Saturday, 1 November 2008

Obama in Cambodia

Elena Lesley
Posted October 31, 2008

PHNOM PENH -- Since early September, American nationals have flocked to Phnom Penh's Foreign Correspondents' Club restaurant every Saturday night. The political debates they come to watch may have happened days earlier -- and been replayed on TV multiple times. And, as with the Palin vs. Biden debate, electricity blackouts might repeatedly disrupt the screening.

Still, the FCC events regularly attract a full house.

"Americans in Cambodia are turning out in droves," Wayne Weightman, the Cambodia chair for Democrats Abroad recently told me. "People may have already seen the debates, but they want to watch them together."

While they may be living thousands of miles from home, working in a poverty-stricken Southeast Asian country, Americans in Cambodia are well aware of this election's significance. As are their friends of other nationalities -- Cambodian, French, German, Australian, Korean. As an American, I am always struck by the amount of attention paid to U.S. politics by citizens of other countries -- we certainly do not return the favor -- and this year, interest is especially keen.

As Weightman told me: "It's not just Americans in Cambodia, but all nationalities in Cambodia. The whole world is watching this."

I was also in Cambodia for the 2004 presidential election. Although there was certainly a good deal of interest in the election's outcome at that time, the local political activity this year has far surpassed what I saw in the past. Conversations and debates about U.S. politics buzz throughout the city's expat bars and cafes. Foreign-run restaurants are planning to start broadcasting election results in the early morning of Nov. 5 -- which would be the evening of Nov. 4 in America.

A dynamic Democrats Abroad chapter here has helped motivate the already energized electorate. Weightman is the force behind the organization. An immigration consultant from Hawaii who has lived in Cambodia for the last eight years, he remembers the disappointment he felt in 2004: "I was sitting in a little hotel room in Thailand watching Fox news, because that's the only channel they had. I was ill watching the results."

Weightman vowed to get more involved in Cambodia's fledgling Democrats Abroad chapter. Although he happens to be a high school friend of Barack Obama's, he says he would have become chair of the organization this January no matter who the Democratic nominee was.

"It's been a huge, huge undertaking," Weightman admitted. "I've put a lot of my life on hold."
Including his honeymoon, which had to be postponed so Weightman could organize a February primary at Phnom Penh's "USA Donuts." His house has been transformed into Democrats Abroad headquarters, filled with banners, baseball caps and "I voted for Obama from Cambodia" t-shirts.

"If we were any more grassroots, we'd be digging a hole in the ground," Weightman joked.
He says the local effort has built momentum over time and now has a devoted base of volunteers. They spend eight- to ten-hour stretches manning desks at the FCC, helping Americans navigate the labyrinth of state voter registration procedures and absentee ballot deadlines. Volunteers even assist Republican voters, who do not have a comparable party organization in Cambodia.
Weightman admits that voting from abroad "is not a simple process. What your little ballot has to negotiate to get to being counted could make an incredible film.

"Each state has different regulations and deadlines. The process usually involves multiple mailings, faxes and email correspondence with people who have no sense of the conditions of the place you are voting from. (I nearly laughed when I received an email from my home state suggesting I pick up materials at any "library, post office or DMV office.") And a developing country like Cambodia, with its shaky phone lines and sluggish postal system, is more challenging than many.

There are around six to seven million Americans living overseas, and while it's against Democrats Abroad policy to disclose at this point how many people the group has registered, participation in Cambodia "has dwarfed our expectations," Weightman said. "The amount of people we've touched is amazing."

No doubt many of them will skip work next week and gather in front of two big screens at the FCC, waiting to see if their labor-intensive votes made an impact.

"I don't live in America, but it's still my country," Weightman told me. "Nov. 5, I want to feel I did all I could."

