Saturday, December 31, 2011

Virus sickens 110,000 in Vietnam, kills 166

Vietnam says an outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease has infected more than 110,000 people this year and killed 166, most of them children under 5 years old.

A Health Ministry official said Friday that the infection rate was slowing from a September peak of 3,000 per week to about 1,500 per week in December. The official spoke on condition of anonymity, citing policy.

The virus typically infects up to 15,000 children per year in Vietnam, killing 20 to 30 of them. Most people recover quickly from the illness after little more than a fever and rash.

The official says this year's figures cannot easily be compared to previous years, because the government has only collected thorough data on this disease in the past year.

Mekong Battle Delayed

Dec 31, 2011
By Tom Fawthrop
Source: The Diplomat

The announcement that a decision over whether to proceed with the controversial Xayaburi dam has been delayed has been welcomed by NGOs. But will Laos push ahead anyway?

The turbulent waters of the Mekong River have been witness to much strife. From the Vietnam War to the conflict in Cambodia in the 1980s, the citizens of the Mekong have been divided by war, ideology and Cold War diplomacy. And now, an energy-hungry region that has witnessed a boom in hydropower projects has spawned a new conflict – one that could again divide the Mekong sub-region.

It isn’t meant to be like this. After all, the Mekong River Commission (the MRC), which was established in 1995, was meant to unite the four member states in cooperative management of the river through dialogue and negotiation. The MRC was itself the successor to the Mekong Committee and the Interim Mekong Committee.

The river has long formed an integral part of the societies and economies of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, and offers the region a rich ecosystem that includes more than 800 species of fish, as well as food security for an estimated 65 million people. It’s not surprising, then, that controversy has surrounded the plans for the Xayaburi dam.

This dam is the first of a cascade of 11 dams to be built on the Lower Mekong. The Lao government insists that building the dams, and in doing so becoming the ‘battery of Asia,’ is the country’s only hope to secure the resources it needs to support its development programs.

“The dam construction would pose no serious risks,” Viraphonh Viravong, deputy minister of the Laotian Ministry of Energy and Mines, has argued.

Vietnam’s National Mekong Committee has led efforts to block the dam with support from Cambodia, and has consistently argued that no more dams should be built on the Mekong for a decade. This view echoes the recommendation of the Strategic Environmental Assessment, a consultant report on the potential impact of the dam commissioned by the MRC and released in 2010.

This month, at a ministerial session in Siem Reap in Cambodia, the four nations issued a joint statement delaying a decision on the dam and calling for further scientific study on the likely impact of the proposed Mekong mainstream projects. Japan and other international donors will be asked to assist in conducting the studies.

The move was applauded by hundreds of NGOs and environmental groups working under the “Save the Mekong” campaign umbrella. But elation over the possibility that work on the dam had been indefinitely suspended has been dampened by a dissenting Lao government statement delivered in closed session at the end of the MRC session.

The Lao statement, which was never made public, reportedly states: “The Lao PDR will continue to work with reputable international experts to review and improve the final design of the Xayaburi HPP (the Hydropower Plant).”

A former official in the Lao hydropower sector, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the decision by the Lao government to build the Xayaburi dam had already been taken. “Whatever the other Mekong countries say, they are determined to go ahead in 2012,” he added.

The reality is that behind the vaguely worded MRC “consensus,” which reflects the weak regulatory framework of the commission, lays significant conflict between Laos, backed by Thailand on one side, and Vietnam and Cambodia on the other.

Thailand is heavily involved with the project, with Thai corporation Ch. Karnchang to build the dam with financing from four Thai banks. An estimated 95 percent of the electricity is expected to be sold to Thailand. Meanwhile, Ch. Karnchang has already built a new road to the dam site, a development on which the Laos government has failed to answer questions posed by the MRC.

Piaporn Deetes, Thailand campaign coordinator for NGO International Rivers, says the Thai government has been complicit with the Lao government in trying to push ahead with the dam. “By moving under the radar of the Mekong River Commission, Thailand and Laos have threatened the spirit of regional cooperation and the integrity of the 1995 Mekong Agreement,” she says. “While it’s no surprise that the dam builder Ch. Karnchang has lobbied extensively for the dam to proceed, it’s completely unacceptable that the Thai government would bow down to the project developer over the interests of its own people.”

Under the 1995 Mekong Agreement, after the consultation process is finished, there is nothing to stop the Lao government exercising its right to proceed with the dam anyway, in spite of vehement objections from Cambodia and Vietnam – and a substantial body of science warning of an ecological disaster.

“Dams have a hugely negative impact even in economic, terms. It’s not just environmental losses,” says Philip Hirsch, director head of the Australian Mekong Resource Centre at the University of Sydney. “According to a recent study, the economic cost to replace these ecosystem services has been estimated at around $274 billion.”

Donor nations to the MRC, including the United States, have also indicated concern that no dam should proceed before a credible environmental impact assessment is undertaken, as well as assessments of other risks involved. One issue that has been raised, for example, is whether the designers have taken sufficient account of the fact that the Xayaburi dam is located on a fault-line.

Some observers hoped that the traditional historical bonds between Laos and Vietnam, dating back to the common struggle against French colonialism, might have been enough to deter Laos striking out on its own. But the influence Hanoi still has looks like it may be outweighed by the Thai investment in the $3.8 billion project.

An amicable resolution to the issue is therefore likely going to require a face-saving solution that comes with some significant financial incentives for Laos to back away from the plan. The question is whether the will exists among international donors to back up such a solution.

Tom Fawthrop is a Thailand-based journalist and producer. His work has appeared in The Guardian, Al-Jazeera and the New Statesman, among other publications.

2011: Disasters, denials and revelations

December 31, 2011
Free Malaysia Today

Southeast Asia rode out 2011 with its the top stories likely to set the agenda for 2012.

KUALA LUMPUR: Southeast Asia was in 2011 bedeviled by political brinkmanship, territorial disputes, natural disasters and the region’s more colourful and notorious figures having their day in court.

FMT contributor Luke Hunt, who is based in Phnom Penh, offers a quick roundup of issues that made the news in 2011.

Thailand floods

Record floods devastated much of Southeast Asia. About 2,000 people were killed across the region with billions of dollars in losses chalked up by business primarily in Thailand with Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and The Philippines taking a massive knock from Mother Nature.

The UN noted Bangkok had for years been warned about the need to develop a fully integrated approach to flood prevention. But the biggest impediment was always convincing the government. The rapid changes in Thailand’s leadership compromised the ability to plot long term strategies to combat floods.

While international aid donors were quick to react with millions of dollars of food, supplies and medicine airlifted in, harder to shift were attitudes.

Thailand is the world’s largest rice exporter and had expected a rice crop of about 25 million tons in 2012 and this is now forecast to slump by a quarter. Livestock and poultry industries also suffered heavy losses.

The global computer industry based in Thailand is expecting a slowdown in the output of hard disk drives and companies like Toyota suffered from disrupted supply chains that resulted in production also being scaled back in Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

In politics, Thailand was the only country in Southeast Asia to experience a change in leadership in 2011 after Yingluck Shinawatra and her Pheu Thai Party won a landslide victory over Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva in July.

Her win resulted in an easing of tensions at home and across the border and paved a way home for her brother and former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a bloodless 2006 coup.

Her victory generated an improved political climate with Phnom Penh (Cambodia) allowing for an easing of tensions along their border. At the 900-year-old Preah Vihear Temple at least 10 people were killed in February when fighting broke out between Cambodian and Thai troops. A further 18 died when fighting erupted in April along other parts of the border.

Many thought her first task would be to negotiate an amnesty for her brother. However, Yingluck’s priorities rapidly changed as the worst disaster (floods) since World War II assailed the country.

Myanmar’s opening

Thirteen months ago, the Burmese military allowed elections that resulted in the first civilian government coming to power since 1962. The poll – despite being widely regarded as a sham — has pushed the country in a direction welcomed by the international community.

President Thein Sein has revised laws on political parties, freed about 300 political prisoners, sought a conciliatory line with pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and stunned observers by defying one of its few allies, China.

Beijing had planned to build a mega-dam inside Burma but the plan generated enormous local resentment, prompting the government (Naypyidaw) to suspend construction. The government has also legalized trade unions and eased censorship laws.

The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) applauded the moves and decided to award the Asean chair to Burma in 2014.

As US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived on an historic visit to encourage further reforms, Aung San Suu Kyi lent some support by announcing she would contest up-coming by-elections once her National League for Democracy (NLD) party had been re-registered.

