Monday, 21 December 2009

China praises Cambodia as Uighurs deported


(CAAI News Media)

BEIJING (Reuters) – China will deal with 20 ethnic Uighurs who were deported from Cambodia over the weekend as illegal immigrants, praising relations with the Southeast Asian country as a model of good cooperation.

The comments came as a top Chinese official began a visit to Phnom Penh to boost commercial ties.

The Uighurs, a Turkic Muslim minority involved in rioting in western China that killed nearly 200 people in July, were smuggled into Cambodia in recent weeks and applied for asylum at the United Nations refugee agency office in Phnom Penh.

They were deported for breaking immigration laws, the Cambodia government said.

"Recently, Cambodia deported 20 Chinese citizens in accordance with immigration laws for illegal entry into Cambodia. China received these people in accordance with usual practices," China's Foreign Ministry said in a brief faxed statement.

"China is resolutely opposed to and will crack down hard on people smuggling, and believes the international community should step up cooperation to combat these crimes together," it added.

Human rights groups have said they feared for the lives of the Uighurs if they were deported to China. The U.N. refugee agency also condemned the deportations.

The case coincides with a visit to Cambodia by Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping, seen as frontrunner to succeed President Hu Jintao. Xi is expected to sign 14 pacts related to infrastructure construction, grants and loans.

On Sunday evening, Xi praised ties with Cambodia.

"It can be said that Sino-Cambodia relations are a model of friendly cooperation," the Foreign Ministry paraphrased Xi as saying, in a statement on its website (www.mfa.gov.cn).

China is Cambodia's biggest investor, having poured more than $4 billion in foreign direct investment into the country.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

World Bank criticises land project



Photo by: Heng Chivoan
A resident of Boeung Kak lake’s Village 24 hangs washing from her window Sunday. Amid World Bank concerns over the lack of land titling in Cambodia, Village 24 is set to be the next eviction site around the lake.

(CAAI News Media)

Monday, 21 December 2009 15:03 James O'Toole and May Titthara

THE World Bank has expressed further concerns about the efficacy of a donor-funded land-administration project run jointly with the government, with a decision pending on whether to launch a formal investigation into the programme.

The World Bank’s Washington-based inspection panel on Wednesday issued its response to a September investigation request from villagers of the Boeung Kak lakeside community with the support of local housing-rights advocates.

In the request, villagers say the World Bank did not adequately supervise the Land Management and Administration Project (LMAP), a US$38.4 million effort begun in 2002 to disseminate land titles and create an “efficient and transparent land administration system” for the Kingdom.

In fact, villagers said, the programme was ineffective in the face of a marked increase of forced evictions and failed to grant tenure rights to vulnerable residents. More than 4,000 families are facing eviction from the lake to make way for a 133-hectare development project.

The government terminated its partnership with the World Bank land-titling project in September. Prime Minister Hun Sen said at the time that the organisation demanded “too many conditions”.

While the inspection panel defended elements of the project’s legacy, noting that it had issued more than 1.1 million land titles in the past seven years, it acknowledged significant problems in LMAP’s overall approach.

“The unavoidable complexity of the project and the backdrop of political and administrative inefficiency (ranging from a lack of competence through to corruption) necessarily meant that the project was a risky undertaking,” the panel said.

Among the problems in LMAP’s implementation, the panel said, was an undue focus on the “incremental titling process” that failed to develop a larger vision for land management and engage with the government on the issue of forced evictions. Local concerns, it added, were often neglected.

“Residents were not adequately involved in the titling process, and they did not have access to a fair and independent dispute resolution mechanism regarding their claims,” it said.

David Pred, director of the group Bridges Across Borders, said at the time of the complaint’s filing that a World Bank investigation could have ramifications beyond the realm of land rights. “If the government is unwilling to live up to its end of the bargain, then there needs to be a serious reassessment of the way donors engage in Cambodia,” he said.

Be Pharom, a Boeung Kak lake resident representative, said that though residents had made overtures to the World Bank about earning titles through the LMAP project, the government had stepped in to stop them.

“The World Bank told us that when they asked the government to register us through the LMAP project, the government told them not to interfere in Cambodian politics,” she said, adding: “Everything was stuck when the government stopped working with the World Bank on this project.”

The inspection panel will decide whether or not to recommend a further investigation of the project by March 31 next year, but despite its criticisms of the government, the panel emphasised the importance of engaging with local officials.

“The actions that would have the greatest impact for the communities … require a committed engagement from the government,” it said.

Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun could not be reached for comment.

Uighurs' fate seen as stain on Kingdom



(CAAI News Media)

Monday, 21 December 2009 15:03 Sebastian Strangio

HUMAN rights activists have lashed out at the government’s deportation of 20 Uighur asylum seekers to China on Saturday, claiming it has committed a “grave breach” of international law under pressure from Beijing.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said that 20 Uighurs departed Phnom Penh International Airport at 9pm on Saturday aboard a chartered flight bound for an undisclosed destination in China.

Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said earlier that the Uighurs were being deported after entering the country illegally, without passports or visas.

“We are using the Immigration Law to deport them because they are illegal immigrants,” he said. “We have not specifically targeted these people – we do this in general for all foreign nationals who enter Cambodia illegally.”

Last week, Koy Kuong said the Uighurs were being interviewed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) with government assistance in order to assess their status.

A total of 22 Uighurs, from China’s restive northwest Xinjiang province, arrived in Cambodia at various points last month and applied for political asylum through UNHCR.

Uighur rights groups have said the group, which includes three children, fled China after witnessing clashes between Chinese security forces and Uighur demonstrators in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital, in July.

Rights activists familiar with the case said the 20 Uighurs were rounded up on Wednesday and transported in

UNHCR vehicles with Cambodian police escort to a site under joint government-UNHCR administration. On Friday night, the Uighurs were forced at gunpoint to board Cambodian police vehicles and transferred to the National Police Headquarters before being flown out of Phnom Penh on Saturday, one activist said.

Kitty McKinsey, Asia spokeswoman for UNHCR, said the agency lodged formal protests with the government on Saturday, expressing deep concerns about the deportation.

“We are deeply distressed about the forced deportation of the ethnic Uighurs to China, especially because no assessment had been made of whether they were in need of international protection,” she said.

Rights advocates also criticised the sudden deportation, which some put down to escalating Chinese pressure ahead of the visit of Vice President Xi Jinping, who was expected to arrive in Cambodia on Sunday for a three-day visit.

“We are particularly disturbed that these Uighurs were re-fouled prior to the completion of their asylum interview process, which Cambodian authorities had previously agreed to cooperate with,” said Amy Reger, a researcher at the US-based Uighur Human Rights Project.

