Sunday, 27 July 2008

Temple talks pose challenge for new Thai foreign minister

asiaone News
Sun, Jul 27, 2008AFP

BANGKOK, THAILAND - THAILAND'S new foreign minister will face a tough challenge immediately after being sworn in Sunday, as he heads to Cambodia for talks on a tense border dispute that brought down his predecessor.

Incoming minister Tej Bunnag is determined to ease tensions with Cambodia, but his spokesman warned that a swift end to the military standoff near the ancient Preah Vihear temple was unlikely.

'The minister said he will try his best to talk to the Cambodia foreign minister', the spokesman, Mr Tharit Charungvat, told reporters on Sunday.

'It is his first task - we hope we can find a solution on some level, but this issue is sensitive and complex'.

Mr Tej, 64, will be sworn in by the king later Sunday. He will then travel early Monday to Siem Reap in northwest Cambodia for negotiations with his counterpart, Mr Hor Namhong.

'The sensitive and complicated discussion on Monday will definitely need more rounds of talks ... The boundary is a very important and complex issue and it needs time to solve, step by step and slowly', Mr Tharit said.

Thousands of Thai and Cambodia troops are currently stationed in 4.6 square kilometres of disputed land near Preah Vihear, which was granted UN World Heritage Status this month.

Thailand initially supported Cambodia's bid to have the 11th century Hindu ruins recognised by the UN, but nationalists and anti-government protesters said the move jeopardised Thai sovereignty.

The Constitutional Court ruled that previous foreign minister Noppadon Pattama and the cabinet should have sought parliamentary approval for the deal with Cambodia over the temple, and Mr Noppadon was forced to resign on July 10.

Mr Tharit said that Mr Tej - a British-educated career diplomat who has worked as an advisor to the king - was well qualified to negotiate with Cambodia at a sensitive moment in their relations.

'He is an experienced diplomat and he was chairman of the Thailand-Cambodia Cultural Committee', he said.

Talks between Thailand's head of the armed forces General Boonsrang Niumpradit and Cambodia Defence Minister Tea Banh ended last Monday without resolution, with neither side backing down on their territorial claims.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that the Preah Vihear temple belongs to Cambodia, but surrounding land remains in dispute. -- AFP

Cambodians vote amid corruption claims

UPI.com
July 27, 2008

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, July 27 (UPI) -- Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's party will likely win Sunday's parliamentary elections despite widespread graft, local businesspeople and others say.

The country's economy has improved and is growing by more than 10 percent annually, but that hasn't helped -- and maybe even worsened -- the nation's endemic culture of public corruption, The Los Angeles Times reported.

"When things start to boom, people start to get a little more greedy," John Brinsden, vice chairman of locally owned Acleda Bank, told the newspaper. Even with a growing middle class, rising food and fuel prices are threatening to reverse some of the recent growth, he added.

Hun Sen and his Cambodian People's Party have been accused by foreign and domestic critics of running a patronage system and tolerating a culture of corruption. He and the country's 11 opposition parties maintain they support reform efforts, but there are no detailed plans or responses to requests government officials and military leaders disclose their assets, the Times reported.

Hun Sen set to extend rule in Cambodia polls

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Cambodian Premier Hun Sen's ruling party claimed an early lead in polls Sunday, leaving him poised to extend his 23-year grip on power after a vote overshadowed by a military standoff with Thailand.

Khieu Kanharith, spokesman for the party and the government, said the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) was set to win 80 of the 123 seats in parliament.

"The early results from all polling stations show that the CPP is leading," he said, claiming the party would take seats in areas once strongholds for the opposition.

Official results could take days to be announced, but the spokesman said the party would likely claim victory later Sunday.

Voters in the capital Phnom Penh started lining up at dawn to cast ballots, with many saying their overriding concern was the territorial dispute with Thailand, centred on the ancient Preah Vihear temple.

"I will vote for those who can solve the issue of Preah Vihear temple immediately after they take power," said 56-year-old businessman Lam Chanvanda, as he stood in a long queue of voters.
"Before I was never interested in the border, but now it is in my heart."

Thousands of soldiers from both sides are facing off near the 11th-century Khmer temple. Foreign ministers from the two nations are set to meet Monday in hopes of resolving the deal.

Hun Sen , a former Khmer Rouge guerrilla who has ruled with an iron fist since 1985, strengthened his profile going into the election by taking a tough stance on the dispute, said analysts.

A confident Hun Sen -- who has accused Thailand of defying international law and threatening regional peace -- kissed his ballot as he cast it at a school in a posh southern suburb of Phnom Penh.

About 17,000 domestic and international observers monitored the voting at more than 15,000 polling stations. More than eight million people were registered to vote.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy alleged 200,000 people in Phnom Penh could not vote after their names were lost from registration lists Sunday, but election officials dismissed his claim as exaggerated and said the balloting had proceeded smoothly overall.

US-based Human Rights Watch has complained that the ruling party's near monopoly on broadcast media has undermined the opposition's efforts to woo voters, especially in rural parts of the country.

One radio station was shut down late Saturday after it broadcast a reading from a book by Sam Rainsy, violating rules against campaigning on the day before the vote, government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said.

Hun Sen has a reputation for trampling on human rights to secure power, but a booming economy has bolstered his standing in a country struggling to lift itself from the ranks of the world's poorest nations.

He became prime minister in 1985, and has steadily and ruthlessly cemented his grip on power, resorting to a coup in 1997.

In the current campaign, Hun Sen has been aided by his opponents' mistakes. His current coalition partner, the royalist Funcinpec party, has imploded under internal corruption scandals.

The Sam Rainsy Party is expected to maintain its strength in the capital but has made few inroads into rural Cambodia, where most voters live.

Although the campaign has been less violent than past elections, Human Rights Watch warned that a history of violence remains a source of intimidation against the opposition.

Ex-Khmer Rouge embrace democracy but mull war

M&G Asia-Pacific News
By Bronwyn Sloan
Jul 27, 2008

Anlong Veng, Cambodia - The former Khmer Rouge fighters of that movement's final stronghold don't care too much about the upcoming trials of their former leaders - but they do care about alleged Thai incursions into Cambodian territory, they said Sunday.

Once fiercely loyal to former Khmer Rouge military commander Ta Mok, who died in 2006 after seven years in jail awaiting trial for genocide, now they say they have embraced democracy.

They are not, however, afraid of war - especially when it comes to Cambodian territory they believe has been violated by hundreds of Thai troops in nearby Preah Vihear, and these northern mountains of Cambodia are almost completely populated by former Khmer Rouge.

Cambodia went to the polls Sunday in five-yearly national elections, but amongst these former fighters, the talk was all about coming out of retirement to serve the government if talks over the disputed Preah Vihear temple, just an hour's drive away, fail.

Cambodia and Thailand are scheduled to hold talks over the temple Monday, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site earlier this month and since the focus of troop buildup on both sides.

Former fighters say they would be at war already if Prime Minister Hun Sen had just said the word, but instead he and the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP), expected to be handsomely returned to office after the elections, have urged restraint. Some are frustrated.

'I only have one leg, and I am old, but my former troops are still in Preah Vihear, and I am willing to give military advice or any other assistance I can to protect Cambodian sovereignty,' said former Khmer Rouge fighter Try Nin, 56.

'We are former Khmer Rouge. We are not scared of foreign aggressors. We respect the government's decision to meet the Thais with diplomacy, but if that fails, everyone here is ready to fight.'

Former photographer at the Khmer Rouge's infamous Toul Sleng torture centre turned CPP commune leader, Nhem En, 47, who claims Anlong Veng's several thousand voters are 99 percent CPP, agreed.

'I am ready to fight the Thais. All we wait for is an order from Prime Minister Hun Sen,' he said. 'We don't want war - we want peace and development. But we need tourists, and while the Thais do this, the tourists do not come.

'Thais already have their own problems in their south,' he said, referring to Muslim insurgency. 'Why do they want an extra problem?'

En's son, Meas Bunlo, aged 20, said that like almost three quarters of the Cambodian population today, he was too young to remember the Khmer Rouge and it's 1975-79 regime and has only ever known the 23-year reign of Hun Sen.