However, 1,700 political prisoners remain behind bars and complaints of human rights abuses persist particularly in the countryside where ethnic conflicts continue, prompting warnings that Myanmar’s ruling elite still had a long way to go before convincing skeptics its reforms are anything but superficial.

Malaysia’s revelation

The July 9, Malaysia revealed its other side when a group of non-governmental organisations and opposition political parties decided to rally in support of fair elections in Malaysia. Some 50,000 people had gathered in Kuala and few had expected the police and politicians in Kuala Lumpur would react as harshly as they did.

Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak had initially attempted to play down the protest by Bersih 2.0 coalition of NGOs, but changed his tune after Amnesty International described the crackdown as the worst case of suppression seen in his country for years.

Police were deployed under “Operation Erase Bersih”. They sealed off roads, dispatched toxic water cannons and opened fire with tear gas as tens of thousands attempted to march towards the iconic Merdeka Stadium.

Stampedes followed, and the crowds dispersed into smaller groups and taunted riot police armed with batons, guns and shields. Baton charges followed.

One man was dragged and kicked from outside the Chinese Maternity Hospital (in Jalan Pudu) as tear gas was fired into the hospital’s grounds and next door at Tung Shing Hospital where protesters had sought shelter.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, whose trial for sodomy was finally wrapped recently with a decision scheduled on Jan 9, 2012, was injured after police fired tear gas canisters into a tunnel.

Protesters, however, remained defiant amid more than 1,000 arrests.

Such marches are common in European and North American countries, Australia and New Zealand, all first world nations – a club that Malaysia has aspirations of joining by 2020.

Malaysia – decent Asyraf

Also notable is the Malaysian who was caught in the London riot.

Out of the despair of the London riots one young Malaysian deservedly won himself a place among the top stories of the year for simply being decent.

Soft spoken Asyraf Haziq Rosli deservedly won himself a place among the top stories of the year for simply being decent.

Stunned and bleeding, Asyraf was filmed being helped to his feet after being beaten in East London at the height of the August riots.

The cameras also caught his supposed rescuers rifling through his backpack and stealing what they could grab.

At least three million viewers watched the cowardly act on You Tube while Asyraf was applauded for his response.

“I feel sorry for them,” the 20-year-old from Kuala Lumpur had told a news conference.

“It was really sad, for among them were children, boys in primary school. It was quite shocking.”

He initially suffered a broken jaw and lost some teeth in the attack and needed an operation after some 100 youths charged at him and a friend while they were pushing their bikes to a friend’s house.

The riots erupted after British Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced massive spending cuts and introduced University fees of up to US$14,000 per student per year.

Cameron in reference to Asyraf’s plight, said it was a “disgusting sight” that highlighted how things were “badly wrong in our society”.

Indonesia – Terrorist arrested

Almost nine years after bombings by Islamic militants left 202 people dead on the idyllic Indonesian island of Bali, the last of the bombers was finally arrested signaling an end to a historic manhunt and the War on Terror in Southeast Asia as defined by the first decade of this century.

Omar Patek was captured by Pakistani authorities in January following an apparent tip-off from United States intelligence. Information surrounding his arrest was not released until two months later.

The arrest afforded some closure for the relatives of victims and survivors of a tragic episode that heralded what became known as the Second Front in the War on Terrorism, covering Southeast Asia.

In May, Osama bin Laden was killed.

A prominent member of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), Patek was a deputy field commander at the time of the first Bali bombing, committed amid calls by JI for an Islamic caliphate across Southeast Asia.

A tape reportedly made by Osama bin Laden also said the bombings were in retaliation of Australia’s support of the United States’ War on Terror and Australia’s role in winning independence for Christian East Timor. Eighty-eight Australians died in the twin blasts.

An explosives expert, Patek was also wanted in Australia, the United States and in the Philippines. He has since been returned to Indonesia where he is about to stand trial.

Spratly disputes

Southeast Asian nations have witnessed a disconcerting rise in tensions over the Spratly and Paracel Islands as China’s gained in the economic and military ascendancy.

Tensions this year were at their worst yet with Chinese belligerence over this issue leading to violent protests in Vietnam.

Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and the Philippines have also staked their claims over the chain.

Chinese claims are ambitious and in regards to the Spratlys lie across a sea and largely within the 200 mile limit of Philippines and a political stone’s throw from Malaysia and Brunei.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu insisted China held “indisputable sovereignty” over the island chain despite the geographical realities. None of its neighbours agree.

Still, Asean and China agreed to heed to the Declaration of Conduct (DOC) which China described “as an important milestone document on the cooperation among China and Asean countries.”

The DOC is a framework for future deliberations on territorial claims on the islands. It was signed way back, in 2002.

In Hanoi, rare protests were allowed, in the lead-up to an Asean Regional Forum (ARF) in Bali that was dominated by China’s Spratly stance. There was also a push to drop recognition of the name ‘South China Sea’.

Manila is now referring to it as the West Philippine Sea, the Vietnamese call it the East Sea.

Philippines tragedy

Over in the Southern Philippines where decades of unrest destroyed any semblance of normal life, a year-end tropical storm piled further havoc on the misery being felt there.

The storm triggered flash floods that officials said killed over 1,000 people and left many missing.

An army spokesman said many villagers on the north coast of Mindanao island were swept into the sea after Tropical Storm Washi brought heavy rain.

Iligan and Cagayan de Oro cities were hard hit. Television pictures of the aftermath showed smashed homes and cars and debris strewn across streets and clogging drainage canals.

Entire villages were swept into the sea by flash floods. The Philippines are struck by about 20 major storms every year but most of them take a more northerly track, hitting Luzon island.

Typhoons Nesat and Nalgae battered the country within days of each other in September, leaving more than 100 people dead. Both storms struck Luzon.

Cambodia – Pol Pot in court

The Khmer Rouge Tribunal finally got into full swing with three surviving leaders of Pol Pot’s regime in a UN-endorsed court for crimes against humanity.

Case 002 got off to a low key start when compared with the first trial which secured the tribunal’s first conviction. Arguments and testimony presented before the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts in Cambodia (ECCC) were startling, with prosecutors focusing on the immediate forced evacuation of Phnom Penh and urban centres around the country after the Khmer Rouge seized control in April 1975.

Predictably, those in the dock were Nuon Chea, the brother of a one-time head of state Khieu Samphan – and former Foreign Minister Leng Sary. Both have denied the charges.

Nuon Chea claimed the Vietnamese were to blame for the atrocities, including genocide, committed in Cambodia.

Between 1.7 million and 2.2 million people died under Pol Pot’s rule that ended in January 1979 when invading Vietnamese forces pushed the Khmer Rouge into remote pockets of the country-side.

The court heard that beatings with rattans, the use of pincers to pull nails, noses and ear lobes, electrocution and suffocation were common. Labourers toiled in fields until their legs were eaten away by salt water. Tales of disembowelment and cannibalism were numerous.

Other issues in Cambodia that also grabbed the attention of long time observers was construction of a massive airstrip in the central province of Kampong Chhnang, which was funded by and built for the Chinese government, supporters of the Khmer Rouge throughout the Cold War. Tens of thousands were marched to the air strip and ordered to work. Conditions were so bad that many opted for suicide, choosing to leap under passing trucks.

Singapore’s polls

In Singapore, thick skins have always been in short supply. British author Alan Shadrake found this out when he was jailed simply for producing a book on executions in the island-state.

In most countries the loss of a handful of seats at a general election that had little or no impact on the overall governing of the state would merit little attention.

But in Singapore where the authorities have for years’ encouraged nothing but whole-hearted support such losses seemed tragic.

At the 16th parliamentary elections in May the opposition polled better than ever before.

The People’s Action party (PAP), which has been in office ever since independence in 1965, won a reduced overall 60 percent of the vote down from 67 percent in 2006. Still PAP managed to hold on to 81 out of 87 seats.

Housing shortages, problems with public transport, a growing wealth gap and immigration were blamed on the PAP’s worst performance in its history.

Singapore’s ruling elite is not used to criticism.

Lee Kuan Yew — Singapore’s founding father and longest serving Prime Minister and now Minister Mentor – was upset by the result and resigned.

His son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong described the poll as a watershed saying: “There will still be a few who are against us, whatever we say. And some of these may have different views from the PAP. Others will want to displace us. But the issue is not policies or whether we are doing right or wrong, but who is in charge, in power.”

Australia and people smuggling

For Australia, the year began much the same way as it ended. People smuggling and illegal immigration dominated its agenda with Southeast Asia, particularly Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.

A refugee swap with Malaysia was struck down by Australia’s High Court as overloaded boats ferrying human cargo from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Sri Lanka continued to land.

