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Thai Foreign Minister: Thailand and Cambodia still have positive ties

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Led by Veera Somkwamkid, the PAD submitted a letter of protest to the Cambodian leader through the Thai foreign ministry’s Department of ASEAN Affairs, represented by Vitavas Srivihok, which demanded that Cambodia withdraw troops from the contested 4.6 square kilometer area adjacent to Preah Vihear temple.

They also threatened to protest at the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok next month if the Cambodian leader fails to act on their demand.
HUA HIN, Oct 24 (TNA) - Thailand and Cambodia still enjoy good bilateral relations, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya affirmed Saturday, and the kingdom would not let any problem related to a single person harm the good cooperation.

Mr Kasit said that cooperation between Thailand and Cambodia Justify Fullcontinues and that border trading operates without problems. The two countries are friends and would not let any sole issue affect their good relations.

During most of the past 10 months since Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva assumed office, he said, the prime minister had emphasized that he would not let any single issue to obstruct cooperation in other fields.

He said that Mr Abhisit had clearly clarified Thailand's stance regarding former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra following the remarks made by Mr Hun Sen.

The Cambodian premier asserted that Mr Thaksin could remain in Cambodia as his guest and could be his economic advisor. Mr Hun Sen added that he was not interfering in Thailand's internal affairs but that Cambodia has the right to exercise its sovereignty and make such a decision.

In response, Mr Abhisit said that Mr Hun Sen may have received incorrect information about Mr Thaksin and should not allow himself to be used as a 'pawn'.

Ousted in a bloodless coup, ex-premier Thaksin jumped bail and fled his sentencing to a two-year jail term for malfeasance in the controversial Bangkok Ratchadapisek land purchase case. The toppled Thai premier now spends most of his time in the United Arab Emirates after his status as a visitor was rejected by a number of countries including both the United Kingdom and Germany.

As for the protest letter submitted to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen by the People’s Alliance's for Democracy (PAD), Mr Kasit said he believed this was the move of some groups, not the whole PAD.

He said some PAD groups may have felt that the Thai-Cambodian border disputes were not going be solved as quickly as they wish, and that they consequently wanted to put pressure on the involved parties.

Led by Veera Somkwamkid, the PAD submitted a letter of protest to the Cambodian leader through the Thai foreign ministry’s Department of ASEAN Affairs, represented by Vitavas Srivihok, which demanded that Cambodia withdraw troops from the contested 4.6 square kilometer area adjacent to Preah Vihear temple.

They also threatened to protest at the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok next month if the Cambodian leader fails to act on their demand.

Mr Kasit said Thailand and Cambodia are fellow ASEAN members and should cooperate and live together peacefully. Both countries should observe the same rules and the leaders should not do anything that could lead to misunderstanding.

Tensions between Cambodia and Thailand over the surroundings of Preah Vihear boiled over into violence last year when the temple was granted World Heritage status by the United Nations Educational Science and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

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Thailand-Cambodia Dispute Overshadows Summit

Cambodian Pime Minister Hun Sen at the 15th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Cha-am, Thailand October 24, 2009. (Photo: Reuters)
Nay Vanda of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association—selected by the Asean People’s Forum as his country’s representative at the meeting—said he was disappointed with the outcome.

“Cambodia is supposed to be a democracy that respects the rule of law. I was chosen via a democratic process, yet the government refused to meet me.

Even Communist, one-party state Vietnam was not afraid to meet the NGO representative selected by the Asean People’s Forum,” he said.
CHA-AM, Thailand — An uncharacteristically edgy summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) threatened to boil over yesterday as Thai-Cambodian relations took another turn for the worse.

A visibly exasperated Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjjiva hit back at his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen, calling him “seriously misinformed” over the latter’s remarks comparing fugitive former Thai PM Thaksin Shinawatra with Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Hun Sen had earlier offered Thaksin, who was deposed in a 2006 coup, a job as an economics advisor and said that if the exiled media mogul chose to come to Cambodia, he would not face extradition to Thailand to face corruption charges.

“Thaksin can stay in Cambodia as the guest of Cambodia and also be my guest as my adviser on our economy,” said Hun Sen.

His remarks comparing the former Thai prime minister with Aung San Suu Kyi raised many eyebrows among summit delegates, as he attempted to capitalize on the international media attention on Asean this weekend to highlight his view that Thaksin’s plight is politically driven.

“Hun Sen’s comments are being seen as an attempt to intervene in Thailand’s precarious domestic political situation,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, the director of the Institute of Security and International Studies (Thailand) at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

Last week, Hun Sen gave a pointedly high-profile reception to former Thai prime minister and Thaksin ally Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyuth. Chavalit said “Mr Hun Sen is my old friend and I am visiting him at his invitation.”

Last month, Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy was in Bangkok, where he addressed the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand on press freedom in Cambodia. Rainsy slammed the Hun Sen administration, saying that it gives token assent to freedom of speech but uses state resources to hit critics with defamation suits, backed by a pro-government judiciary.

Thitinan said he thinks that Hun Sen has taken umbrage at Rainsy using his time in Thailand to attack the Cambodian government.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on the sidelines of the Asean summit, Cambodian opposition MP Son Chhay said that Hun Sen’s reaction shows that he does not understand how a liberal democracy works.

Just because Sam Rainsy talks in critical terms while in Thailand does not mean it has anything to do with the Thai government. Hun Sen merely betrays his own anti-democratic leanings with such an assumption,” he said.

Yesterday, the anti-government and pro-Thaksin United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) called on Asean to withdraw support for Abhisit as the bloc’s chairman.

The UDD is seeking a royal pardon to enable Thaksin return to Thailand without having to face jail time on corruption charges. The UDD is also seeking a general election and deems the Abhisit government as illegitimate.

Thaksin is regarded as the most popular yet divisive head of government in recent Thai history, implementing pro-poor policies and developing the northeastern Isaan region, but periodically clamping down on media, launching a draconian war on drugs and seeking a military solution to the southern Thailand Muslim rebellion.

Interestingly, Hun Sen’s comparison of Thaksin’s situation to that of Suu Kyi comes as the Nobel Peace Prize laureate marks a total of 14 years in detention today. She was first arrested in July 1989, ahead of a landslide electoral victory by her party, the National League for Democracy, in May 1990.

The comparison was made even as five Asean member states, including Cambodia, refused to allow NGO representatives other than those handpicked by the governments to attend a scheduled “civil society” meeting with regional heads of government.

Nay Vanda of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association—selected by the Asean People’s Forum as his country’s representative at the meeting—said he was disappointed with the outcome.

“Cambodia is supposed to be a democracy that respects the rule of law. I was chosen via a democratic process, yet the government refused to meet me.

Even Communist, one-party state Vietnam was not afraid to meet the NGO representative selected by the Asean People’s Forum,” he said.

An hour after that meeting, Asean launched a new human rights body, known as the Asean Intergovernmental Human Rights Commission, which has no scope to punish or even draw attention to human rights abuses in Southeast Asia and includes the Burmese junta among its representatives.

Cambodia has usually backed the Burmese regime when it is faced with criticism from the international community.

Hun Sen’s comments came just a day before his Thai counterpart hosted a three-day gathering of sixteen Asian leaders, with the ten-member Asean grouping having a series of meetings on Friday before being joined by counterparts from Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea on Saturday.

The summit aimed to make progress on Asean integration across a number of sectors. However, Abhisit took Hun Sen’s comments as an attempt to undermine this, saying “[Asean member states] have no time to pay attention to a person who wants to destroy unity.”

This weekend’s summit is a re-run of an April meeting in Pattaya, which was cancelled after Thaksin’s red-shirted backers clashed with troops and pro-government protesters.