'I went to Ta Mok's funeral, but I don't feel close to the history because I am too young,' he said. 'However I am Cambodian, so I care about our border and foreign invaders.'

Hun Sen, himself a former Khmer Rouge fighter who defected before returning to overthrow the regime, has stressed Cambodia will strive to solve the border dispute by diplomatic, not military, means.

All the same, Anlong Veng's former fighters said, they are now his loyal servants and are ready if called upon to fight again.

'Managed democracy' in action in Cambodian vote

Khmer Rouge trials, Thai border hostilities put on hold today as Cambodians go to polls

Thestar.com
Jul 27, 2008

Olivia Ward
Foreign Affairs Reporter

He's not as heavy-handed as Burma's military rulers, nor as sophisticated as Singapore's premier.

But Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen – once a card-carrying member of the genocidal Khmer Rouge – practises his own brand of "managed democracy" that has convinced most people that their battered country has at last achieved stability.

His Cambodian People's Party is expected to win a smooth victory in parliamentary elections today, sprinting ahead of its rivals and consolidating Hun Sen's three-decade hold on power.

The vote is being held during a crisis over contested land near an historic temple at the border with Thailand. Cambodia won a UN World Heritage Site designation for the temple, which is surrounded by land claimed by Thailand.

Phnom Penh has called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to help avert a military confrontation if talks between the two neighbours fail.

But most Cambodian voters think there are more important issues closer to home.

According to an International Republican Institute opinion poll, 77 per cent of respondents think the country is headed in the right direction under its current government, as economic growth floats at 10 per cent, with roads, schools and health clinics being built and living conditions improving.

"The (People's) party does have genuine support," says Peter Manikas, director of Asia programs for the Washington-based National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. "Up to now, they've had to rule as a coalition because they never got more than 50 per cent. But their coalition partner split, so they're running on their own."

The partner was Funcinpec, a royalist party formerly headed by Prince Ranariddh, who pulled out to form a party of his own. Another player, the Sam Rainsy Party, is headed by a French-educated former finance minister who campaigns for democratic reform.

Neither appears to have made inroads on the ruling party's support, which is bolstered by tight control of the media and crackdowns on opponents whose criticisms fall outside the government's comfort zone.

Hun Sen's Cambodia has been rife with corruption, and there are allegations of vote-buying as well as politically motivated killings during the campaign season.

But election monitors say the atmosphere has been far less tense than during earlier campaigns, when "hundreds would die in centrally directed attacks from the political parties," according to Phnom Penh representative Roderick Brazier of the Asia Foundation.

"Vote-buying, while it exists, is modest compared to previous campaigns, and certainly no worse than in neighbouring democracies," he wrote in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece.

For the first time, the government allowed open political debates with equal time for Cambodia's 11 parties. They were broadcast on Cambodian television, a sign that Hun Sen's tight-fisted approach is loosening.

But if the People's Party returns to power, Brazier predicts, not much will change.

"Economic growth and infrastructure development will preoccupy the government, while political freedoms and justice will take a back seat."

Waiting in the wings are pending trials of senior officials of the Khmer Rouge, which waged a campaign of terror from 1975 to 1979. Although Hun Sen was once a member, he has backed the trials, which are largely popular with Cambodians. Leader Pol Pot died before facing justice, but five others have been charged.

Meanwhile, hostilities simmered on the Thai-Cambodian border after Thailand sent troops there in response to domestic protests over the new UN status of the Cambodian temples, which was originally supported by the Thai government.

Thailand's opposition says it undercuts Bangkok's claim to the land along the border, and that Cambodia is trying to redraw the frontier along old French colonial lines.

Hun Sen looks to victory in Cambodia vote


Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen casts his vote in parliamentary electiosn he is widely expected to win.

CNN.com/asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) -- Longtime Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen was widely expected to extend his 23-year tenure with a victory in Sunday's parliamentary elections, buoyed by a surge of nationalism amid a tense border dispute with neighboring Thailand.

Hun Sen's reputation as a strongman who intimidates rivals has served him well, with voters rallying around the leader as Cambodian troops face off with Thai soldiers for a second week at a disputed 11th century Hindu temple.

Dressed in a gray safari shirt and pants, Hun Sen flashed a broad smile and displayed a black-inked forefinger to waiting cameras after casting his ballot Sunday in a provincial town outside the capital, Phnom Penh. He declined comment to reporters.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy called a midday news conference, demanding the polls be scrapped. He claimed that some 200,000 registered voters in the capital, where the opposition is strongest, were unable to cast ballots because their names had been left off voter lists.

The ruling party "is full of tricks. Scrap the election and do it again," he said. Allegations of vote fraud have plagued past Cambodian elections, but have never dented the ruling party's dominance.

Hun Sen, 57, Asia's longest-serving leader, was expected to win the vote even before the military standoff escalated earlier this month. But patriotic passions over Preah Vihear temple and Hun Sen's firm stance against Thailand have swayed many undecided voters in his favor, analysts say.


"Everybody now supports the government because this is a national issue," said Kek Galabru, a prominent Cambodian human rights activist and election monitor. "More people will vote for (Hun Sen) to give him more power to deal with Preah Vihear."

Chan Sim, a 72-year-old voter in the capital, said he cast his ballot for Hun Sen's ruling party "because of its good leadership and ability to keep unity."

More than 8 million of Cambodia's 14 million people were eligible to vote in Sunday's election. Buddhist monks and ordinary people, some holding toddlers with milk bottles, crowded polling stations when they opened.

Unofficial party results were expected a few hours after polling stations closed at 3 p.m. (0800 GMT). Official figures were expected later in the week.

Eleven parties were vying for seats in the 123-seat National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, with the winner forming a new government to run the country for the next five years.

Hun Sen has voiced little doubt that his ruling Cambodian People's Party, which held 73 assembly seats during the past five-year term, will return with an overwhelming majority.

"I wish to state it very clearly this way: No one can defeat Hun Sen," the prime minister said earlier this year.

Hun Sen has ruled Cambodia since 1985, when he became prime minister of a Vietnamese-installed communist government after the ouster of the Khmer Rouge.

Internationally, he has faced criticism for alleged corruption and human rights abuses. But Hun Sen argues that his tenure has ushered in peace and stability after the Khmer Rouge's genocidal reign in 1975-1979, during which an estimated 1.7 million people died before it was toppled by an invading Vietnamese army.

A former Khmer Rouge soldier, Hun Sen has embraced free-market policies that have recently made Cambodia's economy one of the fastest growing in Asia, expanding at 11 percent in each of the past three years.

The opposition Sam Rainsy Party, which held 24 seats in the lower house of Parliament, campaigned for greater attention to human rights, the country's poor and an end to alleged government corruption.

Son Chhay, an opposition lawmaker, said an estimated 50 percent of Cambodians live on less than US$1 a day.

"Government corruption is the major thing. We have to fight against it to make sure that the people receive a fair share of what the country is getting," he said.

But such standard election issues have been upstaged by the military standoff with Thailand.

The controversy revolves around 1.8 square miles (4.6 kilometers) of land that has been in dispute since French colonialists withdrew from Cambodia in the 1950s.

The International Court of Justice awarded the temple site to Cambodia in 1962, but anger flared in Thailand last month after Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej backed Cambodia's successful bid for the temple to be listed as a U.N. World Heritage Site.

Thailand sent troops to the border July 15 after Thai anti-government demonstrators assembled near the temple. Cambodia responded by sending its own troops to the border.

The two countries plan to resume negotiations on the border row Monday. Cambodia says it will renew a call for the U.N. Security Council to take up the issue if the talks fail again.

Positive outcome expected in Siem Reap talk : New FM

Sun, July 27, 2008
By The Nation

Newly-appointed Foreign Minister Tej Bunnag expects positive outcome from a meeting with his Cambodian counterpart in Siem Reap on the military stand off at Preah Vihear temple on Monday.

Tej who swears in as foreign minister on Sunday afternoon will lead a Thai delegation to a crucial meeting with Hor Nam Hong on Monday.

"I expect a positive outcome from the ministerial meeting although I think we can settle the problem," Tej said.