Negotiations Planned in Cambodia-Thailand Dispute

Cambodian soldiers patrol the famed Preah Vihear temple near the Cambodian-Thailand border, Preah Vihear province, Cambodia, 17 Oct 2008

By Reasey Poch
31 October 2008

The recent border dispute between Cambodia and Thailand near the ancient Preah Vihear temple has escalated into military clashes that resulted in bloodshed on both sides. As Reasey Poch of VOA's Khmer service reports from George Washington University, Asian experts are urging bilateral talks to end the conflict.

The dispute heated up earlier this year when the World Heritage Fund designated the 900-year-old Cambodian Preah Vihear temple a U.N. World Heritage site.

The decision re-ignited a long-standing border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia. Many Thais were angry that Cambodia had unilaterally listed the temple, which they also consider sacred.

The World Court awarded the temple to Cambodia in 1962, but sovereignty over surrounding land has never been resolved.

Cambodia uses a French-colonial map demarcating the border, which Thailand says favors Cambodia. Thailand relies on a map drawn up later with U.S. technical assistance.

On October 15, troops on both sides were involved in a clash that resulted in the death of three soldiers and several casualties on both sides. The temple was also damaged in the fighting
Cambodian and Thai commanders during negotiation near Preah Vihear temple in Cambodia, 18 Oct. 2008
In a meeting last week on the sideline of the Asia-Europe Meeting in Beijing, Cambodian and Thai leaders agreed to avoid further border clashes near Preah Vihear temple.

Professor Shawn McHale, a Southeast Asian historian at George Washington University in Washington D.C. blamed both Cambodia and Thailand for the violence.

He said, "On both sides, the Cambodian and Thai sides, there are individuals who are trying to whip up a sense of hysteria over this particular issue. And the problem is they are the ones who are pushing the conflicts. They need to calm down."

Professor Brigit Welch teaches a class on conflicts in Southeast Asia at John Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies in Washington D.C. She said conflicts are not about who is right and who is wrong. The key to end the conflict, she said, is bilateral talks.

Welch added, "Right now, in my view both sides are wrong because they have let the situation escalate into the loss of lives. And we have not seen effective bilateral negotiations sitting down solving this problem, which can be solved effectively if people have the political will to do so."

Cambodia accuses Thailand of encroaching into its territory along the border. Thailand has said its troops are inside its territory and that it did not do anything wrong.

The Thai parliament has approved a framework for negotiations with Cambodia planned to begin November 10. Cambodia has welcomed the action of the Thai parliament.
Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen greets well-wishers on his arrival at Phnom Penh International Airport, 26 Oct 200
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has said the two sides can solve their border issues without outsiders.

Professor Michael Yahuda who teaches Asian studies at the George Washington University said a third party could help solve the problem. "Indonesia could play such a role, but I think it would require both sides to agree on who the third party would be. Once they agree, that would be half the battle because that would show that they really want to settle it.

'The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the United Nations, and the United States have all urged Cambodia and Thailand to try to resolve their dispute peacefully.

Irrigation advances

TRAMKOK, Cambodia—Sok Sarin flashes a toothless grin as he looks at his newly built house and remembers how the other farmers laughed when he pioneered new rice-growing techniques in his district in southern Cambodia.

Better irrigation, training in how to select seeds and cheap fertilizer made from wild plants and animal or bat droppings have more than doubled the yield from his rice fields to 3.4 tons per hectare from 1.5 tons.

"No one believed that this idea would work. Now they follow me and they have good harvests," said Sarin, 60.

Cambodia’s economy was devastated by civil war from the 1970s to the late 1990s, including four years under Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge, whose dream of transforming the country into a great rice power ended in the nightmare of the "Killing Fields."

Now another agrarian revolution is under way as the government seeks to boost rice exports and cut poverty among its 14 million people, 85 percent of whom are farmers or members of farming families.

Thanks in large part to vastly improved irrigation, Sarin can get two crops a year from his fields, earning him an income of $1,500. Per capita income in Cambodia is around $500.

Sarin’s neighbor, Long Yos, 50, said Cambodian farmers were also following methods honed in China, India and the Philippines to breed fish that eat the insects that destroy rice plants.

