Friday, November 30, 2012

Dung Sees Vietnam Inflation at Decade Low With Investment Rising

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
Nguyen Tan Dung, Vietnam's prime minister.

Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung pledged to bring inflation down to a decade low as the nation seeks to boost foreign investment and cope with the aftermath of a credit boom that’s hobbled the banking industry.

“Inflation in 2012 will be about 7 percent and next year we will have even better control of it, at about 6 percent,” Dung, 63, said in an interview in Hanoi on Nov. 28. He said overseas investment will rise “sharply” in the next two years as officials overhaul state enterprises and recapitalize banks.

Slower gains in consumer prices would reduce the risk of labor strikes undermining Vietnam’s campaign to position itself as an alternative manufacturing base to China. Concern that growth has peaked after a quarter-century of market opening, and that policy makers are struggling to manage a legacy of non- performing loans, contributed to a 21 percent slide in investment pledges from abroad so far this year.

“It would help Vietnam’s image significantly” to contain inflation, said Peter Ryder, the Hanoi-based chief executive of fund manager and property developer Indochina Capital. “Clearly the fact that inflation hit 20-plus percent in two of the last four years has made people question the government’s management of the economy.”

Dung’s administration has made inroads into quelling what was Asia’s fastest inflation in 2011, at 18 percent in December from the previous year. Consumer prices rose 7.1 percent in November. The last year costs rose less than 6 percent was in 2003, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Growth Outlook

The nation of 89 million will see economic expansion of 5.5 percent next year, Dung, who has been prime minister since 2006, predicted in the interview at his office building known as the White House. The rate would be little changed from an estimated 5.2 percent in 2012, the weakest performance in 13 years.

Growth has slowed from the 7 percent average pace recorded since the “doi moi” market-opening reforms began in 1986 as Vietnam tightened credit to stem inflation and the rise of bad loans. Government-run banks often have been subject to political pressure to lend to favored state-owned enterprises, according to a January study from the Harvard Kennedy School.

Central bank Governor Nguyen Van Binh told the National Assembly on Nov. 13 the ratio of non-performing loans as of Sept. 30 was seen at 8.82 percent. The monetary authority aims to lower the ratio to below 3 percent by 2015, Binh said last month. Binh also has vowed to crack down on violations by groups with vested interests that manipulate bank operations.

Cleaning Up

“If the government goes about cleaning up the banking system the right way and reining in the state-owned companies, while growth would likely stay slow it’s reasonable to think that inflation would also remain under control,” said Jonathan Pincus, a Ho Chi Minh City-based economist with the Harvard Kennedy School’s Vietnam program.

Vietnam’s stocks have underperformed in the past year as its banking crisis deepened. The VN Index of shares is down about 0.7 percent over the period, compared with the MSCI Asia Pacific Index’s (MXAP) advance of 9.4 percent.

Dung, a former central bank chief, has faced domestic criticism over his management of the economy, with a rare suggestion in the Communist nation by a National Assembly delegate this month that the prime minister introduce a “culture of resignation.”

Preventing ‘Collapse’

“Vietnam is determined to restructure its banking system at the lowest cost possible, preventing any systemic collapse,” Dung said in a written response that was sent by his office after the interview.

Even amid the financial strains, some overseas lenders have boosted their presence in the country. HSBC Holdings Plc, Standard Chartered Plc, Mizuho Financial Group Inc. and Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. are among foreign banks that have bought shares in Vietnamese banks or opened branches in the Southeast Asian country.

Some foreign companies operating in Vietnam have seen their local units or suppliers affected by labor disputes. Yamaha Motor Co. halted production of motorbikes in Hanoi when 4,000 employees downed tools in March last year. They were given a pay raise to return to work. Dung asked officials and unions earlier this year to halve the number of strikes compared with 2011.

The ruling Communist Party has identified restructuring state-owned companies as one of its main areas of focus through 2015. The government has pledged to speed up a share-sale program known as equitization after delays in plans to sell stakes in enterprises such as Vietnam Mobile Telecom Services Co. and Vietnam Airlines Corp.

