Thursday, 27 January 2011

Let's deal with this calmly

via CAAI

Published: 27/01/2011

The last time Thai and Cambodian forces fought their worst sporadic battle over the disputed area surrounding the ancient Hindu temple of Preah Vihear, or Khao Phra Viharn as it is called in Thailand, was in October 2008. Several clashes were reported and both sides suffered death and injury among their men. Although further skirmishes occurred in the years following, they were deemed minor and insignificant.

The hostilities are believed to stem from Cambodia's unilateral effort to have the ancient temple registered as a World Heritage Site by Unesco, which it succeeded in doing, and also from the Cambodian government's appointment of Thailand's deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra as its special economic adviser. Only after Thaksin's resignation from the post last August did relations between the two countries gradually take a turn for the better.

Prime Minister Hun Sen told Cambodian and foreign press on Dec 6 that relations between Thailand and Cambodia had returned to normal. This was further reinforced by a visit to Phnom Penh on Dec 20-21 by Thai army chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha. On the occasion of that visit, Hun Sen handed over to Gen Prayuth and the Thai ambassador to Phnom Penh, Prasas Prasasvinitchai, three Thais who had been granted a royal pardon after they were sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment for illegal entry.

The rapprochement appeared to go smoothly until shortly before the year ended, when seven Thais, including Democrat MP Panich Vikitsreth and Veera Somkwamkid, a leading member of the Thai Patriots Network, a splinter faction of the People's Alliance for Democracy, were arrested in Cambodia on charges of illegal entry and trespass in a military zone, while on an inspection trip to investigate alleged border encroachment by Cambodian civilians. Though the Thai government tried to play down the event, the Cambodian government seemed to blow it out of proportion by charging Mr Veera and his secretary with spying.

The release and return home last week of Mr Panich and his four colleagues was a welcome move from Cambodia and a hopeful sign that ties would improve. But they did not. Thai media revealed that a small stone tablet had been put up by Cambodians at Wat Kaew Sikha Khiri Sawara temple which is located in the disputed area. The tablet, inscribed in the Khmer language, proclaimed ownership of the disputed land and denounced Thais as "invaders".

The message was definitely provocative and unfriendly and the Cambodian government should have known better. If Cambodia values good neighbourly relations with Thailand, this is no way to show it.

Also, the massing of troops for "routine drilling" by both sides as a show of force only serves to intensify the conflict unnecessarily. This is a time for cool heads to prevail, not a flexing of muscles. And both sides know that the right channel to resolve their border dispute is through the Joint Boundary Commission.

Any decent Cambodian and Thai will know that, by geography and destiny, we are neighbours and must live side by side together. Wouldn't it be much better if we lived in peace and harmony as friends, leaving behind our bitter history?

CAA is likely to break Bangkok Airways monopoly in Siem Reap

Cambodia Angkor Air: all smiles before fighting Siem Reap-Bangkok air monopoly /Photo by L. Citrinot

via CAAI

By Luc Citrinot, eTN | Jan 26, 2011

PHNOM PENH (eTN) - It was a funny coincidence. During the last ATF in Phnom Penh, official lunches hosted for buyers' media were offered by two regional carriers: Cambodia Angkor Air (CAA), Cambodia’s newly-established national carrier, and Bangkok Airways, a pioneer of air transport in the kingdom. Thailand's regional private carrier was the first to launch flights in the early nineties from Bangkok to Phnom Penh and then Siem Reap/Angkor.

Similar presentations, similar entertainment programs were on the menu of both carriers. A way maybe to seduce travel professionals as both carriers are soon to compete on one of Asia’s most desirable routes: Bangkok-Siem Reap. In 1997, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen declared that traffic rights on this route were only given to a Cambodian carrier and Bangkok Airways. Since then, Cambodia Civil Aviation systematically rejected demands from other Thai air carriers such as Thai Airways or Thai AirAsia to compete on this route. With such a decision, it was all smiles for years at Bangkok Airways while individual travelers and tourism trade winced at the high level of charged fares - in vain.

Looking at airline websites gives a better idea of the fare situation. By booking a return flight today (January 26) on Bangkok-Siem Reap (travel dates 4/02 to 6/02), Bangkok Airways’ cheapest fare comes at US$361 (THB 10,850), including taxes. This fare level can be compared to some of the prices on offer by low-cost players out of Bangkok. For a similar – or even cheaper - fare, passengers can go today to Bali or to Macau. And what about Vietnam Airlines’ policy? For a booking on January 26 for the same travel dates, Vietnam’s national carrier – which also enjoys a monopoly on routes to Vietnam - proposes its Siem Reap-Ho Chi Minh City at US$298, including taxes and fees. And it is even cheaper if the flight is done in conjunction with a long-haul connection.

Bangkok Airways’ juicy monopoly might soon be in tatters as competition is due to come. During an exclusive talk to eTurboNews, CAA Vice-CEO Kao Lim confirmed that it seriously looks at opening flights between Siem Reap and Bangkok. “We are now waiting the delivery of two Airbus A321 to expand our international operations. We have plans to start new flights possibly to Japan, Korea, Guangzhou, Singapore, and Thailand. Bangkok-Siem Reap is definitely an option, despite the fact that the route has not been doing that well over the last years,” he explained. New aircraft are due for delivery from April. “We are looking to have a total fleet of five aircraft for the time being,” added Mr. Lim.

For years, Siem Reap-Bangkok stood as Siem Reap’s busiest route. But annual passengers traffic has remained stagnant for almost a decade, hanging approximately around 285,000. During the same time, Siem Reap-Ho Chi Minh City became the airport’s busiest route, now representing over 310,000 passengers a year. CAA management estimates that the combined effects of Thailand’s political crisis and high fares have depressed the air market. And Mr. Lim is already promising that he will seriously look at the price issue when launching its Bangkok-Siem Reap route.

Cambodian odyssey

via CAAI

By Carroll du Chateau
Thursday Jan 27, 2011

Carroll du Chateau discovers nothing is as it seems in Cambodia.

Dawn at Angkor Wat, the monuments built between the 9th and 13th centuries by the Khmer empire. Photo / Dean Purcell

Who could resist the little Cambodian girl in the faded frock handing out brochures?

"Please come to our concert," she says in perfect English, brown eyes pleading. "We dance. It's for our orphanage."

To be honest, plenty of tourists walking this chaotic restaurant strip could - and did - ignore her. At 6pm Bar St is a mass of begging and selling.

Here in the heart of Siem Reap, beside the thriving Old Market, the sealed roads are lined with restaurants and bars. Tuk-tuk drivers chat together or lie in their carts, one eye open for business. Employees and volunteers from the city's hundreds of NGOs and fit young tourists on adventure escapades stroll nonchalantly through the crowd, looking for the best place to eat.

And throughout all this, swarms of kids roam the streets selling books and handing out restaurant flyers. Many are missing limbs or are disfigured. Every lunchtime a young boy leads an old blind man up and down between the tables. The old man calls out, "hungry, hungry" while the child scans the tables. If someone catches her eye they're over in a flash.

But this little girl and her friends are different. They look at us with shining eyes, grab our hands and plead with us to come and watch them dance.

The next night Virginie and I are in Mr Pov's tuk-tuk heading out of town to the Cambodian Orphan Family Centre Organisation. It's a long ride past often-smelly night markets, one made up entirely of shoes, sprawling in vast, unloved mountains.

Despite the map in the dog-eared brochure handed out by our little orphan, we get lost. All we've seen are rutted clay lanes, yowling cats, shack-like houses and bare sections covered in trash and rubble. Even Mr Pov seems ready to give up.