“By taking this action, Cambodian authorities have shown blatant disregard for its international human rights obligations, undoubtedly due to Chinese government pressure.” She added that the Uighurs now faced “possible execution, torture and lengthy imprisonment” by Chinese authorities.

Brittis Edman, a researcher for Amnesty International, said the government appeared to treat the Uighurs as “commodities” in its dealings with China, in open disregard of its obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention. “Deporting them late at night, and on the weekend, doesn’t exactly improve the [government’s] track record,” she said.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said that the abrupt deportation was clearly linked to the arrival of the Chinese delegation and a Cambodian desire to show “good will” towards its powerful patron.

“This is why the Cambodians [deported the Uighurs] in such a hurry,” he said, “so that when the vice president sets his foot on Cambodian soil, the message is clear.”

Chinese Embassy spokesman Qian Hai said Xi is expected to sign 14 agreements on “economic cooperation” during his three days in Cambodia. He said, however, that the visit had “nothing to do” with the deportation of the Uighurs.

Out of the UN’s hands
Saturday’s deportation came following the passing of a new sub-decree, signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday, making the processing of asylum cases the sole responsibility of the Ministry of Interior.

“From now on, asylum seekers are not under the responsibility of the UNHCR. They must be under the government’s control,” Khieu Sopheak said on Sunday. “We are independent of UNHCR in providing protection for asylum seekers.”

He denied, however, that the sub-decree was passed to expedite the deportation of the Uighurs, saying it had been “prepared and fixed for more than six months”.

The UNHCR’s McKinsey said the new sub-decree was part of the “normal process” of establishing a national refugee mechanism, and that UNHCR was notified of its passing Friday. Under the sub-decree, she said, Cambodia assumes “full responsibility for registering refugees, processing, screening and adjudicating cases”.

But the passage of the sub-decree led some to raise questions about the systems in place to ensure Cambodia’s proper adjudication of asylum cases.

“It was astonishingly poor timing and a gross error in judgement for UNHCR to hand control of refugee-processing – and the Uighur cases in particular – to the Cambodian government at this time,” said Sara Colm, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch.

“The bottom line is that Cambodia flagrantly violated its obligations under the Refugee Convention, which ended tragically for the 20 Uighurs.”

McKinsey said that despite the “aberration” of Saturday’s deportation, which UNHCR took “extraordinary steps” to prevent, the agency is working closely with the government to ensure a fair asylum process.

But she said the essence of the problem is that only states have the power to provide protection to asylum seekers.

“We work very diligently and sincerely to assist the government and provide protection, but if a state has signed the Refugee Convention, it’s up to the state itself to provide protection,” she said.

WITH ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CAMERON WELLS, CHEANG SOKHA AND AFP

Drug trial must stop: group



Photo by: Heng Chivoan
A man injects heroin in Boeung Trabek last month.

(CAAI News Media)

Monday, 21 December 2009 15:03 Irwin Loy and Chhay Channyda

AUTHORITIES must end a controversial detoxification experiment on street drug users, a prominent international rights organisation said Sunday.

The demand came in advance of a meeting scheduled for today during which officials with the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD) plan to discuss the week-old drug trial conducted on at least 21 drug users plucked from the streets of Phnom Penh.

Rights advocates, including the group Human Rights Watch, have slammed the trial involving a little-known herbal drug as an outrage. NACD officials, however, insist that the drug users volunteered for the trial, and that the drug, called Bong Sen, has been proved effective in its native Vietnam.

“This is a poor imitation of a scientific experiment,” Rebecca Schleifer, Human Rights Watch’s health and human rights advocacy director, said in a statement.

“Instead of arbitrary detention or an unknown cocktail of herbs, Cambodia should be promoting voluntary, medically appropriate treatment options for those who are dependent on drugs.”

Schleifer said Cambodia should instead pursue options with proven track records, citing methadone, the synthetic opiate replacement, a trial of which has been long delayed in the Kingdom.

NACD officials were unavailable for comment Sunday, but NACD Secretary General Moek Dara defended the trial last week, contrasting Bong Sen with methadone.

“Methadone is a kind of medication to treat heroin users to stop using heroin, but it doesn’t cure them completely because they are still taking methadone,” Moek Dara said. “However, Bong Sen medication can cure drug users.”

UN offers help
Also today, UN officials are expected to send a letter to the NACD offering help to explore “evidence-informed, community-based treatment options”.

“Basically what the UN is saying is it’s clear that the use of any drugs should be subject to the ethical protocols for the introduction of any treatment regiment or drug in the country,” said Tony Lisle, the acting resident coordinator for the UN in Cambodia.

Lisle said UN officials have asked to visit the Orkas Khnom, or My Chance, drug treatment centre where the trial is being conducted, but no official visit has been scheduled.

Thai note said to hint at attack on Cambodia



(CAAI News Media)

Monday, 21 December 2009 15:02 James O'Toole

THAILAND has developed a contingency plan for military action against Cambodia should the dispute between the two countries over fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s appointment as an adviser to Cambodia’s government escalate further, a parliamentarian from the Thai opposition alleged on Friday.

Puea Thai party lawmaker Jatuporn Prompan presented reporters with a copy of a note he said Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya sent last month to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, according to Bangkok’s The Nation newspaper.

The note reportedly outlines several courses of action Thailand could pursue in its ongoing row with Cambodia.

“In the worst case, such as a violation of Thai sovereignty or anything resembling the establishment of a government in exile for Thaksin, Thailand would cut diplomatic relations and resort to using military force,” The Nation said.

Chawanon Intharakomansut, secretary to the Thai foreign minister, acknowledged the existence of the note but said Jatuporn had blown its significance out of proportion.

“It’s our plan to deal with Cambodia, but it’s a normal statement from the government of Thailand – it’s not something like he said, an assassination plan or anything like that,” Chawanon said. The secretary added that the document was “classified”, and that a committee had been set up to investigate how the note had been leaked.

Thailand withdrew its ambassador to Cambodia last month in protest of the appointment of Thaksin as an economics adviser, with Cambodia withdrawing its ambassador to Thailand shortly afterwards.

Four hurt in Takeo acid attack



Photo Supplied
Sixteen-year-old talent show winner Hang Srey Leak (in red helmet) is rushed from the scene after being doused with acid at a salon last week.

(CAAI News Media)

Monday, 21 December 2009 15:02 Tep Nimol and Mom Kunthear

POLICE have charged a woman with attempted murder in connection with an acid attack on four karaoke women in Takeo province – the third such assault in Cambodia in eight days.