Stock Listings

“We encourage state companies that have sold stakes to the public to list on stock exchanges domestically and internationally,” Dung said.

A more stable economy should contribute to an increase in foreign investment next year and in 2014, the prime minister, who oversaw Vietnam’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 2007, said in the interview. “We highly welcome foreign companies to invest in and take part in the process of restructuring state-owned companies, including our banks.”

Policy makers are planning new tax policies and land regulations to make Vietnam more attractive to foreign investors, with a focus on finding companies with “value-added projects and high technology,” he said.
Intel Corp. (INTC), Samsung Electronics Co. (005930) and Jabil Circuit Inc. (JBL) are among companies that have set up or are expanding in Vietnam, spurring the nation’s exports even as foreign investment pledges have dropped this year. Shipments of mobile phones and other electronics rose 91 percent in the first 10 months of the year to $16 billion, making them the biggest source of export revenue.

Foreign Reserves

The export gains have contributed to a buttressing in Vietnam’s foreign-exchange reserves, which Dung said are expected to reach the equivalent to about 12 weeks of imports by the end of the year. Such a figure would mark an increase from the 11 weeks of imports Dung estimated in an Oct. 22 address to the National Assembly.

The Southeast Asian nation will probably ship 7.5 million tons of rice this year, Dung said in a written response. Vietnam exported about 7 million tons of the grain last year, when it was the world’s biggest rice exporter after Thailand, based on figures from the U.S. Foreign Agricultural Service.

“Foreign companies are doing well in Vietnam with their export turnover rising 30 percent in eleven months through November and accounting for about two-thirds of total exports,” the prime minister said in the written responses.

Vietnam is a central player in what’s likely to be a migration in international manufacturing from China toward Southeast Asia, according to analysts at Daiwa Capital Markets Hong Kong Ltd.

The nation, along with smaller neighbor Cambodia, is “among the best candidates to replace China as low-cost textile and clothing makers due to their low labor costs,” Sun Mingchun, chief economist for greater China at Daiwa in Hong Kong, wrote in a Nov. 27 research note.

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Nguyen Dieu Tu Uyen in Hanoi at Jason Folkmanis in Hanoi at;

China's voracious appetite for timber driving illegal trade

Nov 30, 2012

China’s insatiable appetite for timber is driving a growing illegal trade that is stripping forests in Africa and Asia and fuelling conflict, underscoring the urgency for Beijing to enact laws to crack down, an environment group said yesterday.

China is the world’s top importer of illegal timber, with the trade worth about $4 billion a year, said the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

Globally, Interpol estimates total trade in illegal timber is more than $30 billion.

The EIA released its report Appetite for Destruction: China’s Trade in Illegal Timber in Beijing to highlight what it said was China’s lack of action, in contrast to major trading partners such as the US.

“China has built a vast wood-processing industry, reliant on imports for most of its raw materials supply. It is in effect exporting deforestation,” the group said in the report.

It said China’s state-owned companies played a major role in securing supplies from overseas. An EIA analysis of China’s trade data for 2007 showed state-owned firms imported nearly half the volume of tropical logs that year.

The EIA, drawing on its own investigations and the work of Interpol, the World Bank and others, says China’s demand for timber has fuelled conflict in Myanmar, Cambodia, Papua New Guinea as well as parts of Africa.

China’s booming economy has driven demand for timber for construction. In addition, many of its newly wealthy are splashing out on furniture, including items such as rosewood lounge sets that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. In Laos, rare rosewood logs can fetch $18,000 per cubic metre and more in neighbouring states, says the EIA.

The EIA estimates China imported at least 18.5 million cubic metres of illegal logs and sawn timber in 2011, worth $3.7 billion. The group said the estimate was conservative.

Can ASEAN be the mousedeer? — Yang Razali Kassim

November 30, 2012
The Malaysianinsider

NOV 30 — East Asia was last week turned into a stage for a new “Asian Drama” as major, medium and small powers converged for the most intense power diplomacy in the region in years. The convergence of key actors of varying degrees of influence and sizes was unprecedented, yet the desired outcome of the diplomatic efforts to manage these clashing interests in Asia is still a long way off.