This led to the December sinking of a boat off Indonesia with more than 100 lives lost.

However, Prime Minister Julia Gillard insists a deal with Malaysia along with a regional solution remains the best way to combat people smuggling.

More than 1,200 asylum seekers are being held in detention facilities on Christmas Island off Australia’s northeast coast amid reports that people smugglers had moved their bases from much harder to reach places, including Laos.

Vietnam sentences 5 to death for drug trafficking

Dec 31, 2011

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — A court in southern Vietnam has sentenced five people to death for heroin trafficking.

State-run Tuoi Tre newspaper said Saturday that the five were convicted in Ho Chi Minh City of trafficking 7 kilograms (15 pounds) of heroin from neighboring Cambodia to Vietnam.

The newspaper said three others received life imprisonment on the same charges at the end of the three-day trial by Ho Chi Minh City People's Court on Friday.

The court also handed down jail terms ranging from seven to 20 years against six other defendants.

About 100 people are sentenced to death each year for drug-related offenses in Vietnam, where trafficking or possessing 1.3 pounds (600 grams) of heroin is punishable by death.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Cambodia attracts 2.58 mln foreign visitors in 11 months

Dec 30, 2011

PHNOM PENH -- The international tourist arrivals in Cambodia had increased 14 percent year-on-year in the first eleven months this year, showed the statistics of the Tourism Ministry on Friday.

From January to November this year, the country had welcomed 2. 58 million foreign visitors, up 14 percent from the same period last year, said the report.

Vietnam topped the chart among the top ten arrivals with 564, 532 tourists, up 20 percent, followed by South Korea with 304,922, up 17 percent, and Chinese tourists at third up 37 percent with 220,476.

During the period, Thai tourists to Cambodia declined by 26 percent to 101,118 due to the two countries' border clashes earlier this year.

The report said that 51 percent of the visitors travelled to the country by air, 46 percent by land and the rest by waterway.

The Minister of Tourism Thong Khon said Cambodia saw China as a big potential market for Cambodia's tourism and the country expected to attract at least 1 million Chinese tourists by 2020.

Tourism industry is one of the major four pillars supporting Cambodian economy. In 2010, the sector received a total of 2.5 million foreign tourists, generating a revenue of 1.75 billion U.S. dollars.

Myanmar, Cambodia emerge as high-growth investment destinations

By Avelyn Ng | Posted: 30 December 2011

SINGAPORE: By some measure, Myanmar had a spectacular 2011. Endorsed as chair of Asean for 2014, and a high profile visit from the US secretary of state - reward for recent political reforms that have elevated confidence in an economy barely emerging from years in the dark.

Andrew Rickards, CEO of Yoma Strategic, said: "The country that is perhaps being held back in development, that is perhaps being held back for the last 40 or 50 years, suddenly tries to reintegrate with the world economy.

"There's an awful lot of catching up to do, challenges from basic infrastructure mobile telephones internet access to hotel rooms and getting flights... You could imagine that the whole place is creaking a little bit at the seams as it is suddenly being put on people's radar for the first time."

Singapore-listed Yoma Strategic is deeply entrenched in Myanmar, with 95 per cent of its revenue derived from property and other investments in the country in the latest half-year. It is well positioned to benefit from further reforms, even though the country still carries the weight of trade sanctions by the US and Europe.

With Singapore being Myanmar's 4th biggest trading partner in 2010, historic business ties count for a lot.

Ho Meng Kit, CEO of the Singapore Business Federation, said: "In the case of Myanmar, it will be more difficult, a little bit more unknown... The key really is the extent of the reform that is happening, whether this will be followed through, and whether it will then lead to an improvement in the business environment there.

"Then again, its a lot more opportunities so for some companies who do have links, have the intelligence there (and) have the partnership there, those risks can be managed."

Neighbouring Cambodia is also reforming its ways, although it is more established as an investment centre than Myanmar. It will chair Asean in 2012.

Danish manufacturer Jebsen & Jessen said the ease of doing business is propelling a potential US$650,000 investment in the country.

Fritz Graf Von Der Schulenburg, Eexcutive Vice Chairman of Jebsen & Jessen, said: "Small for its population, but very much open in its policy to attract new investors and it is easy to settle down there, it is very easy to build up business relationships."

Mr Ho said: "Cambodia has been reformed, has been in the market for a long time, has been a member of WTO since 2004. So of course from the risk point of view, I think Cambodia represents far lesser risk and because our companies have been operating there more recently."

Dr Mark Mobius, Executive Chairman at Templeton Emerging Markets Group, said these frontier markets are now in their "take-off stage", where self-sustaining development is taking place, thanks to high consumer spending at home.


Thailand, Cambodia to establish power plant working group

PHNOM PENH, Dec 30 - Thailand and Cambodia are to establish a working group to facilitate cooperation for the Stung Num hydropower plant and a coal-fired power plant on Koh Kong after both countries agreed on electricity sharing.

Thailand’s Minister of Energy Pichai Naripthaphan and Minister of Foreign Affairs Surapong Tovichakchaikul were officially visiting Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen Thursday when the Cambodian leader raised the issue.

Mr Pichai said the matter had been on hold due to political problems between the two nations.

According to Mr Pichai, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) was assigned to discuss with Cambodia in detail, as it is to purchase power as stated in the existing agreement.

EGAT subsidiary EGAT International was tasked to further study both power plant projects.

He said that both countries agreed that it would be beneficial for the Stung Num power plant to be in Thailand while the dam and reservoir should be on the Cambodian side.

Cambodia's Koh Kong Seaboard Company presented its study for 94 and 101 megawatt power capacities with a construction budget of Bt5.5 billion.

Water stored in the dam will be managed for Cambodian communities as well as for agricultural and industrial sectors in the Koh Kong area, and it will be sufficient for sharing some 200-500 million cubic metres with Thailand's Map Ta Phut industrial estate in the eastern seaboard province of Rayong, as well as with Chantaburi and Trat provinces.

Regarding the coal-fired power plant at Koh Kong, Mr Pichai said the project now awaits a response from Cambodian investors, which is needed for further progress.

In April 2008, the Cambodian government allowed three private companies to compete for the project development. The condition is any firm succeeding in electricity sales to Thailand will be granted the right to develop such a project.

The three firms are Koh Kong Power Light (KKPL), Cambodia's international joint venture, and Gulf JP Company. All have a power capacity installation of 1,800 megawatts.

Koh Kong Power Light (KKPL) is a joint venture involving Italian Thai Development Plc, Egco Group Plc and Ratchaburi Power Generating Holding Plc. It supplies coal from Indonesia.

The second group comprises a 72-per cent share from Charoen Energy and Water Asia Company (CEWA) and a 28-per cent stake from Cambodia's joint venture with coal supply from Indonesia and Australia.

Gulf JP's shareholders are GJP Holding Company (GHC) and Japan's J-Power, with coal supplied from Indonesia and Australia. (MCOT online news)

Ocean Sky sets up 2 Cambodian subsidiaries for US$1.8m

December 30, 2011
(Singapore time)


Ocean Sky International Limited on Friday announced that it has established two wholly-owned subsidiaries in Cambodia for a total investment of US$1.8 million.

The two companies - Nassim Apparel (KH) Pte Ltd and Leedon Apparel (KH) Pte Ltd - are principally involved in that of apparel manufacturing and related services.

The investment in the subsidiaries will be funded through internal resources and is not expected to have a material impact on the group's net tangible assets per share and earnings per share for the current financial year ending December 31, 2011.

Vietnam’s GDP Growth Quickened This Quarter

Vietnam’s economic growth accelerated this quarter as rising domestic consumption and exports limited the impact of higher interest rates, a government report showed today.

Gross domestic product increased 6.1 percent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, the General Statistics Office said in an e-mailed release today. The preliminary estimate compares with a revised 6.07 percent growth rate for the three months through September. For the full year, Vietnam’s economy expanded 5.89 percent, down from the 6.78 percent rate for 2010.

Vietnam’s government has struggled this year to steady its economy, devaluing the dong as the currency weakened on the black market and raising borrowing costs to contain the fastest inflation in Asia. While Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said this month his administration has price gains under control, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have said that easing monetary policy too soon would risk economic instability.

“We expected fourth-quarter growth to rebound as the trade deficit narrowed,” Dariusz Kowalczyk, a Hong-Kong based senior strategist at Credit Agricole CIB, said before the data were released. “We see a slowdown in 2012 due to the deteriorating external environment and because insufficient depreciation of the dong will undermine exports.”

