company that started in the cashmere sweater business (Erdos Cashmere Products Co. Ltd). Recently, Erdos has expanded into metals and energy. How did a cashmere sweater company become an energy conglomerate? Why would a cashmere sweater company from Inner Mongolia invest $3.0 billion in Cambodia? Most importantly, what is the source of their funding? Certainly, they are not planning to invest $3.0 billion from their annual profits? There are no current answers to these questions.

The situation gets even stranger as we dig a little deeper. The actual proposed investor in Cambodia is Erdos Hongjun Investment Co. Ltd. There is absolutely no information on this company available in China. Cambodian press reports state that Hongjun was formed in June of 2010. The Cambodian press reports that Hongjun has two shareholders. One is Erdos and the other is Qingdao Dezheng Resources Holdings Co. Ltd. Dezheng does have an office in Qingdao just up the street from my own office. Nothing else is known about this company in China, which is unusual for a company planning to invest $3.0 billion outside of China.

Consider this: a $3.0 billion investment from a Chinese company that has existed for only six months. The two shareholders have no connection to Cambodia. The two shareholders are relatively unknown in China. The total proposed investment would equal half of what has been invested in Cambodia from China over the past decade, yet there is not a single news report in China discussing the matter. The announced investment target is in power plant and other heavy infrastructure, but the first actual project is a sleazy real estate deal in Phnom Penh. The whole thing raises substantial questions for me. Though there is no way to know for certain what is going on, I would not be betting on seeing any new Chinese power plants in Cambodia anytime in the near future. On the other hand, we can expect gaudy casinos and luxury villa complexes with Chinese names on the front door will continue to blight the Cambodian landscape for the next several years. Then the question will arise: where will the electricity come from to power the lighting and air conditioning for those architectural wonders?

Thai-Cambodian border traders call for peace

BURI RAM, Monday 31 January 2011 (Bernama) -- Traders along the Thai-Cambodian border have urged the governments of Thailand and Cambodia to negotiate on resolving ongoing border disputes and open temporary border passes, Thai News Agency reports on Monday.

Traders said that the Ban Kruad Estate market that stands close to the Thai-Cambodian border in Thailand's Buri Ram province is currently facing sluggish trading as mounting tensions continue over the border between the two adjacent Kingdoms.

With sales recorded at its lowest in a decade, local traders have voiced their fear that persisting tensions will bring even more severe results to the local economy, urging that peace negotiations be held quickly to restore bilateral relations and resume normal trading and communication between the two neighbours.

Likewise, the Ban Klong Luek permanent border pass in Thailand's Aranyaprathet district remains quiet although with the Chinese New Year approaching as both Thais and Cambodians have preferred to stay home due to safety concerns.

Thai tourists have, too, become reluctant to cross over to the Cambodian side to visit the ancient Angkor Wat temple, including the former Khmer capital, Angkor Thom, with Cambodian traders showing less confidence to do business at the Rong Klua market over on the Thai side.

Meanwhile, Thai Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who supervises national security affairs, said in response to the latest development along the Thai-Cambodian border that the local people should not be worried for the situation has remained under control.

Suthep said that the army chiefs of both countries have agreed in their discussions to avoid building up border tensions in accordance with the Thai government's policy on peaceful coexistence among neighbours.

He also urged the Thai people along border to remain confident in the Thai army, reiterating that authorities at all levels were ready to protect the national sovereignty with efforts that would not fuel more tensions.

Top KRouge suspects seek release ahead of trial

Former Khmer Rouge leader "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea in court today, 31st January, 2011.

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Three top Khmer Rouge leaders made a rare joint appearance before Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes court on Monday to seek release from custody while they await trial for genocide.
"Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea and ex-social affairs minister Ieng Thirith looked frail as they sat in the courtroom with former head of state Khieu Samphan, underscoring fears that not all the defendants, aged 78 to 85, will live to see a verdict.
Along with a fourth accused they face charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and related crimes under Cambodian laws in connection with the deaths of up to two million people between 1975 and 1979 from starvation, overwork and execution.
Lawyers for the three called for their "immediate release", claiming their continued detention was illegal because the defendants had not been brought to trial four months after their indictments were issued.
While the accused are not seeking to have the charges dropped, acting co-lawyer Jasper Pauw said "there are no conceivable reasons to keep Nuon Chea in custody", in comments echoed by the other two defence teams.
A pale-looking Ieng Thirith, sometimes described as the "First Lady" of the Khmer Rouge, left the courtroom almost as soon as proceedings began, referring to a written statement instead and waiving her right to attend the hearing.
Nuon Chea, who wore sunglasses to protect his eyes from the light, suffered a dizzy spell and was sent back to the court's detention facility on medical advice.
Khieu Samphan was the only defendant to address the judges. "Please abide by the law," he said.
Absent from the hearing was fellow accused Ieng Sary, the regime's former foreign minister and Ieng Thirith's husband. His lawyers recently requested half-day trial sessions, claiming their client was too ill to spend full days in court.
All four defendants have been detained since they were arrested in 2007.
A ruling on their request is expected in the coming weeks, though observers believe releasing them could cause an uproar in Cambodia.
The upcoming trial, the tribunal's second, is due to start in the first half of this year and is expected to be a lengthy and complex one with all four former leaders disputing the charges against them.
It follows the landmark July conviction of former Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, for war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the deaths of around 15,000 men, women and children.

Senior Khmer Rouge leaders appear in Cambodian court

BBC News
31 January 2011

Two of the most senior surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge are appearing in court in Cambodia.

Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan are at a preliminary hearing at the UN-backed war crimes tribunal to request release from pre-trial detention.

They and two other senior figures face charges of genocide for their parts in the deaths of around two million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979.

The elderly defendants have all been in detention since 2007.

Nuon Chea was the second-in-command to the Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot, and is accused of devising the policies which led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.

The 84-year-old, who was known as "Brother Number Two", is arguing that the Tribunal had no right to extend his pre-trial detention.

Similar points will be made by the former head of state, Khieu Samphan, and ex-social affairs minister, Ieng Thirith, although she is not thought to be attending the hearing in person.
Waiting for trial

The BBC's Guy De Launey in Phnom Penh says it would be a surprise if their appeals were successful, and they will probably spend several more months in detention before the start of their trial for genocide.

A date for the trial has not yet been set, although it is scheduled to begin by the middle of 2011.

The fourth ex-leader is Ieng Thirith's husband Ieng Sary, who was the Khmer Rouge foreign minister.

His lawyers filed a request several weeks ago for the 85-year-old's tribunal hearings to be limited to half-day sessions due to his fragile health.