Tej chaired a meeting of senior foreign ministry officials including Permanent Secretary Virasakdi Futrakul and Spokesman Tharit Jarungwat.

The spokesman quoted the new minister as saying that the dispute over the Preah Vihear temple which led to the military stand off is complicated.

"If Cambodia shows sincerity and open minded in the talk by not setting any condition, I believe the negotiation on Monday will be going well. Both countries have excellent relations which will help the talk," Tharit quoted Tej as saying.

However the talks on this sensitive issue will certainly take time and could not be settled in a single meeting.

Tharit stressed that the Thai military is stationing in the areas that are in the Thai territory.
Meanwhile Thai Ambassdor to Phnom Penh Weerapan Watcharathit said Cambodia has arranged the ministerial meeting at the Angkor Palace Spa and Resort in Siem Reap province.

Tej is scheduled to arrive at the province at about 9am and returned to Bangkok on the same day.

The ambassador was confident that there will not be a protest against Thailand in the province because to organisers of a protest in Cambodia have to seek permission from the government and so far no one sought the permit.

Hun Sen set to win Cambodia poll

Theage.com.au
July 27, 2008

Cambodians looked set to extend Prime Minister Hun Sen's 23-year rule in elections, after a campaign overshadowed by a tense military standoff in a border dispute with Thailand.

The border feud breathed life into an otherwise sleepy campaign, with scores of voters lining up at dawn to wait for polling stations to open.

Many people in the capital Phnom Penh who cast ballots before the polls closed at 3pm (1800 AEST) said the biggest issue for them was the territorial dispute centred on the ancient Preah Vihear temple.

"I will vote for those who can solve the issue of Preah Vihear temple immediately after they take power," said 56-year-old businessman Lam Chanvanda, as he stood in a long queue of voters.
"Before, I was never interested in the border, but now it is in my heart."

Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge guerrilla who has ruled with an iron fist since 1985, strengthened his profile going into the election by taking a tough stance on the dispute, said Kek Galabru, president of the rights group Licadho.

"Many voters, including young voters who had not yet decided who they should vote for, will vote for the ruling party" because of the border feud, she said.

A confident Hun Sen - who has accused Thailand of defying international law and threatening regional peace - kissed his ballot as he cast it at a school in a posh southern suburb of Phnom Penh.

Thousands of soldiers from both sides are facing off near the 11th century Khmer temple.
Foreign ministers from the two nations are set to meet on Monday in hopes of resolving the deal.
Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP) currently has 73 seats in the 123-seat parliament, and party officials say they expect to take at least eight more on their way to forming a single-party government.

About 17,000 domestic and international observers monitored the voting at more than 15,000 polling stations. More than eight million people were registered to vote.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy alleged 200,000 people in Phnom Penh could not vote after their names were lost from registration lists Sunday, but election officials dismissed his claim as exaggerated and said the balloting had proceeded smoothly overall.

Official results could take days to be announced, but the parties are expected to release their own tallies later Sunday.

US-based Human Rights Watch has complained that the ruling party's near monopoly on broadcast media has undermined the opposition's efforts to woo voters, especially in rural parts of the country.

One radio station was shut down late Saturday after it broadcast a reading from a book by Sam Rainsy, violating rules against campaigning on the day before the vote, government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said.

Hun Sen has a reputation for trampling human rights to secure power, but a booming economy has bolstered his standing in a country struggling to lift itself from the ranks of the world's poorest nations.

He abandoned his life as a guerrilla to stake his political future with the CPP, which was installed as the ruling party after Vietnamese troops toppled the Khmer Rouge in 1979 and created a client state to stop border incursions.

Hun Sen became prime minister in 1985 and has steadily and ruthlessly cemented his grip on power, resorting to coups and systematic violence against any rivals who have threatened his reign.

In the current campaign, Hun Sen has been aided by his opponents' mistakes. His current coalition partner, the royalist Funcinpec party, has imploded under internal corruption scandals.

The Sam Rainsy Party is expected to maintain its strength in the capital but has made few inroads into rural Cambodia, where most voters live.

Although the campaign has been less violent than past elections, Human Rights Watch warned that a history of violence remains a source of intimidation against the opposition.

Cambodia's ruling party claims early lead in vote count

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — The ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) claimed an early lead Sunday shortly after polls closed in general elections expected to extend Prime Minister Hun Sen's 23-year grip on power.

"The early results from all polling stations show that the CPP is leading," said Khieu Kanharith, spokesman for the party and the government.

"We can't say how many seats we will win, but we've gained at least seven more seats" on top of the 73 the party already held in the 123-seat parliament, he added.

Polls close in Cambodia, PM Hun Sen favoured to win

PHNOM PENH (AFP) - Polls closed in Cambodia on Sunday after general elections widely expected to extend Prime Minister Hun Sen's 23-year grip on power.

"As scheduled, we closed the polling stations at 3:00 pm (0800 GMT)," Tep Nytha, secretary general of the National Election Committee, told AFP.

The 15,000 polling stations opened for eight hours of balloting, conducted under the eyes of 13,000 domestic and international observers.

Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP) says it wants to expand its majority in the 123-seat parliament so that it can form a single-party government.

The CPP currently has 73 seats, and party officials say they expect to clinch at least eight more.

More than eight million people are registered to vote in Cambodia. Official results could take days to be announced, but the parties were expected to release their own tallies later Sunday.

Polls open in Cambodia with PM Hun Sen favoured to win

PHNOM PENH (AFP) - Polls opened in Cambodia on Sunday for legislative elections widely expected to extend Prime Minister Hun Sen's 23-year grip on power.

All 15,000 polling stations opened around 7:00 am (0001 GMT) for eight hours of balloting, Tep Nytha, head of the National Election Committee, told AFP.

"We hope everything will go smoothly, as scheduled," he said.

Scores of people lined up at polling stations around the capital Phnom Penh, waiting for the doors to open. The balloting was being conducted under the eyes of 13,000 domestic and international observers.

Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP) says it wants to expand its majority in the 123-seat parliament so that it can form a single-party government.

The CPP currently has 73 seats, and party officials say they expect to cinch at least eight more.

More than eight million people are registered to vote. Official results could take days to be announced, but the parties are expected to release their own tallies on Sunday evening.

More pictures of Cambodian Parliamentary Election

Sam Rainsy, leader of Sam Rainsy Party, shows a v-sigh after casting his vote at a polling station in Kampong Cham province, north of Phnom Penh, Sunday, July 27, 2008. Longtime Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is widely expected to extend his 23-year tenure with a victory in Sunday's parliamentary elections, buoyed by a surge of nationalism amid a tense border dispute with neighboring Thailand.(AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Sam Rainsy, leader of opposition Sam Rainsy Party, casts his ballot at a polling station in Kampong Cham province, north of Phnom Penh, Sunday, July 27, 2008. Longtime Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is widely expected to extend his 23-year tenure with a victory in Sunday's parliamentary elections, buoyed by a surge of nationalism amid a tense border dispute with neighboring Thailand.(AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Sam Rainsy, leader of opposition Sam Rainsy Party, shows his ballot before voting at a polling station in Kampong Cham province, north of Phnom Penh, Sunday, July 27, 2008. Longtime Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is widely expected to extend his 23-year tenure with a victory in Sunday's parliamentary elections, buoyed by a surge of nationalism amid a tense border dispute with neighboring Thailand.(AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Sam Rainsy, leader of opposition Sam Rainsy Party, greets his supporters as he leaves a polling station after casting his ballot in Kampong Cham province, north of Phnom Penh, Sunday, July 27, 2008. Longtime Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is widely expected to extend his 23-year tenure with a victory in Sunday's parliamentary elections, buoyed by a surge of nationalism amid a tense border dispute with neighboring Thailand.(AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

An election staff helps a Cambodian elderly woman to cast her ballot at a polling station in Kampong Cham province, north of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Sunday, July 27, 2008. Longtime Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is widely expected to extend his 23-year tenure with a victory in Sunday's parliamentary elections, buoyed by a surge of nationalism amid a tense border dispute with neighboring Thailand.(AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

