Saturday, 19 September 2009

Tight security for rally in Bangkok

Three years after a bloodless coup, Thailand is as divided and volatile as ever [AFP]

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Security is tight in Bangkok as Thaksin Shinawatra's supporters plan to hold a mass rally to mark the third anniversary of the coup that ousted their leader as Thailand's prime minister.

The government has imposed the Internal Security Act around the rally venue.

From early morning on Saturday, military checkpoints had been set up as well as barricades to contain any potential violence.

Thousands of police and military personnel in anti-riot gear secured the area.

The government has invoked the Internal Security Act until September 22, allowing the military to close roads and make arrests.

Violent protests

Members of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, who wear red shirts to distinguish themselves, plan to gather at the Royal Plaza before marching to the residence of the king's adviser, Prem Tinsulanonda, in the afternoon.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 81, has reigned for more than six decades, serving as head of state through 15 successful or attempted coups and 16 constitutions.

Interview: Thaksin speaks
Background: Who's who
Economy: Vital tourist trade threatened
Focus: Scarred by 'Mad Monday'
Interview: What the Red Shirts want
Timeline: Thai crisis Pictures: Red Shirts retreat
Profile: Thaksin Shinawatra
Video: Thai protesters retreat
Video: Red Shirt leader speaks
Video: Thaksin discusses Thailand's troubles

Thai police deployed about 600 police to protect Prem's house in the country's northeast, where he planned to stay during the pro-Thaksin rally, the Bangkok Post reported on Friday, without citing where it got the information.

Panitan Wattanayagorn, a spokesman for the Thai government, told Al Jazeera: "Demonstrations in a democratic society is normal as long as there is order, are held under the law and there is no violence."

Violent street protests by Thaksin's supporters and opponents have blocked roads, airports and government buildings, bringing Bangkok to a halt twice in the past year.

Thaksin won landslide election victories in 2001 and 2005 but was overthrown in the coup.

But he was convicted last year by the supreme court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions on conflict of interest charges in relation to a land purchase scandal.

Earlier in the year, hundreds of Red Shirt protesters stormed an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) meeting in the beach resort Pattaya.

The protest spread to Bangkok where troops were called in to bring Thaksin supporters under control and to remove them from Government House which they had been occupying for months.

Royal pardon plea

In August, Thaksin supporters submitted a petition, requesting a royal pardon for the fugitive politicians including Thaksin and his former party members, but a pardon has not been granted.

Thaksin remains popular among Thailand's rural poor for the populist policies he introduced.

Shinawatra remains popular among Thailand's rural poor despite his self-imposed exile [EPA]

Despite being in self-imposed exile, Thaksin remains an influential force and has sent almost daily video and audio messages to Red Shirt rallies, supporting their call for the current prime minister to resign and hold fresh elections.

The Red Shirts took their cue from protests last year by rival Yellow Shirts, who took to the streets in huge demonstrations against successive pro-Thaksin governments.

Those protests culminated in the shutdown of Bangkok's two airports and court rulings ordering the dissolution of the government, paving the way for Abhisit Vejjajiva to become prime minister in December.

The Red Shirts took to the streets again last month, accusing Abhisit of taking power illegally.

They say the Thai elite - the military, judiciary and other unelected officials - are interfering in politics, and are seeking Thaksin's rehabilitation.

Thai nationalists march on contested border temple - Update

Posted : Sat, 19 Sep 2009
Author : DPA

Bangkok - Thousands of Thai ultra-nationalists on Saturday broke through a police barrier to march to an 11th-century Hindu temple on the Cambodian border in a long-running dispute that nearly sparked a war last year. An estimated 4,000 members of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) clashed with police and villagers at Phumisarol town who tried to stop them from entering the national park in Sisaket province, about 450 kilometres north-east of Bangkok, state-owned Thai News Agency reported.

Several people were reported injured in the clash.

In Bangkok, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva expressed concern over the incident and urged officials to negotiate with the leaders to end the protest peacefully.

The PAD led anti-government protests last year that culminated in the seizure of Bangkok's two airports and the toppling of the previous administration, led by the People Power Party (PPP).

The movement is staunchly opposed to the return to power of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was overthrown in a coup in September 2006 but was the main political force behind the PPP.

PAD leaders objected to the PPP's decision last year to support Cambodia's bid to list the Preah Vihear temple as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, claiming the move was motivated by Thaksin's vested business interests in Cambodia.

Despite their protests, the temple ruins were granted heritage status, sparking protests and an incursion into Cambodian territory by some PAD activists at the time.

Their arrests by Cambodian soldiers and Thailand's aggressive response to the incident almost sparked a border war in July last year.

The historical site has been the subject of diplomatic tensions between Thailand and Cambodia for decades.

An ownership dispute over the temple, which is perched on a cliff defining the Thai-Cambodian border, was settled by an International Court ruling in the Hague in the mid-1950s, but the court failed to rule on the ownership of land adjacent to the temple.

Thailand insists that this land is still under dispute and the granting of UNESCO heritage site status was premature.

Traditional annual buffalo-racing ceremony held in Cambodia

www.chinaview.cn

2009-09-19


A Cambodian boy rides his buffalo during an annual buffalo-racing ceremony at Virhear Sour village in Kandal province, 50 km (31 mi) northwest of Phnom Penh September 19, 2009.(Xinhua/Reuters Photo)

A Cambodian boy rides his buffalo during an annual buffalo-racing ceremony at Virhear Sour village in Kandal province, 50 km (31 mi) northwest of Phnom Penh September 19, 2009.(Xinhua/Reuters Photo)

Cambodian men ride buffaloes during an annual buffalo-racing ceremony at Virhear Sour village in Kandal province, 50 km (31 mi) northwest of Phnom Penh September 19, 2009.(Xinhua/Reuters Photo)

Cambodian men ride buffaloes during an annual buffalo-racing ceremony at Virhear Sour village in Kandal province, 50 km (31 mi) northwest of Phnom Penh September 19, 2009. The ceremony, which started more than 70 years ago, is held to honour the Neakta Preah Srok pagoda spirit. After the ceremony, the buffaloes are auctioned off to the highest bidder.(Xinhua/Reuters Photo)

Thai PM orders peace talks with yellow-shirts protesters

www.chinaview.cn
2009-09-19

BANGKOK, Sept. 19 (Xinhua) -- Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva Saturday afternoon ordered police and the military leaders in Si Sa Ket province to hold talks with yellow-shirts protesters there to prevent possible violence in the Thai-Cambodian disputed border area, Thai media reported.

Abhisit issued the order after he received a report on violent clash between yellow-shirts' security guards and the local people in Phumisarol village as the latter blocked them from passing through to Preah Vihear national park.

The clash occurred as many local villagers did not agree with the protest, viewing it would damage the country's reputation as well as economic and relations with the neighboring country. Some villagers were injured in the conflict.