Indeed, the full impact of the unfolding power game will not be known for some time. What is certain is that something hugely significant has just taken place. Going forward, Asia will not be the same again. Several layers or dimensions of this power game were at play all at once.

Firstly, the world’s established power, the United States, expanded its “pivot” or strategic rebalancing towards Asia, led personally by a newly re-elected President Barack Obama.

His presence on November 20 at the 7th East Asia Summit (EAS) in Phnom Penh underscored his image as the US’ “first Pacific President” who launched the pivot strategy last year by basing marines in Darwin, Australia.

Expanding the pivot strategy into Southeast Asia, he revived an old treaty alliance with Thailand, went on a historic visit to Myanmar to prop up that country’s incipient political reform, and symbolically admonished Cambodia for its domestic repression. The US rebalancing culminated in a direct engagement at the EAS with Asia’s emerging power and potential rival, China, which will be led in the next decade by a new leadership whose attitude towards the US and Southeast Asia remains untested.

The US-China engagement in ASEAN’s backyard was a manifestation of two conflicting goals — competition for influence in Asia by the two powers even as they declared their mutual desire for greater co-operation as the world’s two largest economies.

China sees the pivot as an Obama-led ring-fencing of its peaceful rise; Beijing responded to this at the EAS with another push to keep the US out of Beijing’s South China Sea disputes with several ASEAN states.
Indeed, Beijing’s assertiveness to shape the resolution of the South China Sea disputes was the second dimension of the power game. It led to a replay of the proxy tussle, leading to internal divisions within ASEAN caused by host Cambodia’s poor handling of the increasingly divisive issue.

For the first time in ASEAN history, the chairman’s draft closing statement had to be openly contradicted and corrected by fellow ASEAN leaders for its “inaccuracies”. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen had wrongly claimed — reflecting his eagerness to please Beijing — that the leaders had reached a consensus not to “internationalise the issue”.

The third layer of the power game was the entry of a new race for economic influence and preponderance: ASEAN officially launched the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) to pull together Asia’s major economies as an integrated dynamo for growth. The RCEP, a huge free trade area likely to be dominated by China through its sheer size, is a potential rival to the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Manifesting yet another layer of the diplomatic tussle, China, Japan and South Korea within the RCEP will form their own Northeast Asian free trade area, despite current tensions over their maritime disputes in the East China Sea. If successful, their trilateral FTA will overshadow the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), given the combined economic heft of the three North-east Asian economies.

The RCEP is a smart strategic move by ASEAN to offset the projected shortfall of its own ASEAN Community 2015 project at regional integration. With only three years to go, analysts are sceptical of a fully integrated ASEAN community, given the foot-dragging by some members over economic liberalisation and the gulf between the more advanced and newer member-states.

Still, the emergence of the RCEP, TPP and AFTA, not to mention the long-standing Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) forum and the future China-Japan-Korea trilateral FTA, is more than coincidental. It reflects what US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described as the strategic power of economic forces — the rise of the “economics of power” and the “power of economics”.

Though competing, both the RCEP and TPP could, over the long term, take a positive turn and end up merging into one big FTA called the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific.

The Asian power game can have one of two possible outcomes for ASEAN: Either it gets trampled underfoot in the proverbial jungle of fighting elephants, or it survives by staying together through agility and wit like the proverbial Malay sang kancil or mousedeer.

What we have just seen at the back-to-back regional summits is ASEAN struggling to steer itself between a rock and a hard place. But the motivation is the same — survival in the face of the growing pressure from competing forces out to shape and react to the evolving architecture in the Asia-Pacific.

Unfortunately, the inherent weaknesses of ASEAN caused by conflicting interests among members have been exposed once again; at the same time, their overriding desire to stay on top of the power game is evident. The group has a code word for this herculean task: “ASEAN centrality”.

The battle for ASEAN centrality is hardly over; the EAS in Phnom Penh was just the opening chapter. Over the next few years, especially towards 2015, more drama may unfold as the geo-strategic tussle gets more intense and complicated, while ASEAN seeks safe passage through the unfolding power game of the giants. — Today
* Yang Razali Kassim is Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, where he also contributes to the Centre for Multilateralism Studies and the Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.