The tribunal - officially called the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia - was set up in 2006 but so far it has only tried one person.

Former prison chief Comrade Duch was found guilty last July of crimes against humanity.

The tribunal's financial difficulties have been eased a little by a donation from Japan, which last week pledged $11.7m (£7.4m) to fund court operations in 2011.

But our correspondent says the question of how to fund a trial which may last as long as three years still has not been answered.

[Thai] PM: War the last option

Published: 31/01/2011
Bangkok Post

The government will persist in pursuing peaceful means to settle border disputes with Cambodia, with war the very last option, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Monday.

“I do believe that both the Thai and Cambodian governments will adhere to peaceful ways to resolve our border conflicts.

“My intention of using peaceful approaches to settle the border dispute does not mean that the government is afraid of a war with Cambodia.

"It is also does not mean that the government is the underdog in dealings with our neighbor, as claimed by the yellow-shirt people group.

“The use of force will be the last option and will be resorted to only when there is no other solution left,” Mr Abhisit said.

He stressed that the government is in contact with Cambodia about removing its flag from the disputed area.

On the three demands by the yellow-shirt People’s Alliance for Democracy, Mr Abhisit said the demands would only lead to more damage to the country, instead of any benefit.

“If the government decided to withdraw from Unesco's World Heritage Committee today, there would be no Thai representatives to oppose Cambodia’s plan to also list the area near Preah Vihear temple as a world heritage site.

“Would the yellow-shirts accept responsibility for the foreseeable consequences? My decision on the issue is for the benefit of the country, not for self interest,” Mr Abhisit said.

Prawit: [Cambodian] Troop deployments not a worry

Published: 31/01/2011
Bangkok Post
Writer: Wassana Nanuam

Fresh deployments of Cambodian troops and armour along border areas adjoining Si Sak Ket province are not cause for worry, Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon (pictured) said on Monday.

Gen Prawit said Cambodian troops might be on routine defence exercises. Thai solders are also on full alert, ready to protect the country's sovereignty.

Troops of both countries were doing their duty on both sides of the border, and there should not be any problem, he said.

``I believe there are no serious problems on the Thai-Cambodian border.

"The Foreign Ministry should be able settle the dispute through talks.

"Thailand and Cambodia are not involved in a serious conflict that could trigger a war,'' Gen Prawit said.

He said the flag the Cambodians put up at the entrance to the old Kaew Sikha Khiri Sawara temple in the disputed 4.6-square-kilometre area near Preah Vihear temple was actually a temple flag, and it was only a small flag.

Gen Prawit denied suggestions that Cambodian had was taking an aggressive stance towards Thailand.

Cambodian authorities had showed they were willing to cooperate by removing the insulting stone tablet in front of Wat Kaew Sikha Khiri Sawara, he said.

Monks as Social Workers: How Buddhism Helps Development

Katherine Marshall

Katherine Marshall

Posted: January 30, 2011
The Huffington Post

This interview is part of a series of conversations with faith-inspired activists, based on interviews led by Katherine Marshall for the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University and the World Faiths Development Dialogue. The full interview can be found here.

Since founding Buddhism for Development 20 years ago, Heng Monychenda has trained hundreds of Cambodian monks, nuns and community members in conflict resolution and social change. Katherine Marshall talks to him about using Buddhist teaching to contribute to Cambodia's reconciliation and development.

What are some of the key Buddhist teachings that you draw on as a motivation for social engagement?

The Buddha's first order, given five months after his enlightenment was to go out and reach the people, to proclaim the Dhamma, the way of life for the people. The Buddha taught that people could not find peace if they did not listen to the Dhamma. We encourage the monks to search out this original intention of the Buddha: That means getting the monks out of the pagodas, teaching and reaching out to people. We need to reflect carefully on the principles and laws of the Buddha that truly allow monks to do far more for the society within their daily lives.

Some people believe that Buddhist monks should live only in the pagoda and pray eight to 10 hours a day, rather than involve themselves in daily life. But monks have in fact been engaged for a long time, just in an unsystematic way. Monks have built schools and hospitals, but nobody realized that it was social engagement because the term wasn't there. The way forward is to let them do it in a more systematic way or to look for extensions of the activities that they can do. With some 50,000 monks in Cambodia, if we had the means to help them we would have 50,000 free-of-charge social workers.

In 1995 I was the first Monk to start to talk about HIV/AIDS. I spoke through TV on issues of awareness. A lot of people complained and scolded me, saying that I cannot be a monk and talk about HIV/AIDS. It is taboo to talk about this topic, especially as a monk. Nonetheless, I still kept trying to teach about HIV/AIDS though my sermons and teachings. After one or two years I was no longer the only one taking up these issues, and people adopted the idea of Buddhist monks incorporating HIV/AIDS issues into the religious ministry.

How did Buddhism for Development get started? And what is it today?

We created Buddhism for Development (BFD) in 1990. Its first location and purpose was in the camps along the Cambodia-Thai border during the troubled times of that era, helping the displaced people living there. A group of monks, including myself, began to work in the camps, and in 1992, even before the repatriation program, we moved to Cambodia itself. In that new phase, we kept the same concept: Buddhism for development.

I believe strongly that each country has its own merit and values -- some kind of indigenous spirit, indigenous culture and indigenous strategy -- and that is what is needed in rebuilding the nation. Let the nation heal itself. Cambodia must heal itself through its own values and beliefs, not those of others. And Buddhism is one essential part of Cambodia. About 95 percent of the population is Buddhist and Cambodia has been Buddhist for a long time. There must be teachings in Buddhism, I thought, that could be used in healing the nation and its people.

Thus a central idea behind BFD is that Buddhism can contribute both to healing and to development. We looked for Buddhist teachings that related to the different areas: development, healing and the maintenance of peace. We looked to how Buddhist institutions, including pagodas, monks, etc. were useful in the society. We explored how the participation of Buddhists could contribute to the healing, reconstruction and peacebuilding process that was going on at the time. We began training in socially engaged Buddhism, based on the idea that Buddhism -- both Buddhist ideas and Buddhist monks -- could help people, especially the refugees and displaced people.

BFD now works in seven provinces in the north and west of Cambodia, working from the headquarters in Battambang. Our main focus has been and remains in communities. Starting in 1999, we have been able to establish small units at the community level, known as peace and development volunteers, or PDV. These volunteers are elected by secret ballot in their own communities. We train them to be the agents of change, to promote peace and development in their own village, based on the self-help concept. They watch for human rights violations. They also reach out to promote peace and reconciliation. At the start, many people were still living in zones controlled by the Khmer Rouge. The idea was that the PDV in the Khmer Rouge zone and the PDV in other areas would talk. Through this dialogue, feelings of animosity began to disappear and people become friendlier and friendlier. Today, the divides are far less clear and the former Khmer Rouge can hardly be seen as a distinct group.

