Monday, April 30, 2012

EU-ASEAN Ministerial Meeting ups relations with Southeast Asia

Monday, April 30. 2012

MANILA — The European Union (EU) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have endorsed an ambitious EU-ASEAN Plan of Action for 2013-2017, aimed at enhancing cooperation in the political and security field, realizing the full potential of the trade and investment relationship and developing a wide-ranging sectoral cooperation.
Among others, a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) with the Philippines is expected to be ratified within the year.
The EU has a significant record on which to build upon, including its active commitment to the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), its role in the peace process in Aceh, and its involvement in the peace process of Mindanao and Southern Thailand.
This was undertaken at the close of the EU-ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Brunei, attended respectively by Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and the Foreign Ministers of the 10 ASEAN Member States and the Secretary General of ASEAN.
The EU-ASEAN Ministerial Meeting took place on April 26 and 27. This year's meeting coincided with the 35th anniversary of the official relations between the EU and ASEAN.
The High Representative, accompanied by the Foreign Ministers of EU Member States, discussed with their ASEAN counterparts possibilities to enhance political dialogue and cooperation between the two regions.
Ashton, who is also the Vice President of the EU Commission, also met bilaterally with several ASEAN ministers in the margins of the Ministerial.
With Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei, EU launched the negotiation of a PCA.
Ashton is presently in Myanmar, where she is expected to convey a strong message of EU support to ongoing change in the country. Progress in Myanmar will ultimately help EU interaction with ASEAN as a whole.
The High Representative will also visit Thailand and meet with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on May 1.
The 10 ASEAN Member-States are Brunei Darussalam, Burma/Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
As a whole, ASEAN represents the EU’s 5th largest trading partner, with Euros 206 billion of trade in goods and services.
The EU is ASEAN’s third largest trading partner after China and Japan, accounting for 11 percent of ASEAN trade. The EU is by far the largest investor in ASEAN countries, with EU companies accounting for an average of 20.6 percent of FDI in the past three years.
The EU has been a strong supporter of ASEAN integration. It has notably established several programs to underpin the ASEAN integration process.
In 2007, the EU and ASEAN adopted a Plan of Action to implement the Nuremberg Declaration for an EU-ASEAN Enhanced Partnership (2007-2012).
ASEAN has in recent years made significant progress in its integration process, including the objective of establishing a single economic market by 2015.
By taking the initiative of forming new regional fora, such as the East Asia Summit and most recently the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting Plus (ADMM+), ASEAN has confirmed its central role in the new East-Asian regional architecture.
The EU is looking forward to its accession to the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC), which will further enhance its links with the region.
The High Representative said ahead of the meeting: “The EU has a strong stake in the success of ASEAN, a dynamic region of 600 million people situated across the world’s major trading routes. We welcome the considerable progress made by ASEAN towards its integration goals, which promote peace and prosperity and will create large commercial opportunities.
"The EU and ASEAN are natural partners. The EU wants to be an active and constructive player in the new Asian regional architecture. The time has now come for our two regions to take their political cooperation one step further. I look forward to discussing with Foreign Ministers of ASEAN countries how to boost our cooperation, including in areas such as maritime security, crisis management, human rights and the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction." (PNA)

Meet focuses on sharing of collection models in different nations

 Apr 30, 2012
Source: Timesofindia

PUNE: Waste pickers gathered in Pune for the 1st Global Strategic Workshop of Waste Pickers focused on sharing models of waste picking in different countries and spoke of challenges similar to all participants. The workshop that kickstarted at Yashada on April 27 will conclude on Monday.
Waste pickers from Africa (Ghana, Senegal, Mali, Egypt, South Africa, Kenya, Benin, Madagascar, Cameroon), Latin America (Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, Colombia), and Asia (India, Bangladesh, China, Nepal, Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia)

Michael Badrous, a member of Spirit of Youth waste pickers' association - a newly formed waste pickers' union in Cairo, Egypt, shared the challenges the Zabaleen community has faced since multinational companies made a contract with the government and then did not do the work.
"The waste pickers' union is suing the company to cancel all contracts with foreign companies. The union was formed only this year but has since accumulated 3,000 members, and is fighting hard against privatisation," Badrous said.
Simon Mbata, a waste picker and organiser from the South African Waste Pickers Association, noted a similarity between participants' waste picking models. "However, when it comes to selling the material, we mostly rely on the middlemen in our country," he said.
But in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, a waste pickers' network opened a plastic factory a few years ago, getting closer to closing the production loop. "We buy plastics from waste picker cooperatives and melt the material down into pellets," said a representative.
In Kacak, Serbia, waste pickers are beginning the first functional waste pickers' cooperative in the country. The municipal government and national government is supporting the process, providing equipment, space for the cooperative and help with management and bookkeeping.
"Pune's waste pickers have shown that they can integrate citizens' participation by collecting service fee from people for door-to-door services rendered to them. Because of this, the SwaCH initiative for door-to-door collection is a doable and sustainable model," Malati Gadgil, CEO of SwaCH (Solid Waste Collection and Handling), a cooperative of waste pickers for door-to-door collection of waste in Pune.

Increase of Shigellosis Cases from South-East Asia

With more people choosing South-East Asia as a travel destination there is now an influx of people entering South Korea with Shigellosis, an intestinal bacterial infection.

The Korea Center for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday that,.. of some 200 people that reported a Shigellosis infection between 2010 and 2011, there was a very high probability that almost all of them had contracted it in South-East Asia.

Most of the incidents were reported in travelers returning from India followed by Cambodia and the Philippines.

Shigellosis is a foodborne illness that can cause mild abdominal discomfort to full-blown dysentery.

APR 30, 2012 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Justice Department will not reopen Kent State shootings case

By Kristina Sgueglia, CNN
April 27, 2012
(CNN) -- The Justice Department has declined to reopen an investigation into the 1970 shootings at Kent State University that left four student protesters dead, after the agency found that enhanced audio recordings of the incident were inconclusive as to whether an order to fire was given.
The students had been protesting the Vietnam War and the U.S. invasion of Cambodia when Ohio National Guard members opened fire.
Nine others were wounded in the incident.
The digitally enhanced 29-minute audio clip, originally recorded on a reel-to-reel machine on May 4, 1970, from the window of a university dorm, captured the sounds of the shootings, according to the Justice Department.
The agency's decision came last week in response to a letter from former student Alan Canfora, 63, who was shot in the wrist during the incident and submitted the evidence to authorities in 2010.
He says the digital version was dubbed from the original copy and contained proof of an order to fire, followed by 13 seconds of gunfire.
CNN has listened to the recording and cannot confirm that account. But Canfora says an independent analysis by an audio professional on the same recording verifies a clear command to fire before the deadly gunshots.
Eight Guardsmen were charged in 1974 for their alleged roles in the shooting but were acquitted because a judge ruled that the government could not prove its case.
"It's always been the central mystery," Canfora said. "Was there or was there not an order to fire?"
A federal investigation found the audio quality to be poor and "shouting to be unintelligible," according to a letter from Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.
The letter says "no military-like voice commands to fire or otherwise were heard," adding that a statute of limitations bars prosecutors from reopening the case.
Canfora argued that he never wanted the case retried but is seeking a "grand pronouncement of truth for the sake of the historical record."
"Were looking for truth and healing," he added. "When you have a lingering injustice, there's no real feeling of closure."
Canfora said victims of the shooting plan to announce May 3, the day before the 42nd anniversary, a plan to move the case to an international court.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Vietnam arrests 20 over land eviction: reports

( AFP)

HANOI — Vietnam arrested 20 people after heavily-armed riot police used tear gas to break up a protest by hundreds of angry farmers, reports said on Wednesday, in the culmination of a six-year land dispute.
Around 700 farmers clashed with police and plain-clothed security officers on Tuesday to end the demonstration over the confiscation of land for a planned satellite city in Hung Yen province on the outskirts of the capital Hanoi.
The official Tuoi Tre newspaper said that after a "minor clash" during the eviction, police arrested 20 people who were now under investigation for preventing public officials carrying out their duties.
Officials used two tear gas grenades to break up a crowd of farmers who were trying to prevent bulldozers from accessing the site, which is some 25 kilometres (15 miles) southeast of Hanoi, the VNExpress reported.
The eviction proceeded "without military involvement or gunfire," it quoted a local official as saying, contradicting eyewitness reports given to AFP Tuesday that indicated police had fired warning shots above the crowd.
The farmers say a private company, Viet Hung Co. Ltd., has been granted some 500 hectares (1,235 acres) of their land without proper negotiations as part of plans to develop a satellite city named EcoPark.
Viet Hung has been trying since 2004 to build EcoPark, the biggest ecological city in northern Vietnam, which VNExpress said Wednesday had a total investment of some $6 billion, a much larger figure than previously estimated.
Land disputes with local authorities are an increasingly contentious issue in communist Vietnam, where all land is owned by the state and usage rights are not always clear or protected.