But no, Virginie, who works for the European Union in Phnom Penh, is determined. "Try again Mr Pov," she says. "Ask someone."

But Mr Pov is no different from other men. Up and down the tracks we jerk, in imminent danger of being thrown out, or possibly mugged, until at last Virginie insists. "ASK someone, Mr Pov!"

Five minutes later we arrive at a nondescript two-storeyed concrete house and are mobbed by a babble of children. There are no house numbers in this makeshift suburb, and no signs to indicate that this is an orphanage. But there's no mistaking the kids we saw in town last night.

They take our hands in their soft little brown paws and lead us to the front row where a boy, in a monkey costume, is entertaining a woman and her daughter on the other side of the aisle. Apart from that the seats are empty.

We are treated like queens. The children bring us plates of carved pawpaw and pineapple, a packet of rice crisps and a glass of fresh lime juice. The monkey disappears, the lights flash on and the first dance begins.

Five little girls step on to the stage. They're dressed in shiny gold tops and billowy Cambodian-style harem pants that fold in a sash between their legs, frangipani blossoms tucked into their tightly pulled-back hair. Their hands bend back in imitation of the Siamese dancers I last saw in The King and I. Their slow footwork is flawless. The inclination of their heads, their Madonna-like half smiles, exaggerated sway backs, even the way they let their shy dark eyes peep out to the audience, all work to make this a startling performance.

Then the boys bounce on stage and wind the performance up several flirty notches. "How old are they?" I ask Virginie. "Five, six, seven, up to maybe 15," she replies.

"Cambodians are very small."

By now, two more guests have arrived and the show becomes even more exciting, finishing with a "famous in Cambodia" coconut dance, which involves clapping coconut half shells together. The boys adore it.

Then, around 8.30pm, which is late in Cambodia, it's the finale. Afterwards, all six guests are pulled up to dance by the children, who seem delighted with our clumsy efforts. There is no pressure to make a donation, but of course we do.

Later, as we make our way to Mr Pov's tuk-tuk the children clasp our hands: "Take me with you Mama, Mummy. Can I be your baby? Be my mummy." It would break your heart if you let it.

Nothing is as it seems in Cambodia. Before Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge took Phnom Penh in 1975, declared Day Zero, abolished money and banished the country's city dwellers and intellectuals to countryside work camps, Mr Pov was a professor of archaeology. Now he probably earns US$12-$15 ($15.50-$19.40) on a good day.

Similarly, these children may not be legal orphans, but just street kids who are too much for their impoverished families to handle. Certainly you would be in all sorts of trouble if you tried to sneak one home past Cambodia's stern airport guards in their military-style uniforms.

This orphanage is small and seems well run, even if it can't get the tuk-tuk maps right. But it is just one of thousands of orphanages, children's' hospitals and NGOs offering aid in Cambodia, where the people are poor and ravaged by disease.The average income here is around US$40 a month. If you have a job.

Everyone is desperate for money. All this while aid pours into Cambodia at the rate of US$600 million a year. Why is recovery taking so long?

Part of the story is corruption. The Cambodian Customs agents routinely slap surcharges on imported goods. This means that machinery needed to, say, build wells, is hugely expensive to import.

"Cambodia has the best police that money can buy," says one of the locals. She's talking about how titles to land, drivers' licences, visas and much more are available for those who can pay.

For tourists the deals are amazing. A room at the Bhopa Angkor, which reminds me of a fairly fancy Fijian Resort with its frangipani-lined pool, Sky TV and flash restaurant, costs US$35 a night. A three-course dinner is around US$10.

But violence simmers under the surface. The Khmer Rouge, who butchered around 1.7 million people, were mostly dirt-poor Cambodian villagers lashing out against the educated, city dwellers of Phnom Penh.

Now peace has come, the English-language daily, the Phnom Penh Post, runs regular stories of acid and boiling oil attacks between scrapping husbands and wives. Most ex-pats I meet tell tales of being diddled by their Cambodian workers.

It's nothing new. Corruption, bribery and in-fighting among ruling elite were among the reasons (along with neglect of agricultural irrigation) the Angkor empire, which built the marvellous temples, fell apart. Look carefully and you'll find this violent history carved into the 600-year-old sandstone of the Angkor ruins.

Next morning Virginie and I are in Mr Pov's tuk-tuk heading for the ruined temples of Angkor. Mr Pov has been hired for the day and is very happy. His normal routine is to wait outside the hotel for customers too heat-exhausted to walk the US$1 trip into town.

It's a pleasant ride, the last of it through forest. A cricket starts up, loud as a lawnmower. Monkeys chatter in the trees and eight elephants decorated in magnificent gold and crimson walk fast and energetic. Then, around the corner we see the most famous temple of all.

Nothing can prepare you for the scale of Angkor Wat. It sits behind a silvery moat. The people approaching are like ants with umbrellas. When we finally make it to the steps they are steep and high, especially in the heat which is now rising to its usual 35C.

Virginie leads me to an old monk bent over his prayer book, way up high in the temple. She comes every visit. He stops, smiles, accepts her donation and beckons her to sit beside him while he prays then carefully ties a hot pink braided band around her wrist, chants a good luck blessing, then beckons me over and does the same. Despite dozens of swims, showers and baths since, I'm wearing my wristband still.

Back in the carpark, mobbed by children selling photocopied books with such ferocity I stupidly refuse to buy one, there's no sign of Mr Pov. Finally Virginie spies his tuk-tuk under a tree. Mr Pov is snoozing in the back and not at all embarrassed. A fresh bottle of water and off we head to Angkor Thom with its faces carved into the stone, then Ta Prohm.

Under the trees we come upon an extraordinary orchestra. A heartbreaking group of war veterans, most with missing arms, legs or fingers, play makeshift instruments. And although we try to get Mr Pov to stop, like many men, he has selective hearing. He merrily tuk-tuks on and the moment has passed.

Unlike Angkor Wat, the temple of Ta Prohm has had minimal restoration and the jungle has claimed much of it back. Tree roots and branches embrace the sandstone making it shady and pleasant.

"But where is Mr Pov?" says Virginie. Finally we see him, again under a far-flung tree with his friends, again unrattled by Virginie's obvious exasperation.

Two days later we're heading into the countryside in a van with a broken air conditioning system. It's 6.30am, 35C and we're on a two-hour drive through country that steadily becomes more barren.

The rains are late this year and rice paddies stretch into the distance like empty, grey paddling pools. As Ponnarann Peng, a director with the Temple Garden Foundation, explains, climate change has had a disastrous effect on Cambodia's peasant farmers. Ten years ago they could rely on two crops of rice a year. Now there's only one. If they're lucky.

Our destination is a village where the foundation is working with locals to improve school and health facilities, build roads and upgrade farming. "We teach them how to allocate responsibility, pool resources and organise themselves," says Peng.

The idea behind this NGO, financed by a group of international money market millionaires, is to make the US$250,000 they provide every year, work hard. Really hard.

Halfway there we stop for breakfast. People sit at benches and tables under a tarpaulin roof. Tea is passed round in a huge, battered aluminium teapot. Dogs, many of them with horrific injuries or diseases, limp and snarl at our feet. Locals tuck into rice and vegetables, chucking bones and bits onto the dirt floor for the dogs. By now it's 38C and climbing. The smells are earthy and grubby.

Back in the van the roads are lined with two-metre high plastic sheets. "Why?" "To trap the insects."