The victims were sitting in front of the Srey Mach

Karaoke house Thursday evening waiting for customers when two assailants on a motorcycle drove up to the house and doused them with a litre of acid, district police said Sunday.

The four are being treated at a local health centre for injuries to their heads, hands, legs and faces, said Yuk Sarath, Kirivong district’s police chief. One woman suffered major injuries to her face and eyes, he said.

Police have charged 21-year-old wedding shop owner Om Chhi in the attack. Yuk Sarath said Om Chhi confessed that she was angry with the victims for making her brother-in-law “crazy” about the women, causing daily arguments between her brother-in-law and her sister.

“The woman was charged with attempted murder on Saturday and is being temporarily held at the provincial police station. We are searching for the second suspect to join the defendant,” said Soun Pun, provincial deputy police in charge of penal crime.

The four victims have been identified as Vong Sina, 22, Vong Sreyly, 22, Seung Vann, 24, Keo Srey Ya, 30.

Charges in Phnom Penh
Meanwhile in Phnom Penh, the municipal court prosecutor charged two suspects with attempted murder on Friday for allegedly pouring acid on 16-year-old talent show winner Hang Srey Leak last week, according to the municipal police chief.

The victim was at a hairdresser’s salon in Daun Penh district last Tuesday when two men poured half a litre of acid over her, burning her face, back and a leg. Hang Srey Leak is still recuperating at Calmette Hospital.

Phnom Penh Municipal Police Chief Touch Naruth said that after the court questioned three of the victim’s cousins, they decided to charge Soam Vito, 23, and Chheng Puth, 25, because “we have enough evidence, and the victim’s mother also said that her nephews were the perpetrators, and their motorcycle is the same as the assailants’”.

He added that the third cousin was not charged, but that police will continue their investigation.

If convicted, the charge of attempted murder carries with it a maximum sentence of life in prison, said Sok Sam Oeun, director of the Cambodian Defenders’ Project.

The investigation of a third recent acid attack is ongoing, Touch Naruth said.

Sisters Kim Sodine, 18, and Kim Sonita, 17, were on their way to meet their mother in a Phnom Penh market when two men, wearing masks and helmets, pulled up alongside them and poured acid over their heads, faces and bodies.

Doctors have managed to save the eyesight of the two women, who are in a hospital in Vietnam, according to Ziad Samman of the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity.

Concern over attacks
The string of acid attacks – three against seven victims in a week’s time – has caused outrage among rights groups, who say the incidents will continue unless perpetrators are fearful of stiff punishments.

“Unless we can punish high-ranking people, they don’t think twice about committing these crimes,” said Ou Virak, executive director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights.

“People know that they can get away with these attacks. It’s a cruel and successful weapon.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ZELA CHIN

Copenhagen: Funding for climate still up in the air



(CAAI News Media)

Monday, 21 December 2009 15:02 Irwin Loy

World leaders may have reached a last-minute climate accord during key UN talks in Copenhagen this weekend, but the global pact could come as a disappointment to the developing world, including Cambodia, observers said Sunday. “I don’t think the developing world has come out of this particularly well,” said Brian Lund, the regional director for Oxfam’s East Asia office. Cash-strapped developing countries such as Cambodia were particularly focused on how much money the world’s richest nations were prepared to offer to help poorer countries adjust to climate change. But while nations set a goal of raising US$100 billion annually by 2020, as well as $30 billion before 2012, the funding hasn’t yet been finalised. “The money hasn’t been put on the table yet, so until that happens, it’s all still in negotiations,” Lund said.

Third charged with genocide




ECCC/Pool Photo
Khieu Samphan appears in court during his pretrial hearing in Phnom Penh.

(CAAI News Media)
Monday, 21 December 2009 15:02 Robbie Corey Boulet

Charges coincide with request for 18 percent budget increase

FORMER Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan has been charged with genocide, a spokesman for Cambodia’s UN-backed war crimes court said Friday, the same day the court announced that it had asked donor countries for an 18 percent budget increase for 2010.

Lars Olsen said Khieu Samphan had been notified of the charge in a meeting with investigating judges Friday morning.

The tribunal said last Wednesday that Khmer Rouge Brother No 2 Nuon Chea and foreign minister Ieng Sary had been charged with genocide, marking the first time the charge had been brought against regime leaders by an internationally sanctioned court.

As with Nuon Chea and Ieng Sary, the genocide charge against Khieu Samphan stems from the regime’s treatment of Vietnamese and the Cham Muslim minority group, Olsen said.

All three men, who had previously been charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, were also informed last week that they are now facing charges of homicide, torture and religious persecution under the 1956 Cambodian penal code, which was in effect during the regime.

Prosecutors in September requested that judges clarify the charges against the five regime leaders being held at the tribunal, including Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, whose trial ended in November and is awaiting verdict. Olsen said Sunday that a meeting with former minister of social action Ieng Thirith would take place today.

Budget request
Acting Director of Administration Tony Kranh and Deputy Director of Administration Knut Rosandhaug presented the budget request in New York last week during meetings with the steering committee of the UN Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials and donor countries, according to a press release issued Friday.

The court had requested US$39 million in funding for 2009, a figure that included contingency funding, which has not been utilised, Olsen said. The proposed budgets for 2010 and 2011 are $46 million and $47.3 million, respectively, figures that also include contingency funding.

The request for an increase reflects, in part, the possible cost of “legal representation related to potential additional cases”, according to the press release. The prosecution filed introductory submissions for five additional suspects in September.

But the increase “can mainly be attributed to” the fact that the Pre-Trial Chamber will be operating full-time next year, and that the Supreme Court Chamber may do the same beginning in mid-2010, according to the release.

Court spokesman Reach Sambath said he did not know when a decision on the budget would be made, but that the court is “optimistic that we will be able to get sufficient funding for the next two years as requested”.

Mechanic takes case against cop to court



(CAAI News Media)

Monday, 21 December 2009 15:02 Chrann Chamroeun

A PHNOM Penh Municipal Court prosecutor said Sunday that he planned to question the 25-year-old mechanic who said last week that a senior police official and two accomplices beat him during an argument over their driving.

Sok Roeun said he had received a criminal complaint filed by the mechanic, Phat Dara, accusing Neang Sok Na, deputy police chief of the Phnom Penh Minor Crimes Bureau, of causing injury and attempted murder in connection with the December 13 incident.

“I will question Phat Dara at some point this week,” Sok Roeun said before declining to comment further.

Phat Dara is still being treated at Calmette Hospital, where he is experiencing severe chest pain, said his boss, Om Heng, owner of the Heng Heng garage, adding that the mechanic is seeking 20 million riels (about US$4,823) in compensation.