Exports rose 33.3 percent to $96.257 billion this year, the General Statistics Office said yesterday. The trade gap narrowed to $9.5 billion from $12.6 billion in 2010.

Income Gains

Economic growth averaging about 7 percent over the past decade has helped Vietnam reach what the World Bank calls lower middle-income status, with per-capita income having increased more than ten-fold since the ruling Communist Party started market-oriented reforms in 1986.

Fourth-quarter growth is “traditionally stronger” than the rest of the year, with both production and consumption increasing in part because of the Tet lunar new year holiday, said Alan Pham, the Ho Chi Minh City-based chief economist at VinaCapital Group. The Tet holiday begins in January next year.

Vietnamese “save up all year for Tet, or they dip into savings to keep spending up and then replenish savings later when their income improves,” Pham said. “On the production side, many companies grit their teeth to borrow in the fourth quarter, because Tet is when they make 20 to 30 percent of their full-year profit.”

Lending Rates

Still, Vietnamese companies have struggled this year to cope with commercial lending rates that have reached as high as 27 percent.

FPT Corp. (FPT), the biggest publicly traded telecommunications and software company in the country, said this month slower growth will hurt profit this year. HAGL Joint-Stock Co. (HAG), the second-biggest publicly traded property developer, reported a slide in third-quarter profit as the company battles what Standard & Poor’s described this month as high inflation and interest rates that are hurting Vietnam’s property market.

The central bank’s refinancing rate is 15 percent, up from 9 percent at the beginning of the year, as officials tried to fight an inflation rate that reached 23 percent in August. Soaring prices contributed to a 28 percent drop this year in the Ho Chi Minh City Stock Exchange’s VN Index. (VNINDEX)

The rate increases and stock-market slump have put pressure on the country’s banking industry, which Capital Economics Ltd. described this month as undercapitalized and vulnerable.

Vietnam “also faces the challenge of timing its rate cuts as inflation slows,” Kowalczyk said.

Industry and construction, which accounted for 40 percent of the economy, expanded 5.53 percent in 2011, the statistics office said today. Services, which made up 38 percent of GDP, grew 6.99 percent. Agriculture, forestry and fisheries, which were 22 percent of GDP, expanded 4 percent.

--Jason Folkmanis in Ho Chi Minh City. With assistance from Shamim Adam in Singapore, Nicholas Heath in Hanoi. Editors: Brendan Murray, Stephanie Phang

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Jason Folkmanis in Ho Chi Minh City at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephanie Phang at

Thai-Cambodian talks to neutralise exploration conflict

After his meeting with the Cambodian minister today, Pichai said that Sok An wanted all conflicts cleared within a year and a half, for the mutual benefits of both countries.

Pichai noted that the matter is now upto the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s negotiation team. He insisted that no particular person would gain benefits if the negotiation allows a joint development similar to what Thailand agreed with Malaysia or Vietnam. To lead the Thai investment is PTT Plc, which is majority owned by the government, he said.

"During my trip to Burma, there was a criticism that former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra would benefit from the petroleum concessions granted to PTT and he insisted that he had no share in PTT Group. I’d like to say that all should be concerned about Thailand’s long-term gain," the minister said.

Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said that the Thai government also wished to quickly solve the conflict. He would soon ask for the Cabinet’s endorsement if it wants to revoke the memorandum of understanding with Cambodia signed in 2001. If it stands by the Abhisit government’s proposed revocation, the parliamentary approval will be sought and then a new round of negotion would begin.

But if the Yingluck government wants to maintain the MoU, the negotiation with Cambodia on the overlapping area would be restored accordingly.

He noted that should such negotiation lead to a joint development, it would take over 10 years to discover natural gas.

Cambodia: Justice Delayed May Mean Justice Denied

Dec 30, 2011

I spent the month of November touring Vietnam and Cambodia. Despite our tragic and arrogant war in SE Asia, the people in both countries are welcoming. Of course many are too young to have their own memories and now rely on the history they've learned in school or from the government, and some simply don't know much at all. But even if they only knew the propaganda, it didn't seem to matter, because they seemed to like us Americans. The cynic says: 'it's just the money, they like.' But I thought their welcomes were genuine.

In Vietnam there was a definite pride in believing they had defeated the so-called 'paper tiger,' the USA, in what they refer to as the "American War." I personally crawled in one of the Cu-Chi tunnels. In 10 minutes I was dripping in sweat and glad to get out. They lived down there! No question about how determined an opponent the Viet Cong had to be. We also toured the infamous 'Hanoi Hilton,' where Senator McCain and others were imprisoned during the war. The structure was originally built by the French to imprison Vietnamese rebels 100 years ago. How the wheel of history turns. For it was strange to watch the government approved video there, which showed the American POW's performing calisthenics and eating a lavish Christmas dinner, even with bottles of beer on the table. That version makes Fox News look accurate. And yet, a former American POW later became our first ambassador to Vietnam in the 1990's. Another curious turn of that wheel of history.

At the Presidential Palace in Saigon (aka Ho Chi Minh City), the guide kept referring to America as "the enemy." Later, I asked our guide about that and he said that is the official lecture he must give. He also confided that his father worked for the Americans during the war and that his father first taught him English. Certainly he bore no animosity toward us.

Cambodia is another story. They have a tragic history. In part due to our bombing during the war in the 1970's, we managed to alienate the Cambodians and drive them into the Khmer Rouge's arms. Cambodia's communists were Chinese allies, who drove out the West-sympathizing regime in 1975. Unbelievably, as soon as they marched on Phnom Penh, they cleared the city of all its residents and began a horrific prison camp system. Out of 8-9 million Cambodians, about 1.7 million were killed by the Khmer Rouge, until Vietnam invaded in 1979 and took over. The Khmer Rouge fought a guerilla war for years, which was known as Vietnam's 'Vietnam!' In 1998 the infamous Pol Pot died, and a few years later, the Khmer Rouge finally ceased their jungle warfare along the border with Thailand. Not until about 2003 did Cambodia safely open to Western tourists.

Now to their immense credit, the Cambodians share this tragic history with the world. One of the former killing fields is a major tourist destination. Their openness and honesty about the murderous past is amazing. We also saw the terrible prison at Tuol Sleng, housed in a former school, where barbed wire still covers the open hallways of the upper floors, added to prevent prisoner suicides. Out of about 20,000 inmates, less than 10 survived. One of the survivors was an artist whose gut wrenching paintings of prison life and death are displayed at Tuol Sleng. Ironically, the only person to be convicted of war crimes in Cambodia so far is the prison's warden, known as Comrade Duch. He confessed to his many sins and is serving a prison sentence.

Sadly, and only as recently as November 2011, have three additional perpetrators of this genocide been put on trial. Cambodia originally asked the United Nations and the international community to help set up a tribunal into the genocide in the mid-1990s. A joint tribunal was finally established in 2006 following long drawn-out negotiations between the Phnom Penh government and the UN. Now the three defendants (one of whom was Pol Pot's right hand man, Nuon Chea, known then as 'Brother Number Two') are in their 80's and may not outlive their trial, much less get punished. We learned that the core problem is that the Cambodian government is badly corrupt and too intertwined with former Khmer Rouge power brokers. Due to this, it remains to be seen where this slow march to justice will end up.

Nonetheless, Cambodia is a beautiful country. I think of Angkhor Wat and its beautiful corn cob towers, the dramatic carved stone faces of Angkhor Thom and the immense Kapok trees whose roots intertwine with the ruins at Te Prohm. Tonle Sap Lake (largest lake in SE Asia) is another extraordinary place with a floating village and fantastic bird life. It is worth touring this country and meeting its people who are beginning to pull themselves up from their past. Tourism is their lifeblood, so go there and spend money--it can only help at this point.

PRESS DIGEST - Thai newspapers - December 30

Dec 30 (Reuters) - These are some of the leading stories in Thai newspapers on Friday. Reuters has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy.


- The government will not risk economic stability in the transfer of responsibility for losses from the 1997 economic crisis to the Bank of Thailand, said Deputy Prime Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong.

- Cambodia has offered to exchange high-profile jailed Thai activists Veera Somkwamkid and Ratree Pipattanapaibun with Cambodian prisoners in Thailand.

- The cabinet has given a green light for the use of the 300 billion baht ($9.45 billion) Vayupak Fund as a financial tool to raise funds for the country's future development and investment.

- The recent flooding has affected spending by Thai tourists and cut sales of outbound tour packages for the New Year holiday by 40 percent, says the Thai Travel Agent Association (TTAA).


- The Energy Ministry's Mineral Fuels Department has announced plans to invite bids on 22 new petroleum-field concessions.