"It's the farmers' biggest export earner," explains Peng. "The insects fly into the plastic, then fall down into the salty water underneath. Next morning at 4am, when they wake, the farmers take the dead locusts out and sell them to Thailand. They're a great delicacy and a good source of protein. Worth US$5 a kilo - more than rice."

Part of the programme is helping trainee teachers how to teach. "The teacher is a hero in Cambodia," says Peng. "Sixty per cent of people can't read or write. [The official figure is 25 per cent.] The Government's goal is to make everyone literate by 2015 but I don't think it will happen. They're not spending the money."

Today, students are learning how to teach art. Because so much of the Cambodian culture was lost under the Khmer Rouge, people have lost the ability to do anything that isn't directly concerned with survival. Their first efforts to make anything from materials they find in the garden results in several clay pigs.

"Why a pig?" asks the trainer?

"A pig is a very important animal," says a student. "We use its head for burning incense. It gives us meat, it eats our rubbish. Its skin can be used to make mats and bags, its fat for tallow, its tail for ..."

Gradually they catch on that this is an exercise in creativity. Giggling they start modelling imaginary animals, weird birds and designs. They fold paper, plait reeds, join sticks. Progress.

Next stop is a village meeting where Peng is talking with 10 chiefs about a free summer school they're running to teach English and life skills to village students.

By now it's well over 40C and I'm forced back to the 4WD where I crouch over the air conditioning, watching a woman with a naked baby and a toddler shuck a coconut. They're perched on a platform with a ceiling, presumably to catch the non-existent breeze. Every time she begins shucking the baby starts to wail or the toddler threatens to fall off the platform.

Time and again she uses the sharp cleaver within centimetres of the baby until, at last, the prized nut is shiny clean. The children sob for their treat.

Over the road a teenage girl in a sarong takes a shower in an enamel basin of water. A gangly kid rides an enormous, ancient bike out onto the road with his kid brother on the back. He can hardly reach the pedals. Yet off he wobbles alongside buffalo-drawn carts, more bikes and the odd, menacing, frighteningly fast 4WD.

My last night and it's not Mr Pov driving the tuk-tuk towards Siem Reap's low-slung airport but the driver who had picked us up a week before. Back then I was mesmerised by the smells and excitement of this million-strong city with its side-by-side massive, modern hotels, tuk-tuks, 4WDs and road chaos.

At one point a passenger's jandal slipped off his foot and on to the road. Without missing a beat our driver U-turned into the one-way traffic heading towards us, and tuk-tuked back to pick it up. No one hooted or hollered.

Probably Mr Pov would have done the same thing, but he is still waiting for me outside the Bopha Angkor. Our plans changed and without Virginie to explain, I couldn't let him know.

By now I'm used to the erratic driving, the families squashed on motorcycles, the gorgeous children, the hot, velvety, air. Frogs shriek around us, the incessant rhythm of Cambodian life throbs. But after a week I am no longer a carefree tourist. I've started reading Loung Ung's haunting memoir, First They Killed My Father. I know too much.

The uniformed guards smile that mask-like Cambodian half-smile as I pay my US$25 and leave.

I don't.

Yellow Shirt protesters shun special law enforcement

via CAAI

BANGKOK, Jan 27 - Encamped at Thailand's Government House to protest the Abhisit administration's stance on resolving the Thai-Cambodian border dispute, the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), also known as the Yellow Shirts, on Thursday reasserted that the prime minister must respond to the PAD's three demands unconditionally.

The protest movement is unafraid of the use of any special law called to foreclose their action.

PAD key leader Gen Chamlong Srimuang spoke toughly after reports that national police chief Pol Gen Wichean Potephosree will ask the government to apply a special law to control crowd.

Gen Chamlong said the PAD will stand its ground as the people have the constitutional right to protest.

The Yellow Shirts won't march to any other location, he said, but will stay fast at the current rally venue at Makkawan Rangsan Bridge, only a just few metres away from Government House, until their demands are met.

The protest leader asserted the government must follow all three demands unconditionally -- withdrawal of Thailand from the UNESCO)'s World Heritage Committee, revocation of the 2000 MoU signed with Cambodia and pushing Cambodians now living in border areas which they claim belong to Thailand back to their homeland.

Following the premier's remarks that he is seeking talks with key protest leaders, Gen Chamlong said that no government representative has contacted the PAD to discuss the matter.

The Yellow Shirt leader dismissed allegation that the PAD move is aimed at creating a condition for a coup, saying the purpose of the ongoing protest is to protect Thailand's sovereignty.

While the PAD protests at Government House, police officers from Metropolitan Police Division 3 and Provincial Police Region 7 jointly conducted a riot control drill. No firearms have been used for the training, but only wooden staves and shields.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya on Thursday urged the PAD not to exploit a border dispute with Cambodia for its political gains, warning that such a move will lead to more social divisiveness and a rift with the neighbouring country.

The foreign minister explained that there are negotiation frameworks in handling with the neighbouring country, for example, the Thai-Cambodian Joint Boundary Commission (JBC) and the Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation between Thailand and Cambodia, in which the seventh meeting of the latter is scheduled to be held in Cambodia's Siem Reap Feb 3-4.

Mr Kasit added he plans to visit Veera Somkwamkid, a coordinator of Thailand Patriots Network who is now being held in Prey Sar Prison in Phnom Penh, and will ask Mr Veera's family to help convince him to follow the instructions of his lawyer so that he might be released at the earliest.

Seven Thais including Democrat MP Panich Vikitsreth and Mr Veera were arrested Dec 29 on charges of trespassing on Cambodian territory.

Mr Panich and four other Thai detainees returned to Bangkok on Jan 22 after the Cambodian court ruled that they were guilty of illegal entry and intentionally trespassing into Cambodian territory. They were sentenced to nine-month suspended jail terms and fines of one million riel (US$250) each.

But Mr Veera, whose bail requests were rejected, along with his secretary Ms Ratree pledged to continue fighting illegal entry and espionage charges. (MCOT online news)

Cambodian flag raises new controversy

via CAAI

Published: 27/01/2011

A new controversy has erupted after it was reported that Cambodia had raised a national flag over Wat Kaew Sikha Khiri Sawara temple on a disputed border area.

The flag had reportedly been flown at the temple instead after the contentious stone tablet with a message that the area belongs to Cambodia was demolished on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, when asked about this matter, said: "If this is true, the flag must be removed."

He said it is a line of practice for both sides not to put up any sign showing ownership in a disputed area.

However, Mr Abhisit said he did not know whether and where the Cambodian flag had really been raised.

Asked whether what happended during the past few weeks can be raised at a meeting of the World Heritage Committee, the prime minister said:

"Of course, we will have to report problems to the World Heritage Committee to let it know that if it wants to proceed with the management of an area in dispute, tension and serious conflict would follow. This would contravene the objectives of having a world heritage."

Preah Vihear temple near a disputed area has been declared a world heritage by Unesco and Thailand has opposed the decision reasoning management of the area will have problems as long as the dispute has not been settled.

Thai-Cambodian border tensions ease after plaque removed (Roundup)

via CAAI

Jan 27, 2011

Bangkok - Tensions eased along the Thai-Cambodian border Thursday after troops from both countries jointly destroyed a concrete plaque placed in a disputed area by Cambodian forces.

The red and gold plaque with the English inscription 'Here! Is Cambodia' had been erected at the weekend on orders from the Cambodian Foreign Ministry, Thai border forces quoted their Cambodian counterparts as saying.

It triggered a fresh wave of tension along the border with both sides reinforcing their troops near disputed land near the ancient Preah Vihear temple.