Phat Dara had earlier filed a complaint with the Ministry of Interior following the beating, during which, he said, the three men pistol-whipped him and threatened to kill him. Ministry and police officials denied any wrongdoing in the case.

Kraya eviction: Families say land not forthcoming



(CAAI News Media)

Monday, 21 December 2009 15:02 May Titthara

One week after the last of their homes were cleared to make way for a Vietnamese rubber company, up to 40 families from Kampong Thom’s Kraya commune say they have not received the plots of land that were promised to them as compensation. Chhun Chhorn, 41, whose family was among the hundreds that were moved to a relocation site 7 kilometres from their village in Kraya, said 40 families were living under tarps as they waited for land to be allocated to them. “I need to construct a home. Otherwise mosquitoes will bite us,” he said. Prum Roth, 52, said some of the 40 landless families had been asked to pay 20,000 riels (about US$5) to local soldiers, a sum they said they could not afford. “We don’t have the money. I need money to pay for medicine,” he said. Santuk district Governor Pich Sophea denied that villagers were being asked to pay for their 20-by-40-metre plots and additional hectares of farmland. He added, though, that some villagers might have been denied land if they were among the families who fled Kraya commune during the dispute leading up to the eviction.

Thai imports harming pig prices, farmers say



Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
A pig farmer feeds her animals last week in Takeo province. Pig farmers say the government must take action to prevent hundreds more in Cambodia from going out of business.

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We have to import pigs to keep prices stable on the market."
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(CAAI News Media)

Monday, 21 December 2009 15:01 May Kunmakara

Sector representatives say it’s time to reduce import quotas

SURGING pig imports from Thailand have pushed down prices and led to the closure of hundreds of pig farms, sector representatives said Friday as they called for the government to slash import quotas.

Curtis Hundley, chief of party for USAID’s Cambodia MSME Strengthening Project, told a forum Friday that authorised imports had surged over the last two years as importers filled a daily import quota of 800 pigs.

“This surge, from an estimated 2,000 Thai pigs in 2007 to 300,000 in 2008 and 2009 has caused the closure of hundreds of swine businesses in Cambodia,” he said.

“These imports cost an estimated $35 million, which was sent to Thai producers. This is value that leaves Cambodia every year.”

Estimates did not include unregulated imports from Thailand and Vietnam.

Pig farmers attending the one-day pig-industry forum in Phnom Penh on Friday called for the government to cut import quotas by up to 50 percent to lower supply and raise pork prices, though the director general of Cambodia’s Animal Health and Production Department raised concerns over whether local producers could meet domestic supply.

“Why do we allow imports?” he said. “Because we recognised a daily shortage of pigs in the market when we were relying on local raisers, who don’t have the ability to raise enough pigs to meet current demand.”

He also said a lack of competition from abroad could force pig prices beyond the means of ordinary consumers.

“Pig raisers want to sell their pigs for a high price, and buyers want low prices. We have to import pigs to keep prices stable on the market,” he said.

Kampong Speu province pig farmer Prak Chandara called for the government to slash the daily quota in half to 400, saying current prices at market are higher than the costs incurred raising the pigs.

“If the government cuts the quota to 400 pigs per day, I think farmers will be happy to increase their production and we will have the ability to meet current demand,” he said.

Pork was retailing for 15,400 riels (US$3.69) per kilogram in and around Phnom Penh last Thursday according to Ministry of Commerce data, down 3.75 percent from January 1.

Hem Kosal, who has been raising pigs in Kampong Cham province since 1995, acknowledged that imports are needed but said the government needs to develop a flexible quota system and set import limits daily or weekly to meet temporary shortfalls.

“Imports have forced pig prices very low, and some family-run businesses have had to give up because they no longer earn enough to maintain their businesses,” he said. “If the government does not solve the problem for us, small pig-raisers like me will die. I don’t mean that we shouldn’t import at all, but we need to consider quotas more carefully.”

He acknowledged that imports outside the official quota system are a bigger concern.

Kampong Cham province slaughterhouse trader Ting Vothy called for the government to develop a province-by-province system of duties on pig imports that would take into account local supply and demand issues.

He also drew attention to the practice of charging unofficial fees to people transporting pigs at checkpoints set up along the road and called for government action to stamp out the practice.

Kao Phal reminded farmers to keep an eye out for swine flu, adding that the department has 14,329 animal health officers covering more than 13,000 villages nationwide.

China's Xi to sign 14 economic deals today



(CAAI News Media)

Monday, 21 December 2009 15:01 Nathan Green

CHINESE Vice President Xi Jinping is expected to sign 14 infrastructure and economic cooperation agreements with Prime Minister Hun Sen today after arriving in Cambodia.

The agreements will include a number of grants and loans, though no details on the total value or the terms were available Sunday.

Qian Hai, a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Phnom Penh, said only that further details of the agreements, which he said were “mainly about economic cooperation”, would be announced following the signings.

According to a press release last week from Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cambodia will receive at least 100 million yuan (US$14.6 million) from the Chinese government through two economic and technical cooperation deals, one involving a $7.3 million grant and the other an interest-free loan of the same value.

Four other agreements related to concessional loans for the construction of National Roads 57B and 59, and another for a credit loan for the construction of National Road 3726 will also be signed, though no value was given.

Another agreement includes a soft loan to build an electricity transmission loop line around Phnom Penh. Again, no details were given, but the $80 million project is being handled by Chinese firm China National Heavy Machinery Co.

Xi’s three-day visit at the head of an official Chinese delegation comes just a day after Cambodia deported 20 ethnic Uighur refugees to China late Saturday.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SEBASTIAN STRANGIO

ACLEDA stake sold 'much higher' than book value: CEO



Photo by: SOVAN PHILONG
Motorbikes pass the ACLEDA Bank head office on Monivong Boulevard on Thursday. FMO’s 12.25 percent share in ACLEDA had a book value of $12.51 million, but analysts say Jardines would have purchased the stake for a much greater sum.

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I would expect it to be priced at a very significant premium to book value."
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(CAAI News Media)

Monday, 21 December 2009 15:01 Nguon Sovan and Steve Finch

Though Jardines’ payment for 12.25 percent stake has not been disclosed, analysts agree sale would have been at a premium, given bank’s profitability

JARDINES Matheson Group would have paid “much higher” than the book value for its purchase of a 12.25 percent stake in ACLEDA Bank announced Thursday, said the lender’s CEO and President In Channy.

Although neither Jardines nor FMO, the Dutch development bank that sold its stake in ACLEDA, has announced the price of the sale due to a clause in the sale agreement, In Channy said Sunday that it would be considerably more than the $12.51 million book value of the stake.