That melee further blemished tourist-oriented Thailand’s international image, already sullied after yellow-shirted royalists blockaded Bangkok’s international airports in late 2008. This time around, 36,000 soldiers and police were deployed around Cha-am and Hua Hin, 90 minutes south of Bangkok, to prevent any attempted repeat by the red shirts.

However, Thaksin’s shadow was cast over this summit, albeit by proxy, with Hun Sen apparently seeking to needle his Thai counterpart, with whom relations are already touchy over a long-running border dispute centering on the Preah Vihear temple and surrounding land area.

One month ago, 30,000 Thaksin supporters gathered in Bangkok mark the 3rd anniversary of the military coup that deposed him. The same weekend, royalist protesters caused mayhem around the Preah Vihear site, tussling with locals and exhorting the Thai government to take a more assertive stance with Phnom Penh over the disputed site.

Thitinan told The Irrawaddy: “Thailand and Cambodia have had rocky relations for a number of years. The reasons are multifaceted, but underpinning the divide is the fact that Thailand has somewhat of a superiority complex, while Cambodia perhaps retains an element of colonial baggage, and now sits between two much bigger countries in Thailand and Vietnam.”

Giving an insight into the level of acrimony generated by this latest spat, a press conference given by members of the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar (Burma) Caucus on Saturday afternoon discussed how Burma was pushed down the priority list as a result.

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Yellow shirts to protest at Cambodian Embassy next month

Protesters led by People's Alliance for Democracy on Saturday threatened to protest and surround the Cambodian Embassy next month unless Cambodia withdrew its troops from area adjacent to Preah Vihear Temple.

The threat was made when they organised a brief protest at Puk Tien Beach in Cha-Am district Saturday, demanding the withdrawal of troops from the area immediately.

"We will protest at the Cambodian Embassy next month. Unless its government withdrew troops from the disputed area, we will surround the embassy."

Some 30 people gathered at the beach, about ten kilometers from meeting venue of Asean Summit, also in responding to harsh remarks by Cambodia that it would not extradite former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to Thailand.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said upon arrival in Hua Hin to attend the summit on Friday that he would make Thaksin his economic adviser.

The statement fuels tension in the relation with the Thai government which wanted Thaksin to returnn to Thailand to serve jail term on abuse of power and corruption charges.

The protesters held banners, reading that Hun Sen was not welcomed by Thai people.

Thailand and Cambodia have been at the loggerhead over the disputed area near the Hindu temple for long time but the issue was heated a year ago as it was listed as a world heritage site.

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Cambodia passes new law for foreign adoptions

PHNOM PENH, Oct. 24 (Xinhua) -- Cambodia's National Assembly on Friday approved a new law for foreign adoptions, setting up criteria for children to be adopted, the eligibility of potential adoptive parents and the procedures for legal adoptions by families living overseas, local newspaper the Phnom Penh Post reported on Saturday.

All 72 parliamentarians in attendance voted to pass the two final chapters of the law after about one hour of debate, it said. Debate on the 10-chapter draft law began on Wednesday.

The law is aimed at ensuring that Cambodian children adopted by foreign parents, "grow up in a family environment, a happy environment, with love and understanding in order to develop fully."

For a child to be adopted by foreigners, he or she must be younger than 8 years old, except in the cases of special needs. The children must be living in an orphanage, under the care of the Social Affairs Ministry, or have poor or disabled parents, the law said.

Moreover, under the law, adoptive parents must be between 30 and 45 years old, and should have, at the most, one other child, who must be younger than 22 years old.

According to statistics presented by Ith Sam Heng, minister of social affairs, more than 20,000 Cambodian children live in state-run orphanages, and about 130,000 live in private facilities. He added that adoptive parents in the U.S. alone took home 1,415 Cambodian children between 1998 and 2003, although the U.S. government officially suspended adoptions in 2001 over fraud concerns.

And Britain cut off Cambodian adoptions in 2004, while France implemented a temporary ban between 2003 and 2006. Australians are also forbidden from adopting, as the two countries have never signed an agreement on adoption.

Ith Sam Heng was quoted by the Post as saying that the law would be "seriously implemented," adding that he had not heard of any bad things happening to Cambodian children after being adopted abroad.

He said a delegation from the ministry had already visited adoptive families in Canada, France, Italy and the U.S. Some foreign parents had also written annual reports to the government describing the conditions of the children, including photos, about health and education, he added.

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Thai government won't issue statement on Hun Sen's remarks

CHA-AM, Oct 24 (TNA) -- The Thai government has no plan to issue a statement in response to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s recent remarks that the Cambodian government is willing to allow ousted, former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to take refuge in that country, according to Panitan Wattanayakorn, deputy secretary-general to the Thai premier.


Dr Panitan, acting government spokesman, said the two prime ministers also have no schedule to meet on the sidelines of the current 15th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit being held in the Thai resorts of Hua Hin and Cha-am.

Every ASEAN member wants to see the grouping to move forward and to continue enjoying warm relations, Dr Panitan said. Opinions expressed over the two countries’ politics should be considered as personal and Thailand will not issue a statement.

Thailand wants to solve problems “in a peaceful manner” and to arrive at similar opinions, he said. Thailand doesn’t want problems within ASEAN or with its neighbours.

Mr Hun Sen reiterated on Friday upon his arrival for the ASEAN summit that his government would allow Mr Thaksin, now in a self-imposed exile, to take refuge in Cambodia and that Cambodia would not extradite him.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on Friday said that Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen may have received incorrect information about Mr Thaksin, and should not allow himself to be used as a 'pawn'.

Ousted in a bloodless coup in September 2006, Mr Thaksin has been living in exile, mostly in the United Arab Emirates, after being sentenced to a two-year prison term for abusing his power when he was prime minister to help his ex-wife purchase prime land in Bangkok’s Ratchadapisek Road.

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Thaksin Most Welcome: Government Official

Were ousted Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to come to Cambodia, the country would not extradite him, a government statement said Friday.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said earlier this week he would welcome the former premier to Cambodia, which prompted a rebuke from Bangkok.

“Cambodia will not extradite in following of any eventual request by Thai government, in case the former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra decides to stay in Cambodia,” according to a government statement.

Thaksin, who was ousted in 2006 by a military coup, lives in exile in Dubai. He faces a two-year jail term for corruption in Thailand.

The extradition treaty between Cambodia and Thailand allows either party to deny extradition in cases of “political offenses,” among others, the Cambodian statement said.

“The Cambodian government has the right to interpret these two points [on whether] the case of Thaksin Shinawatra is a political case or not,” it said.

Hun Sen told reporters Wednesday after a meeting with Thaksin supporter Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, a member of the opposition Puea Thai Party, Thaksin was “a political victim.”

“I respect and like him more now than when he was a prime minister,” Hun Sen said. “I have prepared a house where Thaksin can stay at any time.”

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva responded, saying if Thaksin entered Cambodia, “the extradition process will begin.”

“If Cambodia failed to comply with the treaty on the extradition, that would be another story,” he said.

The Cambodian statement said Hun Sen’s invitation was one of long friendship and should not be interpreted as “interference of Thailand’s internal affairs.”

Hun Sen left Friday for Hua Hin, Thailand, where Asean leaders are holding a summit. He is expected to hold talks with Abhisit there.

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Chavalit's intrigues only add fuel to fire

Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh's recent political comeback as chairman of the opposition Puea Thai Party is being seen as an attempt to throw more fuel on the political fire in the country.

Gen Chavalit insisted that his return to politics had nothing to do with a bid to help deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra back to power, but sceptics are not convinced.

Thaksin is in self-exile after being sentenced to two years in jail for abusing his power when he was prime minister to help his former wife Khunying Potjaman na Pombejra to buy land in the Ratchadapisek area.

Gen Chavalit made a comeback only a year after he announced his retirement from politics in 2008 when he resigned as deputy prime minister in the Somchai Wongsawat government.