"The PAD (People's Alliance for Democracy) leaders could be allowed to go to Pha Mor I-Daeng to read out their protest statement in order to end the anti-Cambodia demonstration in the border province," Abhisit said on Saturday afternoon.

Maj Gen Chamlong Srimuang, another core leader of PAD, suggested Abhisit send his representative to hold talk only with Veera Somkwamkid, a core leader of PAD who led the protest rally.

Suriyasai Katasila, PAD coordinator, called on the premier to hold talks with Veera to prevent unrest. He insisted that PAD's five core leaders had nothing to with the rally in Si Sa Ket province, where Thailand shares border with Cambodia.

About 4,000 yellow-shirts, or supporters of the PAD, headed toward the Preah Vihear temple Saturday to protest and to demand Thai government push the alleged Cambodian intruders out before they met with blockage by local villagers and about 1,000 anti-riot police.

Veera said they plan to go near the temple to read out PAD statement demanding the Cambodian villagers and troops to move outof Thailand's territory.

In a petition they filed to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) on Wednesday, the yellow-shirts claimed the governments in the past and present have been allowing Cambodian troops and people to encroach on an area of over 3,000 rai (1rai is equal to 1,600 square meters) around the Preah Vihear temple, a UNESCO world heritage site.

The international court ruled the Preah Vihear temple belonged to Cambodia more than 40 years ago, but border dispute over areas around the temple has remained a fuse in the two countries' relationship.

The Thai-Cambodian border has never been fully demarcated, in part because the border is littered with landmines left during the Indochina war between 1960s and 1970s.

Editor: Lu Hui

Protesters clash with villagers, police near Preah Vihear temple


SI SA KET, Sept 19 (TNA) - People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) demonstrators clashed with police and residents in the northeastern province of Si Sa Ket near the disputed Preah Vihear border area with Cambodia.

The scuffle lasted 10 minutes as villagers protested the presence of the yellow shirt PAD members there to oppose Cambodian building new structures in the area contested by Thailand and Cambodia near the ancient Preah Vihear temple.

Both sides used catapults and sticks to hurt each other before Thai police on security in the area separated them. A number of villagers were reported injured in the clash.

Villagers living near the disputed border area opposed the protest by the ‘Yellow Shirt’ protesters as they believed it could impact Thailand’s cross-border trade economy and relations with Cambodia.

By 2 pm the PAD demonstrators broke through barricades and marched towards the 11th century temple at the centre of several clashes between Thai and Cambodian soldiers after it was awarded World Heritage Site status in July last year by the United Nations cultural body UNESCO, angering nationalists in Thailand who continue to claim ownership of the site.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told journalists in Bangkok that he had received reports on the clash between the PAD demonstrators and the villagers and that he had ordered officials in the area to negotiate with the PAD in order to end the rally as soon as possible.

An international news agency reported that the Cambodian government announced on Thursday that it had deployed riot police with dogs, batons and tear gas at the temple. (TNA)

Thai protesters clash with police near Cambodia temple

The view of the Preah Vihear temple in Preah Vihear province in April.

Thai policemen stand guard at Government House in Bangkok as thousands of red-shirted opposition protesters rally.

Asia Pacific News
19 September 2009

BANGKOK - Thai "Yellow Shirt" protesters clashed with police and villagers Saturday near an ancient temple on the Cambodian border at the centre of a dispute between the two countries, television showed.

Demonstrators broke through barricades and were moving towards the 11th century Preah Vihear temple, the scene of several deadly battles between Thai and Cambodian troops over the past year, the footage showed.

The protest by the royalist movement, known as the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), came as rival "Red Shirts" massed in Bangkok to mark the third anniversary of a coup that toppled then-premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Television channels showed yellow-clad protesters armed with sticks trying to beat local villagers and Thai riot police, who pushed back with shields.

Current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said security forces were trying to persuade the protesters to back down, amid fears that their actions could spark further conflict with Cambodia.

"I am asking the police and soldiers to negotiate with the PAD," Abhisit told reporters in Bangkok.

The Yellow Shirts have demanded that the government push Cambodian forces out of the disputed area around the temple, where tensions have been high since the ruins were granted UN World Heritage status in July 2008.

Cambodia said on Thursday it had deployed riot police with dogs, batons and tear gas at the temple.

The two countries have been at loggerheads for decades over Preah Vihear.

The World Court ruled in 1962 that it belonged to Cambodia, but the most accessible entrance to the ancient Khmer temple with its crumbling stone staircases and elegant carvings is in northeastern Thailand.

The last gunbattle in the temple area in April left three people dead while clashes there in 2008 killed another four people.

The Yellow Shirts helped topple Thaksin in 2006 and then blockaded Bangkok's airports in December to bring down the previous, pro-Thaksin government, but have recently turned their fire on Abhisit's administration.

- AFP/ir

UNICEF Ambassador Lucy Liu raises awareness of child trafficking

© USAID/2009
US Fund for UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Lucy Liu speaks out against child trafficking at a symposium organized by the US Agency for International Development in Washington, DC


WASHINGTON DC, 18 September 2009 – US Fund for UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Lucy Liu delivered an impassioned speech here this week to raise awareness about the estimated 1.2 million children who are trafficked worldwide every year.

The internationally acclaimed actress and humanitarian activist spoke at a symposium organized by the US Agency for International Development on 16 September.

Ms. Liu has become increasingly involved in efforts to end child trafficking since her appointment as a Goodwill Ambassador in 2004. She recently produced a documentary film, ‘Red Light’, which focuses on the issue of trafficking in Cambodia.


Effects on women and girls

At the USAID event, Ms. Liu described girls’ experience of being trafficked, both globally and in the United States.

“With no options and not enough protection,” she said, “the world’s poorest children are being recruited more and more into a gruesome array of practices that include trafficking for sex, soldiering, begging, scavenging, working in factories and on farms, and domestic servitude.”

As Ms. Liu pointed out, the most common form of human trafficking, by far, is for sexual exploitation, whose victims are predominantly women and girls. Trafficking for forced labour is the next most common form.

Creating a ‘protective environment’

Other speakers at the trafficking symposium included USAID Acting Administrator Alonzo Fulgham, Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons Luis CdeBaca and Carlson Companies CEO Marilyn Carlson Nelson.

The participants noted that statistics on trafficking are difficult to gather and often unreliable. Children trafficked into domestic work, for example, are hard to document because servitude in private homes is often hidden from public view and unregulated.

UNICEF’s efforts to protect children from trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation and other forms of abuse focus on creating a ‘protective environment’ for them. In such an environment, people at all levels of society work to enforce protective laws. They also educate children, educators and social service providers about how to prevent and respond to abuse, and challenge discrimination.

“I truly believe there is hope,” said Ms. Liu. “I believe this because of devoted workers and individuals around the world in organizations like UNICEF and USAID.”