A woman casts her ballot at a polling station at the base of the Preah Vihear temple, about 250 km (152 miles) northeast of Siem Reap, July 27, 2008. Cambodians voted on Sunday in an election likely to bestow another five-year term on long-time Prime Minister Hun Sen, whose standing has been boosted by a nationalist spat with Thailand over a 900-year-old temple.REUTERS/Adrees Latif (CAMBODIA)

People check their names against a list at a polling station before casting their ballot during the general election in Phnom Penh July 27, 2008.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

A Cambodian Buddhist monk shows his ballot before voting at a polling station in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Sunday, July 27, 2008. Longtime Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is widely expected to extend his 23-year tenure with a victory in Sunday's parliamentary elections, buoyed by a surge of nationalism amid a tense border dispute with neighboring Thailand.(AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

A Cambodian Buddhist monk prepares to cast his ballot at a polling station in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Sunday, July 27, 2008. Longtime Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is widely expected to extend his 23-year tenure with a victory in Sunday's parliamentary elections, buoyed by a surge of nationalism amid a tense border dispute with neighboring Thailand.(AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Cambodians wait in line for voting at a polling station in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Sunday, July 27, 2008. Longtime Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is widely expected to extend his 23-year tenure with a victory in Sunday's parliamentary elections, buoyed by a surge of nationalism amid a tense border dispute with neighboring Thailand.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

A Cambodia Buddhist monk casts his ballot at polling station during the general election at school in Phnom Penh July 27, 2008.(Chor Sokunthea/Reuters)

Cambodia Buddhist monks show their ink-stained finger after casting their ballot at a polling station during the general elections in Phnom Penh July 27, 2008.(Chor Sokunthea/Reuters)

Facts and figures on Cambodia's parliamentary elections

INTERNATIONAL hERALD tRIBUNE
The Associated Press
Published: July 27, 2008

THE SYSTEM: Bicameral parliament consisting of the National Assembly, or lower house, and the Senate, the upper house. The National Assembly is elected once every five years.

The National Assembly has 123 seats. Its function is to approve laws and appoint a new government. The king, who is the head of state, signs off on all laws adopted by Parliament. He wields no executive power.

The Senate will not be affected by Sunday's ballot. It has 61 members.

___

ELECTORATE: 8.1 million voters above 18 years of age, more than 50 percent of whom are women, in a country of 14 million people.

King Norodom Sihamoni does not vote and cannot hold political office. Many other members of the royal family are running in the election.

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POLITICAL GROUPS: Eleven political parties are running for parliamentary seats in 24 constituencies across Cambodia. There are two front-runners: Prime Minister Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party, a former communist party which has held power for the past 29 years; and the Sam Rainsy Party of former Finance Minister Sam Rainsy. In the outgoing parliament, CPP held 73 seats to the opposition's 24. Hun Sen has been prime minister since 1985.

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THE CANDIDATES: There are a total of 1,162 candidates. Parties compete rather than candidates. Total votes received by a party in a constituency are used to calculate the number of seats occupied by its candidates in the National Assembly. There are no independent candidates.

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THE ISSUES: Standard election issues like the economy, rising fuel and commodities prices, government corruption, poor health care and poverty have been upstaged by a tense border dispute with neighboring Thailand. The row prompted both countries to send troops to the border two weeks before the election. Nationalist pride was expected to propel Hun Sen to re-election.

Some 35 percent of the country's 14 million people live on less than US$.50 per day. The country depends heavily on foreign financial assistance.
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VOTING HOURS: 0000 GMT to 0800 GMT, July 27.
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VOTING SYSTEM: Each ballot carries the names and symbols of all 23 parties running for election. Each voter is allowed to select only one party.

Tourists endanger Cambodian temple

A monument once threatened by medieval raiders and looters is now in peril from popularity

By PAUL WATSON
Los Angeles Times

ANGKOR, CAMBODIA — The ancient sandstone temples of Angkor have stood up to endless assaults down the centuries, from medieval raiders armed with clubs and spears to genocidal looters laying land mines.

These days, the onslaught begins in the early-morning darkness, when invading columns of buses, taxis and sputtering tuk-tuks converge on a dirt parking lot across from Angkor Wat's broad moat.

They disgorge hundreds of camera-wielding tourists, who march through the gray light toward the gates of the world's largest religious monument.

Hindus constructed it in the 12th century, with a gilded central tower representing Mount Meru, mythical home of the gods and the center of the spiritual and physical universes. They built it facing west, perhaps in honor of the Hindu god Vishnu, preserver of all things.

Sightseeing mob

For today's tourists, the alignment has a more mundane appeal. It's a great place to snap a picture of the sunrise behind sprawling Angkor's best-known temple.

When the shutters stop clicking, tour guides herd their groups into the monument all at once.

Tourists jostling for space bump, scrape and rub their fingers against exquisitely carved stone, adding to centuries of damage to the friezes of soldiers depicted in epic battle atop chariots and elephants.

By dusk, the mob of sight- seers has moved to Phnom Bakheng, where buses drop off hundreds of people who then scramble for position on large, delicately balanced stone platforms at the small temple, Angkor's oldest.

Obscured from the road by dense forest, it was safely off the regular tour routes until sappers cleared land mines that Khmer Rouge guerrillas had placed to defend the hilltop.

"Now it's suddenly become the destination where everybody wants to be at the end of the day to see the sunset and to see the views, which are spectacular," said Bonnie Burnham, president of the New York-based World Monuments Fund. The nonprofit group helps conserve historic sites around the world.

Speeding up erosion

Many of Phnom Bakheng's 108 shrines stand on platforms that have shifted over the centuries as water trickles in and loosens sand and dirt, and the tourists are gathering where they shouldn't.

So many people have clambered up stones next to the crowded stairs that erosion is accelerating, with loosened sections poised to tumble, Burnham said.

"The platforms where people stand are not really stable," Burnham said. "They're eroding very rapidly. The magnificent sculpture on the shrine at the center of the temple is in very fragile condition and has not been treated for conservation yet.

"People shouldn't really be touching it or going anywhere near it," she said.

Burnham's fund received almost $1 million in June from the U.S. State Department for a project to stabilize the eastern side of Phnom Bakheng, the temple's most endangered section.

As night falls, the tourists feel their way back down the hill and onto air-conditioned buses.
They're delivered to their hotels in nearby Siem Reap, where they rinse off the sweat of a long day's touring with a dip in the pool or a soothing shower before dinner.

As the taps open up, more of the dwindling ground water is drained.

UNESCO has warned that the receding water table could undermine Angkor Wat's fragile foundations, causing the temple to gradually sink.

Tourism escalating

There hasn't been enough research to say how much the heavy demand for water affects Angkor Wat's stability, said Dougald O'Reilly, a Canadian archaeologist who heads Heritage Watch, a nonprofit group working to protect Cambodia's historic sites from looters and overuse.

A decade ago, about 300,000 tourists visited Angkor Wat each year. It was possible to have a quiet, spiritual moment alone in nearby temples that had been swallowed up by the jungle.

But peace, after decades of civil war and upheaval, opened the tourism floodgates. More than a million people are expected to file through Angkor Wat's narrow stone corridors this year, and the government hopes to draw 3 million to the site by 2010.

With more hotels and resorts on the drawing board, conservationists are pushing hard to prevent a destructive free-for-all of development and tourism.

"It's going to mean some sacrifices," Burnham said. "People aren't going to be able to do some of the things, in an unregulated way, that they've been permitted to do in the past."

Protecting the buildings

The day might come when a quota is placed on the number of visitors allowed at certain monuments, Burnham said.

O'Reilly is deputy director of the Greater Angkor Project, which has discovered how vast ancient Angkor was by studying images taken by NASA satellites and an ultralight plane.

Their theory is that the city's 15th-century collapse occurred because people neglected their environment, cutting down too many trees to expand rice paddies, causing waterways to fill with silt.

If they're right, it's a cautionary tale for the 21st century, as development threatens the ancient buildings Angkor left behind.

Thai border tensions overshadow Cambodian vote

Agence France-Presse
07/27/2008

PHNOM PENH--Saffron-robed monks, uniformed policemen, and university students in T-shirts all said they had one thing on their mind as they voted in Cambodia: the tense military standoff on the Thai border.