"The fish eat the insects; we eat the fish when they get bigger," said Yos.

Better irrigation and the expansion of land use are crucial to government ambitions to produce 15 million tons of rice by 2015, more than double the 7 million forecast for 2008/09 and 6.76 million in 2007/08. The main harvest is in November.

According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Cambodia was the world’s ninth-biggest rice exporter in 2007 with 450,000 tons. Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun says Cambodia could export 8 million tons by 2015.

Neighbors Thailand and Vietnam were in first and third places in the export table in 2007 with 9.5 million tons and 4.5 million tons respectively, according to the USDA.

One rice dealer with a trading house in Singapore estimated Cambodia exported 600,000 to 800,000 tons a year, directly or indirectly via Thailand, and could push that up to 1.5 million tons in one or two seasons if the government was focused.

"But 8 million tons is an entirely different ball game. Obviously, this has to come from increases in area and not just yield," he said.

Another Singapore trader said it would take a lot of money for Cambodia to push yields significantly higher.

"China is the only country in the developing world that has reached 6 to 8 tons per hectare. Thailand is at 3.5 tons per hectare while India is around 2.5 tons," he said.

Analysts in Thailand, while acknowledging how far Cambodia has come already, think its plans are just too ambitious.

"It’s possible, but it would not be that easy," Paka-on Tipayatanadaja at Kasikorn Research said of the 2015 target.

"It would take more than a decade to develop not only an irrigation system, but also a logistics system and storage systems," she added.

Many Cambodian farmers harvest just once a year because of a lack of water. Vietnam and Thailand, with their superior irrigation, manage two or three crops.

Phnom Penh is investing about $49 million a year on irrigation, said Hang Chuon Naron, an official at the Finance Ministry, but much more is needed.

"Japan and South Korea are helping us but that’s not enough," said Chea Chhun Keat of the Water Resources Ministry, adding 1.6 million hectares of 2.6 million under cultivation was irrigated.

Foreign investment is flowing into Cambodia thanks to its cheap labor and the political stability achieved under Hun Sen, prime minister since 1985.

In August, Kuwait agreed loans totaling $546 million, of which $486 million will be invested in irrigation systems and hydro-power on the Stueng Sen river in the northeast of the country.

A Kuwaiti newspaper said Kuwait had leased rice fields to secure food supplies. Qatar also plans to invest $200 million in Cambodian farmland.

"They have the money, we have the land. They wouldn’t come if we didn’t have agricultural potential," said farm minister Sarun.

Land under cultivation could be pushed up to 3.5 million hectares quite quickly, according to Yang Saing Koma, president of the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture.

He pointed to the area round Tonle Sap, Cambodia’s biggest freshwater lake with up to 800,000 hectares of potential farm land, much of it unused as a lack of irrigation means farmers can’t control water levels: In the rainy season, there’s too much, which damages rice plants, in the dry season too little.

There is more land to be worked in the northeast and in the still-mined former battlefields of the northwest.

In all, Saing Koma said, Cambodia had 6 million hectares that might be cultivated for rice and other crops.

The average rice yield per hectare is currently 2.6 tons and he said that could be pushed up to 3.5 tons — a yield that Sarin has in his sights thanks to the training, irrigation and bat droppings that have given him two crops a year.

Cambodia- Thailand Conflict - Preah Vihear belongs to the World

Oct 31, 08

By Reinhard Hohler, eTN Chiang Mai Oct 31, 2008

According to an article in today's Phnom Penh Post, an official with the Council of Ministers said Tuesday the Cambodian National Committee, in partnership with Unesco, will post signs at Preah Vihear temple to create a protection zone around the World Heritage site.

The move follows claims by Cambodian officials that a statue at the "naga" staircase of the 11th-century monument were damaged by Thai grenades during clashes on October 15 that left three Cambodian soldiers and a Thai trooper dead.

Phay Siphan, Secretary of State at the Council of Ministers, said three signs will be posted around the temple on November 7 to prevent further damage to the site.