4,000 yellow-shirts protest along Thai-Combodian border

www.chinaview.cn
2009-09-19

BANGKOK, Sept. 19 (Xinhua) -- About 4,000 supporters of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) late morning on Saturday headed for Preah Vihear national park to protest there before they were blocked halfway by about 1,000 policemen, Thai media reported.

The PAD protestors set deadline for the police to step out of their way by 1 p.m. after they were stopped at Phumisarol village of Si Sa Ket province. They threatened the use of force to break to the police lines to go to Pha Mor I-Daeng in the national park as planned, according to Bangkok Post online.

The yellow-shirted royalists plan to protest Saturday at the disputed area near the Thai-Combodian border to demand the government push the alleged intruders out.

Veera Somkwamkid, a core leader of PAD, said he plans to lead the protestors to Pha Mor I-Daeng to read out PAD statement demanding the Cambodian villagers and troops to move out of Thailand's territory.

In a petition they filed to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), the yellow-shirts claimed the governments allowed Cambodian troops and people to encroach on an area of over3,000 rai (about 4,800,000 square metres) around the Preah Vihear temple, a UNESCO world heritage site.

About 1,000 policemen had set up check-point at a school in Phumisarol village of Kanthararak district to prevent PAD supporters from entering the national park.

Meanwhile, 500 local villagers gathered at the village school to rally against PAD. They called on PAD leaders not to create violence in Si Sa Ket province.

The yellow-shirts' border-area protest came the same day with amass anti-government rally in Bangkok by red-shirts, or supporters of the United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), which is forecast to attract about 30,000 protestors.

The international court ruled the Preah Vihear temple belonged to Cambodia more than 40 years ago, but border dispute over areas around the temple has remained a fuse in the two countries' relationship.

The Thai-Cambodian border has never been fully demarcated, in part because the border is littered with landmines left during the Indochina war between 1960s and 1970s.

Editor: Lin Zhi

PCHUM BEN

Cambodians ride on their water buffalos toward the racing field in Preah Vihear Sour village, Kandal province, northeast of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2009. Residents of the village held the annual water buffalo racing to mark the end of the traditional celebration widely known in the country as Festival of the Dead.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Cambodians ride their water buffalos past onlookers toward the racing field in Preah Vihear Sour village, Kandal province, northeast of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2009. Residents of the village held the annual water buffalo racing to mark the end of the traditional celebration widely known in the country as Festival of the Dead.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Cambodians riding on water buffalos arrive at the racing field in Preah Vihear Sour village, Kandal province, northeast of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2009. Residents of the village held the annual water buffalo racing to mark the end of the traditional celebration widely known in the country as Festival of the Dead.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Cambodians riding on their water buffalos get ready for their racing in Preah Vihear Sour village, Kandal province, northeast of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2009. Residents of the village held the annual water buffalo racing to mark the end of the traditional celebration widely known in the country as Festival of the Dead.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

A Cambodian man riding on his water buffalo attends the water buffalo racing in Preah Vihear Sour village, Kandal province, northeast of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2009. Residents of the village held the annual water buffalo racing to mark the end of the traditional celebration widely known in the country as Festival of the Dead.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)




Briefing: Why Thai protesters are taking to the streets again

Antigovernment activists plan to defy a tough security law to rally Saturday on the third anniversary of a military coup.

By Simon Montlake
Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
September 19, 2009 edition

Bangkok, Thailand - Antigovernment protesters are gathering Saturday in Bangkok to mark the third anniversary of a military coup against former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. At least 30,000 are likely to attend the rally, defying the use of a tough internal security law that allows troops to make arrests.

The protesters will wear red shirts and voice support for Mr. Thaksin, who is living in exile. In April, armed troops put down violent protests in Bangkok by the red shirts after they had disrupted a regional summit. Some of the leaders of the movement face criminal charges.

Last year saw rival yellow-shirted protesters occupy government buildings and two airports. That group has since formed a political party and is loosely aligned with Prime Minister Abhisit Vejajjiva, who took office last December after the courts dissolved a pro-Thaksin administration.

Since the coup, Thailand has been held hostage by its fractious politics, to the alarm of the US, a longtime ally. Its Army is also battling a growing Muslim-led insurgency in its southernmost provinces.

What do the protesters want and how much support do they have?

They have called for Mr. Abhisit to dissolve parliament and hold elections. More broadly, the leaders say they are fighting for social justice and accuse powerful elites in Bangkok of undermining democracy.

The red-shirt movement isn't well organized and relies heavily on Thaksin's popularity to galvanize supporters. But it has tapped into the anger among rural and working-class voters over the coup and subsequent events. A recent petition for a royal pardon for Thaksin got 3.5 million signatures.

Analysts say pro-Thaksin lawmakers would probably win if elections were held today. At the last elections in December 2007, the now-defunct People's Power Party won 233 out of 480 seats in parliament.

The reds lost credibility, though, when the April protests descended into chaos. Some liberals are turned off by Thaksin, a billionaire businessman who won landslide election victories in 2001 and 2005. Last year he was convicted of abusing power, and his two terms were shadowed by human-rights abuses.

After nearly four years of upheaval, Thais are disenchanted by politics in general: only 31 percent think the country is moving in the right direction, according to a survey by the Asia Foundation.

Who was behind last year's protests? Could they start again?

The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) wears royalist yellow and was formed in 2006, when Thaksin was in power. Its leaders include a media tycoon, a former mayor, and a trade unionist. Its followers are mostly conservatives who fear losing privileges under strong elected governments.

Last year, the PAD held nonstop protests for several months. It draws support from the upper and middle classes in Bangkok and southern Thailand (though not the insurgency zone), as well as from individuals in the palace, military, and civil service. While largely peaceful, it had armed security guards.

The protests peaked with the weeklong seizure of Bangkok's two airports. After the courts dissolved the government, the PAD told its supporters to go home. It later registered its own New Politics party.

In April, PAD leader Sondhi Limthongkul survived an assassination attempt that he blamed on rogue Army officers. No arrests have been made.

The PAD has organized its own, smaller protest Saturday – hundreds of miles from Bangkok on the disputed Thai-Cambodia border. The PAD accuses Cambodia of usurping Thai territory around a temple, an issue it also used last year to stir up nationalist sentiments against the pro-Thaksin government.

How strong is the current prime minister?

A UK-educated economist, Abhisit has support from influential business groups that have applauded his government's ability to ramp up spending in a weak economy. After facing down the protests in April with minimal bloodshed, Abhisit got a boost in the polls.

But his six-party coalition is beset by infighting and minor scandals. In recent weeks, he has struggled to assert his authority over the selection of a new police chief, exposing his weak hand. Analysts say Abhisit needs a proper electoral mandate to shore up his political capital.

An election is risky, though, as long as pro-Thaksin parties hold sway over the populous north and northeast. Minor coalition parties also want to stay in power long enough to benefit from stimulus spending that can be diverted into campaign funds.