- The two state telecom agencies should finalise plans next year on how they will deal with the approaching ends of their private cellular concession terms, Information and Communications Technology Minister Anudith Nakornthap said.

- For next year, Siam Commercial Bank Pcl will emphasise risk management over loan growth because the outlook for the economy is hard to pin down.

- Beverage maker Serm Suk Pcl has announced the resumption of full production at its Pathum Thani and Nakhon Sawan plants and rapid distribution in all regions, after a stoppage for more than a month during the floods. The company is also undertaking flood-relief programmes.


- The Board of Investment has approved a plan to exempt corporate tax for flood-hit plants and industrial estates for eight years and manufacturers would have until the end of 2012 to submit its applications.

($1 = 31.755 baht) (Bangkok Newsroom)

Vietnam treasures ties with Cambodia

Updated : Fri, December 30, 2011,

The Government, people and army of Vietnam always attach importance to developing the solidarity with the Government, people and army of Cambodia and will do their utmost to preserve and further strengthen the relations.

The statement was made by Deputy Defence Minister Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Thanh Cung at a meeting with a delegation of the Cambodian National Assembly led by Pal Sam Oeurn, Vice Chairman of the Commission on Interior, National Defence, Investigation, Anti-Corruption and Public Function, in Hanoi on Dec. 29.

Cung informed his guests of Vietnam ’s socio-economic development and highlighted the time-honoured traditional friendship between the two neighbouring countries.

Vietnam and Cambodia have enjoyed major achievements in all areas under the motto “Good neighbours, traditional friendship, comprehensive cooperation and long-term sustainability” reached by the two countries’ leaders, Cung said.

Over the past years, the Vietnam People’s Army and the Cambodia Royal Army have fostered the friendship and defence cooperation for the interest of each people, contributing to maintaining peace, stability, cooperation and development in the region, he noted.

On this occasion, Cung expressed his thanks to the Cambodian Government and people for their support for Vietnam in searching and repatriating remains of Vietnamese’s martyrs who fell down during the war time in Cambodia .

For his part, Pal Sam Oeurn thanked the Government, State, people and army of Vietnam for helping Cambodia escape from the genocide, restore peace and develop the country in all fields.

The Cambodian Government and people will continue their assistance to Vietnam in bringing home Vietnamese martyrs and experts’ remains, he affirmed.

Yingluck's administration brings close ties for Cambodia, Thailand: Cambodia PM

PHNOM PENH, Dec 30 (Xinhua) -- Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday hailed the Thai government led by Yingluck Shinawatra for her efforts to restore good relations with Cambodia.

Speaking at a meeting with visiting Thai foreign minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul and energy minister Pichai Naripthaphan at the Phnom Penh's Peace Palace, Hun Sen said that the bilateral relations between Cambodia and Thailand have "turned good" since the Pheu Thai Party led by Yingluck Shinawatra won the general election in July this year.

He added that it was the open of the new chapter of Cambodian and Thai relations and cooperation.

The premier said that since July this year, the bilateral trade and tourism have been significant increased.

Meanwhile, Surapong pledged to continue boosting the bilateral ties on trade, investment, tourism and cultures for the mutual interests of the two countries' peoples.

Cambodia and Thailand have had sporadic border conflict over territorial dispute near Cambodia's Preah Vihear temple since the UNESCO listed the temple as a World Heritage Site on July 7, 2008 and witnessed fierce border fighting in February and April this year during the previous Thai's administration led by the Democrat Party. (Xinhua)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

No rush on NGO law

Chhay Channyda
Phnom Penh Post
Thursday, 29 December 2011

Prime Minister Hun Sen said the government will wait until 2014 if that is what it takes to achieve consensus on the highly criticised draft law on associations and NGOs.

Speaking at a high school graduation yesterday, the premier said Cambodia had already been waiting for 33 years for the necessary law and to wait another two or three years would hardly make any difference.

“If we have not agreed by 2012, there will be no issue, we will wait until 2013; if not 2013, we will wait until 2014,” Hun Sen said. “We have been in discussions for almost 20 years, so we will not be too early.”

The draft NGO law aims to establish a framework for the registration of NGOs and associations and to safeguard the “rights and freedoms” of the organisations, according to the fourth draft of the law compiled by the Ministry of Interior.

The Council of Ministers sent the draft law back to the Ministry of Interior to re-draft earlier this year. While the fourth draft is markedly different from the third draft, civil society organisations in Cambodia and abroad are still not satisified with the law, particularly a provision that effectively makes registration compulsory.

Despite heated public outcry over the law and a call by civil society for its abandonment, the premier said in no uncertain terms there would be a law.

“We must have this law. It is too unreasonable [to request the law be abandoned],” he said. “The government pays attention to all activities of organisations and considers this an important part of a developing country.”

Hun Sen added that the law must “be accepted by all sides” to pass and rejected criticisms that the government was dictatorial or that the National Assembly was merely a rubber stamp for the ruling party.

“Issuing this law will facilitate the humanitarian work of organisations that are willing to import materials to hand out to Cambodians, because the import tax for these organisations is exempt,” he said.

The premier’s address was welcomed by Cambodian legal experts and some civil society organisations.

“Civil society has demanded more discussion time from the government, and this is a better point to hear the delay in passing the law,” Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project said.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, applauded Hun Sen’s stance.

“This is a positive result opening the discussion for longer to avoid criticism after the law goes into effect,” he said.

At an open forum with civil society representatives last week, the Ministry of Interior welcomed written and verbal feedback on the fourth draft but made no firm commitments to adopt feedback into a fifth draft of the contentious law.

Cambodia says two Thai spies must serve two thirds of jail term before amnesty

PHNOM PENH, Dec 29 (Xinhua) -- Cambodia's Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong, minister of foreign affairs, reiterated on Thursday that there will be no royal pardon for the two Thai "Yellow-Shirt" activists jailed here for espionage until they have served two thirds of their jail term.

His remarks were made after visiting Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul asked him to consider to reduce the jail term or to give royal amnesty by Cambodia's King to the pair.

"According to Cambodia's law, a prisoner must be jailed at least two thirds of his jail term before being considered for royal pardon from the King," Hor Namhong told reporters in a joint press briefing after the meeting.

However, he said that it is possible to release the two Thai spies earlier if the government of Thailand has a request to Cambodia for a meeting "to exchange prisoners as package."

Surapong thanked the government of Cambodia for giving good care to the two Thai detainees in the Prey Sar prison on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

The two "Yellow Shirt" Thais are Veera Somkwamkid, one of the leaders of the People's Network against Corruption and a high- profile activist in the Thailand Patriot Network, and his secretary Ratree Pipatanapaiboon.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court of First Instance, on February 1, convicted Veera and Ratree of illegal entry, unlawful entry into a military base and espionage and sentenced them to 8 years and 6 years in jail respectively.

Veera and Ratree were arrested on December 29, 2011, along with five others including Democrat Party Member of Parliament Panich Vikitsreth, after they illegally entered Cambodian territory to observe the border demarcation process.

The five were released in late January after a Cambodian court suspended their sentences of nine months in jail. (Xinhua)

Supporters rally: Monks need help, rights groups told

Mom Kunthear
Thursday, 29 December 2011

Supporters rally
Supporter yesterday urged human rights groups to help two Khmer Kampuchea Krom monks – one who was fired from his pagoda and another who was accused of inciting protesters – because they said they had done nothing wrong.

The Khmer Kampuchea Krom association wrote a letter to Licadho, Adhoc, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights and the UN Office of Higher Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia, calling on them to intervene to help the Buddhist monks.

In early November, Mok Kampoul district officials in Kandal province forced Khmer Kampuchea Krom Buddhist monk Chea Sovannaphum to leave the Keo Monyvorn pagoda without reason.

Last week, Khmer Kampuchea Krom Buddhist monk Sieng Sovannara, who lives in Samki Raingsey pagoda, was summonsed to Phnom Penh Municipal Court to face accusations of inciting protesters involved in a land dispute in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district.

“On behalf of the organisation and association of Khmer Krom in Cambodia, we are worried very much about these two Khmer Krom monks’ safety,” Son Yoeung, executive director of Khmer Kampuchea Krom for Human Rights and Development Association, said in the letter.

“We need the human rights group to intervene to allow Chea Sovannaphum to return to manage his pagoda and the court officials to stop accusing Sieng Sovannara and stop summonsing him to court,” he said.

“We are waiting to see whether those human right groups can help them, and we will send the letter for help to the government if we still receive nothing,” he said.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

PRESS DIGEST - Vietnam newspapers - Dec 28

HANOI | Dec 28, 2011

HANOI Dec 28 (Reuters) - These are some of the leading stories in the official Vietnamese press on Wednesday. Reuters has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy.