Soldiers from both countries began staking positions around an 11th century Khmer temple nearly two weeks ago, reviving a decades-old dispute over a small patch of land near the mountaintop ruins of Preah Vihear.

The conflict has fired up nationalist sentiment in Cambodia, where many people resent the slow loss of their territory over the centuries to their larger neighbors Thailand and Vietnam.

"The new government must solve the temple problem. I don't want to see that invasion...it hurts me," said 23-year-old university student Leng Sok Im at a polling station in the capital.

The border feud has overshadowed the election, which is expected to extend the reign of Prime Minister Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP), which has held power for decades.

With thousands of soldiers from both sides now facing off near Preah Vihear, the foreign ministers of Thailand and Cambodia are set to meet Monday in hopes of resolving the deal.

"Preah Vihear temple is the hot issue. The new government must be brave enough to solve the problem," said 27-year-old policeman Khieu Sopheap.

Throughout Cambodia, discussion of the temple standoff dominates. Some people have boycotted Thai goods, and many have donated money and food to the Cambodian soldiers and villagers at Preah Vihear.

As scores of voters lined up from dawn at polling stations in Phnom Penh, many said the territorial dispute was the most important issue in the election, and called for the new government to resolve the standoff as soon as possible.

"I will vote for those who could solve the issue of Preah Vihear temple immediately after they take power," said 56-year-old businessman Lam Chanvanda, said, standing in a long queue waiting to cast his vote in a schoolroom.

"Before I was never interested in the border issue, but now it is in my heart," he added.

Buddhist monks, whose superiors have permitted them to vote for the first time since they led mass street demonstrations against Hun Sen's 1998 election victory, said the threat from Thailand concerned them most.

"Preah Vihear temple is a controversial issue between the two countries which so far has no solution yet. I came to vote because I want the new government to solve that border problem," said 24-year-old monk Chan Phearun.

As voters left polling stations, their fingers purple with permanent ink used to mark their ballots, no one would say who they had voted for but many hinted they had chosen the ruling party.

"Today is a good opportunity for people to choose the right leaders," said Seng Chanthy, 51, as she left a polling place.

"I support the party that develops the country. I don't hope for a new leader," she said.

Cambodia border dispute strengthens PM in vote

Cambodian voters queue in line outside a polling station in Kampong Cham province, north of Phnom Penh, Sunday, July 27, 2008. Longtime Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is widely expected to extend his 23-year tenure with a victory in Sunday's parliamentary elections, buoyed by a surge of nationalism amid a tense border dispute with neighboring Thailand. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

By KER MUNTHIT

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — A dispute with neighboring Thailand over border land near an 11th century Hindu temple has sparked nationalist pride throughout Cambodia and strengthened the longtime prime minister's popularity ahead of parliamentary elections Sunday.

Thailand sent troops to the border after Thai anti-government demonstrators assembled near the Preah Vihear temple earlier this month. Cambodia responded by sending its own troops and its government says the dispute has triggered "an imminent state of war."

The temple has fueled nationalist sentiment in both countries on-and-off for decades, and the latest military confrontation between the two Southeast Asian neighbors has upstaged Sunday's election.

"The election is necessary but has become a secondary concern for me now," 27-year-old Sy Buntheng, a university student in the capital Phnom Penh, said ahead of the vote. "The encroachment by Thai troops on our land is the greatest national concern for me."

Hun Sen, 57, who has run Cambodia since 1985, is Asia's longest-serving leader and already was expected to win re-election before the dispute flared July 15. But passions over Preah Vihear temple and Hun Sen's firm stance against Thailand have galvanized undecided voters in his favor, analysts say.

Dressed in gray, long-sleeved safari shirt and pants, Hun Sen displayed a black-inked forefinger to waiting cameras after casting his ballot Sunday in Phnom Penh. He flashed a broad smile but declined comment to reporters.

"Now everybody is behind the government because it's the only institution that can deal with the Thai government. That means more votes for (Hun Sen)," said Kek Galabru, a prominent Cambodian human rights activist and election monitor.

More than 8 million of Cambodia's 14 million people are eligible to vote in Sunday's election.
Eleven parties are vying for seats in the 123-seat National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, with the winner forming a new government to run the country for the next five years.

Polls opened at 8 p.m. EDT and unofficial party results are expected a few hours after polling stations closed 4 a.m. EDT Sunday. Official results are expected later in the week.

Internationally, Hun Sen has faced criticism for alleged corruption and human rights abuses. But he maintains his tenure has ushered in peace and stability after the Khmer Rouge's genocidal reign from 1975-1979, which killed an estimated 1.7 million people.

Under his free-market policies, Cambodia's economy has been one of the fastest growing in Asia, expanding at 11 percent in each of the past three years.

Preah Vihear has been the scene of several conflicts along the often-turbulent border. The temple was held by the U.S.-backed government during the 1970-75 war and was one of the last places to fall to the Khmer Rouge.

Ousted by a Vietnamese invasion, the ultra-communists became guerrillas and occupied the temple until 1998. Two Belgian tourists who were apparently trying to visit the temple in 1994 were abducted by Khmer Rouge guerrillas and then killed.

Cambodian refugees fled in droves across the border to Thailand after the 1979 invasion to escape conflict in their homeland.

Keo Neang, a 46-year-old nurse who lives near the temple, said she and hundreds of other Cambodians were shoved down steep slopes by Thai troops near the ancient temple, which sits high on a cliff along Cambodia's northern border with Thailand.

Though Thailand denies the incident happened, she said she remembers her companions blown apart by land mines that littered the jungle below the magnificent sanctuary, while other Cambodian refugees were gunned down by Thai soldiers as they tried to escape back into Thailand.

"I heard cries for help from people who were injured. Some were begging for water as they were bleeding to death," said Keo Neang, tears streaming down her face.

The current controversy revolves around 1.8 square miles of land that have been in dispute since French colonialists withdrew from Cambodia in the 1950s.

The International Court of Justice awarded the temple site to Cambodia in 1962, but anger flared in Thailand last month after Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej backed Cambodia's successful bid for the temple to be listed as a U.N. World Heritage Site.

Thailand sent troops to the border July 15 after anti-government demonstrators criticized Samak's government for supporting Cambodia's application. The Thai protesters claim the temple's new status will undermine their country's claim to the 1.8 square miles around the temple.

Cambodian says some 4,000 troops from both countries are now massed in the area around Preah Vihear. Thailand says it has 400 troops in the area and that Cambodia has 1,700.

Negotiations between the two countries on the border dispute are scheduled to resume Monday. If talks fail, Cambodia says it will renew a call for the U.N. Security Council to take up the issue.

Cambodian ruling party heads to poll win

Cambodia opposition leader Sam Rainsy shows his ink-stained finger after casting his ballot at polling station during the general election at Chan Moly pagoda in Bateay district, Kampong Cham province, about 50km from Phnom Penh July 27, 2008.REUTERS/Nicolas Axelrod (CAMBODIA)


Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen shows off his finger tainted with purple ink after casting his ballot at a polling station in Takhmau, Kandal province, south of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Sunday, July 27, 2008. Longtime Prime Minister Hun Sen is widely expected to extend his 23-year tenure with a victory in Sunday's parliamentary elections, buoyed by a surge of nationalism amid a tense border dispute with neighboring Thailand. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

By KER MUNTHIT

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodians went to the polls Sunday in an election dominated by a tense border dispute with neighboring Thailand that has fueled national sentiment, strengthening longtime Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Hun Sen's reputation as a strongman who intimidates rivals has served him well, with voters rallying around the leader as Cambodian troops face off with Thai soldiers for a second week at a disputed 11th century Hindu temple on the border.

Dressed in gray safari shirt and pants, Hun Sen flashed a broad smile and displayed a black-inked forefinger to waiting cameras after casting his ballot Sunday in a provincial town outside the capital, Phnom Penh. He declined comment to reporters.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy called a midday news conference, claiming some 200,000 registered voters in the capital, where the opposition is strongest, were unable to cast ballots because their names had been left off voter lists.

The ruling party "is full of tricks. Scrap the election and do it again," he said. Allegations of vote fraud have plagued past Cambodian elections but never dented the ruling party's dominance.