“The sale price would be much higher than this amount because our bank has gained profits consistently,” he told the Post, adding that a confidentiality agreement signed between the three parties involved meant ACLEDA could not disclose the sum paid by Jardines. “However, it’s the market price.”

Shareholders’ equity in ACLEDA Bank at the time the agreement was signed was $102.69 million, according to In Channy. FMO held 8.34 million shares out of a total 68.15 million, he added, meaning their stake was worth $12.51 million.

FMO originally invested $490,000 in Cambodia’s second-largest lender in 2000 when it was a simple microfinance organisation, and had remained an investor – regularly injecting capital into the firm through a series of rights issues – as it developed into a hybrid bank that also receives deposits.

Alain Cany, group country chairman of Jardine Matheson Vietnam and a future director of ACLEDA once the deal is complete, was unavailable for comment Sunday.

ACLEDA Vice President John Brinsden said that opportunities to buy stakes in proven lenders in emerging markets, such as ACLEDA, were rare, as shown by the high level of interest.

“Almost every week we get investors with a good background asking,” he said, although he declined to say whether the bank or its current stakeholders were in further talks to sell a stake in the bank.

Investment fund Leopard Capital announced in July last year that it was competing to acquire a stake in ACLEDA. At the time, Jardines was already in talks with FMO and the bank about a purchase.

Thomas Hugger, executive director at Leopard Capital, said then that the fund was limited to a maximum $15 million investment in any one venture in the Kingdom. However, this was when Leopard was still targeting $100 million in total capital – thus far it has raised about one-third of this original target.

Leopard Capital Chief Investment Officer Scott Lewis said Sunday that Jardines would have looked very carefully at the profitability of other leading banks in emerging markets in the region, and especially those in Vietnam, to price the asset.

“Based on the profitability of banks of similar profile, I would expect it to be priced at a very significant premium to book value,” he said.

ACLEDA Bank recorded net profits of $2.32 million in the third quarter, according to company financial statements, a 72 percent leap on the previous quarter. Total profits for the first nine months reached $6.578 million mean the bank is unlikely to match the $19.4 million in profits before tax recorded in 2008, a record year.

The International Monetary Fund warned this month that Cambodia’s banks are likely to suffer dropping profitability this year as they continue to struggle to lend.

Moody’s considered revising ACLEDA’s rating in May based on the turbulent conditions within the Kingdom’s banking sector and prospects for systemic support; however, in June it decided to keep the bank’s local currency deposit and issuer rating at “Ba1 with a stable outlook” citing the long-term focus of ACLEDA’s shareholders.

Completion may be delayed
Meanwhile, Prom Visoth, ACLEDA’s senior vice president and head of Legal and Corporate Affairs Division, said Sunday that the transfer of FMO’s shares to Jardines might not be complete until the end of January. The three parties involved were in the process of completing the necessary paperwork, he added.

An ACLEDA statement released Thursday said the deal will be completed by the end of the year.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY NATHAN GREEN

Stocks roundup: Jardines up after news of ACLEDA purchase




(CAAI News Media)

Monday, 21 December 2009 15:00 Jeremy Mullins

STOCKS ROUNDUP

STOCKS in international firms conducting business in the Kingdom generally rose last week as Jardine Strategic Holdings Limited announced Thursday it has bought 12.25 percent of ACLEDA, Cambodia’s second-largest bank.

Analysts said entry of the Hong Kong-based multinational investor represented renewed confidence in the domestic financial sector following a turbulent year for the economy. The firm’s share price closed Friday in Singapore up 1.3 percent at US$17.40.

Asahi Breweries Ltd also ended up for the week at $19.09, a 52-week high for the Tokyo-based firm. This month the firm announced a number of plans to bolster its business in Asia, intending to increase market share partially through acquisitions and to shore up ties with China’s Tsingtao Brewery Co to strengthen its position in Asia’s second-largest economy.

The brewery held an event Friday in Phnom Penh to mark the repositioning this month of its flagship Asahi Super Dry beer in Cambodia as a premium product in line with its global branding strategy.

The parent of Cambodian mobile operator Beeline, Moscow-based Vimpelcom, saw its share price briefly surge to a high of $20.04 Friday morning on the New York Stock Exchange after shareholders approved a $0.32 interim cash dividend per share. The stock lost ground in afternoon trade, closing at $19.31, but still up 3.15 percent over the week.

In Hong Kong trading, Malaysian retailer Parkson Group, which said this month it intends to open its first Phnom Penh location by early 2011 as part of its expansion plans in Asia, ended at $1.67, down half a cent on the week.

Trading in JSM Indochina remains suspended at $0.66 on London’s AIM exchange pending the appointment of a new adviser to the firm.

Shining a light in dark places



Photo by: Delphi Filmverleih
Ben (David Kross) and Sreykeo (Apinya Sakuljaroensuk) ride a moto through Phnom Penh in a scene from the German- and Cambodian-produced film Same Same But Different.

(CAAI News Media)

Monday, 21 December 2009 15:00 Dianne Janes

Same Same But Different combines gritty realism and romantic idealism in its portrayal of a true story of a Cambodian bar girl and her German boyfriend

REEL REVIEWS
--------------------------------------
By Dianne Janes

Phnom Penh residents may recall seeing trucks full of lighting equipment and blocked-off streets around town a year ago and wondered what all the fuss was about.

It was German filmmaker Detlev Buck and his crew shooting the story of young love, Same Same But Different.

The crew returned triumphant to Phnom Penh one year later, following rave reviews from screenings at the Locarno and Toronto Film Festivals.

The red carpet rolled out onto Norodom Boulevard at Cine Lux last Saturday night for the Cambodian premiere of a film that the director described as a “declaration of love for Cambodia”.

Many of the 200-plus locals who worked on the film were there to see the results.

Adapted from Benjamin Prufer’s book, the film is based on the true story of a young German backpacker, Ben (played by David Kross from The Reader) who falls in love with a Khmer bar girl, Sreykeo (played by Apinya Sakuljaroensuk).

When Sreykeo discovers she is HIV positive, Ben returns from Germany to help.

In making Same Same, Buck sought to go beyond stereotypical portraits of relationships between men and prostitutes.

“Everybody wants something from each other. That’s a normal relationship,” he insists.

Male lead David Kross reunited with Buck for the film, after working together when he was just 14 in the German film Tough Enough. Coming off such a big production as The Reader he found the experience of shooting in Cambodia a dramatic contrast.

“It was such a different way of working. You have to improvise. It’s very fast,” Kross said.