-- The central bank has licensed the Saigon Commercial Bank, an entity formed by the merger of three domestic banks, to open on Jan. 1, 2012. The lender has registered capital of 10.58 trillion dong ($503 million).

-- BIDV, the country's second-biggest bank by assets, said 16,238 investors had registered to buy a combined 140.87 million BIDV shares, 66.2 percent above the offered volume.



-- Vietnam's two stock markets in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City will be merged in the 2012-2015 period, the Finance Ministry said. Details would be available in the first quarter of next year.


-- The economy in Hanoi grew 10.1 percent this year, the city's statistics office said.


-- The import duty on petrol may be imposed at 4 percent, from zero now, the Finance Ministry said, asking oil product distributors to keep their sale prices unchanged.

-- Vietnam's tourism industry has set a revenue target of 150 trillion dong ($7.13 billion) next year, up 15.3 percent from 2011, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism said.


-- A domestic venture has started building a $250 million fertiliser plant in the northern province of Lao Cai with annual output of 330,000 tonnes of diammonium phosphate. The Vietnam National Chemical Group owns a 51 percent stake in the venture. (Reporting by Hanoi Newsroom)

Tax revenues from casinos climb 25 per cent in 2011

May Kunmakara
Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 28 December 2011

The Kingdom’s 27 casinos are set to generate about US$20 million in tax revenue for the government in 2011, a 25 per cent year-on-year increase, according to the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

At least one government official, however, said the lack of a regulatory regime for the casino industry prevented Cambodia collecting many times that amount.

That $20 million target was in line with estimates at the beginning of the year, May Vann, director of the ministry’s Department of Industry and Finance, said yesterday.

Year-on-year revenues jumped 23 per cent in 2010, reaching $16 million, according to MEF data.

May Vann credited the growth to Cambodia’s burgeoning tourism industry and an expansion in some economies, including that of the Kingdom. Consumers had become more confident in their spending as a result, he said.

“We do believe we can achieve our target [of growing 25 per cent year-on-year] because our revenue went up, along with the growing number of foreign tourists, and an improvement in the domestic and world economies,” May Vann said.

The biggest casino profits were made in Poipet, on the border with Thailand, and in Bavet, on the Vietnamese border, according to the ministry. Many visitors are Thais and Vietnamese who enter the Kingdom specifically to gamble.

The border conflicts between Cambodia and Thailand that dominated much of the year had not affected the casino sector, Mey Vann said, because visitors had returned in large numbers after Yingluck Shinawatra was elected as Thai Prime Minister in July.

Minister of Tourism Thong Kong said yesterday that although many visitors to Cambodia came to see cultural sites such as Angkor Wat, a small percentage, namely Thais and Vietnamese, frequented the Kingdom's casinos.

But Son Chhay, a Sam Rainsy Party member who serves in the National Assembly, said the Cambodian government was letting vast sums of tax revenue go uncollected because the industry lacked proper regulation.

He claimed that countries that laid down clear tax rules for casinos gained greater benefits overall for their economies.

“Many countries impose not less than 50 per cent of a casino’s profit. If our casinos generate around $500 million a year, that means we could be collecting at least $200 million,” Son Chhay said.

MEF chief of casino management Chrun Theravath could not be reached for comment yesterday.

ICJ should be allowed to rule on temple

Conservative figures in Thailand have demanded the government exploit its good relations with Cambodia to end the ICJ's pending interpretation of its 1962 ruling.

Foreign Minister Surapong Towichukchaikul said earlier that he might seek a chance to raise the proposal with Cambodia when he visits the country later this week. If Cambodia agrees to withdraw the case, the two countries would try to settle the dispute through bilateral negotiations.

Thailand and Cambodia have been at loggerheads over the Hindu temple for long time. The court ruled in 1962 that Preah Vihear is situated in territory under the sovereignty of Cambodia. Thailand complied, but continued to argue that while the temple might belong to Cambodia, its vicinity was absolutely under Thai sovereignty. The two countries have an overlapping claim on an area of 4.6 square kilometres adjacent to the temple.

This overlapping claim had created little tension between the two neighbours until recently, when conservative nationalists in Thailand raised the question of Preah Vihear as a pretext in their political game against the government under late prime minister Samak Sundaravej in 2008. They, including the opposition Democrat Party, launched a campaign against Cambodia's move to list the temple as a World Heritage site on the grounds that Phnom Penh would take the temple's vicinity to be a buffer zone for the inscribed temple.

The situation became worse during the reign of the Democrat Party in early 2009, as the diplomatic dispute turned into a series of border skirmishes between the two nations, obstructing bilateral negotiations to clarify the boundary line.

Cambodia lost patience and requested the court in April to clarify the scope and meaning of the 1962 judgement to indicate whether the area adjacent to Preah Vihear is also under its sovereignty. The court is now in the process of making this interpretation. For safety reasons, the court ordered both sides in July to withdraw their military personnel from the court-determined provisional demilitarised zone of 17 square kilometres around the temple. Thai nationalist activists disagreed but they could do nothing. The border seemed to be peaceful now and the two governments are in the process of complying with the court's injunction.

Allowing the court to continue its process and make a final interpretation would benefit both countries for many reasons.

One, the court could keep the issue from being politicised as conservative nationalists could not intervene in the court judgement.

Two, the current government and concerned officials don't need to take any political responsibility for the consequence of the court decision. Nobody could shift blame to them as long as the legal team, line of argument and the case's handling are not changed.

Three, the interpretation of the 1962 judgement, no matter what it is, would be a guideline for the boundary demarcation. The ICJ's explanation and clarification regarding the boundary line would be legally binding for the two countries in their boundary-dispute settlement.

If the court says the 1962 judgement covered the boundary line as Cambodia understands it, the boundary conflict at the Preah Vihear portion could be settled in accordance with the court's ruling.

If the court agrees with Thailand's claim that the 1962 judgement had nothing to do with the boundary line, Cambodia could no longer use the court's ruling - and notably the France-made map on which it is based - to claim the disputed area. Negotiations on the boundary demarcation would be conducted on the basis of Siam-Franco treaties and geographical features.

It's better to let it go on as the court's work is one of the most effective ways to

de-politicise the issue and keep it out of the hands of nationalists.

East Turkestan: Uyghur Refugees Still Missing

Two years after the disappearance of 20 Uyghur refugees, their whereabouts remain unknown.

Below is an article published by The Phnom Penh Post:

Two years after Cambodia sent 20 Uighurs seeking refugee status back to China against their will, grave concerns about their whereabouts remain, rights groups said this week.

On December 19, 2009, the asylum-seeking Uighurs, which included a woman and two children, were deported without any investigation into their refugee status. Chinese authorities have still not disclosed their whereabouts or legal statuses, according to the World Uighur Forum.

“The past 10 years have proven that Uighurs fleeing suppression and discrimination in East Turkestan are at extreme risk of being deported back to China, where they face enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture and execution,” the Forum said in an anniversary statement.

UN High Commission for Refugees Asia spokesperson Kitty McKinsey told the Post that since the highly criticized deportation, the government has handled all asylum applications internally.

“A sub-decree passed the day before the deportation was made public on the same day as the 20 Uighurs were put on a plane to China,” McKinsey said. “The government said they would handle all refugee applications and has ever since.

“There was no pretext that they [the government] had carried through any of the processes to assess refugee status,” she said, adding the office was “frankly outraged” by the deportation.

It was widely reported that China granted Cambodia a US$1.2 billion aid package two days after the deportation.

Since December 2009, there have been no other known cases of asylum seekers in Cambodia being returned to countries against their will, McKinsey said, but could not comment on how many applications there had been, since the assessments are now internal government matters.

Representatives from the Foreign Affairs Ministry handling refugee applications could not be reached yesterday.

Author: Bridget Di Certo

Cambodian dancers to perform in Prahran

A GROUP of Cambodian breakdancers, travelling to Melbourne for the first time, will perform in Prahran next month.

Direct from Cambodia, Tiny Toones uses break-dancing, hip-hop and contemporary art as creative tools to empower the youth of Cambodia.

The group, based in Phnom Penh, will showcase their unique talents at Chapel Off Chapel from January 10-14.

The dancers tell the story of their lives through song and dance, paying tribute to their own experiences and welcome Cambodian youth to participate in its programs regardless of gender, social-economic status, physical handicaps, family background, or other personal disadvantages.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Vietnam's rice exports at record high, talks on to export more to M'sia

Dec 27, 2011

HANOI: Vietnam's rice exports this year jumped 4.36 percent from 2010 to a record high of 7.19 million tonnes, the Agriculture Ministry said on Monday, beating previous industry projections.