Most work involving communal or group activity in Buddhism starts with the central Buddhist concept of saddhā, which is confidence or trust. If you don't trust each other, how can you work together? That is why we built the PDV on trust -- trust in each other, trust in what they can do and trust in what they can achieve together.

But the results at the grassroots are truly sustainable results. Part of the strategy is that our task is just to educate. The Buddha called it proclamation. We advise, but you do it by yourself. The Buddhist concept is self-help: first you help yourself.

Buddhists ask us why we don't help them to gain more knowledge about Buddhism or help them to build a temple. But if I build a temple, in the future nobody will build them. But if I help you to help yourself, and you continue to believe in Buddhism, then you will build the temple yourself.

What are the main lessons you have learned since starting the organization?

Spiritual and economic development should not be separated into two separate realms. In Buddhism, one is not more important than the other. We have a saying, "Nāma-rupa" which means that mind and matter have to go together. Mind affects matter and matter affects the mind. It is the teaching of the Buddha that economic development and spiritual development need to be done alongside each other.

[Vietnamese] Scam serves as currency warning

Monday, 31 January 2011
By Steve Finch
Phnom Penh Post

Cambodian banks need not dwell on the fallout from the recent Vietnamese currency scam. Although ATMs in the Kingdom were in some cases cleaned out by Vietnamese taking advantage of the huge gap between the official and black-market rates for the dong, it was Techombank across the border that bore the financial brunt losing an estimated US$1.5 million.

The main lesson Cambodia should take from this experience is that rushed, ill-advised efforts to dedollarise often lead to problems that can ripple through the financial industry and the wider economy.

The ATM scam was a minor symptom of much larger problems in Vietnam. By implementing severe foreign currency restrictions in a bid to force use of the dong, demand for the currency has become increasingly artificial. The 8-percent gap between the official dong rate and the black-market rate represents the extent to which Vietnamese still lack confidence in their own currency. In turn, this monetary weakness has led to problems analysts argue must be addressed to safeguard future economic growth.

In a note titled Time to Act, Standard Chartered Bank at the end of last week joined a growing chorus calling on Hanoi to raise interest rates as inflation threatens to further push ordinary citizens away from dong deposits and instead further towards refuge in gold and the greenback, which would in turn further threaten the value of the dong. The base interest rate is already at 9 percent but Standard Chartered said 12 percent would be more appropriate by mid-year.

So although Vietnam is light years ahead of Cambodia in terms of reducing dependence on the dollar – the dong represents about 80 percent of all money in domestic circulation compared to just 10 percent in the case of the riel here – this has come at a heavy price. Inflationary pressure and monetary instability are of growing concern.

Cambodia is facing difficult questions of its own on whether to further enshrine use of the riel, notably at the forthcoming stock exchange.

But to rush use of the riel for the sake of reasons such as national pride rather than prudent monetary policy would be a mistake.

Laos was able to launch its first bourse earlier this month with listings in kip because its currency has enjoyed greater stability in recent years than the riel.

Cambodia by comparison therefore has a long way to go when it comes to increasing local currency use – a major long-term aim – but that means it can learn from mistakes made in other countries. With this in mind, the Kingdom need look no further than its eastern neighbour.

Thai troops attempted to fly Thai flag over Cambodian pagoda

The flags and pagoda gate that Thailand wanted removed.

By Khmerization
Source: RFA

Cambodian military sources have said on Saturday that Thai troops have attempted to cross the border to fly Thai flag over Wat Keo Sekha Kirisivarak pagoda on Friday afternoon, but retreated when warned by Cambodian troops.

Gen. Chhum Socheat, spokesman for the Cambodian Defence Ministry, said the Thai side cannot cross the border while the area was manned by hundreds of Cambodian troops. "The Thai side cannot do like that because the area is full of Cambodian troops. This is an untrue information", he said.

On Friday both Cambodia and Thailand had reinforced hundreds of troops to the area after Thai PM Vejajiva had ordered Thai troops to forcibly remove the Cambodian flag.

Gen. Chhum Socheat said Cambodia will not allow Thai troops to remove the Cambodian flag and said Cambodian troops will defend Cambodian territory from any foreign invasions. "We are on high alert for all the situations that can occur. We will be on high alert all the time to defend our homeland. Under no circumstances will we allow our enemy to invade us", he said.

On 26th January, Cambodia had acquiesced to Thai demands and had destroyed to signs in the area which Thailand said was provocative. Later, Thailand demanded that Cambodia remove Cambodian flag which has been flown over a Cambodian pagoda for over 10 years, but Cambodia has steadfastly refused remove the flag. Thai troops threatened to forcibly remove the Cambodian flag and pull down the pagoda gate by force and fly Thai instead. Both sides have since reinforced their troops to the area and the tensions have heightened.

Opposition infiltration [by Hun Sen's spies]

Yim Sovan, SRP spokesman.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has apparently signed off on a strategy to recruit spies in the opposition Sam Rainsy Party in a bid to undercut its support ahead of next year’s commune council elections, according to a leaked document from his cabinet.

In a letter dated December 21 and posted today on the antigovernment news blog KI-Media, Ngor Sovann, one of Hun Sen’s advisers, allegedly recorded that the ruling Cambodian People’s Party had successfully recruited SRP officials as double agents in Kampot and Takeo provinces.

The letter noted that 16 SRP members had been recruited as spies in Kampot, in exchange for 100,000 riels (US$24.60) and a $5 prepaid phone card per month.

“We were successful in our work in a short period, with the collection and building of 16 forces as secret agents in the commune councils,” Ngor Sovann stated.

He noted, however, that since November, CPP activists had postponed their attempts to woo SRP turncoats in Kampot, saying opposition activists “seemed to suspect” the presence of secret agents.

“We will continue our work persuading [the SRP] when there is an appropriate time, and [we] hope to collect and build more secret agents to help the party’s participation in the [2012] Senate election,” he concluded.

The letter noted that the recruits, who are only contacted by phone, are also provided with health expenses and funds for “holding traditional ceremonies”.

Ngor Sovann stated that 10 such agents had also been recruited in Takeo.

He described how he and several defectors in Samrong district had attempted to win over Prak Savon, a customs official and “former leader” of the SRP in the district, but that the attempts to persuade him were currently “in a difficult situation”.