"Nobody wants elections. So they [the coalition] are handcuffed together, even if they don't like each other," says Paul Quaglia, director of PSA Asia, a security consultancy in Bangkok.

Where do the military and the monarchy stand?

The military supports Abhisit. But its loyalty can't be counted on. There are also splits within the military over how to deal with Thaksin, whom they deposed in 2006 on the grounds of corruption, abuse of power, and offenses to the monarchy.

The military remains the power behind the government. Last year, it defied an elected government by refusing to disperse the PAD protests at the airports. Military chiefs called publicly for the prime minister to resign.

Analysts say civilian rule has been severely weakened by the coup and subsequent events. The officer corps still believes that it knows best when it comes to running Thailand, says Chris Baker, a historian in Bangkok. "The Army never really adapted to a nonpolitical role," he says.

The crown remains the linchpin of Thai politics. The frailty of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world's longest-serving monarch, has intensified the struggle for power, as his designated successor, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, lacks his stature and experience.

Some red shirts are dismissive of the monarchy and its meddling in politics, though strict defamation laws prevent public debate. Senior royals were believed to have backed the PAD.

How is this affecting the economy and tourism?

The economy is shrinking but is expected to show a recovery by year-end, in line with other export-led Asian economies. The official estimate is a contraction of between 2.5 and 3.5 percent.

Government spending is fueling the recovery, but private investment remains weak. However, Thailand's banks and large companies remain solvent as their balance sheets are relatively conservative.

Tourism has taken a severe hit from the global slowdown, H1N1 flu, and fears over security for travelers, particularly in Bangkok. Many luxury hotels in the capital are running at below 50 percent occupancy. Overall visitor numbers dropped by around 20 percent in the first six months of the year.

Last year tourism was worth around $17 billion, or 6 percent of GDP. It also employs millions of people, many in small businesses that are the lifeblood of the Thai economy.

FEER(9/4) The Poor Man's Railway


Picture from www.4cornerscambodia.co.nz/


The Wall Street Journal
SEPTEMBER 18, 2009

(From THE FAR EASTERN ECONOMIC REVIEW)
By Stephen Kurczy
Riding on one of Cambodia's "bamboo trains" is the closest thing this impoverished nation offers for a rollercoaster ride, but it's loads more fun than any hokey theme park attraction.

Equipped with a five-horsepower engine, the square, jury-rigged cart covered in bamboo mats hurtles over the rails near Battambang at up to 50 kilometers per hour -- three times the average speed of Cambodia's freight trains. As the vehicle wobbles back and forth atop metal wheels made from the gears of old bulldozers and army tanks, Cambodian passengers sit back for the commute while foreigners smile and enjoy the wind in their hair.

I look down and notice that some of the tracks' slippers -- the supports beneath the tracks -- are missing, leaving dips in the rails that bounce our cart into the air. Fortunately the train drivers are experienced, and they claim derailments are rare.

Despite the periodic jolts and jumps, I manage to relax and take in the scenery. Dogs and chickens wander across the rails, and old men sit on the tracks drinking Angkor Beer. Rice fields extend on either side of the line, dotted with farmers up to their knees in fertile mud.

This track, opened in the 1930s, may be in disrepair, but it is still in better condition than the newer section south of Phnom Penh, which opened in the '60s. Because neither route sees more than one real train per week, bamboo trains rule the rails.

However, this could start to change soon. In June, eight countries agreed to build a Trans-Asian Railway Network connecting China and Southeast Asia. The preferred route from Singapore to Kunming runs through Cambodia -- while it is at least 700 kilometers longer than going through Burma and Laos, it is missing the least amount of track. The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, which is spearheading the plans, says this is the cheapest option at an estimated cost of $900 million.

Impoverished Cambodia desperately needs the infrastructure upgrade, which officials predict will increase foreign investment in cement and garment factories along the railroad. Rail transport is cheaper than road travel and also mitigates damage from overloaded trucks. Barry Cable, transport director of UNESCAP, says that easing the strain on Cambodia's roads, some of the world's worst, would not only boost economic development but also reduce energy consumption and improve cargo security. Because of Cambodia's deteriorating tracks, passenger service stopped more than a year ago, and freight usage has decreased dramatically in the last few years, according to Ouk Ourk, deputy director of the national rail company Royal Railways of Cambodia.

To fill the gap, hundreds of bamboo train operators now transport rice, livestock and people. The trains first appeared after the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, a period that left the country's economy and infrastructure in shambles. Technically, bamboo trains are illegal, Mr. Ourk says, "but we can't stop it. People are very poor, and there is no other transportation because we don't have a train."

According to the Asian Development Bank, the current rehabilitation project will affect more than 1,100 families and "permanently deprive 189 . . . 'bamboo rail' transport operators of their source of livelihood." The organization is setting aside $5 million to $10 million to compensate displaced families and bamboo train drivers.

Those whose livelihoods depend on the bamboo trains remain wary, however. Lay Pho, a 36-year-old farmer, commutes to market on the bamboo train because his rice field is 10 kilometers from the nearest paved road. "Without the bamboo train, I will have to get a tractor to bring my rice to the road," Mr. Pho says.

The makeshift trains have also become a tourist attraction of sorts. O Dambong is one starting point for a pleasure trip on the rails, with most hotels and guides in Battambang advertising a 20-kilometer outing for $8. For that price, a group of friends share a platform the size of a ping-pong table. On a typical Sunday the railway line bustles with tourists.

"A bamboo train is something unique," says Vanessa Gilles, a 23-year-old French citizen working in Cambodia, as she explains why she convinced three companions to join her for a ride. "Where else can you ride one?"

Thirty years of civil war, neglect and mismanagement have left some areas without even the services of bamboo trains. A 48-kilometer stretch of rails from the border town of Poipet to Sisophon disappeared sometime between 1975 and 1985 -- no officials could explain where they went. In 2006, the Malaysian government donated enough tracks to fill this gap, but they remain stacked in a Cambodian warehouse.

Now, a growing stream of foreign aid and investment promises to rehabilitate the outdated network. Toll Group, an Australian company, signed an agreement in July to manage the railways through a 30-year concession with a local minority partner, the Royal Group. TSO, a French company, is almost finished with a four-year engineering assessment and rehabilitation design. Meanwhile, a Chinese firm has begun a $2.6 million feasibility study on a 390-kilometer line from Phnom Penh to Vietnam's existing railway.

"Investors and policy makers will be waiting to see how much traffic the newly reconnected line between Thailand and Cambodia manages to capture," says Mr. Cable of UNSECAP. "If it's substantial, everyone will go back and look carefully at Cambodia for the last leg of completion," he adds, referring to the proposed line from Phnom Penh to Vietnam.

A Singapore to Kunming line remains at least a decade away, Mr. Cable says, because of the difficulty and expense of building a railway from Phnom Penh to Vietnam, which would require new bridges over the massive Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers. On the other hand, Ly Borin, deputy director general of Royal Railways of Cambodia, claims the route will be complete by 2015, though he admits no financiers have yet stepped forward.