Cambodia, Thailand discuss border security

Phnom Penh, Apr 27 (VNA) - Cambodian and Thai officials met on April 26 in Phnom Penh to seek methods to strengthen security cooperation along the two countries' border.        
The meeting was co-chaired by Sak Setha, Secretary of State at  Cambodia 's Interior Ministry, and Surapon Pongtadsirikul, Deputy Permanent Secretary of Thailand's Interior Ministry.   
Speaking after the meeting, Sak Setha said the two sides discussed ways to promote cooperation along the border, strengthen security at cross-border checkpoints, and encourage more goods exchange between the two countries.   
Setha said representatives of both countries also focused on cooperation in tackling trans-border crimes, robberies, drug and human trafficking.   
He added that the meeting helps strengthen the relationship between Cambodian and Thai localities along the border.   
Surapon Pongtadsirikul said that the meeting also reviewed achievements in bilateral cooperation during the past year, in order to draw up new action plans for cooperation in upcoming years.   
Pongtadsirikul expressed his belief that through the meeting, the government of provinces along the two countries' border will make good relationships and contacts in order to promote peace and cooperation for the mutual benefits of the both countries’ peoples.   
The meeting was part of preparatory activities for the 4th meeting of governors of Cambodian and Thai border provinces on Apr. 27, which will be co-chaired by Cambodia's Interior Minister Sar Kheng and his Thai counterpart Yongyuth Wichaidit. (VNA)

Thai protestors rally against Xayaburi dam construction

  Thursday, April 26th, 2012
By : The Phnom Penh Post

Protesters rallied outside the offices of developer Ch.Karnchang in Bangkok on Tuesday against the Xayaburi hydro dam project. Image: Bangkok Post

Protests over construction of the controversial Xayaburi hydro dam project in northern Laos could spread from Thailand to Cambodia as communities along the Mekong River begin to feel its negative effects, an International Rivers programme director said yesterday.
About 70 Thai villagers who rely on the Mekong River for their livelihoods rallied outside the offices of developer Ch.Karnchang in Bangkok on Tuesday.
The protest came after the company announced last week it had signed a construction deal with Xayaburi Power Company to build the 1,260-megawatt dam, the first of its kind on the Lower Mekong River.
Ch.Karnchang, which said construction began on March 15, owns 30 per cent of Xayaburi Power Company.
“We are calling for Ch.Karnchang to immediately suspend the Xayaburi construction until the commission’s study is completed,” the protesters said in a statement.
Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia programme director at International Rivers, said sources had told her Ch.Karnchang has already hired as many as 5,000 construction workers on three-year contracts.
“It sounds like construction has started on the dam itself. This is essentially a violation of the 1995 agreement, because the four countries [Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam] are yet to agree,” she said.
Under this agreement, Mekong River Commission [MRC] countries must consult one another on projects that could affect other members.
“If construction continues, people will feel the impact. . . you are changing the ecosystem of the river. There will be fewer fish . . . communities will suffer.
“Given it will affect their livelihoods . . . [Cambodians] will definitely join the protests.”
Protesters at Tuesday’s demonstration, which coincided with Ch.Karnchang’s shareholders’ meeting, complained the company was contravening another MRC agreement made in December that an environmental impact study was needed before the project could begin.
Te Navuth, secretary-general of the Cambodia National Mekong Committee, told the Post on Monday that Japan had agreed to fund this study.
Surasak Glahan, communications officer for the Mekong River Commission secretariat, said member countries were still discussing “scope, timelines and methodology” for the study, as it involved other MRC development partners.
“All four member countries are still showing their commitment to further study by participating in discussion on the matter,” he said, adding that the issue of Cambodia launching legal action if Laos proceeded had not been raised.
Surasak Glahan said the Lao government had still not told him whether construction on the dam had begun.
Marc Goichot, the WWF’s sustainable hydropower manager for the Greater Mekong region, said the MRC needed to take it a step further.
“WWF would like to recommend that a group of representatives from the MRC council is appointed to visit the dam site to observe and monitor,” he said. “It is clear construction workers are present at the site.”
Ch.Karnchang CEO Plew Trivisvavet told the Bangkok Post the project would have “limited environmental impact”.
“All concerns regarding the environment were taken into account in the project’s design and environmental study,” he said.

Cambodia environmentalist killed in police dispute

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — A prominent Cambodian environmental activist was fatally shot Thursday in a confrontation with military police near a forest area where illegal logging reportedly takes place, a human rights group and police said.
Military police spokesman Kheng Tito said National Resources Protection Group director Chut Wutty was shot in a clash at a checkpoint in Koh Kong province during which the activist also fatally shot a military police officer.
Kheng Tito said he did not know what caused the violence or who shot first. A member of a human rights group said Chut Wutty was shot when he refused demands to hand over digital photos taken in the forest.
Kheng Tito said the confrontation occurred as Chut Wutty was serving as a guide for two journalists from The Cambodia Daily newspaper, a Canadian and a Cambodian. The journalists were taken to a military police office for questioning, he said.
Illegal logging is rampant in Cambodia, and often occurs under the protection of government agencies or important persons, environmental groups such as London-based Global Witness have charged. In recent years, protests against land grabs by rich and influential people have often been suppressed by deadly force.
In Kong Chet of the human rights group Licadho said Thursday's confrontation occurred when Chut Wutty refused to hand over a memory card with photos taken in the nearby forest by him and the journalists.
He said Chut Wutty had taken the journalists to see large-scale forest destruction and illegal rosewood smuggling, and on the way out of the forest came to a checkpoint where military police demanded the memory card.
Chut Wutty was well known as a forest protection advocate and used to work with Global Witness in the 1990s. The Phnom Penh Post newspaper said he was instrumental in helping it break a story last year about illegal logging and corruption in the same district where he took the journalists this week.
The Club of Cambodian Journalists, a press freedom and professional organization, condemned the shooting of Chut Wutty and urged that his attackers be brought to justice. It also urged the government to guarantee the safety of the two journalists who were with him.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

China welcomes investment, tech support for Greater Mekong Subregion

BEIJING, April 24 (Xinhua) -- China welcomes relevant countries to provide investment and technology support for nations in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said Tuesday.

Liu made the remarks at a regular press briefing while commenting on the outcome of the 4th Mekong-Japan Summit, which was held in Tokyo from April 20-22.

He said China is open to cooperations between the GMS and nations outside the Mekong Delta as a means to boost comprehensive economic and social development in the GMS.

During the summit, Japan pledged to provide about 600 billion yen (about 7.37 billion U.S. dollars) in official assistance to five nations in the Mekong River Basin region -- Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar and Thailand -- in order to boost regional development.

Some media have interpreted Japan's pledge as a means to counterbalance China's influence in the GMS.