Ngor Sovann’s letter bears what appears to be Hun Sen’s signature, along with a date (December 22) and the annotation, “Discuss with both provinces to encourage this work to be better. Kampot province is splitting strongly, we must urge the persuasion and make the division bigger.”

Appended to the letter are lists containing the names, titles and telephone numbers of the 26 alleged SRP spies.

The contents of the letter echo comments Hun Sen made in a speech on December 29, when he alleged that he had spies embedded within the SRP who were relaying “secret information” about the party’s activities.

“The person [inside the SRP] who is insulting me more than the others is who is leaking more secret information,” he said.

“There are many Hun Sen spies embedded in the opposition party and if the SRP wants to hide its secrets, it must destroy the entire group.”

Changing teams

Ngor Sovann, a former SRP parliamentarian, was one of several high-profile party officials who defected to the CPP in February 2008, and was awarded with a post as an adviser to Hun Sen. Following the CPP’s landslide victory in the national elections in July, he was given the post of secretary of state in the Ministry of Justice.

When contacted today, Ngor Sovann denied that the letter was authentic, accusing the opposition of fabricating it for political gain.

“I understand that this story is a political tactic of the Sam Rainsy Party. I used to live with that party, and I knew a lot about that party’s ways,” he said.

“There is nothing strange about politicians creating an event and especially having the skill to create the event. It is the skill of the Sam Rainsy Party, especially the individual Mr President Sam Rainsy. I used to live with him for 10 years, and I know clearly.”

Nou Chem, a member of the Samrong district council in Takeo province whose name was listed in the letter to the premier, denied CPP officials had ever tried to persuade him to become a double agent.

Nou Chhun, another district councillor in Samrong listed as a spy for the ruling party, also denied he had taken money from the CPP, professing his loyalty to the opposition.

“I am absolutely with the Sam Rainsy Party,” said Nou Chhun, who said he has been an SRP member since 1998.

“If Sam Rainsy is still alive, I will not defect. If I sold this job I would be insulted.”

However, one SRP deputy commune chief in Kampot province, whose name was listed in the letter, admitted that he had been given a monthly stipend of 100,000 riels in order to inform on his party.

“I have defected to the CPP since October through [an official from] the SRP. He appointed me, he invited me and I followed him. They have helped me with 100 thousand riels per month,” said the official, who declined to be named.

SRP spokesman Yim Sovann said he would not be surprised if the CPP was attempting to sway members of his party with financial incentives.

“Since the SRP was established 15 years ago, the CPP has tried to destroy our party,” he said.

“Some defect to the ruling party because of the money or because of political pressure, but at the end justice will prevail. I think more and more the people understand about democracy. Our popularity is increasing.”

Yim Sovann said the apparent attempt to bribe SRP members showed how much contempt the ruling party had for the principle of democracy.

“If you want society to change to a better way, or if you want society to be clean … we need different ideas and opinions from opposition parties. If you do this, it means you do not want democracy,” he said.

SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said he was unaware of any reports of spies inside the party, but dismissed claims the party had fabricated the document.

“We never have any kind of stupid way of creating such problems. Who wants to tell everyone that someone is spying and creating division among us?” Son Chhay said.

“Maybe it’s somebody we don’t know about.”

Son Soubert, a political analyst and former member of the Constitutional Council, said that if true, the CPP’s apparent attempt to buy off its political opponents amounted to a “travesty of democracy”.

He also said it was a tactic that the party used to great effect during the political unrest of 1997-98, when most of the lawmakers from the royalist Funcinpec party were given money to vote against the party’s president, Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

“To weaken the opposition political parties, or even the partner political parties like Funcinpec, they buy them with money and appointments,” Son Soubert said.

He added that the giving and taking of bribes by politicians does little to help the Cambodian people.

“What does it lead to?” he said of the allegations.

“It doesn’t solve all the problems of Cambodia.”

Chinese art performances held in Cambodia to celebrate Chinese New Year

PHNOM PENH, Jan 30, 2011 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- A free concert performed by an art delegation from China's Shanxi University was held here on Sunday evening at the Southeast Asia Television (SEATV) and it was live televised across the country.

It's the first Chinese art performance that live-televised in Cambodia.

The concert, featuring musical and cultural shows by Chinese artists, has also been joined by Cambodian artists, who dressed in Chinese costumes and performed in Chinese traditional dances and songs.

The event was also attended by secretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Kao Kimhuon and Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia Pan Guangxue as well as Chinese people living in Cambodia and thousands of Cambodian viewers at the SEATV station.

Yu Guodong, director of the university's foreign affairs office, who led the Chinese art delegation consisted of 24 artists, said that the concert was to celebrate the upcoming Chinese New Year.

"Moreover, China wishes to make closer cooperation in cultures with Cambodia and wants Cambodian people to learn more about Chinese traditional arts," he said.

The group arrived in Cambodia on Jan. 25 after their performances in Laos from Jan. 15 to 24.

Preir to Sunday's event, the group had performed twice in Cambodia, on Jan. 26 at Meanchey University in Banteay Meanchey province and on Jan. 29 at Prime Minister Hun Sen's Bodyguard Unit.

President of the Royal Academy of Cambodia Khlot Thyda said " the visiting art delegation was essential to strengthen and expand cultural cooperation between Cambodia and China. Through their art performances, Cambodians would learn more about Chinese richness in culture."

The shows in Cambodia are organized by the China's Confucius Institute.

Flights to Angkor set to rise

Sunday, 30 January 2011
By Soeun Say and Jeremy Mullins
Phnom Penh Post

Cambodia Angkor Air (pictured) is set to schedule flights from Siem Reap to Bangkok this year, bringing competition to a route presently flown by only one carrier – Bangkok Airways.

After acquiring two new Airbus aircraft, which are set to arrive in the middle of this year, Cambodia Angkor Air will use the planes to service the Thai capital along with two other destinations, according to Say Sokhan, State Secretariat of Civil Aviation adviser to the Council of Ministers.

“According to the plan we will fly three new routes this year – Siem Reap to Bangkok, Siem Reap to Seoul and Siem Reap to Singapore,” he said.

Prices for the new routes have not yet been set, according to Say Sokhan, but CAA will compete directly with Bangkok Airways on its Thai route.

CAA is said to be 51 percent government owned, with 49 percent held by Vietnam Airlines.

“This is the free market,” said Say Sokhan. “Competition must have reasonable prices and service quality. So if someone does it better, they will choose [that airline].”

Ang Kim Eang, president of the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents, said he welcomed the new flights, adding that competition would likely lower fares on the Siem Reap to Bangkok route.

Through the private sector working groups “we have been asking [Bangkok Airways] to consider the airfare between Siem Reap and Bangkok, but have not been so successful”, he said. “Competition will be better than negotiations.”