Vietnam is in talks with Malaysia to sell 200,000 tonnes of 5 percent broken rice, which could bring its rice exports in 2012 to Malaysia to 500,000 tonnes, the Vietnam Economic Times newspaper reported on Monday.

Based on a floor price of $500 a tonne for the 5-percent broken variety set last week, the deal would be worth $100 million, free-on-board basis.

Malaysia is Vietnam's third-largest rice buyer after Indonesia and the Philippines.

It has taken delivery of 464,500 tonnes of Vietnamese rice in the first 11 months, up 30.6 percent from the same period last year, Vietnam's Agriculture Ministry data show.

Total Vietnamese Rice export revenue rose 14 percent from last year to an estimated $3.7 billion, the ministry said in its monthly report on Monday.

Vietnam, the world's second-largest rice exporter after Thailand, had been expected to export around 7 million tonnes of the grain this year, after shipping a record 6.83 million tonnes in 2010.

The higher revenues came after Asian rice prices were boosted by a Thai government purchasing scheme while Southeast Asia's floods led to a food shortage, the report said.

It estimated Vietnam produced a record 42.3 million tonnes of paddy in 2011, up 5.8 percent from last year, coffee output rose 5 percent from 2010 to nearly 1.17 million tonnes and rubber output rose 8 percent to 811,600 tonnes.

Vietnam is the world's largest robusta coffee producer.

It is the fourth-largest natural rubber exporter after Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Coffee exports in 2011 are estimated at 1.22 million tonnes, or 20.33 million 60-kg bags, up only 0.2 percent from 2010, the agriculture ministry said.

Vietnam's rice output in 2012 is expected to remain steady at this year's record levels of around 42 million tonnes of unhusked grain, a government minister has said, which could help ensure supply in Asia and soften food prices.

The country has set an initial target to export between 6.5 million and 7 million tonnes of rice in 2012. - Reuters

Thaksin not going to Cambodia: Noppadon

Thaksin not going to Cambodia: Noppadon

Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra has no plan to travel to Cambodia during the upcoming New Year's festival, his legal adviser Noppadon Pattama said yesterday.

Noppadon dismissed as groundless news reports that the fugitive ex-premier would spend the festive New Year period in the neighbouring country.

"I asked Thaksin about this and he said that he would not travel to Cambodia during the New Year period. It was not a cancellation. He never had a schedule to go [to Cambodia at this time]," Noppadon said.

"Whoever planned to meet him in Cambodia, please be informed that you should cancel your plan," he said.

Thaksin will spend the festive period with his children in Europe, according to Noppadon.

In a related development, a red-shirt group announced yesterday that more than 8,700 "red shirt villages" have been set up over the past year and the number is expected to reach 30,000 by the end of next year.

Prasong Boonpong, chief adviser to the Federation of Red Shirt Villages for Democracy, held a press conference at a hotel in the northeastern province of Udon Thani to announce the latest developments and future plans for the group.

He said the first red-shirt village was set up in Udon Thani's Muang district on December 15, 2010. Now there are 8,702 such villages, with as many as 3,807,520 members, in all regions of the country, mostly in the Northeast.

The group plans to increase the number to 30,000 within 2012 in all districts of the country, according to Prasong, who also said red shirt villages would also be established in the three southernmost border provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat.

Meanwhile, the Criminal Court yesterday granted a request by red-shirt leader Yoswalit Chooklom's lawyer for a postponement of a court hearing on the list of witnesses and evidence provided by the defence.

The new schedule is February 27 next year. The lawyer, Winyat Chatmontri, told the court that he was busy with another case in Nakhon Ratchasima.

Yoswalit, a comedian whose stage name is Jeng Dokjik and who is now assistant secretary to the deputy interior minister, is accused of lese majeste in connection with his speech during a red-shirt protest in March 2010.

Hush the border radicals

Dec 27, 2011
Bangkok Post

One of the early and positive achievements of the Pheu Thai government is the dramatically improved relations with Cambodia. Almost as soon as Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was sworn into office, the tension between the countries dropped. Diplomacy is nearly back on a dignified level, and the military officers are once again conducting professional talks and negotiations. It still is not entirely smooth or always pleasant to be the neighbour of Cambodian strongman Hun Sen, but Thai-Cambodian relations can be described as peaceful once again.

This is why it is disturbing to hear from the self-styled nationalists that the very top politicians, diplomats and military officers are giving away Thai territory to Cambodia. It happened again over the weekend, when Defence Minister Yutthasak Sasiprapa and army commander Prayuth Chan-ocha flew back to Bangkok from the General Border Committee meeting with Cambodian counterparts in Phnom Penh. The top military men of the two countries spent several days putting together a border agreement which, for the first time, will pull back all troops from the disputed area around Preah Vihear temple _ and involve foreign observers from Indonesia.

The very far right wing of the People's Alliance for Democracy immediately criticised the deal. The self-described patriots alleged, and not for the first time, that the high-level border agreement is not just a sellout. Pulling back Thai troops from the disputed area is allegedly the equivalent of giving the territory to Phnom Penh, as the extremists view it.

On the question of the Cambodian border, then, there now is more disagreement among Thais than between Thailand and Cambodia. It is important, then, that the government carefully describe the state of border relations with Cambodia, so the extremists can be dismissed. Credit Gen Yutthasak, then, for his cooperation with the media, and his detailed explanation of what occurred at the Phnom Penh meeting, and what will happen at and around Preah Vihear in coming months.

First, it is a welcome development that the two countries will pull their troops back. During the last government, under then-prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, several battles broke out in the Preah Vihear region, over nothing but misunderstandings on troop positions. Soldiers died in at least three such clashes, villagers were terrorised and the local economy was damaged. This is a border between two friendly countries, and does not require a heavily armed military presence 24 hours a day. A mutual standdown is in the interests of both countries _ and that is what Gen Yutthasak and his team negotiated over several hard, tough days at the bargaining table.

Thailand and Cambodia will always have points of dispute; neighbours always do. But it was just a year ago that Cambodia arrested a member of parliament and six other Thais for illegal entry. A year ago this week, Gen Preecha Iamsuphan of the PAD insisted there was "only one answer, that is to go to war" with Cambodia.

One hopes in the very changed circumstances that Ms Yingluck will resume efforts to free the two misguided and "patriotic" Thais from prison in Phnom Penh. For certain, given Hun Sen's record of trying to score cheap points, the government must exercise all caution to ensure that Cambodia lives up to last week's Preah Vihear agreement. But one must also never lose sight of the fact that Cambodia and Thailand are peaceful neighbours, and it is safe to ignore the tiny minority trying to whip up enmity.

Cambodia Tourism received double digit growth

Written by Ozgur Tore
Monday, 26 December 2011

International tourist arrivals to Cambodia posted a double digit growth of 13.5% in October, while over the 10-month period the improvement reached 15.4%.

angkor-watAfter opening an office in Thailand, tourism started to grow rapidly. Only in October due to flooding in Thailand, there was a decline of 18.4% in arrivals. In October, just 10,431 Thais visited Cambodia.

In October, Cambodia received 233,190 visitors, up 13.5% over the same month in 2010. Neighboring Vietnam contributed almost a quarter (23.2% share) or 54,008 tourists, a 26.1% rise in trips.

In terms of regions, 75.7% of international tourists in October came from Asia Pacific, up 15.4% from the same month last year to reach 176,630 trips. Most of the arrivals from this region originated in ASEAN and East Asia and largely from a handful of countries – Vietnam, Korea, China, Japan, Thailand, Laos and Australia. Arrivals from South Asia and western Asia and other countries in the Pacific represented just 1.8%.

Europe was the second contributor. The number increased at the beginning of the high season with a market share of 16.4% instead of 12.2% in September. It showed a small 8.8% improvement (38,207).

Tourists from the Americas also increased, accounting for a 7.3% share instead of 5.5% in September. It represented a marginal 3.6% improvement on 17,013 trips. Very few tourists originated from Africa and Middle East, just, 415 and 925 respectively.

In the emerging market category, Eastern Europe posted a substantial growth of 43.2% with arrivals from Bulgaria and Romania surging 78.8% and 122.4% respectively. However, only Russia supplied notable volume — 4,805 out of 6,404 arrivals from the region. The country posted a 55.5% growth over October 2010.