Gen Chavalit earlier said that he had decided to join the Thaksin-backed party because he wanted to help it secure "a landslide victory" in the next general election. He also called for the government's coalition partners to join him in setting up a national government to bring peace and reconciliation to the country.

But it is now difficult to believe what Gen Chavalit says after he travelled to Cambodia to meet Hun Sen and told the Thai public that the Cambodian prime minister had built a luxury house in Phnom Penh for Thaksin to stay in.

The 76-year-old former prime minister acted as if he was Hun Sen's mouthpiece by boasting about the friendship between the Cambodian premier and Thaksin. He seemed to be provoking the Thai government with the implication that if Thaksin is on Cambodian soil, then it would be unable to extradite him.

Gen Chavalit's visit to Cambodia on Wednesday could also be seen as a well-planned strategy to steal the limelight from the 15th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit and related summits in Cha-am.

Gen Chavalit should make it clear to the public why he had to rush to meet Hun Sen only two days before the summit began. His explanations so far will only fuel suspicions about the real motive behind his political comeback.

Cambodia is not the only stop along the way on Gen Chavalit's mission to help regain confidence people's in the Puea Thai Party and Thaksin. He also plans to meet other Asean leaders, including those of Burma and Malaysia.

The tour could be seen as Puea Thai trying to call for support from the international community if the party wins the next election. Gen Chavalit could also use this opportunity to seek sympathy and forgiveness from Asean leaders for Thaksin, and try to convince them that Thaksin is a victim of his political opponents and the coup makers.

Shortly after Gen Chavalit joined Puea Thai, a group of former Class 10 classmates of Thaksin at the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School flocked to join the opposition. Gen Chavalit could have been behind this move.

These former soldiers were very close to Gen Chavalit and Thaksin, and they were believed to be among those who became outraged by the annual transfers in the past by the coup makers led by Gen Sonthi Boonyaratkalin.

Gen Chavalit and other Puea Thai members will now surely step up activities to discredit the government until it can no longer stay in power.

The opposition wants to see a House dissolution and a general election as quickly as possible. If the Abhisit Vejjajiva government want to prolong its time in office, it will have to work harder for the people, who will then look at the government in a more favourable light.

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Embarrassing trio

''Chavalit's trip raises tension,'' Bangkok Post editorial, Oct 23, 2009. The news about Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh claiming that Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is happy to provide his country as a haven for the fugitive from Thai justice, Thaksin Shinawatra, should not embarrass the two countries more than those three individuals themselves. Why?


First, it is an open secret that Thaksin and Hun Sen have been closely linked ever since Thaksin was not yet Thailand's prime minister. Both Thaksin and Hun Sen have been rumoured to have had vested interests while serving their countries. The only difference is that Thaksin was ousted by a coup in 2006 while Hun Sen's hold on power remains intact.

Second, Gen Chavalit's claim that Hun Sen's wife cried for Thaksin's disgrace was misconstrued and inaccurate because, during her visit to Bangkok while Thaksin was in power, she was received lavishly, beyond her expectations. This is a personal feeling and has nothing to do with Thaksin being right or wrong, good or bad.

Third, if Hun Sen has said what Chavalit claims he has said (that Cambodia is prepared to shelter Thaksin), then Hun Sen has confessed for the first time that he and Thaksin have been putting their heads together for something very fishy - something that could be bad for Cambodia and Thailand's longstanding relations - but good for the two only.

Thaksin Shinawatra may have thought he made the wisest decision in choosing Gen Chavalit as his right-hand man in Thailand. He should think again. Even I am embarrassed every time people hear my name and ask: ''Not that Chavalit, are you?

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Embarrassing trio

''Chavalit's trip raises tension,'' Bangkok Post editorial, Oct 23, 2009. The news about Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh claiming that Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is happy to provide his country as a haven for the fugitive from Thai justice, Thaksin Shinawatra, should not embarrass the two countries more than those three individuals themselves. Why?


First, it is an open secret that Thaksin and Hun Sen have been closely linked ever since Thaksin was not yet Thailand's prime minister. Both Thaksin and Hun Sen have been rumoured to have had vested interests while serving their countries. The only difference is that Thaksin was ousted by a coup in 2006 while Hun Sen's hold on power remains intact.

Second, Gen Chavalit's claim that Hun Sen's wife cried for Thaksin's disgrace was misconstrued and inaccurate because, during her visit to Bangkok while Thaksin was in power, she was received lavishly, beyond her expectations. This is a personal feeling and has nothing to do with Thaksin being right or wrong, good or bad.

Third, if Hun Sen has said what Chavalit claims he has said (that Cambodia is prepared to shelter Thaksin), then Hun Sen has confessed for the first time that he and Thaksin have been putting their heads together for something very fishy - something that could be bad for Cambodia and Thailand's longstanding relations - but good for the two only.

Thaksin Shinawatra may have thought he made the wisest decision in choosing Gen Chavalit as his right-hand man in Thailand. He should think again. Even I am embarrassed every time people hear my name and ask: ''Not that Chavalit, are you?

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ASEAN Summit Off To A Controversial Start

(RTTNews) - The three-day annual summit of the Association of South-East Asian Nations got off to a controversial start Friday when the launching of the ASEAN Inter-governmental Human Rights Commission (AICHR) was marred by half of the representatives of civil society groups being denied chance for an audience with the ASEAN leaders.


The governments of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines and Singapore all rejected the delegates chosen by the ASEAN Civil Society to meet with the leaders of the member-states, now a regular event at ASEAN summits to demonstrate the group's new 'people orientation.'

The rejected delegates included Cambodia's Nay Vanda, Laos' Manichanh Philaphanh, Myanmar's Khin Ohmar, the Philippines' Crescencia Lucerno, a Franciscan nun, and Singapore's Sinapan Sanaydorai, a labor activist.

The governments said they would not take part in the dialogue if the five activists were present. Instead, Singapore and Myanmar flew in substitutes from government-sponsored agencies, with the latter sending two former police chiefs to represent civil society.

When the interactive meeting began without the original civil society representatives, those from Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand walked out, leaving the process a mere 'government affair.'

Debbie Stothard of the ASEAN People's Forum, an umbrella group of non-governmental organizations, said "ASEAN has lost credibility." She described the incident as 'disturbing.'

The summit, being held at the Thai beach resort of Cha-am, south of the capital Bangkok, was due to sign declarations on food security, regional connectivity, disaster management and cultural exchanges.

Both the cities are under tight security. Originally scheduled to hold in April, the half-yearly summit was twice postponed due to political unrest and inconvenience of some Asian leaders to attend it.

Still, half the bloc's 10 leaders failed to show up at the opening of the conference Friday.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who presided over the inauguration ceremony, called the launching of the Human Rights Commission 'a significant milestone in the evolution of ASEAN," while critics say it is incapable of punishing human rights violators because it focuses on promotion rather than protection of human rights.

He called for a more dynamic, action-based ASEAN as it moves toward its goal of achieving an integrated ASEAN Community similar to the EU by 2015

An inter-governmental body having consultative nature, the basic purpose of the AICHR is to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of the peoples of ASEAN. It is also meant for developing strategies for upholding the right of the peoples of ASEAN to live in peace, dignity and prosperity.

The AICHR charter calls for enhancing regional cooperation with a view to complementing national and international efforts on the promotion and protection of human rights.

A clause in the charter, non-interference in the internal affairs of ASEAN Member States, makes it claw-less in dealing with obvious and serious human rights violations going on in a region notorious for human rights abuses, especially countries like Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

At the same time, it empowers the regional body to consult, as may be appropriate, with other national, regional and international institutions.

The AICHR shall convene two regular meetings per year.

An annual report on its activities will be submitted to the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting.

ASEAN has been widely criticized in the past for failing to pressure the Myanmar military regime to free Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and more than 2,000 other political prisoners.

With a focus on the process to integrate the ASEAN community, education and human resource development will be given top priority at the 15th ASEAN Summit.