Although Bangkok Airways officials did not return request for comment last week, fares posted on its website for Siem Reap to Bangkok are often higher than its Phnom Penh to Bangkok flights.

Today, a one-way direct flight with the airline from Siem Reap to Bangkok was advertised on its website at US$160 for February 9, compared with $114 for a similar ticket from Phnom Penh to Bangkok – a route which several airlines, including AirAsia and Thai Airways, fly.

Bangkok Airways is the only airline flying regularly scheduled passenger flights between Siem Reap and Bangkok, according to the Cambodia International Airports website.

The latest direct flights join an increasing number of regional links.

Cambodia and Myanmar officials have signed a deal to begin direct flights between the two nations in February.

Gym chain eyes Siem Reap

By Supanee Na Songkhla
The Nation
Published on January 31, 2011

Clark Hatch, a professional gym and fitness centre chain, is eyeing Siem Reap in Cambodia as a target for expansion. The company already operates one centre in Phnom Penh.

John Sheppard, a senior partner at Clark Hatch, said the company operated in 11 countries, including Thailand where it has 16 centres. The company has set aside Bt2 million to renovate its branch at Thaniya Plaza.

Sheppard said the company is also interested in tapping the Indian market, especially Bombay. The city represents one of the biggest markets in Asia due to the size of its population.

Nevertheless, rental rates in India are very high, he noted.

Sheppard said the fitness business in Thailand was quite stable. He said expansion would proceed at a slow pace but there was more room to grow in the provincial cities.

[Cambodian] Troops reinforced at tense border

Cambodian tanks were seen being transported out of their bases in Longvek town in Pursat province headed toward the Preah Vihear front line on Friday morning.

Sunday, 30 January 2011
By Cheang Sokha and Thet Sambath
Phnom Penh Post

Cambodia officials have sent military reinforcements to the border area near Preah Vihear temple in the midst of a public spat with Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva over the removal of Cambodian flags at a nearby pagoda.

On Friday, Abhisit requested that the flags be removed from Wat Keo Sekha Kirisvara, adjacent to the temple, a plea that came amid reports of a Thai plan to hold military exercises close to Preah Vihear.

Srey Doek, commander of Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Military Division 3 at the border, said additional personnel, tanks and heavy artillery had been dispatched to the border on Friday in response to the exercises.

“They [Thai troops] are doing maneuvers and we are also doing them – that is why we need to send tanks and other weapons to the border,” Srey Doek said. “Our armed forces are on alert.”

Information minister Khieu Kanharith said today that the situation could erupt “this afternoon or tomorrow” if the Thais threatened Cambodia’s construction of a road leading up to Preah Vihear.

“Our stance is that [Thai troops] should not cross the border without Cambodian agreement,” he said.

Tensions in the area first broke out in 2008 following the inscription of Preah Vihear as a UNESCO World Heritage site for Cambodia.

The confrontation over the flags follows Thai demands that Cambodia remove a stone tablet placed last month at Wat Keo Sekha Kirisvara which read: “Here! is the place where Thai troops invaded Cambodian territory on July 15, 2008, and withdrew at 10:30am on December 1, 2010.”

On Tuesday last week, the sign was removed and replaced with another proclaiming, “Here! Is Cambodia”, a sign that was itself later destroyed at Thailand’s request.

Abhisit’s call for the removal of Cambodian flags from Wat Keo Sekha Kirisvara, however, has been rejected outright.

In a statement issued on Friday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected Abhisit’s request, saying the pagoda was on Cambodian territory.

The ministry claimed the demand was made “in parallel with Thailand’s military exercises at the border”, which were “clearly provocative and [constitute] a casus belli for future acts of aggression against Cambodia”.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation wishes to emphasise that this statement made by the prime minister of Thailand is unacceptable and that the Kingdom of Cambodia firmly rejects such an insulting demand,” the statement read.

“Cambodia reserves its legitimate rights to [defend] its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

In his weekly television programme today, Abhisit reportedly pledged to work with Cambodia to have the flags near Preah Vihear removed.

“The temple is located on the disputed border area, and if the claim by the Yellow Shirt people is true, the government will coordinate with Cambodian authorities to remove the flag,” Abhisit said in Davos, Switzerland, according to The Bangkok Post.

Tensions between Thailand and Cambodia intensified last month following the arrest of Thai parliamentarian Panich Vikitsreth and six other Thai nationals for trespassing on Cambodian territory.

Panich and four of the other Thais were found guilty but released earlier this month on suspended sentences.

However, two others including Yellow Shirt activist Veera Somkwamkid are being held on espionage charges and are set to be tried on Tuesday.

They have also been charged with illegal entry and unlawfully entering a military base, facing up to 11 and a half years in prison.

Cambodian PM Hun Sen accused of stifling dissent

Hun Sen angrily pointing his finger at a journalist who asked him about the trouble with CPP-Funcinpec alliance.


The Cambodian government is choking freedoms and locking up detractors in an increasingly bold effort to silence critics as elections loom, observers say.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, 59, who has vowed to remain in power until he is 90, recently said on national radio that his aim was “not just to weaken the opposition, but to make it die.”
The comment was the latest in a string of outbursts against critics, prompting fears that freedoms are under threat as the government looks ahead to local polls next year and a general election in 2013.
“The space for dissent has shrunk to the point where people are gasping for air,” said Mathieu Pellerin of local rights group Licadho. “Vast areas of political debate have been effectively declared off-limits. The most minor venture into these fenced-off topics can bring the authorities’ wrath, whether you are a prominent politician or an anonymous village farmer.”
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who lives in self-imposed exile, has been sentenced in absentia to 12 years in jail over two cases related to border issues with Vietnam. If the sentences are upheld, he will be unable to challenge the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) in the 2013 poll.
“The CPP is preparing for the next election, that much is clear,” a Cambodia-based Western expert said, on the condition of anonymity. “To do that, they want to reduce as much as possible any public criticism that would cost them ballots.”
Dismissing concerns about a crackdown on freedoms, government spokesman Tith Sothea said the government was “working to protect human rights and carry out reforms in order to ensure political stability.”
Mark Turner, a Cambodia expert at the University of Canberra, said the legacy of the country’s recent bloody history has allowed the ruling party to tighten its grip on power.
“One of the leading themes of post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia has been the search for stability,” he said. “If incomes are rising, education improving, health facilities more accessible, then people may accept a certain curtailment of freedoms.”
Cambodia remains haunted by its past, after decades of civil war and the brutal Khmer Rouge regime that left up to 2 million dead in its bid to forge a communist utopia.
Cambodian independent analyst Chea Vannath said it was important to recognize how far the nation had come considering its “terrible past.”
Hun Sen, who has ruled since 1985, has been credited with the country’s long spell of peace and stability, while also improving infrastructure and opening up the country’s markets. However, he also has a history of riding roughshod over his rivals and analysts say the CPP — bolstered by a 2008 election landslide — has exerted executive power without limits.
It is now a crime to criticize judges or public officials under a new penal code that activists say could be used as a government tool to muzzle freedom of expression.
“Impunity is deepening for government power-holders and their cronies to abuse rights,” Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said. “At the core of all of this is the continued lack of independence of the Cambodian judiciary, which suffers endemic political interference from the CPP and other governing elites.”
One of the first to be arrested under the new code was a World Food Programme worker, sentenced to six months in prison for incitement after he printed an article from an anti-government Web site.
The government has mounted what Robertson terms a “campaign of intimidation” against the UN in Cambodia, threatening to expel the organization’s resident coordinator Douglas Broderick after he called for more transparency in the debate about a new anti-corruption law.
The government also used a high-profile visit by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to demand the removal of local human rights director Christophe Peschoux.
Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said Peschoux had acted as “the spokesman for the opposition,” after the Frenchman spoke out on issues such as land-grabbing and crackdowns on government critics.