Asia's longest-serving leader, the 57-year-old Hun Sen was forecast to win the vote even before the military standoff escalated earlier this month. But patriotic passions over Preah Vihear temple and Hun Sen's firm stance against Thailand have swayed many undecided voters in his favor, analysts say.

"Everybody now supports the government because this is a national issue," said Kek Galabru, a prominent Cambodian human rights activist and election monitor. "More people will vote for (Hun Sen) to give him more power to deal with Preah Vihear."

Chan Sim, a 72-year-old voter in the capital, cast his ballot for Hun Sen's ruling party "because of its good leadership and ability to keep unity."

A 24-year-old Buddhist monk, Chhuon Noeurn, said the standoff at Preah Vihear did not affect his choice for a leader, but added: "We Cambodians cannot afford to be divided on this issue."

More than 8 million of Cambodia's 14 million people were eligible to vote in Sunday's election.
Buddhist monks and ordinary people, some holding toddlers with milk bottles, crowded polling stations when they opened at 8 p.m. EDT. Unofficial party results were expected a few hours after polling stations close at 4 a.m. EDT. Official figures were expected later in the week.

Eleven parties are vying for seats in the 123-seat National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, with the winner forming a new government to run the country for the next five years.

Hun Sen himself has voiced little doubt that his ruling Cambodian People's Party, which held 73 Assembly's seats during the past five-year-term, will return with an overwhelming majority.
Hun Sen has ruled Cambodia since 1985, when he became prime minister of a Vietnamese-installed communist government after the fall of the Khmer Rouge.

Internationally, he has faced criticism for alleged corruption and human rights abuses. But Hun Sen argues his tenure ushered in peace and stability after the Khmer Rouge's genocidal reign from 1975-1979, which killed an estimated 1.7 million people before being toppled by the invading Vietnamese army.

A former Khmer Rouge soldier himself, Hun Sen embraced free-market policies that have made Cambodia's economy one of the fastest growing in Asia, expanding at 11 percent in each of the past three years.

"The economic growth helps. And in a time of crisis, people feel they have to be united behind the power that controls the army," said Benny Widyono, an independent observer and former United Nations official during Cambodia's U.N.-brokered peace process in the early 1990s.

The opposition Sam Rainsy Party, which held 24 seats in the lower house of parliament, campaigned for greater attention to human rights, the country's poor and an end to alleged corruption.

But standard election issues have been upstaged by the military standoff with Thailand, a controversy revolving around 1.8 square miles of land that has been in dispute since French colonialists withdrew from Cambodia in the 1950s.

The International Court of Justice awarded the temple site to Cambodia in 1962, but anger flared in Thailand last month after Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej backed Cambodia's successful bid for the temple to be listed as a U.N. World Heritage Site.

Thailand sent troops to the border July 15 after Thai anti-government demonstrators assembled near the temple. Cambodia responded by sending its own troops to the border.

The two countries plan to resume negotiations on the border row Monday.

L.B. Cambodians rally against border dispute

Press-Telegram Long Beach
By Greg Mellen, Staff Writer
07/26/2008

LONG BEACH - Flags waved, music played and 50 to 100 members of the Cambodian community gathered at MacArthur Park on Saturday to stage a petition drive, collect donations and present information about a tense border dispute and military standoff between Thailand and their home country near an 11th century Hindu temple.

Leaders from a variety of Cambodian civic groups hastily put the event together to get the word out about worrisome events in Cambodia that have led to several narrowly avoided skirmishes between Thai and Cambodian military forces.

The local group gathered about 400 signatures on a petition asking the United Nations to intervene in the dispute. The nonprofit group Cambodian-Americans Stand United also asked for donations from residents to provide humanitarian aid to troops and residents in the remote area.

It is also calling for a boycott in the community of Thai products and imported foods.

Organizers were happy with the turnout, given the short notice. Richer San said KBN, a local Cambodian television station, did a three-hour segment on the dispute and was flooded by calls and interest in the issue.

Anthony Kim, an organizer, said more petitions would likely be circulated in coming days.
"We're very excited to see the turnout," Kim said.

He added that since the issue has been raised, he has been proud to see the local community pulling together and displaying patriotic interest in their homeland.

While the information was circulated, a band played popular and patriotic Cambodian songs.

Darany Siv, Un Sophal, Oum Sovany and Hem Vanakl, singers from the popular Hak Heang Restaurant, stopped by to lend their backing and took time to perform a song for those who had gathered.

"We just came by to support this," Siv said.

San said the music and festive nature of the event was meant to exemplify the peaceful nature of the gathering and not to incite anyone.

The government of Cambodia recently postponed a request for U.N. intervention as the countries seek a resolution.

The dispute focuses on a longstanding disagreement over 1.8 miles of land along the northern Cambodia border. The disagreement was heightened when the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, designated the Preah Vihear temple in Cambodia a World Heritage site.

Thailand sent troops to the border July 15 after anti-government groups claimed support by Prime Minister Sundaravej Samak's government for Cambodia's application would undermine Thai claims to nearby land.

Since the dispute began, Thai forces have taken up positions around the temple on disputed land. Cambodians say it is tantamount to an invasion.

The World Heritage designation could be an important step in turning the remote clifftop temple into a tourist site, like the immensely popular Angkor Wat complex near Siem Reap. And that increases the stakes for the land.

Local organizers said they are also worried about the health and welfare of residents and soldiers in the area. Reports have come from the area that water is particularly scarce. Because of the temple's cliffside location it is particularly difficult to reach from the Cambodian side and Thai troops have reportedly cut off other access routes.

Danny Vong, another organizer, said Cambodian residents in the area have been caught up in the dispute. Many depend on trade with Thai merchants for essentials.

Foreign ministers from both countries are scheduled to meet Monday in the Cambodian city of Siem Reap, according to The Associated Press.

"This is a new step in our good will to try to find a solution to the problem through peaceful negotiations," Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told the AP after meeting with ambassadors to Cambodia from the Security Council's five permanent members.

Cambodia uses a French colonial map to mark the border while Thailand relies on a map drawn up later with American technical assistance, but accepts a ruling by the International Court of Justice that awarded the disputed temple to Cambodia in 1962.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

HOW TO HELP

To contribute: People interested in making donations for humanitarian aid to residents of the Preah Vihear area can send checks to the Cambodian Cultural Arts Association, P.O. Box 5001, Long Beach, CA 90805.

For information: Call Bunsorng Tay, 562-716-2506; Danny Vong, 562-760-9000; Peter Long, 562-572-7407; or Sweety Chap, 562-400-8233.

Cambodian voters poised to extend Hun Sen's rule

Voters queue up at a polling station in Phnom Penh on July 27. Polls opened in Cambodia on July 27 for legislative elections widely expected to extend Prime Minister Hun Sen's 23-year grip on power.


A Buddhist monk casts vote at a poll station in Phnom Penh on July 27. Polls opened in Cambodia on July 27 for legislative elections widely expected to extend Prime Minister Hun Sen's 23-year grip on power.

PHNOM PENH (AFP)

Cambodians looked set to extend Prime Minister Hun Sen's 23-year rule in elections Sunday, after a campaign overshadowed by a tense military standoff in a border dispute with Thailand.

The border feud breathed life into an otherwise sleepy campaign, with scores of voters lining up at dawn to wait for polling stations to open at 7:00 am (0001) GMT.

Many in the capital Phnom Penh said the territorial dispute centred on the ancient Preah Vihear temple was the most important issue in the election.

"I will vote for the people who can solve the Preah Vihear temple as soon as they take office," said 56-year-old businessman Lam Chanvanda, as he stood in a lone line waiting to cast his ballot.

"Before I was never interested in the border, but now it is in my heart," he added.

Thousands of soldiers from both sides are facing off near the 11th-century Khmer temple. Hun Sen has flatly accused Thailand of defying international law and threatening regional peace by sending troops into the disputed zone.

With foreign ministers set to meet Monday in hopes of resolving the deal, the confrontation captured the nation's attention during a campaign that saw no serious rival emerge to threaten Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP).

Always confident, Hun Sen kissed his ballot as he cast it at a school in a posh southern suburb of Phnom Penh.