The bloc will also meet with regional dialogue partners - China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.

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ASEAN Summit Off To A Controversial Start

(RTTNews) - The three-day annual summit of the Association of South-East Asian Nations got off to a controversial start Friday when the launching of the ASEAN Inter-governmental Human Rights Commission (AICHR) was marred by half of the representatives of civil society groups being denied chance for an audience with the ASEAN leaders.


The governments of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines and Singapore all rejected the delegates chosen by the ASEAN Civil Society to meet with the leaders of the member-states, now a regular event at ASEAN summits to demonstrate the group's new 'people orientation.'

The rejected delegates included Cambodia's Nay Vanda, Laos' Manichanh Philaphanh, Myanmar's Khin Ohmar, the Philippines' Crescencia Lucerno, a Franciscan nun, and Singapore's Sinapan Sanaydorai, a labor activist.

The governments said they would not take part in the dialogue if the five activists were present. Instead, Singapore and Myanmar flew in substitutes from government-sponsored agencies, with the latter sending two former police chiefs to represent civil society.

When the interactive meeting began without the original civil society representatives, those from Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand walked out, leaving the process a mere 'government affair.'

Debbie Stothard of the ASEAN People's Forum, an umbrella group of non-governmental organizations, said "ASEAN has lost credibility." She described the incident as 'disturbing.'

The summit, being held at the Thai beach resort of Cha-am, south of the capital Bangkok, was due to sign declarations on food security, regional connectivity, disaster management and cultural exchanges.

Both the cities are under tight security. Originally scheduled to hold in April, the half-yearly summit was twice postponed due to political unrest and inconvenience of some Asian leaders to attend it.

Still, half the bloc's 10 leaders failed to show up at the opening of the conference Friday.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who presided over the inauguration ceremony, called the launching of the Human Rights Commission 'a significant milestone in the evolution of ASEAN," while critics say it is incapable of punishing human rights violators because it focuses on promotion rather than protection of human rights.

He called for a more dynamic, action-based ASEAN as it moves toward its goal of achieving an integrated ASEAN Community similar to the EU by 2015

An inter-governmental body having consultative nature, the basic purpose of the AICHR is to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of the peoples of ASEAN. It is also meant for developing strategies for upholding the right of the peoples of ASEAN to live in peace, dignity and prosperity.

The AICHR charter calls for enhancing regional cooperation with a view to complementing national and international efforts on the promotion and protection of human rights.

A clause in the charter, non-interference in the internal affairs of ASEAN Member States, makes it claw-less in dealing with obvious and serious human rights violations going on in a region notorious for human rights abuses, especially countries like Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

At the same time, it empowers the regional body to consult, as may be appropriate, with other national, regional and international institutions.

The AICHR shall convene two regular meetings per year.

An annual report on its activities will be submitted to the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting.

ASEAN has been widely criticized in the past for failing to pressure the Myanmar military regime to free Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and more than 2,000 other political prisoners.

With a focus on the process to integrate the ASEAN community, education and human resource development will be given top priority at the 15th ASEAN Summit.

The bloc will also meet with regional dialogue partners - China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.

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Between friendship and politics


Good friends: Hun Sen (right) talking Thaksin in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in this file picture. — AP


On the eve of an Asean summit, Cambodian premier Hun Sen extends an invitation to his friend Thaksin Shinawatra to stay in Cambodia, then his government denies it.

WHAT can an eternal friend, who happens to be the Cambodian Prime Minister, do to help his self-exiled billionaire politician buddy?

If you were Hun Sen, you would offer to build a beautiful home in Cambodia for Thaksin Shinawatra, the former Thai prime minister who was ousted in a 2006 coup.

In Phnom Penh on Wednesday the Cambodian premier told Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, the puu yai (Thai for “senior elder”) of the pro-Thaksin Pheu Thai Party, that he was prepared to host Thaksin, who fled Thailand in August 2008 to avoid a two-year jail term on charges of corruption and abuse of power.

“I consider Thaksin as my eternal friend. Cambodia will welcome him to stay here for anytime.

“I make the house available for him at any time if he decides to visit Cambodia,” Hun Sen told reporters after meeting Chavalit.

“Though I’m not Thai, I’m hurt by what has happened to him. My wife even cried on knowing about it and has the idea of building a home for Thaksin to come and stay honourably,” he said.

“We have been great friends since Thaksin was a businessman, and the relationship has remained the same since he entered politics,” Hun Sen said.

In Thaksinlive, Thaksin tweeted in Thai: “I have to express deepest thanks to Prime Minister Hun Sen for saying in public that I am his friend.

“I also would like to thank him for arranging me a house.”

However, Thaksin — who is currently staying in Dubai — did not say whether he would accept Hun Sen’s offer.

In an article yesterday, The Nation reported that relations between Hun Sen and Thaksin go back nearly two decades when the Thai was “an up-and-coming businessman trying to align himself with important people.”

“It started with lucrative business contracts in the area of telecommunications, with the Vietnamese-installed government in Phnom Penh. At the time Hun Sen was top man on the hill,” wrote Don Pathan, The Nation’s foreign editor.

Hun Sen’s invitation to Thaksin came two days before the Asean summit, where Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva will be hosting him and other Asian leaders in Hua Hin, Thailand.

A Bangkok Post editorial cartoon yesterday succinctly illustrated the consequence of the undiplomatic invitation: Hun Sen’s right arm warmly welcoming a delighted Thaksin, while his left hand was rudely slapping a flustered Abhisit.

On Thursday, Veera Prateepchaikul, a former Bangkok Post editor, wrote:

“A shrewd politician, the Cambodian prime minister should have realised that his receiving of Chavalit at this juncture and his remark about Thaksin would embarrass if not offend the Thai government, Prime Minister Abhisit in particular.”

“But he didn’t seem bothered and appeared willingly to play into Chavalit’s political game,” he opined in the Bangkok Post.

Ever the statesman, Abhisit on Thursday told journalists he had no hard feelings towards Hun Sen.

The Thai premier said he believed his Cambodian counterpart was mature enough to differentiate matters and had no intention of interfering in Thailand’s internal affairs. He added that he would not raise the matter with Hun Sen during the Asean summit.

However, Abhisit said his government would seek Thaksin’s extradition if he ever set foot in Cambodia.

“Once Thaksin enters Cambodia the extradition process will begin. If Cambodia fails to comply with (the) treaty, that would be another story,” he said.

Don’t bet on that happening.

“If Thaksin decides to come and stay closer to home, he can rest assured it won’t be a walk into a trap,” The Nation opined yesterday.

“First and foremost, the one who invites him and who would be his host is the most powerful man in Cambodia, thus the chance of Thaksin being stabbed in the back and extradited is virtually zero.”

The article continued: “Combine the apparently heartfelt message with Hun Sen’s stormy relations with the current Bangkok leaders, an extradition request should either bounce back to the senders or head straight to diplomatic oblivion.”

Yesterday, Hun Sen’s invitation took a twist.

Cambodian government spokesman Khieu Kanharith claimed that it was untrue the Cambodian premier would allow Thaksin to have a permanent home in Cambodia. He added that Hun Sen was misquoted by the media.

Perhaps Thaksin can shed some light on this latest twist in his next tweet.

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Between friendship and politics


Good friends: Hun Sen (right) talking Thaksin in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in this file picture. — AP


On the eve of an Asean summit, Cambodian premier Hun Sen extends an invitation to his friend Thaksin Shinawatra to stay in Cambodia, then his government denies it.

WHAT can an eternal friend, who happens to be the Cambodian Prime Minister, do to help his self-exiled billionaire politician buddy?

If you were Hun Sen, you would offer to build a beautiful home in Cambodia for Thaksin Shinawatra, the former Thai prime minister who was ousted in a 2006 coup.