The temple on a high cliff on the border between Thailand's Si Sa Ket province and Cambodia's Preah Vihear province has been a bone of contention for more than a half-century.

In 1962, the International Court of Justice awarded the temple to Cambodia but did not rule on a nearby plot of land, also claimed by both countries.

Thai nationalist groups have revived the issue, accusing the Cambodians of border incursions.

Several thousand members of the Thai Patriots Network, the People's Alliance for Democracy and the Santi Asoke Dhamma Army have been camped out at Government House in Bangkok since Tuesday, demanding that the government take a tougher line against Cambodia and scrap a 2000 border agreement.

Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya criticized the protestors for mixing domestic politics with foreign affairs.

'My duty is to strengthen foreign relations, not to make war,' Kasit said.

Officers from Thailand and Cambodia agreed Wednesday that the plaque was a violation of previous border agreements and demolished it.

'The situation along the Thai-Cambodian border today is back to normal,' Thai army deputy spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Sirichan Ngathong said. 'There is no major movement of troops.'

Both countries had put their border forces on full alert this week, and Thailand announced it would conduct live-fire military exercises near the disputed border region.

Sirichan said the exercises had now been scaled back to a 'routine exercise' normally conducted February to April.

She confirmed that the plaque had been removed from the disputed area by Cambodian troops, and military authorities on both sides of the border now enjoy 'a good relationship.'

Graham Allen's travelog of Cambodia with MAG

via CAAI

Thursday 27th January 2011

Happy new year from all at Commercial Money Matters and thanks to the Bridging and Commercial team for inviting me to present a follow-up article about my Christmas trip to Cambodia to observe the work of MAG (Mines Advisory Group).

A bit about Cambodia post-conflict
Cambodia is slightly smaller than the UK, bordered by Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, with a population about a quarter of the size of the UK’s. As a result of nearly 30 years of conflict, more than 40% of the population remains affected by the dangers posed by landmines, cluster bombs, air dropped bombs and unexploded ordnance. The UN estimates that up to 6 million mines were laid, with more than 60,000 deaths and injuries since 1979. This is not a problem that will soon be solved.

A bit about MAG in Cambodia
MAG’s clearance and Mine Risk Education activities help local people reclaim their land and give them the knowledge to help reduce future accidents. Previously unsafe areas can now be used for housing, construction of wells, schools and health centres, improvements to roads, and increasing access to agricultural land.

A bit about me and MAG
My involvement with MAG is as UK Volunteer Ambassador, giving talks, raising awareness and fundraising. It is clearly a huge help for me to see MAG’s work at first hand and, as my brother Clifford works for MAG in Cambodia, I combined a week visiting MAG teams in the field with a family visit. Previously I have visited Vietnam and Namibia in connection with MAG.

Thursday 16 December
My partner and I escaped from Heathrow before the worst of the snow and arrived in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, to high temperatures and humidity. This was a shock to the system, but not an unpleasant one. Hoping to flop straight into bed, I was surprised to hear that my scheduled meeting with the Country Programme Manager, Jamie Franklin, had been brought forward from Saturday to this evening. Jamie wanted to know my goals for the visit and I confirmed that I wanted to see different technologies and methodologies in action.

Friday 17 December
We are given an introductory talk on donors and are shown some of the devices we might see in the field. Then we set off for the five hour drive to Battambang in one of MAG’s Land Rovers. Battambang is where most of the field teams are based, a nail-biting drive which sets the tone for all our travel experiences. Let me tell you a bit about the roads!

A bit about the roads
Some of them are potholed unmade dirt tracks, covering everything for hundreds of metres around in clouds of dust which hamper visibility. The surfaced roads are unmade at the sides and have lane markings which are completely ignored.

Traffic moves as fast as it possibly can in a noisy stream, overtaking sometimes four abreast in each direction, weaving, ducking and diving, plunging into the dirt verges and somehow managing to keep going without hitting each other, or at least not very often. Lorries with teetering loads, bent axles and flat springs crab their way along the roads, unwilling to use their brakes because of the weight of their loads, the crowds of people perched on top and the fact that containers are often not fastened onto their bases. Motos (mopeds) sail into your path from all directions without looking and seemingly without fear, carrying whole families, beds, building materials and farmyard animals. There are more Toyota Camrys and 4x4s than you can shake a stick at. Ox carts, pony carts, tractor units with carts, bicycles, tuk-tuks, herds of water buffalo, dogs, monkeys and children all join the hooting, jostling throng. Minibuses and pick-up trucks carry unbelievable numbers of people, with passengers crammed onto the driver’s lap, hanging out of the windows and sitting on rows of motos hanging out of the back doors.

Terrifying near misses happen every few yards, of the sort that you would normally tell everyone about for a week, but here they don’t even merit a gasp as another incident is always just ahead. There is something miraculously organic about the way that the traffic flows and merges but it requires an act of faith or blind courage to join in and go with the flow. Fortunately Clifford knows how it is done.

Monday 20 December
A morning in Phlov Meas minefield

After a weekend acclimatising, on Monday morning we go to the MAG compound in Battambang for a safety briefing and fitting of body armour and helmets. We meet Thor Thoeun, Mine Action Coordinator, who drives us to the village of Phlov Meas, where we go through a further safety briefing, including recognition of the coloured pickets which mark the different activities in the minefield. Safety is paramount to MAG and so safety briefings and orientation are a daily feature. We learn about the tools that are used, including some that you might see in your own garden shed. One of the de-miners shows us how the metal detectors are calibrated and demonstrates the clearance technique, which in this minefield is “one man one lane”. This is a system where each technician - of which incidentally one third are women and 10% are amputees - uses a metal detector to identify fragments and carefully clear a narrow lane ahead of them, approaching each item by digging below it.

Thoeun explains the maps on site, starting with a map of the area, then a hand-drawn map showing the community’s priorities for clearance. From this a scale map is produced, showing the areas to be cleared and a running tally of items cleared, dates and quality assurance etc. Finally there is a map produced by the Mine Action Planning Unit (MAPU), showing that in this village 25 families will benefit from the clearance and will receive land for dwellings and cultivation.

The work is painstaking and it is hot and tiring just watching: I didn’t know it was possible for so much sweat to run down the inside of my sunglasses. The body armour is heavy, the helmet and visor make me feel claustrophobic and it is hard keeping hydrated as the visor has to stay down through each 45 minute work period. De-miners work six hour days, starting at 7am, five days a week with a 15 minute break each hour, signalled by a whistle blast. I admire the dedication of the teams, who are giving so much back to their communities. I obviously feel slightly apprehensive about being in a live minefield but am also quietly assured that we are in the safest possible hands. As we leave, we notice some houses beyond the perimeter of the minefield on land which was previously mined. Now they are safe.

Monday 20 December
An afternoon of country orientation
Returning to Battambang, we undergo Country Orientation at the MAG office with Clifford. He shows us a country map, pointing out the main areas of threat. There are 30 MAG teams at work, including 233 national field staff. As he talks we hear children chanting in the school next door, a poignant reminder of the progress that has been made in returning previously contaminated land to safe public use.

Tuesday 21 December
A day in the Chamkar 100 minefield
The next day we drive a couple of hours to the rural Chamkar 100 minefield, about 40km from the Thai border. Here mines had been laid close together along a track used by pedestrians and light vehicles. So far the team has found 1,557 mines and destroyed 104 pieces of unexploded ordnance. When land is handed over to this community, eleven families will benefit.