The CPP currently has 73 seats, and party officials say they expect to cinch at least eight more on their way to a single-party government.

More than 15,000 polling stations will stay open for eight hours of balloting, under the eyes of 17,000 domestic and international observers.

More than eight million people are registered to vote. Official results could take days to be announced, but the parties are expected to release their own tallies Sunday evening.

US-based Human Rights Watch has complained that the ruling party's near monopoly on broadcast media has undermined the opposition's efforts to woo voters, especially in rural parts of the country.

One radio station was shut down late Saturday after it broadcast a reading from a book by opposition leader Sam Rainsy, violating rules against campaigning on the day before the vote, government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said.

About 20 police and soldiers surrounded the office of FM 93.5, forcing them to stop transmitting. The station's licence was revoked, the spokesman added.

Hun Sen has a reputation for trampling on human rights to secure power, but a booming economy has bolstered his standing in a country struggling to lift itself from the ranks of the world's poorest nations.

Once a Khmer Rouge guerrilla fighter, Hun Sen abandoned the movement to stake his political future with the CPP, which was installed as the ruling party after Vietnamese troops toppled the Khmer Rouge in 1979 and created a client state to stop border incursions.

Voting underway in Cambodia's national election

A Cambodian Buddhist monk drops a ballot into a ballot box at a polling station in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Sunday, July 27, 2008. Longtime Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is widely expected to extend his 23-year tenure with a victory in Sunday's parliamentary elections, buoyed by a surge of nationalism amid a tense border dispute with neighboring Thailand. Khmer on the box reads: 'Ballot box.' (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Radio Australia

Polling booths are open in Cambodia for legislative elections and the 15,000 booths will stay open for eight hours.

More than eight million people are registered to vote. Official results could take days to be announced, but the parties are expected to release their own tallies this evening.

South-east Asia correspondent Karen Percy reports the long-serving prime minister, Hun Sen, is expected to extend his majority.

She says Hun Sen has been running the country for 23 years. His Cambodian People's Party currently holds 73 of the 123 national seats.

That's expected to rise to at least 80. There are 13-thousand local and international election monitors in the country.

The vote is expected to go smoothly, but human rights groups say during the month-long election campaign, many voters are likely to have been bought off or intimidated into voting for the ruling party.

The main opposition party, headed by Sam Rainsy, is expected to make some ground as well now that the royalist party, Funcinpec, has been largely sidelined as a result of internal squabbles.

Temple clash hits tourism

The Bangkok Post
Sunday July 27, 2008

Trade and tourism revenue in Si Sa Ket province has fallen 10% during the ongoing dispute over Preah Vihear temple, a senior trade official said.

Sriwan Kiatsuranond, chairman of the Si Sa Ket Chamber of Commerce, said 1,000 tourists visited the temple a day before the standoff with Cambodia, but authorities on both sides of the disputed area had closed off access even before that happened. Many tourists had cancelled trips for fear of their safety.

Up to five million baht was generated by tourists visiting the temple from January to May, but revenue had dropped significantly, he said.

Si Sa Ket Chamber of Commerce has joined local banks and tourism operators to submit a letter to the Thai-Cambodian General Border Committee asking it to resolve the border problem.

The provincial organisation hopes tomorrow's meeting between the foreign ministers of both countries will resolve tensions on the border.

In Cambodia, learning the lessons of graft

A proposed anti-corruption law gathered support in the run-up to Sunday's election here, but bribery is still pervasive -- starting with schoolchildren, who must pay their teachers for good grades.

By Don Lee
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
July 26, 2008

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA -- Before leaving for Chompovon Primary School on the outskirts of the capital, students say their parents give them 10 to 15 cents of pocket money. That's enough to buy some breakfast cakes and rice -- and pay their teachers a few cents before they walk into class.

The fee, a widespread practice in Cambodia's public schools, is a kind of informal toll that students must pay. If they don't, parents say, they risk receiving a lower grade or even being demoted.

Here, schoolchildren are taught at an early age what it takes to get ahead. And it only gets worse as they grow up. At every turn, Cambodians pay under the table: for a birth certificate, a travel visa, a fair ruling from a judge. Transparency International, a corruption-fighting organization based in Berlin, says the majority of Cambodia's public servants earn their living by collecting bribes.

In recent years, many things have improved in Cambodia, particularly its economy, which has grown by more than 10% annually. Analysts say those gains will probably give Prime Minister Hun Sen's party a commanding victory in today's parliamentary elections.

But when it comes to corruption, there has been virtually no improvement, say businesspeople, Western diplomats, foreign relief workers and Cambodian citizens. The country has consistently been ranked as among the most graft-ridden countries in the world, and some say that the situation may have gotten worse with the economic resurgence.

"When things start to boom, people start to get a little more greedy," said John Brinsden, vice chairman of Acleda Bank, a locally owned lender with branches throughout Cambodia.The nation's key industries are garment manufacturing and tourism, but foreign investments from China, South Korea and elsewhere have increased dramatically, leading to a burst of development in Phnom Penh, around the Angkor temple complex and along tourist coastlines. Property prices have skyrocketed.

Brinsden says he sees a growing middle class, but a third of the population still lives under the poverty line, and the global rise in food and fuel prices threatens to reverse some of the recent gains.

Poverty is a key factor in widespread corruption in this country that is still recovering from the genocide under Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979, when an estimated 1.7 million people died from executions as well as starvation, overwork and other afflictions.

Cambodians and foreigners alike here charge that Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge fighter, and his Cambodian People's Party have perpetuated corruption with their patronage system, culture of backroom dealing and lack of transparency.

During the election campaign, Hun Sen and candidates from 11 opposition parties pledged support for an anti-corruption law, something that Western relief groups and foreign governments have urged in recent years. But it isn't clear when such a law may be enacted or if it would meet international standards, including requirements that government officials and military leaders disclose their assets.

Ordinary Cambodians have become accustomed to corrupt behavior at all levels. But many abhor it, especially how it has permeated schools. Besides paying petty bribes, schoolchildren learn to lie because they are ashamed or are told by teachers not to talk about such practices.

During recess on a hot July afternoon, several fifth-graders at Chompovon sat under a tapang, or umbrella tree. A sign posted on the trunk read: "We have to help grow the trees." None of the students were willing to say how much they were paying their teachers -- and some said there was no such practice.

Jip Sovon, a deputy director of the school, acknowledged that children gave their teachers 100 riel, the equivalent of 2 or 3 cents, every day. But he insisted the fees weren't mandatory.

"The teachers still allow them to go into class and treat them fairly," he said.

But parents in the neighborhood told a different story.

Until two years ago, Em Sophan had two children who went to Chompovon. He said his children paid 200 riel a day each. "Any students who pay are given good scores; those who don't pay get lower scores," he said.

Em said his children quit school after sixth grade because they were told to come up with $100 for a test to move on to secondary school. "That's a lot of money. My children decided to stop because I can't afford it," Em said, squatting outside his one-room house, built in traditional Cambodian style on 6-foot stilts.

Em sells vinyl caps for a living, making a little more than $2 a day. On a weekday afternoon, his two children were on the streets, one peddling bottled water and the other decals for motorbikes. Down the street, a billboard said: "Every child must be in school, not at work."

Jip, the school's deputy director, said he too hated the system. But he said Cambodian public schools don't pay a living wage. At his school, teachers make on average about $25 to $30 a month, and that's after a 15% increase in the last year. Jip said that he has been at the school since it reopened in 1979 and that he earns about $37 monthly.

"We have seen students look down on teachers," he said, "because students think that if they don't pay, the teachers cannot teach."

Cambodianclaims being countered

The Bangkok Post
Sunday July 27, 2008

By Wassana Nanuam

The army has stepped up its campaign to counter Cambodia's territorial claims over an overlapping border area around Preah Vihear temple.

The Suranaree military task force has set up a public relations and information dissemination centre at the office of the Preah Vihear national park, some eight kilometres from the temple ruins.

Veeravit Chornsamrit, deputy commander of the Second Army, has been assigned to oversee the divulgence of information.

An army source said previously the army did not allow reporters access to the disputed 4.6sqkm overlapping area for fear of possible leak of military secrets.