In Phnom Penh on Wednesday the Cambodian premier told Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, the puu yai (Thai for “senior elder”) of the pro-Thaksin Pheu Thai Party, that he was prepared to host Thaksin, who fled Thailand in August 2008 to avoid a two-year jail term on charges of corruption and abuse of power.

“I consider Thaksin as my eternal friend. Cambodia will welcome him to stay here for anytime.

“I make the house available for him at any time if he decides to visit Cambodia,” Hun Sen told reporters after meeting Chavalit.

“Though I’m not Thai, I’m hurt by what has happened to him. My wife even cried on knowing about it and has the idea of building a home for Thaksin to come and stay honourably,” he said.

“We have been great friends since Thaksin was a businessman, and the relationship has remained the same since he entered politics,” Hun Sen said.

In Thaksinlive, Thaksin tweeted in Thai: “I have to express deepest thanks to Prime Minister Hun Sen for saying in public that I am his friend.

“I also would like to thank him for arranging me a house.”

However, Thaksin — who is currently staying in Dubai — did not say whether he would accept Hun Sen’s offer.

In an article yesterday, The Nation reported that relations between Hun Sen and Thaksin go back nearly two decades when the Thai was “an up-and-coming businessman trying to align himself with important people.”

“It started with lucrative business contracts in the area of telecommunications, with the Vietnamese-installed government in Phnom Penh. At the time Hun Sen was top man on the hill,” wrote Don Pathan, The Nation’s foreign editor.

Hun Sen’s invitation to Thaksin came two days before the Asean summit, where Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva will be hosting him and other Asian leaders in Hua Hin, Thailand.

A Bangkok Post editorial cartoon yesterday succinctly illustrated the consequence of the undiplomatic invitation: Hun Sen’s right arm warmly welcoming a delighted Thaksin, while his left hand was rudely slapping a flustered Abhisit.

On Thursday, Veera Prateepchaikul, a former Bangkok Post editor, wrote:

“A shrewd politician, the Cambodian prime minister should have realised that his receiving of Chavalit at this juncture and his remark about Thaksin would embarrass if not offend the Thai government, Prime Minister Abhisit in particular.”

“But he didn’t seem bothered and appeared willingly to play into Chavalit’s political game,” he opined in the Bangkok Post.

Ever the statesman, Abhisit on Thursday told journalists he had no hard feelings towards Hun Sen.

The Thai premier said he believed his Cambodian counterpart was mature enough to differentiate matters and had no intention of interfering in Thailand’s internal affairs. He added that he would not raise the matter with Hun Sen during the Asean summit.

However, Abhisit said his government would seek Thaksin’s extradition if he ever set foot in Cambodia.

“Once Thaksin enters Cambodia the extradition process will begin. If Cambodia fails to comply with (the) treaty, that would be another story,” he said.

Don’t bet on that happening.

“If Thaksin decides to come and stay closer to home, he can rest assured it won’t be a walk into a trap,” The Nation opined yesterday.

“First and foremost, the one who invites him and who would be his host is the most powerful man in Cambodia, thus the chance of Thaksin being stabbed in the back and extradited is virtually zero.”

The article continued: “Combine the apparently heartfelt message with Hun Sen’s stormy relations with the current Bangkok leaders, an extradition request should either bounce back to the senders or head straight to diplomatic oblivion.”

Yesterday, Hun Sen’s invitation took a twist.

Cambodian government spokesman Khieu Kanharith claimed that it was untrue the Cambodian premier would allow Thaksin to have a permanent home in Cambodia. He added that Hun Sen was misquoted by the media.

Perhaps Thaksin can shed some light on this latest twist in his next tweet.

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Asean Human Rights Body Launched Amid Controversy

Friday, October 23, 2009

Amid other leaders and representatives from the Southeast Asian Nations and representatives from human rights bodies in the region, Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva (3rd L front row) hands the 'Cha-am Hua Hin Declaration on the inauguration of the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights' to head of Thailand's human rights body Sriprapha Petcharamesree (2nd R front row) during the inauguration ceremony as part of the summit meeting in the southern Thai resort town of Hua Hin on October 23. (Photo: Getty Images)
Asean civil society delegates protest the exclusion of five delegates from a meeting with Asean heads of government. (Photo: Simon Roughneen)
Indonesian civil society representative Yuyun Wahyuningrum meets the reporters. (Photo: Simon Roughneen

Pictures beamed into the Asean summit media center from the informal foreign ministers dinner showed Burma's Foreign Minister Nyan Win relaxing tableside with his counterparts from the regional bloc.

Later, as Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva formally launched the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), the six heads of government present joined hands with the 10 commission members on stage, in what was meant to be a highlight of the Asean summit.

Despite the fanfare, the real worth of the AICHR already has been widely questioned. Since the terms of reference for the body were announced earlier this year, the AICHR has been criticized for having a limited mandate.

Aung Din, the executive director of the US Campaign for Burma who testified before the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs on Oct. 21, told The Irrawaddy, "It will be run by government officials. Burma, along with Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Brunei, will resist and block any meaningful action proposed by other more open members."

While the AICHR will ostensibly work to promote the concept of human rights, it lacks any method to sanction member states for human rights abuses.

Abhisit acknowledged as much in his launch speech, noting "criticisms by analysts" of the terms of reference for the new body.

As current Asean chair, the Thai prime minister said that the Cha-am/Hua Hin Declaration launching the new commission "showed the commitment of Asean-member states to realize the historic quest of the people of Southeast Asia for freedom."

Activists said that commitment was rendered hollow very quickly, however. Launching the AICHR, Abhisit said that "civil society groups should rest assured that you now have a partner that works for you."

However, 30 minutes later, a delegation of Asean civil society organizations denounced the new human rights commission, saying its attitude to civil society "sabotaged the credibility" of the AICHR.

Earlier Friday morning, a meeting between civil society members from Asean-member states and the heads of government was stillborn.

At 11.30 pm on Thursday night, Thai foreign ministry officials informed the delegates–– elected at a meeting of the Asean People's Forum over Oct. 18-20––that the governments of Burma, Singapore, Laos, Cambodia and the Philippines had vetoed the chosen NGO representatives.

The Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian representatives faced no obstacle from their governments.

In solidarity with their five rejected counterparts, they refused to attend the meeting, leaving the remaining delegates––all hand-picked by the governments––to attend.

Burmese delegate Khin Ohn Mar said that "this attempt to undermine the civil society meeting goes back to the Asean People's Forum, when the Burmese generals sent two former high-ranking police officers to the meeting, and they sought to undermine discussion of all the human rights violations that have been taking place in Burma for many years."

Abhisit said that US $200,000 was available to fund the AICHR, and he hoped more money from Asean and other sources would be made available.

Asean will review the commission's terms of reference every five years to "further develop and strengthen the mandate and function of the body," according to the Thai prime minister, who said that critics should not see the AICHR as “an end in itself, but a work in progress.”

The UN has urged Asean leaders to make the human rights body "credible." However, as Aung Din pointed out, the AICHR could "make Asean more shameful than impressive."

Given that its launch has been juxtaposed with a blatant snub to NGOs representatives from five member-states, this seems to be the case at the outset.

Kraisak Choonhavan, a Democrat MP in Thailand and chair of the Asean Interparliamentary Myanmar (Burma) Caucus, told The Irrawaddy that "this [refusal to meet civil society] bodes badly for the region."

Perhaps the most surprising snub was delivered to Sr. Cres Lucero, the executive director of Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, who said, "Asean governments are undermining the fundamentals not only of the AICHR, but of the Asean Charter, which they themselves set up."

Earlier, reacting to the launch of the AICHR, the Philippine government nominee, Ambassador Rosario G. Manalo, said, "We are very happy today. This is a dream come true."

Of the 10 commissioners who will comprise AICHR, eight are government appointees. Only Indonesia and Thailand allowed human rights bodies to nominate representatives to the new commission.