The team here uses the ‘lateral approach’ method, moving laterally along a 60cm strip, using regular metal detectors and also a new type of detector which can tell the difference between random metal fragments and explosives, saving a lot of time.

There is a school next to the minefield and I talk to the children through an interpreter and give them an impromptu open air lesson about MAG’s work. I show them pictures on my camera of the snow back home and they struggle to understand what it is to feel cold. I ask them whether they know that their school is built on what was previously a minefield. Shockingly, some can identify photos of different mines from one of our educational packs and point to the map to show where they can be found, indicating a worrying degree of first-hand knowledge.

Wednesday 22 December
Kon Phnum minefield
Today’s minefield is at the bottom of two hills and, according to the community, involves three lines of mines. The area has been used by the community for years for collecting mushrooms and timber, and 51 of the 71 mines detected so far have already been dismantled by locals, at great danger to themselves. After clearance, more than 2,000 families will benefit from safe access to the resources on the hillside.

My brother Clifford heads up the Research and Development team for new technology, which is being used in this minefield. The terrain is very difficult with lots of rocks, trees with hard, tangled roots, termite mounds and steep slopes. We watch the team cutting down small trees, removing rocks, strimming, blowing, raking and carrying out rapid excavation techniques. Then it is back in the Land Rover for another good shaking up on the way back to Battambang. I alight feeling as if I have been beaten up!

Thursday 23 December
End of year gathering of MAG teams
It is the end of the year for the MAG teams and they come from far and wide to the base at Battambang, returning vehicles and equipment before going on leave. The MAG compound is seething with Land Rovers, motos and men and women in uniform. I am invited to be included in the group photo. Technical Field Manager Frank Masche makes a speech to the teams, reflecting on the past year’s work and looking forward to the challenges ahead. The occasion ends with sandwiches and drinks before everyone disperses for the break.

I am left with mixed emotions. I am staggered by the enormity of the problem that still exists. I am struck by the dynamism of the people and the country, which is developing fast. I have respect and admiration for what the teams undertake in such difficult circumstances.

I have spent the last 30 years in a people business, affecting change in many people’s lives, providing them with finance for housing, to run their businesses and provide employment. None of this, I hope, will ever be threatened by the sort of dangers that I have witnessed in Cambodia. It is sobering to see how many people live their lives in fear, stress and poverty in post-conflict countries.

If any of this strikes a chord with you, then please be moved to put your hand in your pocket and part with some of that hard-earned cash to support MAG in helping people to take control of their environment and improve their lives. Our thanks to Bridging and Commercial for their generous donation.

For more information about Graham Allen or about him doing a talk about MAG for your organisation, visit

You can also contact MAG’s fundraising team on 0161 238 5486 to find out how your company can support MAG’s vital work.

For more information about MAG's work in Cambodia please visit

"Yellow Shirts" Continue Protest on Border Issue with Cambodia

via CAAI

Hundreds of "yellow shirt" protesters took to the streets for the second day on Wednesday, setting up a stage in the middle of the street near government offices.

They threaten a prolonged protest if the government fails to revoke an agreement with Cambodia aimed at solving a long-running border dispute.

Also know as the People’s Alliance for Democracy, they’re backing a campaign calling on Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to revoke a 2000 Memorandum of Understanding with Cambodia. In it, Thailand agreed to help settle a long-running dispute over demarcation of their shared border.

The protesters say Prime Minister Abhisit has been weak on the issue, and accuse him of being a traitor for failing to evict Cambodian settlers from the disputed border area.

Abhisit has refused to revoke the memorandum, saying it would endanger ties between the historic foes and could lead to conflict between troops stationed on the militarized border.

[Praphan Koongmee, Yellow Shirt Spokesman]:
"Whatever people think, and whatever the result of this rally is, the Thai government has to answer to Thai society."

On Monday police arrested five men in possession of unauthorized firearms and homemade bombs close to the site of the yellow shirts’ rally.

Loose cannons damage ties with Cambodia

via CAAI

Thu, Jan 27, 2011
The Nation/Asia News Network

NATIONALIST elements within the yellow-shirt movement do the country no favours by exacerbating border disputes with neighbour Cambodia

Whatever their real intentions were, we will probably never know. But five of the seven Thai nationals, including a Democrat MP, who were arrested for trespassing last month in Banteay Meanchey province of Cambodia should consider themselves lucky for having been freed on suspended sentences.

It is hoped that this decision will take this high-profile case - which has strained already shaky diplomatic ties - one step closer to a conclusion.

After all, there are more important things that Thailand and Cambodia should be focusing on instead of the plight of seven nationalists who had no business crossing illegally into a neighbouring country.

Democrat MP Panich Vikitsreth was released last Friday (January 21) along with fellow defendants Saemdin Lertbutr, Tainae Mungmajon, Naruemol Chitwaratana and Kitchaponthorn Chusanasevi.

They were arrested in Banteay Meanchey while supposedly investigating the contentious border demarcation process between Thailand and Cambodia. A Cambodian court sentenced the five to nine months in prison, suspending eight months of the sentence after the group spent several weeks in pre-trial detention. They were also fined 1 million riel (S$315).

Two other members of the group, yellow-shirt activist Veera Somkwamkid and his secretary, Ratree Pipattanapaiboon, have also been charged with espionage. They are facing a maximum of 10 years in prison. They are set to stand trial in Cambodia on February 1.

While the charge of espionage contains a heavy dose of political posturing, politically speaking these two accused, as well as the five freed Thais, should not be billed here as national heroes.

Just when things appeared to be on the upswing diplomatically between Thailand and Cambodia, these seven have succeeded only in taking bilateral ties down a notch. Restoring the patched-up relationship to where it was will take some time, and the government in Bangkok was sensible in labelling this as an immigration issue, nothing more.

If anything, the government needs to speed up the boundary demarcation process via negotiations with the Joint Boundary Committee (JBC), which is headed by retired ambassador Asda Jayanama. The idea is to make the borderline clearer. For the time being, the JBC is waiting for an approval from the Thai parliament on the agreed minutes of three previous meetings to enable the body to go ahead with further talks.

Sad to say, the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva is afraid of moving this forward because of the opposition from yellow-shirt nationalists such as the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and the Thai Patriots Network, whose key member Veera Somkwamkid is now detained in a Cambodian jail.

Parliament has been reading the documents since November and there is no sign of an end to its deliberations so that the border negotiations can proceed. Parliament is controlled by the majority of government MPs and it should let the border talks continue without further delay. All MPs also need to be reminded that they were elected to serve the people and the country, not to please the PAD.

Technicalities aside, the seven Thais who crossed illegally into Cambodia should not be permitted to get away with what they did. Seemingly they went there to provoke conflict between the two nations for their own political agenda.

If they want to make a name for themselves, how about doing something good for the general public. Better yet, look for constructive ways to promote bilateral ties between the two nations.

Frankly, this group of seven has nothing to do with the border area in any official capacity. Apparently they went there to challenge the Cambodian government, while at the same time hoping to put Abhisit under tremendous pressure at a time when he needs it least.

The PAD will call rallies during which they plan to attack Abhisit and foreign minister Kasit Piromya for their "failure" to get tough with Cambodia over the border issue. What the PAD should be doing is restraining their people and not letting them run wild and creating problems that could do great harm to bilateral ties between Thailand and Cambodia.

Long Beach group seeks heart surgery for boy

The Long Beach-based nonprofit Hearts Without Boundaries hopes to aid Bunlak Song, who suffers from a hole in his heart. The 3-year-old boy lives in poverty in Cambodia.

via CAAI

Posted: 01/26/2011

The news was not good when Dr. Paul Grossfeld looked at the echocardiogram images of the heart of Bunlak Song.