In response to these reports, Liu said as far as cooperation on facilitating GMS development is concerned, China and Japan may bring their respective advantages into full play and enhance communication and coordination to jointly promote development and prosperity of the subregion.


Deputy defence minister urges stronger Cambodian ties

April, 25 2012 

HA NOI — The deputy minister of defence, Senior Lt Gen Nguyen Chi Vinh, yesterday told the secretary of state of the Cambodian defence ministry, Gen Neang Phat, that both ministries needed to endeavour to more strictly implement the memorandum of understanding on bilateral miltary co-operation which was signed in March.

In their meeting on the sideline of the ASEAN Defense Senior Offficials' Meeting (ADSOM) in Siem Reap Province, Neang Phat said that Cambodia highly valued Viet Nam's support and expressed his hopes that Viet Nam's defence ministry would continue providing assistance to the Cambodian ministry, particularly in holding meetings in Cambodia's chairmanship of ASEAN this year. 

Vinh also called on both sides to made effective contributions to the Viet Nam – Cambodia Friendship and Solidarity Year 2012. — VNS

Australia: Urge Human Rights Improvements in Vietnam

25 Apr 2012 05:50
Source: Content partner // Human Rights Watch

Australia should urge Vietnam to release all political prisoners and to end restrictions on the freedoms of expression, association, peaceful assembly, belief, and religion when the two sides meet for their annual bilateral human rights dialogue in Hanoi on April 26-27, 2012.
(New York) - Australia should urge Vietnam to release all political prisoners and to end restrictions on the freedoms of expression, association, peaceful assembly, belief, and religion when the two sides meet for their annual bilateral human rights dialogue in Hanoi on April 26-27, 2012, Human Rights Watch said today in a 16-page memo submitted to Australia.

During the first quarter of 2012 alone, Vietnam sent at least 12 people to prison for exercising these rights peacefully. This follows the imprisonment of at least 33 rights activists and internet bloggers who were convicted in 2011 for simply expressing their political and religious beliefs.

"Vietnam has mastered the practice of harassing, arresting, and charging activists brave enough to speak their minds with vaguely worded national security crimes that carry severe penalties," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Australia should call out the Vietnam authorities on their farcical claims that they don't have any political prisoners, because all those convicted have violated these rights-abusing laws."

Australian officials should urge Vietnam to amend or repeal provisions in the penal code, the Ordinance on Religion, Ordinance 44 on Handling of Administrative Violations, and other domestic laws that criminalize peaceful dissent and certain religious activities in contravention of Vietnam's obligations as a state that has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). In particular, Australia should press for revocation or amendment of "national security" crimes, including penal code articles 79 ("subversion of people's administration"), 87 ("undermining the unity policy"), 88 ("propaganda against the state"), 89 ("disrupting security"), 91 ("fleeing or staying abroad to oppose the people's government"), 92 ("supplemental punishment" to strip citizen rights), and 258 ("abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the interests of the state").

Human Rights Watch pointed out that in practice, those who form or join any political party in serious opposition to the Communist Party of Vietnam can be accused of "subversion of the people's administration" while those unwilling to conform to state-controlled religious organizations are frequently prosecuted for "undermining the unity policy." Activists who write pro-democracy articles and anti-government commentaries and give interviews with foreign-based radio stations such as Radio Free Asia (RFA), Voice of America (VOA), and British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) are often held for "conducting propaganda against the state."

Workers or land protesters who organize public protests or wild-cat strikes are more likely to be accused of "disrupting security." Rights activists who try to flee Vietnam, or go overseas to conduct training and then return to Vietnam, can be accused upon arrest of "fleeing abroad or staying abroad to oppose the people's government." Religious activists, land rights petitioners, or anti-corruption campaigners are also prosecuted for "abusing democratic freedoms" to "infringe upon the interests of the State." Finally, after serving many years in prison, those convicted under the above-mentioned articles can find themselves subjected to "supplemental punishment" which strips such former prisoners of certain citizen's rights for up to five years, places them on probation or effective house arrest, and authorizes confiscation of a part or all of their properties.

"Vietnam's diplomats like to tout the country's respect for rule of law to foreign partners," said Robertson. "But a justice system that imprisons people who protest peacefully contradicts the government's empty assurances. Australian officials should use the dialogue to demand the same respect for international legal commitments to human rights that they expect for the provisions of international trade and aid agreements."

Human Rights Watch also called on Australiato prioritize the immediate release of all political prisoners facing serious health problems so that they can receive proper medical treatment. In July and September, 2011, at least two political prisoners - Nguyen Van Trai and Truong Van Suong - died in jail.

In particular, Australia should raise grave concerns about the health of a number of current prisoners. For example, the poet and anti-corruption campaigner Nguyen Huu Cau, 66, has served a total of 34 years in prison since 1975. He has lost most of his vision and is almost completely deaf. Hoa Hao Buddhist activist Mai Thi Dung, 43, serving an 11-year prison term for advocating Hoa Hao Buddhism, is gravely ill, with both feet paralyzed, and is suffering from heart disease and gallstones, said Hoa Hao Buddhist activists who visited her in 2010. Some other political prisoners facing difficult health conditions include the Catholic activist Nguyen Van Ly, the Hoa Hao Buddhist campaigner Nguyen Van Lia, and the pro-decmocracy writer Nguyen Xuan Nghia. All three are serving long prison terms for peacefully exercising their rights.

"Father Nguyen Van Ly, Nguyen Huu Cau, Mai Thi Dung, Nguyen Van Lia, and Nguyen Xuan Nghia should be immediately released so they can receive proper medical treatment," Robertson said. "Australia should ask across the table to their Vietnam interlocutors what they have to fear from severely ill activists and demand the authorities immediately permit humanitarian medical parole for these prisoners."

Australia should also raise serious concerns about the use of administrative detention to detain a land rights activist, Bui Thi Minh Hang, who was sent to Thanh Ha education center for two years of administrative detention without trial for participating in peaceful protests in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City that took place between June and August. On April 4, 2012, officials at Thanh Ha Education center prevented her from signing a document that would launch a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of the decision that sent her to an education center without any trial.

In their decision on Bui Thi Minh Hang, the Hanoi Municipal People's Committee cited Decree 76, which provides guidance for sending people to "education centers." According to article 35 of this decree: "Persons subject to the application of measure of consignment to education center or their lawful representatives may lodge their complaints about, or initiate administrative lawsuits against, the application of such measure." However, the authorities have ignored complaints lodged by Bui Thi Minh Hang's lawyer, Ha Huy Son.

"To send Bui Thi Minh Hang to an education center just because she participated in peaceful protests is a clear violation of international human rights law," said Robertson. "Australia should raise concerns and urge the authorities to release her immediately and unconditionally."

In addition to the issue of political prisoners and detainees, Human Rights Watch said Australia should press the Vietnam government to address abuses by police and officials in detention centers and end impunity for such abuse, and halt forced labor in drug rehabilitation centers.

"Recent research by Human Rights Watch found cashews and other goods being produced by forced labor in drug detention centers and then exported," Robertson said. "Australia should advocate a different, more humane and evidence-based model for rehabilitation and ensure that no goods tainted by forced labor are imported into Australia."