Sinapan Samdorai, the convenor of the Task Force on Asean Migrant Workers in Singapore, said his government refused to sanction his presence at the meeting.

He told The Irrawaddy, "Singapore has adopted Asean’s lowest common denominator here, by aping the anti-democratic tactics used by the Burmese junta."

After today's events, any expectations that Asean can use this summit to push the Burmese junta into some new concessions on political prisoners or a review of its 2008 Constitution seem far-fetched at this juncture.

Kraisak Choonhavan said, "To outsiders, it must seem that Burma is the most powerful country in Asean, able to dictate the agenda of meetings at will. Moreover, this allows other countries that do not want to respect rights or implement democracy to hide behind this disturbing trend."

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Microsoft wows the Street Stock soars 10% after the software giant's earnings and revenue beat analysts' forecast. Sales fell 14% to $12.9 billion, de

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Microsoft Corp.'s stock soared early Friday after the software giant reported quarterly sales and profit that fell from year-ago results but easily beat Wall Street's forecasts.

Shares of Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500) rose more than 10% in early trading. It surged as high as $29.35 at the open, hitting its highest level, on an intraday basis, since June 13, 2008.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant said its first-quarter net income fell 18% to $3.6 billion, or 40 cents per share, for the period ended Sept. 30. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters were expecting earnings of 32 cents per share.

Sales fell 14% to $12.9 billion, topping analysts' forecasts of $12.3 billion. It was the third consecutive quarter in which sales fell from year-ago levels. In April Microsoft reported that sales fell on a year-over-year basis for the first time in the company's 23-year history as a public company.

"We are very pleased with our performance this quarter and particularly by the strong consumer demand for Windows," said Microsoft Chief Financial Officer Chris Liddell in a statement. "We also maintained our cost discipline, which allowed us to drive strong earnings performance despite continued tough overall economic conditions."

Some analysts said cost-cutting contributed to better-than-expected results, but it's too soon to declare Microsoft's recent struggles over.

"Microsoft did a little deck cleaning before the start of its fiscal year," said Carl Howe, analyst at Yankee group. "They may have beat expectations, but if I looked at this just to analyze the income statement, Microsoft still had a tough quarter."

Windows 7 expected to be a hit. The earnings announcement topped off a high-profile week for Microsoft, in which it unveiled its new operating system, Windows 7.

Microsoft has been hurt in recent quarters by slumping demand for PCs. But many signs point to a rebound in computer sales, including this week's Windows 7 launch. Though analysts don't expect the new operating system to boost PC sales significantly in 2009, a pickup in sales is anticipated for 2010.

Microsoft said PC sales were better than expected in the last quarter, as sales ticked up by between 0% and 2%. The company said businesses will slowly start to buy new computers starting next year and into 2011.

Sales of Windows fell 38.8% in the quarter and profits from the operating system division were sliced in half. That was mostly due to a deferral of $1.5 billion in revenue from Vista sales to provide customers with upgrade coupons for Windows 7.

The company said Windows sales set an all-time record in September -- an encouraging sign for the company and for the success of Windows 7. Microsoft said it will realize $1.7 billion of Windows 7 revenue in the current quarter -- $1.5 billion from last quarter and $200 million from the previous quarter.

"What they really did was ensure that in this [current] quarter, that division will have very nice looking results, since they are pulling in deferred results from last quarter," said Howe. "So the [current] quarter may look much better as a result."

Cost-cutting drives profits higher: Other divisions posted healthy profit increases, largely as a result of cost-cutting.

In January, Microsoft announced its first mass layoffs in its 34-year history in an effort to bolster its bottom line. The company slashed 5,000 positions, a move that is expected to be completed by mid-2010.

The company's headcount was down 4% in the quarter from a year ago -- the largest yearly staffing decline in the company's history.

Revenue from its entertainment and devices division, which includes the Xbox 360 and the new Zune HD, was unchanged from last year, but profit nearly doubled. The company's server unit also had flat revenue, but profits rose 23%.

The company still failed to turn a profit in its online services business though. That division, which includes MSN, lost $480 million in the quarter. Sales in the division were down 6% from the same quarter a year earlier. The company said search advertising revenue continued to decline, but the industry is showing signs of stabilization.

Microsoft unveiled Bing, its new search engine, in June and agreed to an advertising revenue-sharing partnership with Yahoo (YHOO, Fortune 500) that will begin in 2010. Bing's launch has been considered a success so far, but the company still trails industry leader Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) in the online advertising market.

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Thai king appears outside hospital

BANGKOK, Thailand (CNN) -- Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world's longest-reigning monarch, emerged from a hospital for the first time Friday since seeking medical attention more than a month ago.

A well-wisher signs a get well petition for Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

A well-wisher signs a get well petition for Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The 81-year-old appeared outside the Bangkok hospital as onlookers shouted, "God bless the King." He was wheeled to an outdoor area of the hospital, where he paid respects to a statue of King Rama V. He then paid respects to a portrait of his late mother.

The monarch's appearance was televised on local stations.

He was admitted to the hospital on September 20 after complaining of fever and fatigue.

The king was formally crowned on May 5, 1950. Thailand abolished absolute monarchy in the 1930s, so the king wields little political power. But he is revered and enjoys immense popularity.

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U.S. commander to address NATO on Afghan war strategy

(CNN) -- The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, plans to address NATO defense ministers Friday about the next steps for the military strategy.

General Stanley McChrystal took command of U.S. forces in Afghanistan earlier this year.

General Stanley McChrystal took command of U.S. forces in Afghanistan earlier this year.

The NATO meeting in Bratislava, Slovakia, comes as the United States wraps up a review of its own military strategy in Afghanistan.

"As has been said in Washington, I think the analytical phase is coming to an end and probably over the next two or three weeks we're going to be considering specific options and teeing them up for decision by the president," U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday after the morning NATO session.

McChrystal is pushing Washington to send 40,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan amid skepticism from some of President Barack Obama's top advisers.

The general planned to address the NATO defense ministers at a Friday afternoon "working lunch" that will focus on the Afghanistan war strategy, Gates said. Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak will also be present, he noted.

A main focus of the meeting is how to transition power of security to Afghan forces. But that is still a long way off, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Friday.

"We need to start thinking about and planning towards progressively handing over lead responsibility to the Afghan army and the Afghan police," Rasmussen said.

"Now let me be clear: We have not agreed to start handing over the lead. The conditions are not yet right. The Afghan security forces are not yet strong enough."

He stressed that when the transition happens, it "doesn't mean NATO forces leave. It means they go into a supporting role."

NATO's International Security Assistance Force is made up of more than 71,000 forces from 43 contributing nations, including more than 34,000 from the United States

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China economic growth accelerates

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Workers in a motorbike factory
Investment in factories has risen

China has said it is on track to hit its growth target of 8% this year, after the economy grew 8.9% from a year ago in the third quarter.

The figure is up from the 7.9% rate seen in the previous quarter and is the country's fastest GDP growth since the third quarter of last year.

Separate reports show that industrial production and retail sales also accelerated in September.

The economy grew by 7.7% in the nine months to September.

Retail sales growth was 15.1% in the first three quarters of the year, the National Statistics Bureau said.

China's car market has become the world's largest, with sales up 34% to 9.66 million vehicles in the first nine months of the year.

Government investment

At the end of 2008 the Chinese government announced a 4 trillion yuan ($586bn; £354bn) stimulus plan involving increased spending on infrastructure, such as rail and roads, to boost the domestic economy as exports slumped.

Latest figures show that investment, accounting for nearly 88% of GDP growth earlier this year, is playing a vital role in China's growth.

Investment in factories, construction and other fixed assets rose by one-third in the first nine months of the year to a record 15.5tn yuan.

But factory owners say that in many cases, while the volume of goods they are producing has risen, the prices customers are prepared to pay for them are lower than before the financial crisis.