"We found that Bunlak has a very large ventricular septal defect (hole in his heart in the wall separating the ventricles)," Grossfeld wrote in an e-mail from Cambodia about his findings.

That in turn has geared up efforts by a local group to get help for the 3-year-old, who lives in poverty and lacks access to care in his homeland.

Hearts Without Boundaries, a Long Beach nonprofit founded by former NBC producer Peter Chhun, has helped three Cambodian children receive life-extending heart surgeries since 2008.

Although the group had already chosen Bunlak as its next case, Grossfeld's findings have upped the urgency to help the boy.

"When Dr. Grossfeld said `the operation on Bunlak should have been done yesterday,' I knew right away that Bunlak's heart defect is very severe," Chhun said by e-mail from Cambodia, where he is accompanying doctors on a medical mission.

"He is showing signs of damage to his lung arteries as a result of the increased blood flow and pressure to his lungs because of the (ventricular septal defect)," Grossfeld wrote. "He would be a high-risk surgical candidate."

Grossfeld adds, "without surgery, it is very unlikely that he would survive to adulthood."

Bunlak's condition does not come as a complete surprise - it is the size of the hole and the ongoing irreversible lung damage that has raised immediate concern.
When Dr. Luy Lyda of Angkor Hospital for Children initially examined the boy, he noted coarctation, or narrowing, of the aorta, in addition to the hole in the heart.

This has led to a variety of maladies, including hypertension in the lungs and a history of dyspnea, or labored breathing, since birth.

"In the U.S., (Bunlak) would have been operated on to close the hole by age 6 months," Grossfeld wrote. "The window of opportunity for surgical repair is quickly closing on him, and he needs his operation ASAP before the surgery would become too dangerous."

Bunlak's condition is similar to that of Socheat Nha, the most recent patient treated by Hearts Without Boundaries. Initially, Socheat was scheduled to be operated on at a hospital in Las Vegas.

However, doctors deemed the risk too high and canceled surgery. Eventually, Chhun was able to connect with International Children's Heart Foundation, which offered the volunteer services of a doctor who performed the tricky surgery in the Dominican Republic. Hearts Without Boundaries had to pay for use of the hospital and transportation.

Chhun does not yet know whether a U.S. hospital will operate on Bunlak. For this reason, Chhun may make another deal with International Children's Heart Foundation.

However, Hearts Without Boundaries is low on funds, particularly with the unexpected costs that arose with Socheat's surgery.

"I refuse to let Bunlak die," Chhun wrote. "The news hit the HWB team hard. I told everybody, `Let's get to work - raise funds for Bunlak."'

Bunlak was only 2 days old when his homeless mother begged a family visiting the hospital to take her son. By nightfall the mother had left the hospital and her child behind.

Bunlak's adoptive parents, Siv Leng Chuy and Chin Song Hai, scratch out a living selling gas in plastic bottles to taxis, motorcycles and tuk-tuks in their home village of Kampong Popil. But they have taken the boy in and say he has brought them luck.

"But luck will run out if Bunlak's life were not saved," Chhun wrote. "When I told the bad news to his sister who accompanied him to Siem Reap, she said with teary eyes, "Grand Pa, please help save my brother's life. Please!"

Information about Hearts Without Boundaries is available online at heartswithout The group also has a page on Facebook., 562-499-1291

Cambodia removes second provocative tablet

via CAAI

By The Nation
Published on January 27, 2011

Cambodia yesterday agreed to remove a second stone tablet from the disputed area next to Preah Vihear temple to help reduce mounting pressure by the nationalist People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) against the Thai government.

"It's over," Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told reporters. "There's no need to negotiate as we told them to remove the plate and they cooperated."

Cambodia had placed the stone at Wat Keo Sekha Kirisvara, next to the Preah Vihear temple claimed by Thailand and Cambodia as their own.

It read: "Here! is the place where Thai troops invaded Cambodian territory on July 15, 2008, and withdrew at 10.30am on December 1, 2010."

In that incident, the Thai military entered the area to secure the release of three Thai nationalists held by Cambodian officials. The Thais went there to express their anger after learning that Cambodia had had Preah Vihear listed as a World Heritage Site.

The Thai military has contacted its counterpart in Phnom Penh in recent weeks to express its concern that the stone plate could fuel tension between the two countries.

Cambodia agreed to remove the plate on Tuesday. It was replaced with another one that said "Here! is Cambodia." Thailand insisted that the second stone be removed too.

Abhisit is now walking a political tightrope as Thai-Cambodian relations become increasingly fragile and his major allies, the PAD, turn their guns on his government.

The yellow-shirt group is demanding the government take a tough stance in its dealings with Phnom Penh over boundary issues including the dispute over Preah Vihear.

They want Abhisit to scrap a memorandum of understanding signed in 2000 on boundary demarcation and forcibly remove Cambodian communities from disputed areas. They also want the government to quit the World Heritage Committee, the body that listed Preah Vihear as a World Heritage Site in 2008.

The Thai Patriots Network, a PAD-related group, dispatched seven Thais to inspect a disputed area near Sa Kaeo province's Ban Nong Chan who were then arrested by the Cambodian authorities on December 29.

Five of them received suspended sentences of nine months and have already returned to Thailand. The remaining two, high profile nationalist Veera Somkwamkid and his assistant Ratree Pipatanapaiboon, remain in Cambodia awaiting trial on additional charges.

Abhisit said he would allow the Cambodian court to try Veera and Ratree on February 1 and would seek ways to help them after the prosecution.

The government has tried to solve the problem while maintaining good relations with Cambodia, he said.

A planned military exercise in border areas near Preah Vihear will not spark conflict with Cambodia as it is a normal procedure for the military, he said.

However, conflict with the PAD is more of a concern for Abhisit as the group threatens to prolong its protest near Government House until the government bows to its demands.

Abhisit said he was ready to talk with the PAD to explain the government's position and find a way to solve the problem, but yellow-shirt leader Chamlong Srimuang said the demands were non-negotiable.

The PAD has also threatened to sue Abhisit and his ministers, accusing them of causing Thailand to lose territory to Cambodia.

Abhisit said he had no problem with the lawsuit as he had confidence in his conduct and had done nothing wrong regarding the boundary.

Thailand: Cambodia: Preah Vihear: "Yellow Shirts" against the Thai government, weak on border issue

via CAAI

Nationalists and Pad take to the streets, threatening a permanent siege. The protesters call for the withdrawal of the Memorandum of Understanding with Cambodia and the release of seven people on trial in Phnom Penh. Provocative billboards and military exercises raise tensions between the two ...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011
By Asia News

Bangkok - At least 5 thousand supporters of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and the Thai Patriots Network marched alongside the "yellow shirts" to protest against the government headed by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, congesting traffic around the seat of government. At the heart of the confrontation, the border issue between Cambodia and Thailand around the temple of Preah Vihear and the trial of seven Thai nationals, accused by Phnom Penh of "illegal entry". A group of PAD leaders has placed 60 mobile toilets in the area, threatening to organize a permanent garrison until the executive meets the protesters demands.

The "yellow shirts" are asking the government to withdraw the Memorandum of Understanding signed with Cambodia in 2000, indicating the lack of agreement on the borders; withdraw their membership of the Committee for the UNESCO World Heritage Site; expel Cambodians living along boundaries in areas at the centre of the dispute. Meanwhile, criticism of the government is growing, accused of "surrendering its sovereignty" and allowing Phnom Penh to prosecute seven Thai who entered Cambodia illegally December 29, 2010. PAD leader, Sondhi Limthongkul, said that "if Thaksin Shinawatra was the cleverest of premiers, Abhisit Vejjajiva is the biggest liar."