PRESS DIGEST - Vietnam newspapers - April 25

HANOI, April 25 | Tue Apr 24, 2012 10:21pm EDT
HANOI, April 25 (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.
- FPT Corp, a software producer, said it would pay a 20 percent dividend in cash and another 25 percent through shares for 2011 by issuing 54 million new shares.
- Baoviet Holdings expects its net profit this year to rise 10 percent from 2011 to 1.33 trillion dong ($63.82 million), it said in a report to the annual shareholders' meeting.
- China must immediately cancel its nationwide plan for island protection, strictly follow the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties on the East Sea and take no more actions that may complicate the situation in the area, Vietnam's Foreign Ministry spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi said.
- Fourteen out of 26 blood samples from patients suffering a mysterious skin disease in the central province of Quang Ngai have tested positive for the Rickettsia infection, which is transferred from animals to people by lice and fleas, Director Pham Hong Duong of the provincial health department said. So far 19 have died out of the 172 infected.
- Vietnam has signed contracts to export 4.22 million tonnes of rice so far this year, up nearly 24 percent from the same period in 2011, the Agriculture Ministry said.
- Police have detained 20 people accused of opposing officials after the authorities used force to take 5.6 hectares of land from 166 families as part of a construction project in the northern province of Hung Yen after the residents did not agree with compensation offered by the project's investors.
- Nearly 80 percent of Vietnam's coffee processors and exporters faced losses last year due to high bank interest rates and other expenses, said adviser Doan Trieu Nhan of the Vietnam Coffee and Cocoa Association.
- Ho Chi Minh City seeks to attract $2.5 billion in foreign direct investment pledges this year, focusing on nine sectors including finance, credit, insurance, logistics, telecoms, real estate, tourism and health care, said Lu Thanh Phong, deputy director of the city's Planning and Investment Service. (Reporting by Hanoi Newsroom; Editing by Paul Tait)

Security forces seize land from Vietnam villagers

HANOI | Tue Apr 24, 2012 
HANOI (Reuters) - Thousands of riot police overwhelmed villagers in Vietnam who tried to block them from taking control of a disputed plot of land outside Hanoi on Tuesday in the second high-profile clash over property so far this year.
Villagers in the district of Van Giang just east of the capital had vowed to stand their ground after local authorities announced that they would forcibly appropriate 70 hectares (173 acres) of land for use in a satellite city development called Ecopark.
Many villagers camped out on the land overnight, burning bonfires and keeping vigil, photos showed.
But a force of 2,000-4,000 police and unidentified men not wearing uniforms converged on the land early on Tuesday morning, three villagers and one other witness said.
"We threw bottles of gasoline at them, but it did not help, they had shields. They used clubs to beat us. Even when we ran back to the village, they followed us and beat us," said a villager who gave his name as Kien.
As in China, where land grabs sparked a revolt in the southern village of Wukan that lasted for months, land conflicts are a leading source of friction between the public and officials in Vietnam. All land is owned by the state but usage rights are not always clear or protected.
Two people at the scene said they had heard what sounded like gunfire but Kien said the sound came from stun grenades that the security forces threw at the villagers. He said 10 people were arrested.
"They have acquired the land and used bulldozers to destroy our crops. We have lost to them. I don't know what to do next," he said.
A senior government official on the scene declined to comment and said to call back later. Officials at Viet Hung Urban Development and Investment Joint-Stock Co, which is developing Ecopark, could not be reached for an immediate comment.
Hung Yen farmers have been staging protests on and off since the Ecopark project was launched several years ago, claiming that the government granted land to the developers without proper consultation or compensation.
"If they want the land we just ask that the investors come to talk to us directly about it, but they won't," said a villager named Tuyen contacted by telephone in Van Giang.
At least two well-known, Hanoi-based bloggers rushed to Van Giang to chronicle the conflict. The issue has not appeared in state-run media.
In January, farmers outside the city of Haiphong ambushed security forces with homemade landmines and guns in a bid to stop local officials from taking their land.
The case was covered in state-controlled media and the fish farmer who organized the defense, Doan Van Vuon, was catapulted to cult hero status, piling pressure on the authorities over a highly sensitive issue.
In February, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung publicly chastised local authorities for their handling of the case.
(Editing by Ed Lane)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012



Last missing body found
The last missing body in a landslide at Phan Me landfill site in Thai Nguyen Province which killed six people was found this morning after a nine-day search.
Four other bodies were found yesterday, April 23, and one body was retrieved on April 15, the day of the accident. One other person was injured.
Officials said the bodies had broken into pieces. Rescue workers were still searching for missing body parts.
A funeral ceremony will be held this afternoon, April 24.
Two victims found dead after coal mine landslide
Two of five missing people who were buried under a landslide in northern Thai Nguyen Province's Dai Tu District were found yesterday, April 23, after a nine-day search.
Photo: VNN
The victims could not be identified because their bodies had disintegrated, according to local authorities.

The accident happened at Phan Me working coal mine on April 15. The search is ongoing.
Two days ago, another worker died during a landslide at a different coal mine in the same province.
UK singer seeks missing relative in Vietnam
A UK-based musician, Mark Villarosa, is seeking assistance in the search for a relative who has been missing in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, since April 20.
The London singer has launched a public appeal urging people to help share information to discover leads, attract media attention, and gain support from authorities in the search for his uncle, 47-year-old Edwin de la Cruz, also known as “Bong”, according to ABS-CBN.
Talking with TuoiTreNews over the phone, Thanh, another relative of Bong’s, said the missing man has remained unfound and the family has yet to receive any clue about him.
According to ABS-CBN, De la Cruz went missing when he was travelling with his mother and sister to visit a sibling in Cambodia that borders Vietnam. They were passing through HCMC to catch a flight back to Manila when Bong decided to have a walk and never returned.
Bong was last seen near a bus stop outside Hoang Hai Long 2 Hotel, District 1, HCMC, Vietnam, at 4 a.m. on Friday, April 20. He was wearing a blue “I Love Cambodia” T-shirt with blue shorts and sandals, ABS-CBN reported.
Bong is based in Makati, Philippines, where he lives with his wife, Emiliana, and their three children.
“Our family would like the support of our government, embassy and the media to assist us in working with local Vietnamese authorities in finding Edwin,” ABS-CBN quoted Villarosa as saying.
Villarosa also spread the appeal on a Facebook page in the hope of finding the missing man.
Tonnes of rotten buffalo and beef incinerated
More than eight tonnes of rotten buffalo meat and beef had been seized and incinerated in the southern province of Binh Duong's Thuan An Commune, according to Vo Van Hong, deputy head of the commune's police station.
Hong said the investigation showed a total of 17 tonnes of rotten meat had been transported in container trucks on Sunday from Ha Noi to southern provinces. They were all sealed with approval stamps from the city's Animal Health Department.
The rest of the meat had been sold in central Khanh Hoa Province before the trucks were seized by police.
Institute to provide training to State finance company
An agreement for advisory and training services for capacity enhancement of the State-owned company HCM City Finance and Investment Co, (HFIC) was signed last week.
The project, financed by the French Development Agency, will be carried out by the Asian Institute of Technology.
This agreement is one of three parts of a technical assistance programme for capacity enhancement of HFIC by the French development agency (AFD) through a 1.5 million euro (US$1.97 million) non-refundable aid to the Viet Nam government.
Three siblings die in Gia Lai wood house fire
A large fire, which might be caused by a short circuit, broke out at a wooden house in Gia Lai Province’s Pleiku City at midnight Sunday, killing three siblings.

The victims are Le Thi Kim Chi, 23, Le Huu Nhan, 21, and Le Thi Ai Nguyen, 20, three of the five siblings in their family.

The incident occurred at 0:15 am Sunday at 39 Phu Dong Street, Phu Dong Ward, when the victims were sleeping on the first floor of the house, which was totally made of wood.

The three siblings’ mother, Luong Thi Mong Dung, and her friend, both sleeping on the ground floor, managed to escape and shouted for help.

Le Thi Giang, the eldest child of the family, was staying at a neighbor’s house nearby at the time. Giang said she heard some explosions from her home before she saw a flame burst out.

Giang and her neighbors called the local fire brigade and tried to save the victims but they failed to enter the house due to it being locked from the inside.

Firefighters came 30 minutes later when the fire covered the entire house and began to spread to two others.

It took firefighters 4 hours to put out the fire, which caused a total material loss of hundreds of millions of dong (VND100 million = US$4,800).

Dung - the mother - told authorities that when she and her friend were sleeping, she heard a big explosion inside the house and then she found the flame spreading rapidly.