NEWS FOCUS: Cambodia welcomes aid from Japan and China, some are wary+

Japan Herald
Sunday 30th January, 2011 
(Source: Breitbart)
PHNOM PENH, Jan. 30 (AP) – (Kyodo)-;Cambodia, one of the least developed countries in Southeast Asia, extends a welcoming hand to economic aid from Japan and China but some analysts in the country are wary of the competitive intent of the nation’s two largest aid donors.
Officially, the government hails the two countries as champions of Cambodia’s rehabilitation and development through their economic aid program. …
Read the full story at Breitbart

[Thai] PM orders Cambodian flags to be taken down

Phnom Penh labels demand 'provocative'

Published: 31/01/2011
Bangkok Post

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva (pictured) is insisting that any Cambodian flag flying above disputed areas must be removed, despite Phnom Penh denouncing the call as "insulting and unacceptable".

The Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has issued a statement criticising Mr Abhisit's demand, saying the call, in parallel with Thai military exercises last week near the border, was provocative.

Mr Abhisit called for the removal of the Cambodian flags yesterday during his weekly radio and television address.

Cambodia is flying its national flag near Wat Kaew Sikha Khiri Sawara temple in the disputed 4.6-square-kilometre area near Preah Vihear temple.

Mr Abhisit said the area did not belong to Cambodia and ordered the Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry to protest against Cambodia's announcement that he had violated its sovereignty by ordering the removal of the flag.

The prime minister also reaffirmed yesterday that he would not meet the demands of the People's Alliance for Democracy, which is protesting against the government's handling of the border row.

The PAD is calling on the government to revoke the 2000 memorandum of understanding between Thailand and Cambodia that governs the countries' boundary quarrel, to withdraw from the World Heritage Committee, and to expel Cambodian people from the disputed area.

Mr Abhisit said it was a misunderstanding that the border agreement allowed Cambodia to encroach on Thai territory. He said the memorandum prohibited either country from further intruding on the other's land.

He denied the agreement put Thailand at a disadvantage or meant that Thailand accepted a 1:200,000 border map used by Cambodia. He insisted the memo was drawn up in line with international principles and could help prevent the disagreement escalating into war.

As for the membership of the World Heritage Committee, Mr Abhisit said the past government of Thailand allowed Cambodia to have the Preah Vihear temple listed as a world heritage site, while his government had resisted Cambodia's desire to manage the temple as a world heritage site alone.

Regarding the expulsion of Cambodian people from the disputed area, the prime minister said such a move could trigger retaliations.

The secretary to the foreign minister, Chavanond Intarakomalyasut, said yesterday the Foreign Ministry would issue a letter of protest against Cambodia's statement accusing Mr Abhisit of violating its sovereignty.

"We should help each other avoid conflicts and should not issue any statement that will lead to more conflicts and confusion," he said.
Protest to be lodged over flag By The Nation Published on January 31, 2011

Preah Vihear tense after influx of Cambodian troops.

The government will flex its muscles for the protesting yellow shirts from the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) to show it will protect land in disputed border areas. It plans to issue a statement of protest against Cambodia.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has instructed the Foreign Ministry to issue a protest, because Phnom Penh has refused to remove its national flag from the disputed area adjacent to the Hindu temple at Preah Vihear, the ministry spokesman Thani Thongpakdi said.

"Concerned officials are working on it and we could issue the statement soon," he said. Abhisit said last week that Cambodia had no right to fly its national flag at Wat Keo Sikkha Kiri Svara temple as Thailand also claimed territorial rights to the area.

Thailand managed to convince Cambodia to remove two stone tablets saying the area where Thai troops invaded in 2008 belonged to Cambodia.

However Phnom Penh refused to follow any further demand from Bangkok to remove its national flag there. It says the temple built by Cambodian people in 1998 is clearly situated in Cambodian territory.

"Therefore the national flag of Cambodia is legitimately able to fly over the pagoda," a statement by Cambodia's Foreign Ministry said last week.

The border area adjacent to Preah Vihear has been argued over ever since the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in 1962 that the temple was situated in Cambodian territory.

Abhisit has argued that the ICJ ruled only the stone ruins belong to Cambodia while surrounding areas belong to Thailand.

The areas have not been demarcated yet but the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding in 2000 to set up a joint mechanism to try to settle the dispute.

The PAD, which has staged a rally near the Prime Minister Office, wants Abhisit to use force to remove Cambodians from the disputed area and scrap the 2000 MOU on land boundary demarcation. They have pressured the government by vowing to stay until their demands are met.

Cambodia, meanwhile, is reported to have boosted troops in the area, notably near Preah Vihear. Thai news teams have said the border areas are tense while outlets in Phnom Penh have reported that the Cambodian military is ready for war with Thailand.

Abhisit insisted he would settle the border dispute with Cambodia by peaceful means. The 2000 MOU was an effective instrument for settling the border dispute, he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who oversees security matters, said the Thai military was strong enough to protect the country but would not boost forces in the area near the historic temple.

The government would continue to negotiate with Cambodia over the border issue, he said.

"Please do not provoke any news to create tension with our neighbouring country. We have to live with them peacefully," Suthep said when asked about Cambodian troops along the border.

"We don't have any problem with Cambodia and our two governments have no problem," he said.