“I really enjoyed the whole experience. I got to see places you wouldn’t see as a tourist.”

Kross said he felt the film was relevant to his generation in Europe, who often take a ‘gap year’ to travel before settling down at home.

“You think your life is about to start. You have a short period of time where you can do whatever you want,” he said.

That liminal phase of young adulthood can make or break a person. What choices will they make?

The film opens abruptly with the stark revelation from Sreykeo that she is HIV-positive. It is a bold directing choice that immediately raises the stakes, inviting the audience to question Ben’s involvement with her.

Director Buck uses the film to challenge the cliche of the hapless lad lured in by a scheming mistress looking for a sugar daddy, and opens up the whole gamut of modern male-female relationships for closer inspection.

All the men in Ben’s life are predatory towards women.

His brother is casually cheating on his girlfriend with a work colleague, his best friend changes girlfriends more frequently than underwear, and his backpacker buddy in Phnom Penh views all Asian women as sexual conquests.

Ben stands alone as a decent young man, although in falling for a bar girl he failed to read the Sexpats Guide to Asia, in which Rule No 2 is “Never Marry a Bar Girl” – following closely on from Rule No 1, “Never Trust a Bar Girl”.

Ben rejects all the cynical perspectives on offer, looking instead to his father for inspiration, a decent, loving man who also met the love of his life in a bar.

However, Ben and Sreykeo’s relationship seems develop far too quickly. One is never sure what the love between the young couple is based upon. If it were not for the characters’ youth and the ‘true story’ aspect (in real life, Ben and Sreykeo now are married with two children), it could easily be disregarded as na├»ve fantasy.

Nonetheless, the cinematography by Jana Marsik is excellent and the cast deliver strong performances.

With the current anti-Thai fervour swirling about Cambodia, Buck defended his choice of Thai actress Apinya to play Sreykeo, pointing out that Tom Cruise played a German national hero in the recent film Valkyrie.

“The future here in Asia has to be global, not national,” said Buck.

Same Same But Different is currently in international release, however it will not screen in Cambodia owing to piracy issues and the lack of a suitable venue.

Germany clinch World Cup



Photo by: Nick Sells (www.nicksellsphotography.com)
Germany captain Elmar Sommer (black shirt) smashes a spike at the Slovakia defence during their WOVD World Cup final Saturday.

(CAAI News Media)

Monday, 21 December 2009 15:00 Dan Riley

The German team retains their WOVD Volleyball World Cup title on Saturday with an impressive win in the finals over Slovakia; Cambodia finishes fourth

GERMANY were crowned World Organization Volleyball for Disabled (WOVD) World Cup champions Saturday after defeating Slovakia 3-0 in the grand final at Olympic Stadium.

Earlier in the afternoon, Cambodia had put in a lacklustre performance in the third-place playoff to lose to an impressive Poland 3-0, who had gone from strength to strength after stumbling in their opening match against the hosts.

After a demoralising 3-1 defeat to Slovakia in the semifinals the previous night, Cambodia seemed a shadow of their former selves, with Poland dominating every sector of the court. The Europeans opened up a significant lead early on as the Cambodians struggled to motivate themselves, seemingly sapped of all their earlier vitality. The set went 25-18 to the visitors, and lead stayed in Cambodian’s boots throughout the second, which saw their worst performance of the entire tournament as they conceded it 13-25.

The home support rallied behind the team for a final push in the third, and with Man Veasna cranking a final spark there seemed a faint hope of retaining their third-place world ranking. But it was too little too late, as Coach Zepp’s frustrations reached their peak. Cambodia lost the final set 21-25, and with it their place on the podium.

Despite the home team’s failure to make the final, both Germany and Slovakia were genuinely delighted at the capacity crowd that turned out in force Saturday evening to enjoy the elite level volleyball on display.

CTN recorded its highest-ever ratings for any outside broadcast over the previous two days, as the nation remained gripped by the event. Minister of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation Ith Sam Heng presided over the final, and Prime Minister Hun Sen called personally to thank the teams and organising committee for staging such a hugely popular and successful event.

Known for their ruthless efficiency, Germany faced a Slovak side pumped up for battle, but the world champions set the tempo high from the outset and put on an awesome tactical display. Martin Vogel, Oliver Gutfleisch and Robert Kampcyck combined at the net to zip unstoppable spikes past an increasingly tense Slovakia, with veteran skipper Elmar Sommer setting to perfection to take the first set convincingly 25-19.

Germany stepped on the gas again in the second, proving to all that they had been somewhat on autopilot in many of their preliminaries. Their mastery of space and positioning made the court appear half its size, as Olaf Hansel and Torben Schieve let nothing past them to consistently allow Vogel and Kampcyck total domination of the net. Slovakia captain Josef Mihalco found his infamous cross court spike endlessly bouncing back into his own half, and the rigid wall needed to stop the Germans from scoring was torn apart to see the second set won 27-25.

The World Cup trophy seemed destined to belong once again to Germany as the third set got under way. To their credit, Slovakia never laid down, with Lubomir Novosad and Jan Kacmarik putting in sterling performances to keep the dreams of gold alive. However, Germany coach Athanasios “Papa” Papageorgiou always held the upper hand against his nemesis of many moons, Slovakia coach Helena Hankova.

The crowd showed their appreciation of the standard of play throughout, slightly favouring underdogs Slovakia, with both teams in awe of the spectator numbers unheard of in European competition.

In the third set, Slovakia looked tired having had lengthier matches than their opponents in the week’s build up. Germany turned on the style as the smell of victory wafted through the air. Slovakia had very little in reply, despite some valiant efforts from veteran Juraj Kosirel and newcomer Juraj Kujej.

Elmar Sommer and company used their expert strategy to sweep the Slovakians 25-15, in a richly deserved triumph which they took with the dignity of true champions. Coach Athanasious Papageorgiou once again cemented his reputation as the godfather of world volleyball.

In the awards ceremony after the match, Ith Sam Heng presented Germany with the Cambodia Cellcard 2009 WOVD Volleyball World Cup and winners medals, which were specially commissioned by Armed Arts sculptor George Friml for the event. Individual honours were also awarded to standout players during the torunament. Athletes from various sides also claimed prizes.

Cambodia finished outside the medals in fourth, ahead of India in fifth, and Malaysia in sixth.