The father of the victims, Le Viet Hung, 57, who was doing business far away, returned home immediately after receiving the bad news.

Besides Giang and the three perished children, Hung and his wife have one son who was in Ho Chi Minh City at the time of the fire.

Local authorities have given the couple an initial support of VND35 million ($1,680).

Local police, who are investigating the fire, said that it might be caused by a short circuit.

Investment bank gets award for long service
The Bank for Investment and Development of Viet Nam (BIDV) received on Sunday the State's first-class Independence Order for the second time on the occasion of its 55th anniversary.
It was also presented with the Lao Independence Order and the Royal Order of Cambodia at the ceremony for its contributions to boosting social welfare in the Indochina region.
Speaking at the ceremony, National Assembly Chairman Nguyen Sinh Hung said the Bank for Investment and Development of Viet Nam was a leader in helping Vietnamese enterprises boost investment promotion in other countries.
The bank has also helped encourage Vietnamese trade in Indochina and ASEAN countries, he said.
Besides, BIDV had been actively participating in community activities and social welfare, he said.
The commercial bank, which has been ranked as the best supporter of development in Viet Nam by the United Nations Development Programme, has connections with 1,551 financial institutions internationally and domestically.
BIDV, one of Viet Nam's four biggest commercial banks, yesterday officially became a joint stock business, with a charter capital of VND23 trillion (US$1.09 billion).
6th grader hangs himself, dies after family rebuke
After getting reprimand by his family for poor school performance, a grade-6 student hanged himself at home in Central Highlands Dak Lak Province.

The heart-breaking incident occurred last Saturday evening when Pham Dinh Tuyen, a student of Trung Vuong Junior High School, was found dead in his room at his house in the province’s Buon Ma Thuot City.

According to his family’s report, a few days earlier Tuyen was scolded by his mother and elder sister for his poor marks in art, one of his subjects at school, and he had been unhappy ever since.

At 18:30 pm on April 21, Tuyen returned home from school and continued getting reprimanded by his mother. He then went to his room and 30 minutes later one of member of his family entered the room and found him hanging.

Tuyen was taken to hospital immediately but he died on the way.

Tuyen was the family’s youngest son and all the adults in the family, especially his father, spoiled him since he had been very obedient, a member of Tuyen’s family said.

His mother and sister reprimanded him only because they wanted him to get better grades, the member said.

In a similar heart-breaking case, a grade-12 schoolgirl, Nguyen Thi K. O., at Dong Hung High School in the northern province of Thai Binh, committed suicide on January 7, 2012 to protest her math teacher’s punishment on a number of students who had got marks of 5 or below 5 on a mathematics test.

The teacher, 30-year-old To Thanh H., ordered those students to write down her answer key for the math test four times.

O, who got 5 marks, jumped from the second floor of the school and died in a hospital later the same day, after H. heavily insulted O. and threw her out of the class since she objected to H’s penalty.

After the incident, the school’s management suspended H. from teaching.

Salvage work completed on Truong Hai Star
The final container from the sunken Truong Hai Star was salvaged on Sunday in the southern coastal area of Ba Ria – Vung Tau Province, said a Sao Mai Marine Company representative.
According to the company which is responsible for salvaging containers from the ship, they finished salvaging 41 containers a day earlier than expected.
The company also reported no major problems or oil spills.
On April 10th, the ship sank off Vung Tau's Front Beach after colliding with the 40,000-tonne Thai vessel Krairatch Dignityon, losing its cargo of 64 automobiles worth hundreds of billions of Vietnamese dong.
Tran Hai Ha, the salvage team leader said his team worked in two groups with two cranes to speed up the recovery and prevent possible risks. The team leader also said they had salvaged what the ship owner reported.
Ha said that the cars in the containers looked rusty after being immersed in sea water for a prolonged period.
Vung Tau Port authorities have instructed the Sao Mai Marine Company to deliver the containers to the ship owner, the Chu Lai Truong Hai Shipping Lines Company Ltd, for restoration work and damage limitation.
Sao Mai Marine Company has also prepared plans to extract oil from the ship before salvaging it yesterday, April 23.
Preventing human trafficking in Mekong Delta
A seminar has been held in An Giang province to review the implementation of a project on preventing human trafficking in the Mekong Delta.
The US State Department provided US$33,300 for the first phase of the project from 2008-2010 and US$31,500 was funded by the Kuwaiti government to complete the second phase from 2011 to the first quarter of 2012.

As part of the project, a shelter has also been built to support 12 victims and generate jobs for 25 others.

The project also helped to raise public awareness of human trafficking apart from re-integrating people back into the community.

According to the Ho Chi Minh City Office of the International Organization of Migration, An Giang which shares a 100-km border with Cambodia, is known to be used by gangs trafficking women and children. However, the province has proved itself to be capable of helping the victims get their lives back to normal and will fight trafficking activities after the project is over.


Hun Sen aims to attract more Japanese money

Don Weinland
Tuesday, 24 April 201
Phnom Penh Post

Japan's Sumi Wiring Systems Co Ltd launched production of automobile wiring this month, a company official said yesterday.

Japanese companies such as Sumi and Minebea, a ball-bearings maker, have helped Cambodia’s manufacturing industry diversify away from garments, the country’s main manufacturing product and export, and Prime Minister Hun Sen seems intent on continuing to attract higher-end investment from the East Asian nation.

During talks with Japanese Prime Minister Yohishiko Noda last weekend in Tokyo, Hun Sen pledged to upgrade Cambodia’s business environment to attract more Japanese investment, Kyodo News Agency reported.

While industry insiders said there were already many incentives for Japanese companies in place, more clarity surrounding the country’s business regulation, as well as better transportation between countries, would be needed to see a continued increase in Japanese investment.

“So far, there are no big issues between Japan and Cambodia on law and regulation. But regulations are very new in Cambodia and many Japanese companies don’t get lots of information about them,” Suzuki Hiroshi, CEO and chief economist at the Business Research Institute for Cambodia, said yesterday by phone.

Better communication between governments on customs regulations could help boost trade, he said.

Companies such as Minebea are reliant on transportation routes between Cambodia and Thailand, Suzuki Hiroshi said.

The company ships in parts from Thailand to be assembled and then ships them back.

Heightening connectivity between the countries could get regional investors looking toward the Kingdom, he said.

Tax- and duty-free treatment, as well as cheap labour were the main factors that brought Sumi to Cambodia, the company’s general manager Kenichi Onogi told the Post yesterday.

Transportation at the Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone was another important factor, he said.

A widely acknowledged skill shortage still affects Cambodia.

The Asian Development Bank’s annual report on the country pinpointed problems companies face in finding competent labour.

ADB’s senior country economist said this month that, although Cambodia has managed to attract companies such as Minebea, a continued skill shortage would stop similar companies from investing in the future.

Japan invested about US$6.2 million in fixed assets in Cambodia in 2011, according to data from the Cambodian Investment Board, or about 0.09 per cent of total foreign direct investment last year.

UN rep warns of more floods

 Phnom Penh Post
Khouth Sophak Chakrya
Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Cambodia was urged by the special representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction yesterday to prepare for an increase in floods, storms and lightning strikes as climate change affected global weather conditions.

Margareta Wahlström, United Nations Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, speaks during a meeting in Phnom Penh yesterday. Photo by Hong Menea
Margareta Wahlström said in a meeting with National Committee for Disaster Management first vice chairman Nhim Vanda that she would call on Cambodia, as chair of ASEAN, to highlight this issue.

“I will ask the government of Cambodia to call on the prime ministers of ASEAN countries to call a conference that talks about how to reduce the risk of disaster,” she said.

According to the NCDM, 247 people were killed in last year’s floods and 1.64 million people were affected – 70,000 of whom were children.

One hundred thousand hectares of rice paddy had also been damaged.