Asked if the government in Phnom Penh criticised Thailand every day, Suthep said, "don't look only at one side. If you are in Cambodia, you would see a group of Thai people scolding Cambodia every day."
PM: Cambodian flag must be removed Published: 30/01/2011 Bangkok Post

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said in his “Confidence in Thailand with PM Abhisit” weekly programme on NBT on Sunday morning that if a national flag of Cambodia is really placed at Wat Kaew Sikkha Khiri Savara, it must be removed.

“The temple is located on the disputed border area and if the claim by yellow-shirt people group is true, the government will coordinate with Cambodian authorities to remove the flag”, Mr Abhisit said in Davos, Switzerland.

The yellow-shirt People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) on Friday showed photos showing that a Cambodia’s national flag was place on the entrance gate of the border temple.

On the demand by the PAD that the 2000 Memorandum of Understanding signed with Cambodia be revoked, the prime minister said that the MoU was made in order to prevent the possible use of military force in settling border dispute and that it is in line with international principle.

He insisted that the MoU will not lead to a loss in the country’s territory as claimed.

Mr Abhisit said the demand for pushing Cambodians out of disputed area by the yellow-shirts is risky. The move could lead to a war between the two countries, he added.

The prime minister pledged to do his best for the benefit of the country and was ready to meet PAD leaders to clear air over the Thai-Cambodian border dispute issues.

Congratulations Cambodia

Travel News Gazette
Published by Suat Tore
Sunday, 30 January 2011

Congratulations because of your complete hospitality. Congratulations because of your development in tourism in a short period of time. Congratulations because of your perfect ATF organization.

suattore_angkorwatI went to Cambodia last time in 2007 for their AITEX tourism exhibition. Beside its glorious Angkor Wat in Siem Reap city that is also listed by UNESCO, I noticed only some hotels in capital Phnom Penh, lack of road and transportation, almost no dining and touristic attractions.

Cambodia made big progress in the last 4 years. International hotel chains opened properties in these two cities. Transportation grew with new roads and vehicles. Number of touristic facilities increased and Las Vegas style hotels & resorts already opened. This development in tourism also reflected number of tourist arrivals that reached 1,5 million in 2010 with an increase of almost 100%.

For a weeklong event, ATF welcomed 1600 delegates, 442 international buyers, 148 media from 32 countries and 500 exhibitors coming from 10 ASEAN countries in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. They have been hosted by Cambodian tourism professionals and volunteers.

With the increase of tourism professionals in the country, Cambodia will name itself one of the leading tourism destination in the region with its growing incoming tourism and outgoing tourism with its increased income.

Tiffy maker plans new ventures [600 million baht for a golf course in Cambodia]

Bangkok Post
Published: 31/01/2011

Thai Nakorn Patana, the local pharmaceutical manufacturer best known for the Tiffy and Sara brands, is expanding its hotel and golf-course investments to tap growing tourism opportunities.

The company will spend a combined 1.6 billion baht to open a new hotel at Khao Yai National Park in Nakhon Ratchasima and a new golf course in Cambodia by 2015, said chief executive Supachai Verapuchong, who is also vice-president of the subsidiary Phokeethra Golf and Spa Resorts.

Of the total, 600 million baht ($20 million) will be used to build a 36-hole golf layout in Cambodia's Kandal province and the rest for a hotel on 200 rai in Korat's Pak Chong district. Both projects will be developed by Phokeethra.

Mr Supachai said the Khao Yai property would focus on meetings, incentives and family groups, while the golf course would target the corporate market, given Cambodia's growing economy and increasingly convenient road transport under the East-West Economic Corridor linking southern China with its neighbours in the lower Mekong region.

Meanwhile, a grand reopening is planned for the Sofitel Phokeethra Phnom Penh on Feb 12.

The company spent US$50 million to rebuild the hotel after it was damaged by fire during anti-Thai riots in the capital eight years ago. The unrest was prompted by Cambodian news reports mistakenly quoting a Thai actress as saying Angkor Wat belonged to Thailand.

The hotel will target mainly the corporate and leisure markets and expects to break even by 2020.

Mr Supachai said hotels will also be opened in Vietnam in 2020, with the company now scouting for good locations. "We want to grow within the region. New business expansion will focus on Indochina, as it has good growth potential in terms of tourism and investment," said Mr Supachai.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Thailand to protest to Cambodia over disputed temple

DAVOS, Switzerland, Jan 30 (MCOT)-- Thailand will issue a protest note to Cambodia after the Cambodian government issued a statement condemning Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva for his remarks asking Cambodia to remove its national flag flying at the entrance of a disputed ancient temple which sits on the border, a senior Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry official said Sunday.

Chavanont Intarakomalsut, secretary to the foreign affairs minister, told journalists that the statement issued by the Cambodian foreign ministry charging that Thailand had violated Cambodian integrity and sovereignty would not help provide a conciliatory atmosphere for talks between the two neighbouring countries aimed at resolving the border problem under the Thai-Cambodian Joint Boundary Commission (JBC) framework.

Phnom Penh issued the statement after Mr Abhisit asked the Cambodian government to remove its national flag erected above the entrance of Kaew Sikha Khiri Sawara temple near historic Preah Vihear.

Mr Chavanont, who is accompanying Mr Abhisit who is attending the 41st World Economic Forum now in progress in Davos, said the statement should not have been issued at all as it would “create more conflicts and confusion”.

Thailand follows the watershed line as the border marking the two countries and if the Cambodian government believes its map shows the genuine watershed line then the two countries should sit down and talk, Mr Chavanont said.

Since the border is still unclear and both countries still claim ownership, neither Thailand nor Cambodia should act as if it owns the disputed land, he said.

Mr Chavanont said his ministry would definitely issue a protest note to Cambodia in order to enable Phnom Penh to better understand the whole scenario.