Police Blotter: 21 Dec 2009




(CAAI News Media)

Monday, 21 December 2009 15:01 Tha Piseth


Man accused of raping daughter
A 46-year-old man believed to be mentally ill was accused of raping his 8-year-old child in Battambang province on Tuesday. According to local police, the suspected rapist is an unemployed man living in Kamreang district. He was arrested after the young girl was heard shouting.
KAMPUCHEA THMEY

Kids alert cops to assault of mom
A 27-year-old man is suspected of raping a pregnant mother of four in Kamreang district, Battambang province, on Tuesday. It is alleged that he attacked the woman while she was watching a video with her children, and forced her to go behind the house. He was detained after the youngsters fled the home to ask a neighbour for help. The case will now be heard in court.
KAMPUCHEA THMEY

Crooks steal loot; cops take guns
Two men accused of breaking into a house and stealing jewellery, two mobile phones, US$100 and 27,000 baht (3.2 million riels) in Battambang’s Thmorkou district were arrested on Tuesday, and their guns were confiscated. Police are now trying to find another man thought to have been involved in the crime.
RASMEY KAMPUCHEA

Man convicted of sex with 15-year-old
A 25-year-old man was sent to prison on Friday after being found guilty of having sex with a 15-year-old girl he said was his lover. He was arrested after escaping with the girl, whose parents did not approve of their relationship, to Kandal’s Ksach Kandal district. The man was jailed after a hearing at Phnom Penh Municipal Court.
RASMEY KAMPUCHEA

Man accused of decapitation attack
A 19-year-old man, accused of decapitating a fellow reveller after an argument at a karaoke club, was arrested on Friday. He is alleged to have been part of a group of thugs that cut off a man’s head with a knife in a garden in front of the National University of Management in Wat Phnom commune, Daun Penh district, on Wednesday. The crime is thought to have occurred after a disagreement broke out during a night of singing and drinking in a club near the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. The dead man lived in Sras Chak commune, Phnom Penh.
KOH SANTEPHEAP

Man accused of having illegal gun
A 21-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of illegal possession of a gun last Thursday. According to Tuol Kork district police, the man was arrested by officers out on a patrol of the district. The gun was found with no ammunition. The arrested man insisted he did not own the gun, a K59. He was merely taking it to be repaired, he said.
DEUM AMPIL

Vath Chamroeun pleased with Cambodia's improvement at SEA Games



Photo by: Nick Sells (www.nicksellsphotography.com)
Cambodian SEA Games delegation chef de mission Vath Chamroeun.

(CAAI News Media)

Monday, 21 December 2009 15:00 Ung Chamroeun

IN THEIR OWN WORDS
--------------------------------------------------
By Ung Chamrouen

VIENTIANE – Vath Chamroeun, chef de mission for the Cambodian SEA Games delegation, shares his thoughts on last week’s tournament in Laos.

How do you evaluate the organisation of host nation Laos in their first SEA Games?
First of all congratulations to Laos, who did very well after preparing their infrastructure in just three or four years with support from other countries. I think that it was a great success for the Laotian government. Now they have good human resources and sports facilities. Laos arranged their of communications and technology well.

How were conditions for the Cambodian athletes?
It was first time that the athletes live with each other in the same place [at the SEA Games village]. The training camps were not so far from their accommodation, and divided neatly into categories. The Cambodian athletes also adapted well to weather.

Are you satisfied with the results?
Why not? It was suprising that we could get 40 medals [in total] from the tournament. It shows that sport has developed in Cambodia. This is because of the good cooperation between all relevant sectors. I’m so happy.

However, gold medals were still limited for us. We will to do our best to increase the golds from the next events. Winning more golds represents our strength in sport. We want to hear the Cambodian anthem, see and the Cambodian flag raise. Sure, we got better results than from the previous SEA Games, but we are still ranked ninth ahead of Brunei and East Timor. Our mission is to step up the rankings.

Which sports surprised you?
Petanque was the sport regarded as having most potential for medals for Cambodia, but it was a big surprise that wrestling collected so many medals, including one gold. Many athletes cried when they achieved victory. There was also boxing and taekwondo that made us smile. Some athletes were angry with their coaches while training, but when they won medals, they realised what their coaches had done just to push them to victory.

How about the prizes for SEA Games medallists?
We will respect the government’s subdecree [which states all medal winners will receive cash prizes], and we will prepare their prizes as soon as possible for them. We don’t want them to wait many months [like previous years]. We are so happy that the prime minister followed the events every day, and he encourages the winners. I’ve planned some marketing projects using the winners. I hope that sponsors will be interested in sports and help us to develop this sector.

Kirivong U16 win Youth Cup



Photo Supplied by Ken Gadaffi
The victorious Kirivong Sok Sen Chey U16 team show off their 2009 AFG Youth Academy Cup winners medals and trophy after the finals Sunday in Singapore.

(CAAI News Media)

Monday, 21 December 2009 15:00

The boys team of Kirivong Sok Sen Chey from the Cambodian Premier League take the Youth Academy Cup championship, going 4-0 in the finals in S’pore

TAKEO-based club Kirivong Sok Sen Chey’s boys team stormed to an emphatic championship victory in the 2009 AFG Youth Academy Cup U16s category Sunday in Singapore, after seeing off Fusion FC of Singapore 4-0 in the finals.

A total of 49 teams from six countries including hosts Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Phillipines, Hong Kong and Cambodia, took part in five different categories (U8, U10, U12, U14 and U16) over the weekend at the SAFRA Tampines sports complex.

In the buildup to the finals, Kirivong won eight of their nine group stage fixtures to enter the semifinals knockout phase in first place.

With games playing 10 minutes each way, the Cambodian outfit, captained by 16-year-old Soch Makara, saw off home sides Dunearn FC and Boyan Murni 1-0 and 3-0 respectively Saturday, before meeting sterner opposition from Fusion FC.

Having conceded two and scored two, Kirivong required a last-gasp winner to win it 3-2. The team then went on to beat Anusorn FC of Thailand and Lysians FC of Indonesia.

In repeat fixtures Sunday, Kirivong repeated their earlier 3-0 victory of Dunearn, but had the tables turned on them by hard-fighting Boryan Murni to go down 1-0. The loss was a wakeup call for the young lads, who breezed through their two remaining games to top the group and book a place in the semifinals against fourth placed Dunearn.

The matchup looked comfortable for the Cambodians, having already beaten the Singaporeans twice by three goals. However, the Takeo team had to come back from a goal down, with a brace from Chen Yang putting them in the driving seat. Then, with just two minutes to go, a defensive error saw Dunearn equalise, but with the game heading for extra time, Chen Sang notched the winner from his corner kick, which went into the net unaided to put the final score at 3-2.

The second semifinal was settled by spotkicks, after Boryan Muni and Fusion ended in a 1-1 stalemate. The boys from Fusion soccer school prevailed, winning 3-2.