An NCDM report released on Sunday states that in the first four months of 2012, 15 provinces were affected by storms and lightning.

242 houses were destroyed, 1,422 houses damaged and 21 people killed in storms or by lightning.

Nhim Vanda said that the disasters had presented a “huge” challenge.

Cambodia Eyes 1 Million Chinese Tourists By 2020

PHNOM PENH, April 24 (Bernama) -- Cambodia is aiming to attract at least one million Chinese tourists by 2020, a senior official said Tuesday.

"We expect 500,000 Chinese tourists to visit Cambodia in 2015 and 1 million by 2020," Cambodia's Tourism Minister Thong Khon said after a tourism conference attended by some 500 participants here.

To achieve that aim, the government will continue to encourage more direct flight connections between Cambodia and China, and urge the tourism industry and accommodation providers to use Khmer, English and Chinese languages in their promotional efforts.

So Visothy, director of the Tourism Ministry's Marketing and Promotion Department, said Cambodia received 2.88 million international tourists last year, of whom 247,200 were from China.

"We believe our target of attracting one million Chinese tourists is achievable as Cambodia has political stability and wonderful tourism potential. Diplomatic ties between Cambodia and China are excellent," he said.

Visothy highlighted some challenges in attracting Chinese tourists, including limited direct flight connections, limited promotion, and Cambodia's tourism products and services that have not met demands from the Chinese market.

"Visa fees to Cambodia are also higher compared to those in neighbouring countries, as well as air fares and tour packages," he added.

In view of this, Visothy said the ministry will encourage airlines and tour agencies to offer competitive prices for Chinese tourists.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

PRESS DIGEST - Vietnam newspapers - April 19

HANOI, April 19 | Wed Apr 18, 2012

HANOI, April 19 (Reuters) - These are some of the leading stories in the official Vietnamese press on Thursday. Reuters has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy.



- Banks that violate the credit cap for securities trading, have a capital adequacy ratio below 8 percent for six consecutive months or longer and have bad debt of more than 10 percent of their loans for three months in a row will face lending restriction, a central bank circular said.

- Korea Life Insurance Vietnam said it had a net loss of 55.7 billion dong ($2.67 million) in 2011, little changed from a loss of 55.8 billion dong the previous year.


- Hanoi-based partly private lender Techcombank said its net profit last year jumped 52 percent to 3.15 trillion dong, from 2.07 trillion dong in 2010.

- Military Bank will list an additional 270 million shares on April 23, the Ho Chi Minh Stock Exchange said.



- Members of the Vietnam Fatherland Front have voted in favour of removing Dang Thi Hoang Yen from her post as a National Assembly delegate representing the southern province of Long An for supplying false information related to her Communist Party membership and her marriage.


- A total of 43 companies and coffee trading agents are facing defaults in the central highland province of Daklak, involving a combined 3,000 tonnes of coffee.


- The business optimism index in Vietnam dropped to 6 percent in the first quarter of this year from 34 percent in the fourth quarter last year, according to a survey of 3,000 companies in 40 countries conducted by auditing firm Grant Thornton.


- Petrolimex, Saigon Petro, Petrovietnam Oil and Dong Thap Petrol and Lubricant Co have sought approval to raise retail petrol prices, the Finance Ministry-run Price Control Department said. (Reporting by Hanoi Newsroom)

Women’s lower status risk for Asian future

Thursday, 19 April 2012

SHANGHAI. — The 2 billion women living in Asia are still paid less than men for similar work and are extremely underrepresented in top leadership positions, even in wealthy countries such as Japan, according to a report issued Thursday.

The Asia Society survey on women’s status in health, education, economic activity and political leadership urges improvements to ensure the region benefits fully from its underused pool of human talent.

While the status of women varies widely from country to country from one category to the next, overall, “to continue in this direction would put in peril Asia’s many achievements,” said the report, compiled by Astrid S. Tuminez, a professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore.

Limits on female employment cost the region $89 billion a year in terms of lost productivity and human resources, the report said, citing United Nations data.

Overall, based on various measures — the report also uses data from The Economic Forum and other sources — the gender gap was narrowest and women’s leadership strongest in New Zealand, Australia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Mongolia.

The gap was widest in Pakistan, Nepal, India, South Korea and Cambodia.

“Some economies in Asia with the highest human development rankings also perform most poorly in some measures of women’s leadership,” it said, referring specifically to Japan and South Korea.

Asia leads the world in terms of the number of years women have governed as heads of state, and currently has four women leaders. But the report attributes that to dynastic traditions calling for women to take over from fathers, husbands or sons when they die, are imprisoned or killed.

It said the problem begins before birth, with sex-selective abortions and infanticide due to a preference for sons in countries such as China and India.

It said the bias in favor of sons means that girls in some countries receive poorer medical care, nutrition and education than boys, especially in developing countries.

The discrepancy in schooling leaves the majority of women in four Asian nations illiterate, the report said, citing literacy rates of 10 percent in Bhutan, 16 percent in Pakistan, 25 percent in Nepal and 31 percent in Bangladesh.

Although women live longer in Asian nations as in other regions, such disadvantages affect health and earning power over a lifetime, the report noted.

“From the very start, girls in Asia face significant obstacles to fulfilling their human potential, in general, and their potential for leadership, in particular,” Asia Society President Vishakha N. Desai said in introducing the report.

Pay gaps remain significant, the report said, with the ratio of women’s pay to men’s lowest in South Korea, at 51 percent, below that of Nepal, Bangladesh and China. Japan’s was not much better, at 60 percent.

The narrowest gaps, the report found, were in Malaysia and Singapore, at 81 percent, and Mongolia and Thailand, at just under 80 percent. Globally, women’s pay is 20 percent to 30 percent less than men’s, on average.

As far as women in senior corporate positions, Japan came in worst in the region with just 5 percent of those postions held by women. – AP

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Will lessening of sanctions help Burma’s reform?

Apr 18, 2012

Sanction is a big question for Burma’s successive regimes. Western democratic governments have used sanctions to pressure the regime in order to amend its unacceptable deeds in the areas of human rights, jurisdiction and inequality of business opportunities.

With such an insightful approach, sanctions have strengthened both the legitimacy and possibility of political dialogue in Burma. In fact, sanctions are effective tools to advance the dialogue process between the regime and the opposition.

The United States on Tuesday eased financial sanctions on Burma to enable private U.S.-based groups to do charity work in the impoverished country, according to today AP News.

The announcement by the Treasury Department is the first of a series of rewards from Washington in response to the country’s by-elections this month. The U.S. also has a plan to appoint a permanent ambassador for the first time in more than two decades, as a sign of reducing restrictions on American investment and the export of other financial services. But, trade sanctions will not be lifted immediately.

Australia and Norway also followed the example of the US.

Burma’s Nobel laureate and democracy icon is no longer under house arrest. The National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi isn’t an unregistered or illegal political party right now. It has even won 43 seats in the recent bi-elections. Most analysts agree to consider such kind of circumstances as positive comparing to past two decades.

It is true that Suu Kyi’s NLD won 43 out of the 45 seats in by-elections, a grand victory in the face of broad irregularities and threats during the campaign time. However, the NLD’s official opposition place in parliamentary politics of Burma is not a well-built fortress, as the party holds somewhat 7 per cent of seats in the assembly.

Again, Thein Sein government released hundreds of political prisoners including prominent 88 generation student activists and ethnic politicians. Many see it as a positive move although they were detained several years without breaking any criminal law. However, there are many more political prisoners still behind bars. It is also necessary to release unconditionally all remaining political prisoners under fabricated terrorism charges.

During ASEAN’s two-day annual summit meeting in Cambodia, ASEAN leaders agreed urging western countries to lift sanctions against Burma. But, many dissidents, inside and outside of the country, consider lifting of sanctions seems a little earlier. Actually, the government needs many more things to do with the aim of consolidating the reforms.