Unemployment is still high in many areas, and some factory workers are reported to be working shorter hours and earning less.

The next challenge for policy makers is to begin to withdraw elements of the stimulus plan, and to reduce the huge outflows of credit the country's state owned banks have issued, without damaging economic recovery.

As the stimulus is withdrawn, the hope is that demand from the private sector, from consumer spending and eventually from renewed demand for China's exports, will keep the country's growth rate stable.

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Between a dog life of a Cambodian King and a dog life of a Cambodian poor: Which one is better?

Poor Cambodian beggars in front of a pagoda (Photo: Koh Santepheap)
Dog life of a Cambodian king (Photo: NorodomSihanouk.info)

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SKorean president visits Cambodia to boost ties

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen (R) talks with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak
Lee also promised South Korea would provide 200 million dollars in soft loans to Cambodia between 2009 and 2013
PHNOM PENH — South Korean president Lee Myung-bak arrived in Cambodia Thursday for a two-day official visit to boost ties and develop economic relations between the two countries.

Lee descended from his airplane to a red carpet at Phnom Penh International Airport, and then received an audience with King Norodom Sihamoni at the capital's royal palace and held talks with premier Hun Sen later in the day.

"Cooperation and relations between Cambodia and South Korea have been growing through many projects," Hun Sen said.

During their meeting, Lee and Hun Sen agreed to form a "strategic and cooperative partnership" between their countries, Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told reporters.

Lee also promised South Korea would provide 200 million dollars in soft loans to Cambodia between 2009 and 2013, Hor Namhong said.

In the lunchtime speech distributed to reporters, the South Korean president promised to help develop Cambodia's agricultural sector by providing new technology and training.

Over 500 South Korean companies were currently investing in Cambodia, Lee added.

The two countries also signed an extradition agreement and a deal for an initiative in which Cambodia would issue South Korean tourists multiple entry year-long visas, officials said.

"The visit by the South Korean president is very important. It will boost economic relations between the two countries," government spokesman Khieu Kanharith told reporters.

The Yonhap news agency has reported that South Korean investment in Cambodia increased to nearly 2.5 billion dollars last year from 30 million dollars in 1997.

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The telecoms tycoon : Dealings over two decades

Thaksin and Hun Sen (file photo : epa)

Bilateral ties at a new low, thanks to 'ruthless' PM and the 'trusty' Chavalit
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva hit back yesterday at controversial remarks by Cambodian PM Hun Sen. His comments - see the story below - are just the latest blip in years of rocky ties, in which ousted Thai PM Thaksin Shinawatra has been a key player.

Relations between Thaksin and Hun Sen go back nearly two decades when the former was an up-and-coming businessman trying to align himself with important people.

It started with lucrative business contracts in the area of telecommunication with the Vietnamese-installed government in Phnom Penh at the time Hun Sen was top man on the hill.

And when it was time to lay a new foundation for the war-torn country through the UN-sponsored election in 1993, Thaksin was a supporter of Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP). Hun Sen lost to Prince Norodom Ranariddh's Funcinpec Party but was able to muscle his way in to become a "co-prime minister".

Ranariddh being PM meant the end of Thaksin's telecom and cable TV deal in the country, which he obtained through the help of the prime minister's half brother Prince Jakrapong before the 1993 election.

The cancellation was a set-back but it wasn't everything. Thaksin waited for his turn to reap whatever he could in Cambodia.

In mid-1994, bickering between Hun Sen and Jakrapong brought Thaksin back in the spotlight. There were allegations that Thaksin had financed a coup against Hun Sen. Jakrapong fled to Malaysia. A couple of Thai nationals working for Thaksin in Cambodia were detained but later released.

Thaksin denied meddling in Cambodia's internal affairs. No one knows if Hun Sen actually believed him. Perhaps for the sake of continuity, Hun Sen permitted the issue to pass by without really getting to the bottom of the allegation.

Noted Cambodia scholar Stephen Heder once described Hun Sen in stark terms: "He is both a competent political administrator and a ruthless political criminal."

Indeed, this former Khmer Rogue cadre has never been afraid of using force. In late 1995 he sent armed men in tanks to arrest Prince Sirivudh, King Sihanouk's half-brother, after hearing a rumour that the then secretary-general of Funcinpec had whispered that it may be easier to hire thugs to kill Hun Sen than put up with him.

No one ever believed the CPP-Funcinpec coalition would last. Four years after the UN-sponsored election that was supposed to end bloodshed, Hun Sen launched a bloody coup against Ranariddh.

The prince's men were forced to flee as his military faction, led by General Nek Bunchhay, retreated to the border while Khmer Rouge cadre in Anlong Veng came to their aid.

In early 2001, Thaksin came to power in Thailand at a time Cambodia was trying to pick itself up after decades of war and look for ways to benefit from being part of Asean. But all this time, Hun Sen never forgot the people who helped his step to power in Phnom Penh - namely, Vietnam.

When Funcinpec was still around - in or out of power - Vietnam, because of its historical support for CPP, was always at the butt of Ranariddh's jokes and sarcasm. Thailand's escaping the talkative prince's verbal assault partly because Funcinpec heads tended to take refuge at Soi Suan Phlu whenever there was trouble in Phnom Penh.

Today, Thailand is effectively the butt of Hun Sen's sarcasm.

In 2003 Hun Sen gave legitimacy to an unconfirmed remark by a Thai celebrity about Angkor Wat and the end result was the torching of the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh and the looting of Thai businesses.

But the strongman managed to come out of this ahead. Hun Sen used the riot as a pretext to remove then Phnom Penh governor Chea Sophara from his post and install a CPP man from his faction.

Relations between Thailand and Cambodia took a nosedive but for a businessman like Thaksin, money could heal all wounds. Thaksin's investments in the country were taken care of, and it was eventually the same for other Thai-owned businesses. Things were back in sync until the border dispute over Preah Vihear.

The recent pronouncement by Hun Sen that the fugitive Thaksin was welcome to reside in Cambodia not only adds salt to the Thailand's wounds but has brought bilateral ties to a new low. And of all people, it was a veteran Thai politician, a man known for his lack of trustworthiness, Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, who handed Hun Sen the ammunition.

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Hun Sen to Thaksin : Run to Me

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

If Chavalit Yongchaiyudh's decision to virtually lead the Pheu Thai Party is something of a political rebirth, he has hit the ground running.
One day in Phnom Penh and a bombshell was dropped on the already sour relationship between Thailand and Cambodia.

Following a meeting with Chavalit, Cambodian Premier Hun Sen told reporters how his wife cried at the mention of Thaksin Shinawatra's fate and how a plan to give Thaksin a home "that deserves his honour" was discussed.

"We have been great friends since Thaksin was businessman and the relationship has remained the same since he entered politics," Hun Sen said.

"Though I'm not Thai, I'm hurt by what has happened to him. My wife even cried on knowing about it and has an idea to build a home for Thaksin to come and stay honourably."

It was the closest thing to saying Cambodia would be willing to give Thaksin a political exile, an issue which will present both countries with an awkward situation, in addition to the Phra Vihear conflict, going into the Asean summit.

Chavalit, on his return to Thailand from the one-day visit to Cambodia, confirmed what Hun Sen said. And true to his characteristics, he created more speculation by suggesting he was ready to meet Thaksin's arch-rival Sondhi Limthongkul.

Sondhi's People's Alliance for Demcoracy reacted guardedly to that, saying that no matter what Chavalit had in mind, the PAD's fundamental stand remains unchanged _ Thaksin has to serve his jail term first, and the rest can be discussed later.

There have been whispers, though, that Chavalit had met another PAD key man, Chamlong Srimuang, before deciding to seek a "summit" with Sondhi. A Chavalit-Sondhi meeting, PAD insiders believe, is "possible". They said things could become clearer after key PAD members meet this coming Tuesday.