"Preah Vihear is not just Cambodian property, but world property," he told the Post Tuesday. "Cambodia and Thailand are both members of UNESCO, so we want their co-operation in protecting the temple."

Thailand's Foreign Ministry on Monday denied claims that Thai soldiers had damaged the temple. In a statement, the ministry said Thai soldiers only fired rifles, and instead accused Cambodian troops of using grenades.

Hang Soth, Director-General of the Preah Vihear Authority, said the new signs will demarcate a new protection zone to deter fighting in the area. "There will be no further shooting on the temple or in the protection zone," he said. "We will post the signs, and Thai soldiers must join us in respecting the boundary.

"General Srey Doek, Commander of Cambodia's Brigade 12 stationed at the temple, said he could not comment on the new protection zone. "We are waiting to receive orders from higher levels about whether to remove our troops from the temple," he told the Post ( AFP).

Fighting, Temple Damage Remain Concerns

Soldier look at the damage area caused by siam

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan

By Sok Khemara, VOA Khmer
31 October 2008

Cambodia will need the utmost cooperation from Thailand if an ongoing, potentially deadly, border standoff is to be resolved, a cabinet spokesman said Monday.

Thousands of Thai and Cambodian troops remain stationed on the border, centered around border temples in Preah Vihear and Oddar Meanchey provinces. Political instability in Thailand between opposition supporters and an embattled government have made negotiations difficult.

However, Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said Thursday bilateral talks would continue.

"We wish Thailand to stop confrontations or any intentions to shoot in the area of Preah Vihear temple," he said, as a guest on "Hello VOA."

Cambodia maintains that a portion of the temple was damaged in Oct. 15 fighting between small groups of soldiers. Thailand denies the claim. At least three Cambodian and one Thai soldier was killed in the fighting.

Along with preventing more violence, Cambodia wants to ensure the temple is damaged no further, Phay Siphan said.

Preah Vihear temple was granted World Heritage protection by Unesco July 7, which led to protests in Bagkok and at the temple and the eventual occupation of a nearby pagoda, claimed by Cambodia, by Thai troops. Both sides then massed high numbers of heavily armed troops along the border, leading to the current deadlock.

Phay Siphan said Unesco officials would hold a ceremony at Preah Vihear temple Nov. 7 aimed at decreasing the military tension.

Talks will be held between military commanders on border committees from both sides Nov. 10.

Such talks have so far failed to lead to any meaningful withdrawal of troops, amid worries that a protracted standoff could lead to more violence.

General Charged With Land Title Fraud

By Heng Reaksmey, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
31 October 2008

Kandal provincial courts on Thursday detained a high-ranking military general on charges he faked land documents in an attempt to take more than $1 million in land from a Phnom Penh businessman.

National penal police arrested Maj. Gen. Chao Sokhonn in Phnom Penh Thursday and transported him to the courts in Kandal, where the land is, said penal police head Maj. Gen. Mok Chito.

Chao Sokhonn was questioned by court prosecutors and charged Thursday. No date has been set for his trial.

Prosecutors allege that Chao Sokhonn employed a fake land title in order to take 12 hectares away from the businessman, who spoke to VOA Khmer but requested anonymity for fear of reprisal.

The businessman said he bought the $1.3 million plot, along National Road 51, in 2001through Canadia Bank’s real estate arm.

In September, he went to check on the land to build a wall and plant trees, but bodyguards of Chao Sokhonn prevented him from entering, the businessman said.

Chao Sokhonn, 50, is an adviser to Ministry of Defense Secretary-General Sam Vanthon and a former Funcinpec deputy commander of military police in Sihanoukville.

Sam Vanthon declined to comment on the arrest Friday.

Chao Sokhonn was released from three years of prison in 2002, on charges of drug trafficking, after which he joined the Cambodian People’s Party, according to Deputy Prime Minister Nhiek Bunchhay, who is also the secretary-general of Funcinpec.

His arrest comes following the September arrests of several other military officers charged with forging documents in an attempt to sell state property in Phnom Penh.