Cambodians have long expressed hope and made grandiose promises about their railway, and it is difficult to distinguish between fact and conjecture. In 2004, officials announced the start of the rehabilitation project construction. Officials said in 2006 that construction of the Thai link would be complete by early 2008, but mine clearance and emergency repairs did not begin until March 2008. Track construction is scheduled to start in November 2009, and according to the Asian Development Bank, the current predicted completion date is March 2013.

Benoit Bouanchaud, TSO's site manager for the northern section, says the new line from the border town of Poipet to Sisophon, where Cambodia's line currently ends, could open as soon as March 2010. Starting in November, he says, "my target is to lay one kilometer of track per day."

Delays also stem from 18 months of negotiations between Toll Group and the Cambodian government before they signed a management agreement in June 2009. This agreement is still contingent on donors committing all $148 million dollars of rehabilitation funding, government consultant Paul Power says. Mr. Power also serves as ADB's team leader for the Cambodian railway's rehabilitation. Of this amount, $73 million in funding is finalized, with commitment of $42 million from the Asian Development Bank, $13 million from OPEC, $2.8 million worth of railway tracks from Malaysia, and $15.2 million from the Cambodian government. The second, yet-finalized portion of the funding totals $74.8 million, according to Mr. Power, and proposed donors include the Australian government's overseas aid program, ADB and the Cambodian government.

Toll Group's 30-year management concession includes an agreement to pay $75 million to the Cambodian government in fixed fees over the first 20 years, plus an estimated $75 million in variable fees over the second 20 years, according to Mr. Power. Toll Group collects all railway revenues, but the company must also invest in any new locomotives, cars, facilities and upgrades.

Mr. Bouanchaud, TSO's site manager, has rehabilitated tracks in Bangladesh and Algeria, but neither compare to the decay of Cambodia's rails. "For the past 20 years the track has not been maintained. It is the worst that I have ever seen," he complains.

For the northern section alone, 400 bridges need to be reconstructed, and 30,000 slippers and 20 kilometers of track are either missing or rusted beyond repair. According to Mr. Bouanchaud, if no action were taken to remediate the problem within two or three years, the railway would become defunct.

Ironically, bamboo trains will help bring about their own demise. Mr. Bouanchaud plans to purchase 20 of the trains, since they remain the best way to get men and material to the work sites. What's more, they are highly economical: Each train costs about $450 and can carry up to eight tons of material. And the drivers' local knowledge will come in handy too. "[The operators are] really professional -- they know every kilometer of the track," Mr. Bouanchaud says. "No one can drive the bamboo train like them."

---

Mr. Kurczy is a free-lance writer formerly based in Phnom Penh.

Up to 1,000 expected at border rally, PAD divided


Writer: WASSANA NANUAM and APINYA WIPATAYOTIN
Published: 19/09/2009

Up to 1,000 protesters are expected to converge at the border with Cambodia near Preah Vihear temple for a protest asserting Thai sovereignty today.

The rally looks set to go ahead despite last-minute pleas by the government and army that protesters should stay at home and avoid causing trouble.

The People's Alliance for Democracy has called the gathering, but its leaders are divided over whether it should go ahead.

The rally to protest against Cambodia's decision to build new houses and bring in Cambodians to the disputed area is led by PAD member Veera Somkwamkid alone.

A source in the group said some of the five core leaders opposed the rally but did not want to show their opposition for fears that it would paint the PAD in a negative light.

PAD coordinator Suriyasai Katasila urged the government to make clear how it would deal with the increasing encroachment of Cambodians in the area unsettled by the two countries and called on the government to ensure safety for the demonstrators.

Army chief Anupong Paojinda said yesterday soldiers would stop the demonstrators from reaching the 4.6-square-kilometre area at the Khao Phra Viharn national park office in Kantharalak district in Si Sa Ket.

Gen Anupong said the army supported the government's policy of solving the land dispute with Cambodia through negotiations. It was worried the demonstration could affect the talks.

"Allowing them to enter the [disputed] area may cause misunderstandings and clashes between soldiers. Any arrests could also affect our attempts to find solutions," Gen Anupong said.

The army chief also expressed his concern about the safety of demonstrators, saying the disputed area had not been cleared of landmines.

Some people in Si Sa Ket also disagreed with the protest.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva asked the public to have faith in his government's attempts to solve the issue.

He said all ministries agreed that negotiations were the best way to protect Thai sovereignty in the disputed area. "It is of no use going there, as it poses risks," he said.

Mr Veera yesterday filed complaints with Kantharalak police seeking legal action against the Cambodians for having encroached on the disputed area.

He said the rally would continue until the government issued clear measures to expel the Cambodians.

Meanwhile, National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department chief Kasemsun Chinnavaso dismissed a report that Khao Phra Viharn park chief Suwan Wattanapitakpong was punished for allowing more than 20 protesters to take over the park's office on Thursday.

They hoped to use it as the base of the rally today.

"I have not forced him to transfer. He made his own decision with no pressure. He has been working there for over nine years. He probably wanted to work in other areas," Mr Kasemsun said. "I approved his transfer request. I am also trying to find a new post for him."

Life's tough for troops at border


Dug in between Cambodian forces and a planned PAD rally, the tension is mounting

Writer: Thanida Tansubhapol in Si Sa Ket
Published: 19/09/2009

If they fire at us, we'll have to duck behind the rocks and fire back at them," said a soldier stationed near Wat Kaew Sikha Khiri in the disputed area near Preah Vihear temple.

Life is tough for him and his nine comrades these days because they are being pressured by Cambodian soldiers based not far from them.

The pressure will likely increase on Saturday if protesters from the People's Alliance for Democracy rally at the Khao Phra Viharn National Park, on the Thai border in Kantharalak district, manage to enter the disputed 4.6 square kilometres of land that both Thailand and Cambodia lay claim to.

A military officer said his Cambodian counterparts have asked about the PAD's movements, but the Thai army has consistently tried to downplay the rally's significance, saying it was an internal matter which had nothing to do with Cambodia.

"We hope the level of severity will not be elevated," he said.

The PAD said the construction of new houses, roads and temples on the Cambodian side showed Thailand is losing sovereignty of the area.

However, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has consistently denied the yellow shirts' claims that the government has turned a blind eye to recent developments in the overlapping area.

The military and security agencies are concerned that tensions along the border could increase as a result of the PAD rally.

Troops are already on tenterhooks around Wat Kaew Sikha Khiri where Thai and Cambodian soldiers are positioned just 40 metres from each other, though they converse and share food.

The officer said the Cambodian government was actively encouraging people to come to Wat Kaew Sikha Khiri every day to offer food to monks, and they would use the road that has just been built from Ban Ko Mui in Preah Vihear province.

Many Cambodian soldiers have also brought their families to settle near the area.

He ruled out fighting as an option to solve the matter.