On Hun Sen and Thaksin, Chavalit said the latter would be given a house in case he wanted to have a long stay in Cambodia.

Chavalit met Hun Sen during his one-day visit to Phnom Penh yesterday as a representative of Thaksin-backed Peu Thai Party.

As a long time friend, Prime Minister Hun Sen paid a lot of attention to fate of Thaksin, Chavait said.

Hun Sen has known Thaksin for long time since the latter was a normal businessman who invested in Cambodia.

"Prime Minister Hun Sen and his family are neither Thai nor relative of Thaksin but feel sympathy to him and want to declare that they are friend forever," Chavalit said.

"They have prepared a beautiful house for Thaksin and give him an honor as a friend," he said.

Asked if the Thai government was concerned over his visit to Phnom Penh, Chavalit said no government official called him to express such concern since he just went there to visit his friends and did not represent the government.

However Chavalit also discussed border conflict at the area near Preah Vihear temple with Hun Sen and praised Cambodia's stance to solve the problem with peaceful way.

The border conflict could be solved via bilateral mechanism of joint boundary commission, he said.

"We don't expect the issue could be solved within a few days, it could be 20 years but we should handle it with understanding and friendship," he said.

On the sea boundary, Chavalit said Cambodia has not yet granted concession to exploit oil and gas in the sea overlapping area to any foreign companies but is waiting for the Thai government to negotiate on the issue.

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News in Pictures


Tourists pass by portraits of South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak (L), Cambodia's King Sihamoni (C) and First Lady of South Korea Kim Yoon-ok on a Phnom Penh street October 21, 2009. Lee is scheduled to pay an official visit to Cambodia. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea


Cambodian school children head home after school through the flooded village of Russey Keo, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2009. Flooding caused by Typhoon Ketsana, which struck the area several weeks ago, prevented almost a thousand Cambodian schools from opening at the start of the academic year, keeping tens of thousands of students home, an Education Ministry official reported. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)


Cambodian and foreigner climate change activists stand surrounding Cambodia's biggest clock in the heart of the capital of Phnom Penh on October 21, 2009 as part of the Tck-Tck-Tck global campaign against climate change. The activists are calling for climate action. Cambodia is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change impacts due to its low capacity and limited resources to address climate change. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on October 19, urged the world's rich countries to take more responsibility for climate change, saying the poor suffer for their carbon emissions "sin." AFP PHOTO/TANG CHHIN SOTHY (Photo credit should read TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/Getty Images)

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Gen Chavalit visits Cambodia

Chavalit Yongchaiyuth

Former prime minister and a key member of the main opposition Puea Thai Party Chavalit Yongchaiyuth on Wednesday morning left for Phanom Penh to meet Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen.

“Mr Hun Sen is my old friend and I am visiting him on his invitation”, Gen Chavalit said before leaving for the neighboring country.

The ex-premier said he would not raise the issue of the disputed area near the Preah Vihear ancient temple for discussion during his today’s visit.

“But if Mr Hun Sen wants to discuss it, I am ready for talks to help the government settle the dispute”, Gen Chavalit said.

He noted that the problem between Thailand and Cambodia could be stemmed from a small misunderstanding and the dispute would not lead to a change in ties between the two countries.

Regarding the incident that several generals of the armed forces who were classmates at the pre-cadet’s class 10 of deposed former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra had recently joined Puea Thai Party, Gen Chavalit said many more senior persons who had worked for the country but were not well-known would join the opposition camp as they wanted to help the kingdom.

He denied he joined the Puea Thai Party because he wants to become a prime minister. He just wants to perform duty as a good member of the political party.

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Demonstration law debate continues at Nat’l Assembly



Photo by: Tracey Shelton
Workers protest in front of Tack Fat garment factory on Saturday.

PARLIAMENTARIANS continued debate on Tuesday over the government’s proposed law to regulate public demonstrations, with the National Assembly passing chapters three and four of the six-chapter law.

The opposition Sam Rainsy Party declined to contest chapter four of the law, which relates to crimes committed during the course of demonstrations, though SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said that his party would not support any of the other five chapters.

The SRP registered particular concern during debate on Tuesday over the demonstration law’s stipulation that protesters must wait for approval from the Ministry of Interior before holding a public gathering.

Nuth Sa An, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior who served as the government representative to defend the draft law, rejected these criticisms, however, saying that government officials needed to hold talks with demonstration leaders before allowing their protests to go ahead.

“We cannot allow people to inform the government and then immediately go and demonstrate,” Nuth Sa An said. “If any problems occur at the demonstration, who is responsible for this? It is the government.”

SRP President Sam Rainsy urged the government to consider broader reforms to reduce the number of demonstrations that take place in Cambodia, rather than simply seeking to restrict the demonstrations themselves.

Noting the many demonstrations that have taken place in front of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Takhmao residence, Sam Rainsy said that if he were premier, he would be embarrassed by this frequent occurrence.

“If I were prime minister, I would not feel proud of people coming to me like this. What does it mean? It means that our officials are inactive, that all government institutions below the prime minister are inaccessible,” he said.

Lawmakers have now passed 27 of the 30 total articles in the Law on Nonviolent Demonstrations, with the final three articles expected to be passed tomorrow.

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Young Cambodians salute golden era of 1960s filmmaking

Left to Right: Somvan Sodany, Vichara Dany and Kong Sam Oeun
Dy Saveth and Chea Yuthorn

Phnom Penh - At 26, Davy Chou is too young to have first-hand experience of the golden age of Cambodian filmmaking, which flourished in the 1960s and early '70s. But the curator of a nine-day event celebrating this neglected part of Cambodia's cultural history has a powerful personal link: his grandfather who disappeared in Cambodia in 1969 was one of the leading film producers of the time.

The '60s saw the start of a 15-year period when the local industry generated hundreds of films. Then tragedy intruded in the form of the Khmer Rouge, and Cambodia's film industry was destroyed in 1975.

"It's a very unique and very sad story," Davy Chou said of the period being marked in the exhibition, Golden Reawakening - '60s Cambodian Film Festival and Exhibition, which began in Phnom Penh Saturday and runs through October 25.

The festival, the first of its kind in the country, is screening 11 films from the period and also exhibiting film posters, photographs and biographies of the leading stars of the day at the Chinese House, a restored colonial building near Phnom Penh's port.

Former king Norodom Sihanouk was a prolific filmmaker and has provided one of his works. Davy Chou said that for most of the 1950s, Norodom Sihanouk was the sole filmmaker in Cambodia, but that changed around 1960.

"Then suddenly during 15 years, there was a boom in the film industry, and they produced - and it's difficult to say an exact number and I think that we will never know - at least 350 films, maybe more than 400 films," he said.

"Today, because of the Khmer Rouge regime, we can find 33 films, so it's less than 10 per cent," he said.

The destruction wrought by the Khmer Rouge still hangs over most aspects of Cambodia. The ultra-Maoist regime's efforts to destroy the country's rich cultural heritage make its baleful influence hard to escape at the festival.

Photographs portray a young, vibrant filmmaking scene with confident actors and actresses in '60s garb globetrotting to Singapore and France, but almost none of the stars from that time are alive. Davy Chou said most died during the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge era, when up to 2 million people, or up to 30 per cent of the population, are thought to have died from execution, starvation and overwork.

"If we count the top 10, we can just find two actresses today," he said, mentioning Dy Saveth, who continues to act, and Virak Dara, who lives in France.

He said other stars such as Kong Sam Oeun, Vichara Dany, Chea Yuthorn and Som Van Sok Dany died under the Khmer Rouge regime.

Dy Saveth was the doyenne of Cambodian actresses in the 1960s. The star of more than 100 films, she was a guest of honour on the exhibition's opening night. As the monsoon rain lashed down outside, she told the German Press Agency.

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