Experts Urge ‘Joint’ Criminality in Tribunal

Kaing Kek Iev, or Duch

By Kong Sothanarith, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
31 October 2008

The Khmer Rouge tribunal’s case against prison chief Duch could include a legal principal called “joint criminal enterprise,” potentially implicating other leaders of the regime in his crimes, editors of a journal on international crime say.

Duch, whose real name is Kaing Kek Iev, is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role as the Democratic Kampuchea head of the infamous torture prison Tuol Sleng. Under his watch, at least 12,000 people were tortured at Tuol Sleng, to be later executed and dumped in mass graves between 1976 and 1979.

But in a “friends of the court” brief filed to tribunal prosecutors Monday, the editors of the Journal of International Criminal Justice said the tribunal had a right to employ “joint criminal enterprise,” which would mean other leaders of the regime share responsibility for the acts Duch carried out as prison chief.

“If the co-prosecutors apply this principle, it can mean if they have enough evidence, they can pursue more and more persons,” said Dara Peou Van Than, deputy director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia.

Duch lawyer Kar Savuth declined to comment on the brief Friday.

The brief was signed by the journal’s editor-in-chief, Antonie Cassese, the first president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

In it, the editors argue that the principle of “joint criminal enterprise,” which is under consideration for use by the courts, could be applied “to ensure accountability for the full gravity of crimes” committed by leaders of the regime.

The principle would keep the Khmer Rouge tribunal consistent with other historic and modern tribunals, according to the brief.

But civil party lawyer Hong Kim Suon said the principle, though applied to the tribunal of former Yugoslavia, might not be compatible with Cambodian law, under which all tribunal laws must conform.

Cambodians Following US Race From Afar

Supporters say the Vietnam War record of John McCain, above, gives them confidence in his foreign policy for the region.

By Chun Sakada, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
31 October 2008

Cambodians following the US presidential election say they greatly appreciate candidate John McCain for his leadership experience in politics, the economy and security, even those who support Barack Obama.

McCain, a Republican, and Obama, a Democrat, are locked in a heavily contested campaign, and despite a slight lead in the polls for Obama as the Nov. 4 election date approaches, the race remains in the hands of “undecided” voters.

At least one BBC poll suggests that world opinion is with Obama, but in Cambodia, where many still remember a 10-year occupation by the Vietnamese, McCain’s record as a fighter pilot resonates.

Kan Sichanto, 38, a staff member of a Phnom Penh non-governmental organization, said he was watching the race and hoping for McCain.

“John McCain has more experience in politics, security and foreign affairs and the economy for America and the world,” he told VOA Khmer. “If McCain wins the election, he will help to strengthen democracy and help provide aid development in Cambodia. He has experience with Indochina.”

Uch Sarak Chetha, 49, who owns a transportation company in the capital and is following the US campaign, said he preferred McCain, for his “strong political commitment” to global security and the economy.

“John McCain will take care of the Indochinese, in his former battlefield, more than other presidents,” he said.

McCain has a better policy for counterterrorism, he said.

Even if McCain enjoys wide support here, he has not won over every Cambodian voter.

Roern Sarun, 22, a student of media at Phnom Penh Royal University, said he recognized that the political experience of Obama was less than McCain, but said, “Obama’s policy will be able to solve the world and US economic crisis.”

“I prefer Barack Obama over John McCain, because Barack Obama has demonstrated clear policies to reform the economy and US leadership, better than McCain,” he said. “If we compare the policies and leadership experience, McCain is bigger than Obama, but we cannot say that Obama is weaker in security, foreign affairs or the economy.”

Moung Nareth, 34, who works as a translator for various organizations, said the word “change” in Obama’s campaign had attracted him to the cause of the Democrats this year.

“But I have doubts. If Obama wins the election, his foreign policy will be softer,” Moung Nareth said. “It can endanger the national and global security. But I believe the way to solve the security and terrorism [issues] is to demand more experience in security for Barack Obama.”