Western Democracies need to put emphasis on the military-monopolized 2008 Constitution which gives too much power to military such as 25 per cent parliamentary seats without contesting in elections and it also officially allows the military boss to hold power on security reasons. It is required to amend the military dominant provisions in keeping democratic norms.

Average citizens feel the present ground situation as unchanged. Especially, people displease with the law courts tainted with corruptions. The current government needs to establish ‘Independent Judicial System’ to prevent discrimination, injustice and imitation of rule of law.

Today, citizens have no rights to enjoy the fair proceedings. Most court judgments were made by superior government officials rather than the respective judges. In such a moment, people feel government’s reform scheme as a fruitless.

An exceptional shortcoming which does not go match with reform is the ongoing civil war with the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO). Western democracies must think time and again on the topic of lifting of sanctions as an incentive for the President Thein Sein government.

They ought to urge the Thein Sein government to stop military offensives against ethnic minority people. Currently, the war against the Kachin people is at its peak and burning villages, looting, rape and extra judicial killing are still going on. There are over 60,000 Kachin war refugees on the Sino-Burma border without any humanitarian assistance from the ruling government.

Hence, Western democracies that imposed sanctions on Burma should observe obvious facts of additional reforms, including the release of all political prisoners, genuine talks headed for national reconciliation, with all ethnic groups oppressed by the Burma Army. Economic reform is also crucial to grant equal business opportunity to each and every one and to stop current crony capitalism including unruly land confiscations from poor farmers.

To strengthen its reform agenda, the Burmese government needs to endorse or stick to additional international instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Convention against Torture (CAT), and the Rome Statute.

Khmer Rouge leader denies role in torture prison

A Khmer Rouge leader on trial for crimes against humanity on Wednesday rejected claims from the regime's chief jailer as "untruthful", denying he was ever in charge of a torture prison.

Khmer Rouge leader at Cambodian trial says they were not 'bad people'
Former Khmer Rouge leader, 'Brother Number Two' Nuon Chea, sits in the courtroom in Phnom Penh Photo: MARK PETERS/AFP/Getty Images

"Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea urged Cambodia's UN-backed court to ignore testimony by Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, who accused him of ordering the "smashing" of hundreds of inmates at the S-21 detention centre in the late 1970s.

"I would like to inform the Cambodian people that I have never at any time been responsible for the operation of S-21," said the former deputy leader of the brutal regime, which oversaw the deaths of up to two million people.

"What Duch has accused me of has been untruthful and very unjust towards me ... I have never been Duch's superior," Nuon Chea read out from a prepared statement, challenging his accuser to provide the documents to prove otherwise.

The 85-year-old, as usual dressed in all black, then refused to answer any questions, to the annoyance of the prosecutors, who urged judges to give "no weight to his exculpatory assertions".

Nuon Chea and his co-defendants – ex-foreign minister Ieng Sary and one-time head of state Khieu Samphan – deny charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Former maths teacher Duch, 69, was sentenced to life in jail on appeal in February for overseeing the killings of some 15,000 people at the notorious prison.

Nuon Chea and Duch, who are being held at the same detention centre, are on bad terms, with the former calling Duch "rotten wood" during a recent hearing.

Duch told the court earlier this month that Nuon Chea has long blamed him for failing to destroy evidence at S-21 before the Vietnamese invaded and ousted the Khmer Rouge.

Led by "Brother Number One" Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the Khmer Rouge wiped out nearly a quarter of Cambodia's population between 1975 and 1979 through torture, starvation, overwork or execution in a bid to forge a communist "utopia".

Source: AFP

Xayaburi dam building pact signed


In a controversial move, a Thai company has signed a nearly $2 billion-dollar contract for the construction of a dam on the Mekong River in Laos even though governments in the region have not cleared the project.

Ch. Karnchang informed the Thai stock exchange Tuesday it had signed a 52 billion baht (US $1.7 billion) contract with Xayaburi Power, a Lao-Thai joint venture, to build the project, Thai media reported.

The Xayaburi hydropower dam would be on the lower part of the Mekong River, and environmental groups say it would affect the lives of millions in the region.

The latest contract says construction on the dam will begin on March 15 next year and be completed in eight years.

In December, Laos had shelved plans for the dam pending further environmental assessments, following a meeting by the Mekong River Commission (MRC), a regional body of Southeast Asian countries that share the river.

Leaders from Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam agreed further study was needed on the sustainable management and development of the river before the Xayaburi project could continue.

Despite the delay, Lao energy officials have remained committed to the project, which costs a total of US $3.8 billion, Bounthuang Phengthavongsa, director-general of the Energy and Mining Ministry said in January.

“We want to build this dam and we will try hard to do so. Our intention and our hope is that in the end we will be able to build it despite all opposition,” he told RFA.

Laos has planned 70 hydropower projects on its rivers and officials have said it hopes to become “the battery of Asia.”

It is not immediately known whether the Lao government had been officially informed by the companies that signed the contract.

Preliminary construction on the project, including work access roads and a work camp, has picked up in recent months, according International Rivers, a US-based environmental NGO.

“Laos has not clarified if construction on the Xayaburi Dam will stop while the study takes place. Legally, Laos may not proceed with construction until all four governments have agreed. Practically, allowing construction would undermine the study,” the group said.

A large number of workers have been employed for a two-year period to construct access roads and facilities for the project, it said.

High stakes

Critics of the Xayaburi dam, which would provide 95 percent of its electricity to Thailand, say that damming the Mekong threatens to destroy the ecology of the river, disrupt the livelihood of riparian communities, and jeopardize the food security throughout the region.

“The government should take care of the environment too, at the same time as developing the economy,” a resident in the Lao capital Vientiane said.

Mekong dams have faced stiff opposition from environment activists, who say the fate of the Xayaburi project will affect future decisions on the 11 other dams planned on the mainstream part of the Lower Mekong.

“The ecosystem is already changing, and now the dam will be built on Mekong River. The Xayaburi dam will be the first; of course it will affect the ecosystem the most,” a Thai resident who lives near the Mekong said.

“If the Xayaburi dam can be built, so will 12 others. I think that is a big concern,” he said.

The Stimson Center, a US-based think tank, applauded Laos’s postponement of the Xayaburi project last year, saying it was the first time a Mekong country had made a decision about a mainstream dam based on the impact beyond its borders.

The Xayaburi project is the Mekong River Commission’s “biggest test” since its establishment in 1995, the think tank said in a report in March, and warned that dams on the river could have a harmful impact on the entire region.

“The negative impacts on food security, livelihoods, water availability, and water quality have the potential to jeopardize the region’s hard-won peace and stability,” it said.

Cambodia's stock market begins trading for first time

Apr 18, 2012

Trading on Cambodia's stock exchange started today after a state-run company completed its initial public offering.

Some 13 million shares of the state-run Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority were offered at 6,300 riel (£98p) per share.

The stock exchange was officially launched in July 2011, but trading only began today because of a delay blamed in part on time needed to finalise investment laws.

Prime minister Hun Sen has expressed hope the stock market will be a new way to attract foreign capital besides international aid and bank loans.

Cambodia is one of the last south-east Asian nations to open a stock market. Neighbouring Laos opened its bourse in January last year and Vietnam's exchange has operated since 2000.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

China, Vietnam vow to improve military ties

April 17, 2012

-- Chief of the General Staff of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Chen Bingde held talks with his Vietnamese counterpart Do Ba Ty Monday afternoon, calling for both sides to create a sound environment for the development of bilateral relations.

Chen exchanged views with his Vietnamese guests on regional and international issues, military ties and relations between the two countries, as well as issues of common interest.

Chen said military ties are an integral part of bilateral relations. He said the two sides should further enhance mutual trust, deepen cooperation in personnel training, boost exchanges between military academies and improve contact across land and maritime borders.