To further inflame the dispute between Cambodia and Thailand, was Phnom Penh’s decisive move last month in the area of Preah Vihear. Taking advantage of the retreat of Thai military, Cambodians raised a billboard with the inscription: "In this point! This is the place where the Thai troops invaded Cambodian territory on July 15, 2008. " In recent days, the first sign was replaced by a second, simpler and more immediate: "At this point! Here we are in Cambodia. " Abhisit said that the government in Phnom Penh has already removed this second edition, judging it a "positive sign" of collaboration.

Gen. Thawatchai Samutrasakorn, head of the area, states that "neither Thailand nor Cambodia can lay stones or build houses until the dispute is resolved." Gen. Prawitra Wongsuwan, Thai defense minister, called for calm "so all problems can be solved" and adds: "mutual understanding is most important." Meanwhile Abhisit has authorized a series of military exercises in the area near the temple of Preah Vihear, an anonymous military source, quoted by the Bangkok Post, reports that "military leaders proposed the exercises”.

The border dispute between Bangkok and Phnom Penh has been ongoing since 1962, when the International Court gave control of the Hindu temple of Preah Vihear ruins to Cambodia. The area where the temple stands is considered Cambodian territory, but is surrounded by steep cliffs covered with jungle that Thailand considers its own. In addition to the morphology of the territory the site is impossible to reach through Cambodia.

After years of negotiations, the dispute was rekindled in 2008 when UNESCO decided to transform the temple into a world heritage site, requiring Bangkok to allow access through its borders. In recent years there have been several clashes between the two armies deployed near the site. The last was in April 2009 and cost the lives of four Thai soldiers.

Source: Asia News

DAP News. Breaking News by Soy Sopheap

via CAAI

ADB Helps 21 million US dollar for Clean Water and Sanitation in Cambodia

Thursday, 27 January 2011 07:58 DAP-NEWS/VIBOL

CAMBODIA, PHNOM PENH, JAN 27, 2011-The ministry of rural development of Cambodia said that ADB has helped $21 million US dollar for clean water and sanitation projects for local people surrounding Tonle Sap Lake, biggest fresh water lake in region.

“This phase second project will help 75 per cent of local people to access clean water and 100 per cent for good hygiene in changing positive behaviors ,” Chea Sophara, rural development minister quoted as saying in the ministry statement.

It added: The total budget for the whole project need 26 million US dollars and six provinces around the lake will get the benefit, it said, adding that in the first phase project in 2006-2010, ADB also helped 18 million US dollars getting successful achievement in implementing the millennium development goals.


Cambodia’s Garment Product Export Increases to $3 billion: Officials

Thursday, 27 January 2011 05:44 DAP-NEWS/VIBOL

CAMBODIA, PHNOM PENH, JAN 27, 2011-Cambodia’s trade ministry announced on Thursday that the price of garment export has increases to $ 3 billion in 2010 after recovering from the global economic recession and EU granted smooth policy for country’s products.

“We are optimistic that next year our garment also will raise further, “Pan Sokrasak, secretary of state for trade ministry told media after the workshop on aid for trade in Phnom Penh.

We thanked for EU that provided the soft policy for our product except armed products into their countries, “He added. He said that garment mainly exported to EU, Canada, USA.

He noted: the price for exporting garment product is quite similar to 2008 but in 2009 it dropped a bit after global economic slowdown.

In 2010, it increased about 20 -30 per cent if comparing to 2009. The garment is one among four sectors including agriculture, construction and tourism that contribute to boost economic growth of the country. The Garment absorbed about 300,000 -400,000 labor forces who are women mostly from rural areas.

AKP - The Agence Kampuchea Press

via CAAI

French, Cambodia Upper Houses Share Experiences

Phnom Penh, January 27, 2011 AKP – A seminar related to the role of senators was held here yesterday under the chairmanship of Senate Second Vice President H.E. Tep Ngorn and visiting French Senate First Vice President Ms. Catherine Tasca.

On the occasion, Ms. Tasca shared with the Cambodian side the experiences of the French Upper House concerning the role of senators.

For his part, H.E. Tep Ngorn thanked the French side for the experience sharing and he highly valued the visit of Ms. Tasca to Cambodia, which he said will contribute to further strengthen the ties of friendship and cooperation between the Upper Houses and the peoples of the two countries.

The French Senate delegation led by Ms. Tasca, also chairperson of French-Cambodia Friendship Senate Group, arrived here on Jan. 24 for a week-long visit to Cambodia. During her visit, she was received in a royal audience by His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni and held talks with Senate Second Vice President H.E. Tep Ngorn, and Acting National Assembly President H.E. Nguon Nhel.

According to the schedule, the French delegation will also meet with Siem Reap Governor H.E. Sou Phirin and visit the French School and bilingual classes in Siem Reap province. –AKP



NLC/S Move Towards Democracy and Poverty Reduction

Phnom Penh, January 27, 2011 AKP – Umbrella body of commune/sangkat council across Cambodia, better known as National League of Communes/Sangkats, on Jan. 26-27 organized its 6th annual meeting at the office of Battambang provincial governor.

Participated by more than 360 representatives of commune/sangkat councils, concerned government institutions and partner organizations, the one-day-and-a-half meeting was opened under the chairmanship of Director General of the Department General of Local Administration (Ministry of Interior) H.E. Leng Vy.

“The meeting is a vital forum for commune councilors to reflect what they have achieved and agree on their next strategic actions,” addressed H.E. Leng Vy to all participants adding that the Ministry of Interior is committed to support the national league toward decentralization and de-concentration reform to bring about real democracy and to reduce poverty – in alignment with the Royal Government of Cambodia’s second-phase rectangular strategy.

Established by the national congress, the National League of Communes/Sangkats was registered by the Ministry of Interior as a non-governmental organization in late 2006 with 1,621 commune/sangkat councils Cambodia-wide as members.

As stated in its goal, the league works to “enhance the status and capacity of commune/sangkat councils and to achieve a democratic and decentralized administration that is effective, sustainable, transparent, accountable and self-reliant”.

According to the National League of Communes/Sangkats President Mr. Say Kosal, key achievements of the leagues include the initiative of best practice award for commune councils and civil society organizations, locally responsive district forums, commune/sangkat council capacity transformation and betterment of public information work.

Building on its successes with consideration of its challenges, the meeting reached a consensus on the league’s 2011-2015 strategic plan – a long-term way forward to institutional strengthening, financial sustainability, more capacity transformation, robust advocacy, additional service to align with the millennium development goals, climate-change focused economic development and gender equity in politics. –AKP

By MOM Chan Dara Soleil


Cambodia-UK Joint Education Fair 2011

Phnom Penh, January 27, 2011 AKP – Cambodia and the United Kingdom have jointly organized the Education Fair 2011 at the National Institute for Education, Phnom Penh.
The official opening of the three-day fair (Jan. 25-27) was held in the presence of H.E. Andrew Mace, UK ambassador to Cambodia; H.E. Pith Chamnan, secretary of state for Education, Youth and Sports, and H.E. Ly Chheng, advisor to the Office of the Council of Ministers and chairman of Higher Education Establishment Association of Cambodia.

Some 25 UK universities have been participating in the fair organized by Spring Board 4 Cambodia and the Higher Education Establishment Association of Cambodia.