But they have now changed their position after seeing the Cambodian authorities permit their reporters into the area to report on the developments freely, the source said. Earlier, Thai reporters had been allowed into the area only twice- on July 20 and 24.

"This is a pro-active information operation. But Cambodian troops are now complaining. They don't want Thai reporters entering the area. We have refused to budge since the area also belongs to us," the same source said.

Maj-Gen Veeravit said media coverage on the issue generally lacked consistency, causing confusion among the people.

He said all is well and there is no tension. "Most importantly, there are no troop buildups. Even though the troops of both sides are standing face to face, they are on good terms."

They are acting on the orders of the the Thai-Cambodia General Border Committee (GBC), which has told them to maintain the spirit of brotherhood.

Parliamentary Election, July 27, Peoples go to the polling station for vote

Cambodian officials prepare for the elections at a polling station in Phnom Penh on July 26. Cambodians looked set to extend Prime Minister Hun Sen's 23-year rule in elections Sunday, after a campaign overshadowed by a tense military standoff in a border dispute with Thailand.(AFP/Pornchai Kittiwongsakul)

A Cambodian blind woman, left, is helped by a relative to drop a ballot into a ballot box at a polling station in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Sunday, July 27, 2008. Longtime Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is widely expected to extend his 23-year tenure with a victory in Sunday's parliamentary elections, buoyed by a surge of nationalism amid a tense border dispute with neighboring Thailand.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

A Cambodian woman holds her baby as she drops a ballot into a ballot box at a polling station in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Sunday, July 27, 2008. Longtime Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is widely expected to extend his 23-year tenure with a victory in Sunday's parliamentary elections, buoyed by a surge of nationalism amid a tense border dispute with neighboring Thailand.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

A Cambodian Buddhist monk drops a ballot into a ballot box at a polling station in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Sunday, July 27, 2008. Longtime Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is widely expected to extend his 23-year tenure with a victory in Sunday's parliamentary elections, buoyed by a surge of nationalism amid a tense border dispute with neighboring Thailand. Khmer on the box reads: 'Ballot box.' (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

A Cambodian Buddhist monk checks the list to find his mane at a polling station in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Sunday, July 27, 2008. Longtime Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is widely expected to extend his 23-year tenure with a victory in Sunday's parliamentary elections, buoyed by a surge of nationalism amid a tense border dispute with neighboring Thailand.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Cambodian voters stand in line in front of a polling station in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Sunday, July 27, 2008. Longtime Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is widely expected to extend his 23-year tenure with a victory in Sunday's parliamentary elections, buoyed by a surge of nationalism amid a tense border dispute with neighboring Thailand.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

A Cambodian man stands in line for voting in front of a polling station in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Sunday, July 27, 2008. Longtime Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is widely expected to extend his 23-year tenure with a victory in Sunday's parliamentary elections, buoyed by a surge of nationalism amid a tense border dispute with neighboring Thailand.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Longtime Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is widely expected to extend his 23-year tenure with a victory in Sunday's parliamentary elections

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen kisses his ballot paper before casting it at a polling station in Takhmau, Kandal province, south of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Sunday, July 27, 2008. Longtime Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is widely expected to extend his 23-year tenure with a victory in Sunday's parliamentary elections, buoyed by a surge of nationalism amid a tense border dispute with neighboring Thailand.(AP Photo/Heng Chivoan)

Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen casts his ballot at a polling station during the general election at Takmoa town in Kandal province, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh July 27, 2008.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen smiles as his wife Bunrany shows her ink-stained finger to the media after casting her ballot for the general election at a polling station in Takmoa town in Kandal province, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, July 27, 2008.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen shows his ink-stained finger to the media after casting his ballot as his wife Bunrany (L) smiles at a polling station during the general election at Takmoa town in Kandal province, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh July 27, 2008.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen casts his ballot for the general election at polling station in Takmoa town in Kandal province, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, July 27, 2008.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen gestures as the media try to ask him questions after he cast his ballot at a polling station during general elections in Takmoa town in Kandal province on the outskirts of Phnom Penh July 27, 2008.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen gestures as the media try to ask him questions after he cast his ballot for the general election at a polling station in Takmoa town in Kandal province, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, July 27, 2008.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen shows his ink-stained finger to the media after casting his ballot during the general election at a polling station in Takmoa town in Kandal province, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, July 27, 2008.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Cambodians vote amid Thai temple stand-off

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen kisses a ballot paper while casting his vote at a polling station in Ta Khmao in Phnom Penh suburb on Sunday. Polls opened in Cambodia Sunday for legislative elections widely expected to extend Prime Minister Hun Sen's 23-year grip on power. (Pornchai KittiwongsakulAFP/Getty Images)

ED CROPLEY
Reuters

PHNOM PENH — Cambodians went to the polls on Sunday in an election overshadowed by a row with neighbouring Thailand over a 900-year-old temple that has inflamed nationalist passions and led to troop build-ups on the border.

Both the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) and the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) jumped on the dispute surrounding the Preah Vihear ruins, which sit on a jungle-clad escarpment separating the two southeast Asian countries.

However, the nationalist fervour is unlikely to affect the outcome of a vote almost certain to hand another five years in power to Hun Sen, a one-eyed, 57-year-old ex-Khmer Rouge guerrilla and prime minister for the past 23 years.

“The result is not in doubt,” said Kek Galabru, head of Phnom Penh-based human rights group LICADHO, adding that the formerly communist but now firmly free-market CPP would probably win an outright majority in the 123-seat parliament.

As well as Hun Sen's argument that he has brought peace and stability after decades of Cold War upheaval and the ravages of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge, the CPP has presided over an economy that has enjoyed five years of near double-digit growth.

Another indicator of the improving lot of the country's 14 million people is a fall in the level of political violence, although human rights groups say four CPP and two SRP activists – including one opposition journalist – were murdered in the month before polling.

The CPP is so confident of victory it has scheduled talks over Preah Vihear with Thailand's foreign minister in the tourist town of Siem Reap, home to Cambodia's famed Angkor Wat temple complex, on Monday.

The meeting is not expected to make major headway in resolving the dispute, which is mainly over 4.6 square kilometres of scrubland near the temple.

The ruins themselves are claimed by both countries but were awarded to Cambodia in 1962 by the International Court of Justice, a ruling that has rankled in Thailand ever since.

Analysts say Thai domestic politics are mainly to blame for the row, which flared up after Cambodia's successful bid to have the ruins listed as a World Heritage site.

Bangkok's initial support for the heritage listing was seized on by anti-government groups in their long-running attempt to unseat the Thai government of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej. His foreign minister was forced to resign over the issue.

There have been no major incidents so far, but both sides have sent troops and artillery to dig in near the temple and nearby Thai border villages are braced for conflict.

Cambodians head to polls for national elections

Top News.in
July 27th, 2008
by Sahil Nagpal

Phnom Penh - Cambodia's estimated 8 million voters headed to the polls Sunday for the first national elections in five years.

The National Election Committee says the elections are the most peaceful and least violent since democratic polls recommenced after the Khmer Rouge era in 1993.

A tense border stand-off with Thailand which has seen troops mobilized is not expected to unduly influence the outcome, although analysts predicted it may increase voter turnout. Voting is not compulsory in Cambodia.

The lack of impact of the border dispute over an ancient temple and surrounding land is because despite nationalistic sentiment running high, Cambodian political parties typically register partisan supporters months or even years in advance.

"If you are Khmer, you love your country no matter what party you support, so people are not going to change their vote because of the border dispute," election committee spokesman Em Sopath said Saturday.

Prime Minister Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party is expected to further increase its dominance, with the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, the royalist Funcinpec party, the Human Rights Party and the Norodom Ranariddh Party expected to vie for the remaining seats.

The Cambodian People's Party, boasting 5 million members, currently holds 73 of the 123 parliamentary seats and believes it can snare 80 seats Sunday.

Funcinpec currently holds 26 seats, and the Sam Rainsy Party 24.

Hun Sen has ruled for 23 years, but is enjoying a new surge in popularity due to Cambodia's rapid economic growth, which the International Monetary Fund placed at around 10.5 percent in 2007. (dpa)