Chen said the two sides should adopt an objective view and properly handle disputes between the two countries. He called for both countries to make joint efforts to safeguard regional peace and stability and promote common development.

Ty said Vietnam has always attached priority to its relationship with China in regard to its foreign policy. He said Vietnam places importance on developing friendly exchanges with the Chinese army. He expressed readiness to work with the Chinese side to strengthen cooperation and maintain the stable growth of bilateral and military-to-military relations.

Ty, chief of the General Staff of the People's Army of Vietnam, is heading a delegation of Vietnamese generals to visit China.

Ty has also met with Vice President Xi Jinping during his trip.

PRESS DIGEST - Vietnam newspapers - April 17

HANOI, April 17, 2012

HANOI, April 17 (Reuters) - These are some of the leading stories in the official Vietnamese press on Tuesday. Reuters has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy.



- Poor public awareness about prevention of hand-foot-mouth disease as well as a lack of basic equipment and inappropriate medical care have led to an outbreak in the Mekong Delta, with several thousands cases reported so far this year in the region.


- Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai has requested that the Industry and Trade Ministry oversee the issuing of rice export licenses to ensure there are no more than 100 exporters in the country.


- More than 200 workers suffered from food poisoning in the southern province of Tien Giang after eating lunch at their company on Monday, doctors said.


- The Long An provincial chapter of the Fatherland Front will review Dang Thi Hoang Yen's status as a National Assembly delegate on Tuesday, in light of the fact that her biography did not mention her membership in the Communist Party and that her husband has been on a warrant list by the Police Ministry.

- Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung will attend the fourth Mekong-Japan summit in Tokyo between April 20-24, the Foreign Ministry said.


- The Ho Chi Minh City Real Estate Association has proposed 12 measures to help the sector recover, including cutting lending rates to 14-16 percent and reducing corporate income tax to 18-20 percent from 25 percent.


- Vietnam's steel inventory at the end of March dropped 31 percent from a year ago to 250,000 tonnes thanks to a sharp rise in consumption last month, the Vietnam Steel Association said.

- Vietnam's imports of petroleum products in the first quarter fell nearly half from a year earlier due to stagnating domestic production, the Industry and Trade Ministry said. (Reporting by Hanoi Newsroom)

President Obama to Award Medal of Honor

WASHINGTON, DC—On May 16, President Barack Obama will award Specialist Leslie H. Sabo, Jr., U.S. Army, the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry.

Specialist Sabo will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his heroic actions in combat on May 10, 1970, while serving as a rifleman in Company D, 3d Battalion, 506th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division in Se San, Cambodia.

On that day, when he and his platoon were ambushed by a large enemy force, Specialist Sabo immediately charged the enemy position, killing several enemy soldiers. He then assaulted an enemy flanking force, successfully drawing their fire away from friendly soldiers and ultimately forcing the enemy to retreat. While securing a re-supply of ammunition, an enemy grenade landed nearby. Specialist Sabo picked it up, threw it, and shielded a wounded comrade with his own body - absorbing the brunt of the blast and saving his comrade's life. Although wounded by the grenade blast, he continued to charge the enemy's bunker. After receiving several serious wounds from automatic weapons fire, he crawled towards the enemy emplacement and, when in position, threw a grenade into the bunker. The resulting explosion silenced the enemy fire, but also ended Specialist Sabo’s life. His indomitable courage and complete disregard for his own safety saved the lives of many of his platoon members.

Specialist Sabo's widow, Rose Mary Sabo-Brown and his brother, George Sabo, will join the President at the White House to commemorate his example of selfless service and sacrifice.



The Medal of Honor is awarded to members of the Armed Forces who distinguish themselves conspicuously by gallantry above and beyond the call of duty while:

  • engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States;
  • engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or
  • serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.

The meritorious conduct must involve great personal bravery or self-sacrifice so conspicuous as to clearly distinguish the individual above his or her comrades and must have involved risk of life. There must be incontestable proof of the performance of the meritorious conduct, and each recommendation for the award must be considered on the standard of extraordinary merit.

Thaksin Rally Raises Interference Questions


Analysts say Cambodia’s backing of the former Thai PM’s supporters sends mixed messages.


Thaksin Shinawatra sprays water towards supporters in front of Angkor Wat temple in Siem Reap, April 15, 2012.

Cambodia’s hosting of a mass rally at the weekend for ousted Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra may result in warmer ties between governments of the two countries but has also raised questions of Phnom Penh’s interference in the internal politics of a neighboring country, experts say.

The fugitive Thaksin on Saturday addressed thousands of his "Red Shirt" supporters, who streamed across the border from Thailand to Cambodia’s northwestern Siem Reap province in the first major rally he has attended since being toppled from power in a military coup in 2006.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen welcomed Thaksin’s supporters into the country, ordering immigration officials to provide “special treatment” to the visitors and waiving their fees for entry to the ancient Angkor Wat temple complex near Siem Reap.

Independent analyst Sok Touch said Hun Sen’s move could mend ties with Thailand following several military skirmishes near a shared border area last year.

“The Cambodian government’s decision … is a message to the Democrat Party and Opposition Party in Thailand that the Cambodian government is taking a balanced political stance or has a political strategy towards solving border conflicts between the two countries.”

The two countries traded heavy arms fire over a disputed border in early 2011 under the previous Thai government, but ties have warmed significantly since Thaksin’s sister Yingluck came to power later that year after her party ousted the then Democrat Party-led government.

Chheang Vannarith, executive director of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, said the arrival of Thaksin and the Red Shirts in Cambodia demonstrated better relations between the two countries and their people.

“Not only Cambodia, but other countries, such as Laos, Burma and Malaysia—all of these four countries surrounding Thailand have opened their doors to welcome him,” he said.

“When he was in power, Thaksin had shown good cooperation with Thailand’s neighboring countries.”

The 62-year-old Thaksin was toppled by royalist military generals in 2006 and lives in Dubai to avoid a two-year prison sentence for corruption that he contends is politically motivated.

By hosting and lending support to the weekend rallies, Cambodia was interfering in Thailand’s internal affairs, another Cambodian analyst, Lao Mong Hay, said.

“It is unwise for the government to only maintain relations with the Red Shirt group or the ‘Pheu Thai’ Party. To do so [could damage relations] with the Democratic Party of the former Thai prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, and also the Thai King. Both are unhappy with Thaksin.”

Thaksin received a similar welcome from Lao authorities. He has now visited four of Thailand’s neighbors, including Burma and Malaysia, since the beginning of the year.

Thaksin told his supporters over the weekend that he hopes to return on his own terms to Thailand in 2012, which he called an “auspicious year” for Thailand—currently celebrating Songkran, or Thai New Year. Thaksin’s sister refused to comment on his plan to return to the country at a press briefing in Bangkok Monday.



Thaksin is Thailand’s most controversial politician. After fleeing Thailand, he lent his support to the Red Shirt movement to counter the Yellow Shirt Royalist group whose street demonstrations led to his ouster in 2006.

He then backed Red Shirt rioting in 2009 against the anti-Thaksin government led by the Democrat Party and encouraged street demonstrations in Bangkok which led to the worst political violence in decades, with 91 people killed over two months.

Thaksin has been accused of mixing business with politics and an intolerance of criticism, but many Thais believe the first ever politician to serve a full term as prime minister was removed from office because he posed a threat to Thailand’s powerful military and royalist power base.

Yingluck’s government is in the process of removing obstacles to Thaksin’s return, including the proposal of changes to a military-backed post-coup constitution which weakened Thailand’s political parties and legislation that would grant an amnesty to participants in the last six years of political turmoil.

Thaksin’s opponents fear that he would run for office upon his return to Thailand and seek revenge against his political enemies. Analysts say they are likely working to forge an agreement granting the army and monarch protection in exchange for the lifting of charges against him.

But many say that with his growing support in Thailand, time may be running out for the royalists.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Yanny Hin. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.