On the occasion, the UK ambassador said the fair, the third of its kind, is a good opportunity for Cambodian students to know clearly about education system and information technology.
It also helps consolidate the cooperation between UK and Cambodian universities, he said. –AKP




The People Alliance for Democracy (PAD) known as “Yellow Shirts,” as a political movement had forced the fall of the government of Premier Somchai Wongsawat with the dissolution of the People’s Power Party (PPP) and two of their other coalition partner parties, and catapulted the Democratic Party of Thailand and Abhisit Vejjajiva to power. At the present time the Abhisit government and the PAD do not see eyes to eyes and their differences, mainly philosophical and political pulled them apart even wider by the days.

The PAD protest against Thaksin Shinawatra government since 2005 led to the military coup of 19 September 2006 that toppled the elected government of Thailand. Feeling that they have achieved their goal, the PAD dissolved voluntary, but returned to the streets in 2008 to protest against the elected government of Premier Samak Sundaravej of the People’s Power Party (PPP) who was forced to resign in September 2008 by the order of the Constitutional Court of Thailand. Vice-Premier and Minister of Education Somchai Wongsawat became Prime Minister, but he was removed by a “judicial coup” leading to the election of the Democratic Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva as Prime Minister on 15 December 2008 up to the present. The high point of PAD protest against the government of Somchai Wongsawat was the takeover and occupation of Bangkok Souwannaphuma airport and Bangkok Don Muang airport that stranded around 35,000 tourists and forced the air traffic in and out of the two airports to a standstill for weeks.

The PAD comprising media activists, social activists, academics, and leaders of worker’s unions, is opposed to what it calls the “Thaksin system,” which is seen by some as “Thaksin autocracy.” The PAD also criticized the Samak government’s decision to support the Cambodian government’s application for the listing of the Temple of Preah Vihear as a World Heritage site. The PAD called for Thai investors to withdraw from Cambodia, the closure of all 40 Thai-Cambodian border checkpoints, a ban on all flights from Thailand to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, the construction of a naval base at Koh Kut near the border, and the abolishment of the committee which oversees demarcation of overlapping sea areas and the unilateral declaration of a Thai marine map.

On Saturday 19 September 2009 about 4,000 “Yellow Shirts” supporters of PAD led by its core leader Veera Somkwamkid attempted to get closer to the Temple of Preah Vihear area to read the petition demanding the Abhisit government to push the Cambodian “intruders” out of the vicinity of the Temple of Preah Vihear.

Now the PAD is no longer a “pure” political movement. It is a political movement only in the name, or it is a political body carrying two faces. It has transformed itself into a political party already formed, the “New Politics Party,” (NPP) with similar purpose as all other political parties in Thailand, including the Democratic Party, the Proud Thai Party, the For Thai Party…etc…, that is to win the election, to form the government and to lead the country. As a political movement, the PAD is seen as benevolent and patriotic. As political party, even bearing a different name, the PAD is seen as “another political party in Thailand” with all its ambitions that are wise or wild. And when the best days come, when the PAD political party becomes rich, it will be seen by a majority of Thai as “another Thai political party ,“ which will buy the votes from the majority of Thais who are willing to sell their votes. It is no longer a secret according to recent ABAC’s poll the majority of Thai voters are willing to sell their votes for money.

It has been reported in the Bangkok Post dated 25 January that “Maj Gen Chamlong Srimuang, a key PAD leader, insisted yesterday the alliance would continue its rally until the group’s demands were met.” What are the PAD demands? They are:

• “to revoke the 2000 Memorandum of Understanding governing the Thai-Cambodian border areas,
• to cancel its membership of the World Heritage Committee, and
• to evict Cambodian villagers and troops from the 4.6 sq. km disputed areas near Preah Vihear Temple.”

On the other side of the fence, the head of the Royal Thai government Mr. Abhisit Vejjajiva states that:

• “the 2000 MOU will not be revoked,
• Thailand will remain member of the World Heritage Committee, and
• no action will be taken to evict the Cambodians from the disputed areas.”

The stage is set. The PAD makes the first move by occupying Makkhavan bridge, while its ally the Thai Patriot Networks (TPN) and the Santi Asoka Sect (SAS) are encamped at Chamai Murachet bridge. On the government side, 24 companies of police or about 3,600 officers are deployed with a decisive mission to prevent the protesters from seizing government establishments, particularly the Government House and the Parliament.

Knowing the past “achievements” of the PAD, analysts and observers see PAD demands as simply a smokescreen to hide the only goal of ousting the government of Abhisit from office but, unfortunately, without a clear purpose as it had happened in the past when this group occupied Souwannaphuma and Don Muang airports. Then, the purpose was crystal clear, that is to bring down the government of Somchai Wongsawat and to force an alliance of different political parties to form a government led by the Democratic Party under Abhisit Vejjajiva. This time PAD leader Chamlong Srimuang sounds completely tamed and unenthusiastic by saying that he is “not confident of victory.” This will invite an interesting question, as to why the PAD, the TPN and the SAS organize the 25 January rally.

No one can say that it is a desperate act being undertaken by the PAD, the TPN and the SAS. But one can say with almost certainty that this is the last act. Despite all their efforts, the PAD, the TPN and the SAS have failed to incite the Thai armed forces leaders to move to their sides and to sympathize with their pleas. The mutual understanding of the Cambodian-Thai relations by the political and military leaders of both countries denies the chance for the protestors to pitch the Thai armed forces leaders against Abhisit. On the other hand between Cambodian and Thai leaders they have elevated themselves to the status of statesmen with the willingness to solve the existing problems by peaceful means, through consultations and negotiations. They have agreed to disagree. Thailand speaks about “disputed areas” along the common border between Thailand and Cambodia. Cambodia asserts that “there is no disputed area,” based on the existing international agreements, namely the 1904 Convention and the 1907 Treaty. From the disagreement, both sides have agreed that the demarcation should be left to the JBC, established under the 2000 MOU.

After all these years, if Thai people come to trust their political and military leaders, and inversely if Thai political and military leaders conducted themselves to be worthy of the trust of the Thai people, that latter can resign themselves from foreign and international affairs and focus on their own well being. Now, it is history that is long gone to take Cambodia as the hostage of Thai internal political competition. This is what Veera Somkwamkid intended to achieve, that is taking Cambodia hostage of Thai internal politics, when he trespassed Cambodian territory on 29 December 2010.

The first decisive factor is evidently the failure of Veera Somkwamkid and the TPN to polarize the Thai leadership (political and military).

The second decisive factor would be the failure of the protestors to seize public buildings in Bangkok.

The third decisive factor would be the effectiveness of the police forces and the security personnel of the government to thwart all attempts to harm and hurt the protestors and Thai public.

These decisive factors are the prescription that the 25 January rally is the final act of the PAD, the TPN and the SAS in their attempt to remove a legitimate government by military coup. But after all, it would be naïve to discount the ability and the power of the destructive forces that exploit the discontentment of desperate and unstable individuals who had nothing else to lose, but their soul. They can sell their soul to the devil, so why they cannot sell their soul to political manipulators. The chaos is needed, and the military coup is the last wish for the PAD, the TPN and the SAS to see the fall of the Abhisit government. A new history in Thailand will emerge if the efforts of shoving Thailand to go to war with Cambodia fail.

Waddhana P
Senior Analyst and Researcher on
Cambodian-Thai Relations
Institute for International Affairs, Cambodia
26 January 2011

(This article reflects only the personal opinion of the author)