Visiting side gathers support
Sunday afternoon’s final was watched by a large crowd of anxious Singaporean parents, while the other participants decided to cheer for Kirivong, who had won over many of the fans with their good display. And the visitors didn’t disappoint, heading into the break with a two-goal cushion and controlling the second half confidently to end 4-0 victors, with goals coming from Chen Yang, an own-goal by a Fusion defender, and a strike by Kirivong defender Nhem Pannet.

The team were awarded a trophy, medals, a certificate of participation and a goodie bag from tournament organisers Asia Football Group, although no cash prizes were given.

Skipper Soch Makara was also voted the most valuable player of the U16 category.

The team fly back to Phnom Penh today, with head of delegation Somay Sokea elated with their success. “I am happy for this victory,” he beamed. “The boys are joyous and proud to have brought success to the Kingdom. I am also pleased that the efforts by [team sponsor] Sok An to make this trip possible were not in vain.

South Korea backs mapping



(CAAI News Media)

Monday, 21 December 2009 15:00 Soeun Say

SOUTH Korea has donated around US$2.5 million to Cambodia’s Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction to support a project to create master maps for Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville. The project, which will help in the development of a master plan for the areas, will be completed in 2011, according to Im Chamrong, director of the ministry’s Construction Department. He said the geographical data included in the maps would make it easier to plan infrastructure and development projects.

Thailand and the world: Do we gain from a high profile?


By Kavi Chongkittavorn
The Nation
Published on December 21, 2009

(CAAI News Media)

IT IS CUSTOMARY for the Thai media and public to entertain the notion that we should stay out of troubles at all costs, especially when the circumstances involve neighboring or foreign countries. The question often asked these days: What is in it for us? They often praised the Thai wisdom of yesteryears coming from its survivalist's instinct unmatched by all neighbors in Southeast Asia.

They have argued that Thailand's independence has been maintained since ancient times because our ancestors were smart and were not pro-active as the present leaders. Indeed, they were passive - often looking for ways out of trouble through diplomacy and Siamspeak (Thaispeak). It is disturbing that this attitude, strongly prevalent today, often turns into cynicism and arrogance. Apparently, persuasive leaders of all strata, commentators and opinion makers continue to indulge in self-aggrandisement of their country's uniqueness and selfish-thinking that if we take good care of ourselves, everything will be fine—never mind the outside world.

It was interesting to read several editorials and vernacular columnists in the past two weeks criticising the government's handling of the arms seizure at Don Mueang Airport on December 11. They thought the impounding of illegal cargo was another scheme by the Abhisit government to gain praise |from foreign countries, especially the US.

Groundless allegations by the Pheu Thai Party were picked up and used by several columnists. In addition, they emphasised that the US provided the intelligence to the Thai authorities for this successful operation because Washington wanted to make use of Thailand. A leading columnist even belittled the whole Thai intelligence community for its repeated failures to detect continuing bomb attacks in the troubled southern provinces since 2004.

Mathichon's editorial on Thursday was very succinct in urging the Thai government to distance itself from the arms seizure for fear it could be problematic and harm the country's security interests in the near future. Other columnists fervently believed that North Korea and Kazakhstan, which were involved in the shipment, could come up with retaliatory measures against Thailand for meddling with their arms cargo. This kind of phobia, or rather ignorance, is still prevalent among media and opinion leaders.

Only one or two commentators mentioned the importance of Thailand's compliance with the UN Security Council Resolution 1874, passed last June, which imposed expanded sanctions against Pyongyang.

Indeed, it has been the current government's intention, as reiterated by Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, to be a good UN member by adhering to relevant UN resolutions. Granted such strong sentiment, some of the commentators went as far as saying it was none of Thailand's business to get involved because the 35-tonne arms load - illegal or not - just passed through Thai territory. This mindset is not new.

In late 1999, when Thailand decided to dispatch peacekeeping forces to East Timor along with the international forces, the government under Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai immediately came under fire from the opposition and vernacular press. They interpreted the government's goodwill mission as trouble-seeking acts.

Before East Timor, Thailand was also approached by the UN to send peacekeeping forces to Bosnia-Herzegovina that was eventually turned down. Recently, Kasit has proposed that Asean should put its peacekeeping resources together and act as a group dealing with the UN, instead of the individual member as is the case today.

In the past, Thailand often turned a blind eye to illegal arms shipments along porous borders from the Burmese or Cambodian sides to conflict zones around the world because these weapons were not used inside Thailand or harmed Thai citizens.

The recent Thai court decision over Russian arms trader, Viktor Bout, not |to be extradited to the US was indicative of such a myopic mentality.

The attitude of the Abhisit government towards emerging multipolarity, or rather the growing global connectivity is pretty clear: Thailand will remain open and engaging at every turn. His one-year Asean chair has taught him valuable lessons of summit level networking that inevitably increased his profile as well as those of Thailand and Asean.

Strange as it may seem, his proactive diplomacy has been framed as a one-dimensional attempt to deflate criticism at home by most vernacular opinion leaders. Furthermore, opposition also faulted him for escaping the domestic conundrum. None has shown appreciation of his efforts to maintain the country's regional and international profile and capabilities which have been suffering from its dysfunctional political system and endless turmoil in past years.

Since 2006, global public space has been filled with information and views critical of Thailand which can threaten to obliterate everything Thai as we know it. It is unfortunate the public and opinion leaders have not noticed, let alone comprehended, these converging trends and what they could do to the country as a whole.

Abhisit has taken up these challenges both at home and abroad, trying to place Thailand into a proper context and redefine its position internationally. For instance, the government's decision to apply for a seat at the UN Human Rights Council next year and for the non-permanent UNSC seat eight years from now are good testimony of such endeavour.

He obviously does not want to see the demise of Thailand under the debris of much reported divisiveness - colourful as it may seem.

Abhisit's firm but polite handling of Thai-Cambodian conflict is another case in point.

He has been exemplary even though such high-pitched and tit-for-tat rhetoric and strategies could easily intensify and further worsen bilateral ties. But so far he has not yet lost his cool.

Although both sides have yet to calm down, time is actually on Abhisit's side. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's growing intransigence will continue at its own peril. His wishful thinking of seeing a regime change in Thailand will not happen.

In retrospect, after the Asian economic crisis in 1997, Thailand also effectively used its liberal foreign policy to win back support and confidence from the international community. Abhisit has taken similar steps, using Thai diplomacy coupled with his personal charm and knowledge, to regain the country's confidence.

During his one-year premiership, he rendered Thai and Asean views with efficiency on the global financial crisis, climate change and a myriad of transnational issues.

The outcome of his efforts will ultimately be felt sooner than later.