If all sides are patient and engage in meaningful negotiations the situation will return to normal, he said, adding that the return of tourists to the area would be a win-win situation for the two countries.

Monk dies after fire in Buddhist temple

http://www.modbee.com/

By Rosalio Ahumada
rahumada@modbee.com

Friday, Sep. 18, 2009

CERES -- A Buddhist monk died today after he inhaled smoke as he and others tried to put out an accidental electrical fire at their temple, fire officials said.

The monk was taken by ambulance to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead, said Fire Battalion Chief Bryan Hunt. The victim's name was not available early this evening.

No one else was harmed in the fire, which was reported about 3:40 p.m. at the Cambodian Buddhist temple in the 3800 block of Roeding Road, just east of Mitchell Road and the Ceres Christian Church.

The fire was apparently smoldering in the room for hours before temple members noticed the smoke.

Hunt said the fire was caused by an electrical overload in a back room. The room was used for temple members to worship and was filled with religious items.

Temple members, including several Buddhist monks, grabbed garden hoses and sprayed water on the burning room.

Hunt said it appeared the monk who died was attacking the fire from outside the room when he collapsed. He said the man inhaled a lot of smoke.

Temple members had extinguished the fire by the time firefighters arrived, Hunt said. The flames did not spread to any other areas of the temple.

It appeared that most of the religious items inside the burning room were not damaged. Hunt said the fire caused an estimated $2,000 in damage.

Vibrant fest: GCCI sees biz opportunity

DNA Correspondent
Saturday September 19, 2009

The Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) has organised a business to business meet with foreign delegates from 31 nations to promote export from the state to these countries. The foreign delegates are in the state to participate in Vibrant Navratri.

Although no businessman has accompanied the foreign delegates, it would surely encourage exports to these countries from the state, said Samir Patel, senior vice-president of GCCI. The foreign delegates include ambassadors, high commissioners, consul general and other top officials from countries like Japan, Korea, Uganda, Indonesia, Cambodia and Tajikistan, to name a few.

"We have invited very few people, and mostly those engaged in export related activities," he said. Patel said that the aim of the chamber is to provide a platform wherein members can interact with these delegates directly. This would enhance opportunities for the entrepreneurs of the state, he said.

Cambodia firm to export chopsticks

Saturday, Sept. 19, 2009

PHNOM PENH (Kyodo) Green Field Cambodia Co. plans to export chopsticks to Japan early next year to meet rising demand in the Japanese market, a company representative said Friday.

Chan Sophal, president of the company, said he signed an agreement Tuesday with Hashiya Co. of Japan to export chopsticks to Japan beginning early next year.

Sophal said a five-hectare factory in Kompong Speu Province, about 120 km west of Phnom Penh, will produce the chopsticks.

The plant will turn out as much as 100,000 pairs of wooden chopsticks a day. They are produced from bamboo, rubber trees, palm trees and acacias. The products will be exported by Hashiya.

San Phiruna, director of multilateral relations department of the Commerce Ministry, said Cambodia is reviewing other possible Cambodian exports to Japan.

The Japanese market will be Cambodia's "next destination" because Japan has given Cambodia duty-free and quota-free export status, he said.

Cambodia confirms 22 new cases of A(H1N1) flu

September 18, 2009

PHNOM PENH, Sept. 18 — Cambodian Health Ministry said on Friday that it has confirmed 22 new cases of A(H1N1) flu in the latest report, bringing the total cases of the virus to 68.

In one week, there were 22 new cases occurring in the country, the last updated report from the Communicable Diseases Control Department of the Health Ministry said.

"There are 20 Khmers among 68 cases and all flu-infected people have been treated well and so far nobody has died," it said. However, it did not mention in details about other nationals of the other infected flu people.

Health Ministry also appealed to local people to take precautions and prevent themselves from the flu during the ancestor spiritual festival "Pchum Ben" which will end in Sept. 19, because in this festival, it is so crowded at the Buddhist pagoda and they are easy to catch flu.

"They have to eat food with hygiene," Mom Bun Heng, health minister was quoted by the Khmer language newspaper Kampuchea Thmei as saying on Friday, adding "people who are suspected with flu should not go to crowded places." (PNA/Xinhua) FFC/ebp

Pchum Ben : the Pchum Ben festival (Festival of Death) during a public holiday in Cambodia on September 18, 2009

Getty 09/18/2009 7:16 PM
Cambodians sit on the roof of a public transport as they leave the capital city Phnom Penh to other provinces to celebrate the Pchum Ben festival (Festival of Death) during a public holiday in Cambodia on September 18, 2009. The Pchum Ben festival is a popular holiday in Cambodia which consists of 15 days of prayer for the deceased, visits to the temple, and bringing food to monks. AFP PHOTO/TANG CHHIN SOTHY (Photo credit should read TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/Getty Images)


AP 09/17/2009 9:47 PM
Cambodians, along with their belongings, pile up on a pickup truck driven in the capital Phnom Penh's outskirts, Cambodia, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2009. Thousands of Cambodians head homes in the countryside to celebrate the traditional Pchum Ben festival for the dead. The celebrations run from Sept. 18 to 20. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Getty 09/18/2009 7:16 PM
Cambodians sit on the roof of a public transport as they leave the capital city Phnom Penh to other provinces to celebrate the Pchum Ben festival (Festival of Death) during a public holiday in Cambodia on September 18, 2009. The Pchum Ben festival is a popular holiday in Cambodia which consists of 15 days of prayer for the deceased, visits to the temple, and bringing food to monks. AFP PHOTO/TANG CHHIN SOTHY (Photo credit should read TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/Getty Images)

Getty 09/18/2009 7:16 PM
Cambodians sit on the roof of a public transport as they leave the capital city Phnom Penh to other provinces to celebrate the Pchum Ben festival (Festival of Death) during a public holiday in Cambodia on September 18, 2009. The Pchum Ben festival is a popular holiday in Cambodia which consists of 15 days of prayer for the deceased, visits to the temple, and bringing food to monks. AFP PHOTO/TANG CHHIN SOTHY (Photo credit should read TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/Getty Images)

Someone You Should Know: Inventor Gary Christ

Gary Christ invented a machine to destroy land mines in Cambodia. CBS

Reporting

CRYSTAL LAKE, Ill. (CBS) ― In 2004, an inventor from Crystal Lake found himself working in Cambodia. He found dozens of Cambodians maimed by land mines. Since then, Gary Christ has made it his life's work to destroy the weapons that have destroyed so many lives. CBS 2's Harry Porterfield reports that he is someone you should know.

Every day at least two Cambodians are killed or maimed by one of more than six million anti-personnel land mines left over from the Vietnam War. But now, those explosives are being destroyed by a machine conceived and manufactured by inventor Gary Christ of suburban Crystal Lake.

These days Christ can be found creating a second land mine destroyer. He put the prototype together using a 60-year-old tractor and lots of junk.