The yet to be issued protest is not expected to affect the two Thais now detained in Phnom Penh on charges of trespassing and espionage. The duo are scheduled to appear for trial this Tuesday. (MCOT online news)

Cambodia 'tears up freedom to muffle dissent'

Cambodian military police stand guard in front of a central court in Phnom Penh where the country's fugitive opposition leader Sam Rainsy was found guilty of forging and publishing a false map of the border with Vietnam. The Cambodian government is choking freedoms and locking up detractors in an increasingly bold effort to silence critics as elections loom, observers say. (AFP/File/Tang Chhin Sothy)

by Michelle Fitzpatrick –
Sun Jan 30,

PHNOM PENH (AFP) – The Cambodian government is choking freedoms and locking up detractors in an increasingly bold effort to silence critics as elections loom, observers say.
Prime Minister Hun Sen, 59, who has vowed to remain in power until he is 90, recently said on national radio that his aim was "not just to weaken the opposition, but to make it die".
The comment was the latest in a string of outbursts against critics, prompting fears that freedoms are under threat as the government looks ahead to local polls next year and a general election in 2013.
"The space for dissent has shrunk to the point where people are gasping for air," said Mathieu Pellerin of local rights group Licadho.
"Vast areas of political debate have been effectively declared off-limits. The most minor venture into these fenced-off topics can bring the authorities' wrath, whether you are a prominent politician or an anonymous village farmer."
Outspoken opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who lives in self-imposed exile, has been sentenced in absentia to 12 years in jail over two cases related to border issues with Vietnam.
If the sentences are upheld, he will be unable to challenge Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) in the 2013 poll.
"The CPP is preparing for the next election, that much is clear," said a Cambodia-based Western expert, on the condition of anonymity.
"To do that, they want to reduce as much as possible any public criticism that would cost them ballots."
Dismissing concerns about a crackdown on freedoms, government spokesman Tith Sothea said the government was "working to protect human rights and carry out reforms in order to ensure political stability".
Mark Turner, a Cambodia expert at the University of Canberra, said the legacy of the country's recent bloody history has allowed the ruling party to tighten its grip on power.
"One of the leading themes of post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia has been the search for stability," he said. "If incomes are rising, education improving, health facilities more accessible, then people may accept a certain curtailment of freedoms."
Cambodia remains haunted by its past, after decades of civil war and the brutal 1975-1979 Khmer Rouge regime that left up to two million dead in its bid to forge a communist utopia.
Cambodian independent analyst Chea Vannath said it was important to recognise how far the nation had come considering its "terrible past".
Hun Sen, who has ruled since 1985, has been credited with the country's long spell of peace and stability, while also improving infrastructure and opening up the country's markets.
But he also has a history of riding roughshod over his rivals, and analysts say the CPP -- bolstered by a 2008 election landslide -- has exerted executive power without limits.
It is now a crime to criticise judges or public officials under a new penal code that activists say could be used as a government tool to muzzle freedom of expression.
"Impunity is deepening for government power-holders and their cronies to abuse rights," said Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson.
"At the core of all of this is the continued lack of independence of the Cambodian judiciary, which suffers endemic political interference from the CPP and other governing elites."
One of the first to be arrested under the new code was a World Food Programme worker, sentenced to six months in prison for incitement after he printed an article from an anti-government website.
The government has mounted what Robertson terms a "campaign of intimidation" against the UN in Cambodia, threatening to expel the organisation's resident coordinator Douglas Broderick after he called for more transparency in the debate about a new anti-corruption law.
The government also used a high-profile visit by UN chief Ban Ki-moon to demand the removal of local human rights director Christophe Peschoux.
Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said Peschoux had acted as "the spokesman for the opposition", after the Frenchman spoke out on issues such as land-grabbing and crackdowns on government critics.
Despite steady economic growth Cambodia remains one of the region's poorest nations, presenting foreign donors with an opportunity to defend those that have come under attack, activists said.
Outside aid contributed around one billion dollars, or about nine percent of Cambodia's economic output in 2010.
"Donors need to wake up and recognise the human rights situation in Cambodia is rapidly deteriorating," said Robertson.

Cambodia-Thailand renewed military confrontation

Hundreds of Cambodian tanks are seen being transported to the front line on Friday 28th January.

By Khmerization
Source: RFA

Cambodian and Thai soldiers have renewed their military confrontation on 28th January after Thai troops threatened to march to destroy the Wat Keo Sekha Kirisvarak pagoda gate and pull down the Cambodian flag if Cambodian officials refused to do it.

The Cambodian Ministry of Defence has on 28th January sent hundreds of armoured personnel carriers and battle tanks to the areas near Preah Vihear temple to prevent Thai soldiers from carrying out their threats.

A Cambodian military official said Cambodian and Thai troops have confronted each other since Friday morning till afternoon.

A military commander who spoke on condition of anonymity said the Thai Army had trucked in hundreds of troops to the area on Thursday night to forcibly march in to remove the Cambodian flag. "The situation is very tense and if the Thai soldiers still violate and invade the prohibited areas, there will be an armed clash. But if Thai troops did not invade the prohibited areas, there will no armed clashes", he said.

In recent days, the Thai army had humiliatingly forced the Cambodian army to pull down two stone tablets, one after the other. The Cambodian side has, this time, refused to remove the Cambodian flag from the area as demanded by the Thai side, which the Cambodian Foreign Ministry said was flown inside Cambodian territory as adjudicated by the International Court of Justice in 1962.

Mr. Cheam Yeap, chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Finance and Audit, said the Cambodian parliament has allotted enough budget to use in the defence of Cambodian territory in the event that Thailand goes to war with Cambodia. "We don't say that we are better or stronger, but we are the victims who are invaded by someone. We are hurt, first. We have a stronger will to defend ourselves, defend our territorial integrity than those who invaded us. Those who invaded us don't have much will to fight", he said.

The Cambodian Defence Ministry has purchased 96 armoured personnel carriers and battle tanks from an eastern European country in September 2010. However, the Cambodian military capability is still much weaker than Thailand's military capability.

Cambodian beaches become member of the World’s Most Beautiful Beach Club

Kep beach in Kep province.

By Khmerization
Source: CEN

Cambodian beaches have been admitted as a member of the World’s Most Beautiful Beach Club during a Tourism Forum in Ha Long city in Vietnam in 2010 after Mr. Jerome Bignon, Head of the Delegation of the World’s Most Beautiful Beach Club, conducted a study and evaluation tour of the beaches of Cambodia in 2010, said Cambodian Tourism Ministry.

An official from the Tourism Ministry said to be admitted as a member of the World’s Most Beautiful Beach Club, Cambodian beaches have to go through a vote which was organised in France.

Cambodia’s most beautiful beaches will be issued with a certificate and officially recognized as a member of the World’s Most Beautiful Beaches Club in mid-2011 through the evaluation of the World’s Most Beautiful Beach Club which will be held in Senegal in Africa. The tourism official attributed the success of the listing of Cambodian beaches in the club to the great efforts of Unesco as well.

Cambodian beaches was the 33nd member of the World’s Most Beautiful Beaches Club in the world. Cambodia has 440km of coastal areas stretching in four provinces of Koh Kong, Sihanoukville, Kampot and Kep.

Despite a listing, Cambodian beaches face many hurdles related to various issues in tourism developments and the preservation of the world heritages.

The official said that the listing of the Cambodian beaches would enable Cambodia to attract more tourists to the areas, which have a potential to develop the nation's economy.