By destinations visited, 122,450 tourists or 52.5% visited Siem Reap, while 110,740 or 47.5% visited Phnom Penh and other cities.

Ancient Khmer ruins and cultural shows a hit with tourists

Dec 27, 2011
Story and photos by FREDERICK FERNANDEZ

NORTHEAST Thailand, or I-san as it is called in Thai language, is pretty quiet and subdued compared to Bangkok or Phuket mainly due to its rural landscapes and its people’s simple way of life.

However, the region comes alive in the third weekend of November every year.

This is because local and foreign tourists gather in droves to witness the Amazing Surin Elephant Roundup which takes place once a year in Surin.

This unique event, perhaps the only one of its kind in the world, brings together more than 250 elephants in a single venue. In fact, it is fair to say that Surin is in the world map due to the popularity of the Elephant Roundup.

Historical show: The colourful and mesmering sound and light performance at Prasat Sri Khoraphum gives a good description on the events leading to the formation of the Kingdom of Siam.

The Surin region is famed for its elephant trainers who manage to tame the wild elephants after capturing them in the jungle. Once tamed by their “conquerors”, the elephants are taught to perform a variety of tricks and stunts much to the delight of the spectators.

At the Sri Narong Stadium in Surin, visitors get to see a re-enactment of how the Kui tribe captured elephants from the wild and train them to do chores in the farm.

Visitors will be thrilled to see elephants playing soccer, basketball and even darts. The elephants also show their brute strength by easily defeating more than 30 human beings in a tug-of-war match.

After the three-hour show, tourists are given the opportunity to feed sugar-cane shoots and the more adventurous get to go for a short ride on the elephant for a token fee.

Fierce battle: The Elephant Roundup show at Surin also depicts scenes which show Siam at war with her neighbours in which elephants featured prominently during the battles.

This is the 51st year that this event is being held in Surin and the event gets bigger and bigger each year as more people come to hear about the spectacular show by over 250 elephants.

The best way to get to Surin is to take a flight from Bangkok to Ubon Ratchathani and then use public transport to reach Surin. One can also travel to Surin by road from Bangkok for the 457km journey.

A couple of days before the roundup, tourists get the opportunity to see a colourful presentation of dance and drama which depicts the origins of the Kingdom of Siam (the old name for Thailand). This show is presented at the ancient Hindu temple built in the 12th century called Prasat SriKhoraphum located 34km away from Surin town.

The dancers and performers wear elaborate colourful costumes and headgear as they sing and dance to traditional Thai music. The show depicts how the early inhabitants of the kingdom embraced Hinduism and centuries later became followers of Buddhism.

This ancient temple which is about 30m high is believed to have been contructed in the 12th century. The sanctuary comprises five brick towers raised on a single base, adesign similar to simialar temple ruins found in Baphuon and Angkor in Cambodia.

The stone carvings of celestial dancers on the door to the central tower of the temple is similae to the ones found at Angkor.

Apart from the elephant show, Surin is also known for its hand woven traditional silk, silverware and rattan baskets.

Ancient wonder: The Prasat Hin Phanom Rung temple at Buri Ram.

One of the popular places where tourists throng to buy traditional silk or “Yok Thong” at Surin is at the Ban Tha Sawang Village. Also known as the Village of Silk, it became well known internationally after it was chosen to do weave the silk shirts and scarfs for the APEC leaders in 2003. Three years later, weavers from the village were again chosen to to weave the silk material for the Thai royalty in conjunction with the King’s 60th anniversary in ascending the throne.

“Yok Thong” is uniquely woven either from pure silver and golden coloured silk. It takes between one and three months to complete one piece of silk fabric.

Another interesting place to visit in this region is the ancient Khmer ruin Prasat Hin Phanom Rung located about 120km from Buri Ram town. It is an ancient Hindu temple which was built when the region was ruled by the Khmer kingdom hence its design and structure has similiarities with Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

Phanom Rung is a fine example of ancient Khmer art and architecture. Believed to have been constructed in the 12th century to pay homage to Lord Shiva, the temple is built out of pink sandstone and laterite.

Standing at 383m, the temple ruins provides a breathtaking view of the Khorat Plateau and the Dong Rak Mountains that form the border with Cambodia.

The building structures within the walled compound comprise a chambered gateway, a square-based sanctuary tower with entrances to the four main corners.

“This is arguably the most impressive of similar monuments to be seen outside Cambodia which has its famed Angkor Wat,” said the local tour guide.

He added that the temple was intricately designed to enable the sun rays to pass through the 15 doorways of the temple. This phenomena can be witnessed only four times a year.

A good place to visit while on holiday on this part of Thailand will be the Pha Taem National Park located at Ubon Ratchathani. It is a tourist attraction which has plateaus, mountains, forest and waterfalls. Within the park is Pha Tame, a hilly place which has ancient paintings on the stone columns of the cliffs.

Rock wonder: Sao Chaliang is a unique collection of large rocks in the shape of mushrooms in Ubon Ratchathani.

The route to Pha Tame will allow one to see a breathtaking view of the Mekong River from the edge of a cliff. You are also able to see with the jungles on the Laos side across the river.

The Saeng Chan Waterfalls is also located at this park.

Also within the park is the Sao Chaliang, which is a large natural formation of rocks in the shpae of mushrooms. Fossilised sea-shells, pebbles and sand grains can be seen on the stone slabs.

Another interesting place to visit at will be Wat Pa Na Chat or the “Monastery in the Forest” at Ubon Ratchathani. This monastery was set up by the late Buddhist monk Achan Cha to provide English-speaking monks an opportunity to follow the way Buddha taught his monks in the forest 2,600 years ago.

The writer’s trip to Surin, Buri Ram and Ubon Ratchathani in the I-San region in Thailand was sponsored by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT). For more information on tourism packages to the northeast region of Thailand, call TAT at : (603) 2162 3480 or visit

Monday, December 26, 2011

Thaicom's new CEO shifts to function-oriented structure

In an interview with The Nation, Suphajee, who assumed her position in August, said the organisation has shifted from a product-centric operation to a function-oriented one. The change will officially take effect next month.

Earlier, Thaicom's organisational structure focused on products, with one marketing and sales team overseeing satellite broadcasting services while another oversaw iPSTAR satellite broadband services.

"In the new chapter, Thaicom is moving forward; they'll not work separately but oversee products of both the broadcasting and broadband businesses," she said.

Under the new structure, company president Dr Nongluck Phinainitisart becomes chief commercial officer in charge of sales and marketing for both the satellite-broadcasting and the satellite-broadband businesses, a change from overseeing only the broadcasting business' sales and marketing.

Chief technical officer Paiboon Panuwattanawong will provide engineering support to both businesses, instead of only to the iPSTAR business as he did earlier.

Thaicom currently owns the Thaicom 5 broadcasting satellite and the iPSTAR broadband satellite.

Suphajee said the change is also intended to prepare the firm for the new businesses it expects to gain from the launch of the Thaicom 6 broadcasting satellite, together with the launch of a new satellite in cooperation with Asia Satellite Telecommunications (AsiaSat). They will provide services on their portions of the new satellite under the names AsiaSat 6 and Thaicom 7, respectively.

Thaicom 6 and Thaicom 7 are expected to be launched by 2013 and in early 2014, respectively.

Tanadit Charoenchan, Thaicom's acting executive vice president of marketing and sales for China, will handle the company's special projects and portfolio management of the businesses that Thaicom does not own 100 per cent, such as CS Loxinfo, Lao Telecommunications (LTC) and Cambodia-based cellular operator Mfone.

Suphajee said LTC has performed well and there is a chance it will be listed on Laos' stock exchange. The Lao government owns 51 per cent in LTC, while Shenington Investments holds 49 per cent. Thaicom owns 51 per cent in Shenington.

But Mfone has suffered from the brutal competition in Cambodia, where there are total of 10 players. Shenington owns 100 per cent of Mfone, which is the third-largest player in Cambodia.

It was speculated that Thaicom would divest its stakes in Mfone to other players in Cambodia, and the deal is expected to be concluded early next year. Suphajee declined to comment on the matter.

Thaicom posted a consolidated net profit of Bt16 million in the third quarter, versus a net loss of Bt25 million in the previous quarter and a net loss of Bt317 million in the third quarter of 2010.

Suphajee said Thaicom would stay focused to sustain profit growth.

Thaicom's flagship, iPSTAR, will further boost demand for its services. Suphajee has targeted a utilisation rate of at least 35 per cent of total capacity next year, up sharply from the current 24 per cent.

The iPSTAR footprint covers 14 Asia Pacific countries with a bandwidth capacity of more than 45 gigabits per second.