"This is a nice piece, so we took that and the tires are made from barn wood," Christ said.

Christ's current project is smaller and can be operated by remote control.

"I like to call it a peace hammer," Christ said. "Wherever it hammers, there will be a peaceful place to walk."

Christ expects to have to his new machine finished by the end of the year, and shipped to Cambodia where it will begin its life-saving mission.

"It gives them hope, and it lets them know that somebody cares about them, somebody trying to do something for them," Christ said.

Money from speaking engagements and donations help Christ curb his costs, and the money really helps.

Once he's done, it will cost about $9,000 just to ship the unit to Cambodia. And then there's all the time it takes to build the machine itself.

"Over the past four years, I'd estimate at least 4,000 hours," Christ said. "A thousand hours a year, almost full-time, either in Cambodia working with disabled people, and then I come here and work on this during the summer."

Gary Christ may never know all of the people whose lives he'll save. But that's not what's important.

"I have a big heart for people with disabilities," Christ said. "No matter how bad it is, they still have a good outlook on life."

Gary Christ, humanitarian and inventor, and someone you should know.

Christ says he's very grateful for the donations that are helping. He carries out his work in a space that's donated by Hydraulic Services & Repairs in Spring Grove.

US, Cambodia Defense Chiefs To Meet

By Taing Sarada, VOA Khmer
Original report from Washington
18 September 2009

The Cambodian defense minister will meet with the US secretary of defense later this month, in the first such high-level meeting since the 1970s, officials said.

Gen. Tea Banh will meet with Robert Gates to strengthen relations between the two militaries, including an exercise for multi-national peacekeeping operations, Tea Banh told VOA Khmer by phone.

“The most important thing is we need to talk to each other, to understand each other on some points that we will complete together,” he said.

Tea Banh will lead a delegation from Sept. 18 to Sept. 23, according to the Cambodian Embassy.

That delegation will include the deputy commander of the Royal Gendarmerie, Veat Tha, and deputy director of peace operations, Tat Chantha, among other high-ranking military officers.

The visit comes amid warming relations between the two militaries, including the addition of a military attach├ęs this year and cooperation on crimes such as human and drug trafficking.

The US has provided direct military aid since 2006. In September, the US provided more than $6 million in military equipment to the armed forces.

Millions Lost in Border Blockade: Officials

By Chun Sakada, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
18 September 2009

Cambodians lost more than $3 million in revenue for cassava exports in the first two weeks of September, as demonstrators on the Thai side have refused to let shipments through, officials said Friday.

Hundreds of Thai villagers have forced the closure of the Boeng Trakuon border crossing, blocking cassava trucks from Oddar Meanchey and Banteay Meanchey provinces and halting the passage of 4,000 tons of the good per day.

“The prevention of Cambodian cassava export has a cost to the Cambodian economy and the livings of Cambodia people along the border with Thailand,” said Nou Yoth, chief of the border checkpoint. Officials from provinces on both sides of the border had agreed to solve the problem, he said.

“The Thai authorities should resolve the demonstrations,” he said. “Our people have tried hard to plant cassava trees, but there is no export.”

Cassava traders say six Thai companies have been prevented from buying their goods because of the blockade, causing the product to spoil.

“I’ll lose my business, buying cassava from people, and my income, affecting my living,” said Chev Tav a council member of Thmor Puok district. “I cannot earn an income if the Thai companies do not buy cassava from Cambodia.” He had lost more than $7,300 in trade so far, he said.

Kor Dam, a cassava farmer, said he was facing the loss of $30,000 and budget problems for next year thanks to the blockade.

Thais Request Investigation of Murder Report

By Heng Reaksmey, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
18 September 2009

The Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh has requested its government to investigate the alleged killing of a Cambodian youth on the border last week, an embassy official said Friday.

Cambodian officials have said a 16-year-old boy was first shot and then burned alive by Thai soldiers after he was arrested for illegally crossing the border, a claim Thai authorities deny.

Suwat Saew Sook, an adviser to the ambassador in Phnom Penh, said the embassy had received the request from the Foreign Ministry and forwarded it to the Thai government.

The Thai government and its soldiers are committed to “non-violence,” he said. “We never commit violence or cruelty to the Cambodian people.”

The Foreign Ministry claims Yon Rith, 16, was shot and later killed after illegally felling trees in Thailand. Several other boys managed to escape, the ministry said in a letter.

US Embassy Asked to Monitor Witness’ Safety

By Men Kimseng and Taing Sarada
Washington
18 September 2009

A congressional committee has requested the US Embassy in Phnom Penh to monitor the safety of several rights and opposition figures, following their testimony in a rights hearing earlier this month.

The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission formally requested the embassy to monitor the three activists in a Sept. 15 letter, claiming, “dissidents and human rights defenders often face threats and discrimination by the government and government-controlled security forces.”

“The US embassy should represent an island of freedom in a country such as Cambodia,” wrote Frank Wolf, a Republican from Virginia and co-chairman of the commission.

Among those who testified was Mu Sochua, a National Assembly member of the Sam Rainsy Party representing Kampot province, who met with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week. Mu Sochua was fined $4,500 after losing a defamation suit brought against her by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

“I really want the US to pay attention to other victims who are suffering from the court system,” Mu Sochua told VOA Khmer after the meeting.

Questions Linger Over More Tribunal Indictments

By Sok Khemara, VOA Khmer
Original report from Washington
18 September 2009

The investigation of five more suspects under the Khmer Rouge tribunal continues to be controversial, and the question of whether more suspects will be indicted in a heavily politicized environment remains.

The government promised amnesty for ex-Khmer Rouge in 1996, a move that led to peace and stability in subsequent years. But the government and the UN also established a law between 1999 and 2003 to try Khmer Rouge leaders involved in crimes.

UN prosecutors have moved to investigate five more suspects, but it is now up to the investigating judges to determine if the cases warrant arrests. Prime Minister Hun Sen and other Cambodian officials have warned that widened indictments beyond five Khmer Rouge leaders already in custody could lead to national instability.

James Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, which monitors the UN-backed tribunal, told VOA Khmer the court must be free of influence from politicians and other outside actors, to allow the investigating judges to do their work.

“Tribunal staff is legally obligated to arrest and investigate the additional suspects if the evidence justifies it,” he said. “It is not an optional exercise.”

“Investigators and police must do their jobs and enforce the law regardless of the personal preferences of one or more government officials,” he said. “This is about the rule of law.”

At least two former Khmer Rouge leaders who could face indictments have echoed Hun Sen’s remarks. One, Meas Muth, now an adviser to the Ministry of Defense, has said he will go to court if it is the government’s wish. Another, Im Chaem, currently a deputy commune chief in Anlong Veng district, Oddar Meanchey province, has said she will not go if summoned.

John Hall, an associate professor at California’s Chapman University of Law, said there is less chance war will erupt in Cambodia over the indictments. Rather, observers say the objection of Hun Sen to bring more members of the regime to trial could implicate current members of the government and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

“The apparent willingness of the tribunal to move forward with additional prosecutions suggests that the international judges, at least, are unwilling to allow Hun Sen to influence the legal proceedings with alarmist threats of impending civil war,” he said, adding that Hun Sen’s position was not based on a legal argument.

“So while Hun Sen has thankfully been unable at this point to hijack the tribunal’s legal decisions, the independence and integrity of the proceedings seem to hang by a thread, thanks to the firm stand of the international prosecutor and international judges,” he said.

Knut Rosandhaug, the UN’s tribunal coordinator, said the court has so far complied with international standards and made independent decisions.

“It’s a clearly established international standard that courts do not seek approval or advice on their work from the executive branch,” he said.

Lao Monghay, a senior researcher for the Asian Human Rights Commission, said politicians “should develop a culture of utmost restraint regarding the functioning of any court of law and uphold its independence and impartiality.”

If the Cambodian investigating judge does not cooperate with his international counterpart, Lao Monghay said, he “would show his political bias and would fail in his job.”

More questions arise as to who will actually make arrests if more indictments are handed down.

Latt Ky, a tribunal monitor for the rights group Adhoc, said peace has so far been adequately maintained. “So I do not see anything impacting the seeking of justice for the victims of the regime of Democratic Kampuchea.”

Caitlin Reiger, head of the prosecutions program for the International Center for Transitional Justice, said the Khmer Rouge no longer exist as a fighting force.

“However, Cambodia is not the first or last country to raise these tensions,” she said. “Where a conflict is ongoing and peace is the immediate priority, there may be legitimate concerns about whether pursuing justice may be an obstacle to securing peace.”

Such concerns emerged with former Yugoslavian president Slobodan Milosevic and former Liberian president Charles Taylor, she said. “Yet with the benefit of hindsight, we can see that their indictments actually contributed to peace by moving those ‘spoilers’ from the negotiations.”

Museum Commission To Safeguard Tuol Sleng

By Kong Sothanarith, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
18 September 2009

The government is planning to set up a national commission following the July listing of the Tuol Sleng museum as a Unesco Memory of the World.

Tuol Sleng, a former high school, was a Khmer Rouge torture center run by Duch, who is currently on trial at the UN-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal.

It has been a museum since the Vietnamese ousted the Khmer Rouge in 1979. The government needs to establish a commission in order to preserve the museum under its new status.

The government has submitted thousands of archives, including 4,186 confessions, 6,226 prisoner biographies, and 6,147 photographic prints and negatives of prisoners.

“This national commission will be charged with oversight of all patrimonial documents in the country,” said Hak Touch, director of museums for the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts.

Unesco will provide financial and technical assistance to preserve Tuol Sleng’s archives, he said.

Yos Eang, deputy director-general of Cambodia’s national commission to Unesco, said the establishment of the commission will take time.

Locals oppose PAD protest at temple

By The Nation
Published on September 19, 2009

Some 300 local residents who live near the Khmer sanctuary of Preah Vihear gathered yesterday at a Buddhist temple to show their disagreement with the planned protest against Cambodia by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD).

Sao Thong Chai subdistrict chief Weerayut Duangkaew said the local people had urged the PAD not to create trouble for them.

"Yes, we agree with the idea to protect Thai territory. But we can use other ways to express patriotism," he said.

The PAD began to mobilise yellow-shirted protesters to Preah Vihear demanding that the Cambodian community and military move out of the 4.6-square-kilometre disputed area claimed by both Thailand and Cambodia.

The PAD would stage the protest today and have threatened to move the Cambodian community out of the area on their own unless the Thai military took action against Cambodia.

Preah Vihear Temple has been closed since last year when the PAD protested Cambodia's proposal to list the archaeological site as a World Heritage site.

Local residents in Sao Thong Chai subdistricts and many other nearby villages encountered difficulties as the ways to their farms were also blocked due to tension in the border area.


Some of them have lost incomes from trading at the site since then.

"We beg for sympathy from the PAD. We have been suffering the consequences of their protests for more than a year," Weerayut said.

Local residents clashed with PAD protesters once in July last year when the group rallied at the site. The clash injured many villagers and protesters.

It is not only the local residents who have got into trouble due to the PAD protests. The chief of Phra Viharn National Park, Suwan Wattanapitakphong, who oversees the area, has sought transfer to another post as he cannot withstand the tension in the area.

The last straw was when PAD's 24 guards, known as Sri Wichai warriors, stormed into and occupied the restricted area on Thursday in their preparation for the protest. Suwan failed to remove the guards out of the area. Kathalak district police chief Pol Colonel Chatchawan Kaeowchandee spent hours negotiating with them yesterday.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban yesterday urged the PAD not to storm into the disputed area as it could spark a conflict with Cambodia.

"Who are relatives of the PAD protester, please warned them not to go into Cambodian side, it could cause international problem. If so, it is really difficult to solve," he said.

PM advises protesters not to enter disputed Preah Vihear zone

BANGKOK, Sept 18 (TNA) - Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on Friday warned the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), planning to protest at Khao Phra Viharn national park, against entering the disputed Thai-Cambodian area.

Responding to a report that some PAD protesters will gather near the ancient Preah Vihear temple to demand that Khmer soldiers and villagers move out of the disputed border area, the prime minister said he had instructed security officials to monitor and set limits to the demonstrators movement.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will foster a better understanding with Cambodia at a government-to-government level, he said.

He pointed out that while the protesters had the right to rally, intruding into the disputed area could be risky and would not benefit anyone.

All ministries concerned agreed that the best way for Thailand to retain its rights is to negotiate and adhere to the signed agreement, the prime minister said.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, in charge of security affairs, also warned the PAD not to intrude into the overlapping area at the Preah Vihear temple as it could lead to a further problem between the two countries.

He assured the public that the government would take action immediately to prevent any movement that could cause confrontation or violence.

Mr Suthep said Thailand and Cambodia agreed to resolve the problem peacefully through the Thai-Cambodian Joint Commission on Demarcation for Land Boundary (JBC). While the committee has been working on the matter, the two sides agreed to not do anything to change the disputed area.

He said the two countries were expected to discuss the issue of the overlapping area at the sidelines of the upcoming ASEAN meeting at an operational level, adding that both sides were willing to resolve the conflict together but the demarcation needs some time to be finalized.

Army Commander-in-Chief Gen Anupong Paojinda, meanwhile, said the movement could affect the bilateral talks of the JBC.

The Army’s stance is in accordance with the government’s policy to resolve the problem through negotiations, he said.

He added that the Army would create understanding among locals and warn them against intruding into areas where disposal of landmines has yet to be completed.

Entering the disputed area can cause misunderstanding and conflict between soldiers of both sides, Gen Anupong said, indicating that if any Thai was arrested (by Cambodian soldiers), the conflict could escalate. (TNA)