NRP Threatens Poll Boycott

The opposition party says it will not participate in elections that are not ‘free and fair.’
Sam Rainsy speaks at RFA in Washington, Nov. 2, 2012.

Cambodia’s leading opposition party said Thursday that it would boycott general elections in 2013 if the government does not reform the electoral process and refuses to allow its president to return to the country where he has been barred from running on the grounds of his criminal conviction.

The country’s National Election Committee (NEC), which critics say lacks independence from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), removed exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy as a voter and disallowed him from standing as a candidate in next year’s elections in a ruling earlier this month.

The decision was made on the grounds that Sam Rainsy was convicted on charges of incitement and damaging property while leading a 2009 Vietnam border protest, among other crimes—charges he denies and says are politically motivated.

Yim Sovann, spokesman for the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) and one of the founders of Sam Rainsy’s National Rescue Party (NRP), said the NEC ruling was part of a plan to secure a win for the CPP in next year’s elections.

The NRP is a united opposition coalition, consisting of the SRP and the Human Rights Party (HRP), aimed at challenging Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP in next year’s polls.

“The NRP will boycott if Sam Rainsy can't come to Cambodia [to compete in the elections]," Yim Sovann said, referring to the 11-year jail sentence the opposition leader faces if he returns from his self-imposed exile in Paris.

“[The boycott would aim] to fight for NEC reform from the top to the local-level and to allow Sam Rainsy’s return.”

The NEC has been accused by rights groups and opposition parties of bias toward the CPP. They have called for independent members on the committee, whose headquarters is situated in the Ministry of the Interior compound.

A number of opposition candidates have said that the 2013 election would not be regarded as free and fair if there is no reform of the NEC and if Sam Rainsy is not permitted to participate in the polls.

Last week, during the first visit by a sitting U.S. president to Cambodia, Barack Obama spoke with Hun Sen about the need for measures to ensure that the country’s general elections are contested fairly.

The 60-year-old Hun Sen has held power since 1985 and has said he has no plans to step down until the age of 90.

Elections to ‘proceed’

NEC Secretary General Tep Nytha said the committee will “do its best” to organize a free and fair election for 2013.

He said the NEC will continue to hold the polls “as scheduled,” regardless of the NRP threat of boycott.

“If the two merged parties [SRP and HRP] don’t join the election, it is their right to do so. But the election will proceed as scheduled and all political parties will have the right to participate,” he said.

The NEC recently announced that it will accept the registration of political parties for the 2013 general elections from March-April next year.

Six political parties have also registered to monitor the voting registration process.

Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL) Director Koul Panha underscored the importance of allowing Sam Rainsy to return home to participate in the election.

“In order to make this election more meaningful and just, Sam Rainsy must be present,” he said.

On Wednesday, Sam Rainsy accused Cambodia’s election officials of practicing double standards by banning him from the elections based on the charges against him, saying that others convicted of crimes, including prominent criminals, have not faced the same restrictions.

In a statement, the NRP said that by sidelining Sam Rainsy, Hun Sen is trying to avoid a “fair fight” in the July 2013 election.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Political Prisoners—a Question of Definition

November 28, 2012
The Cambodiadaily 

U.S. President Barack Obama wants them freed. Prime Minister Hun Sen says there are none. And while human rights groups say there are many, they cannot agree on just how to define these “political prisoners,” let alone how many there might be in Cambodia.

The answer does matter, though.

Mr. Obama warned during his recent visit to Phnom Penh that the future of U.S.-Cambodian relations depended on their release but highlighted only one case, that of imprisoned radio station owner and frequent government critic Mam Sonando.

The U.N. human rights office in Phnom Penh said it did not know how many political prisoners Cambodia had and was not keeping track. The U.N.’s human rights envoy to the country, Surya Subedi, said he needed some time to define what a political prisoner was in the Cambodian context.

The only organization apparently not struggling with the issue is local human rights group Licadho.
Among the 20 of the 26 Cambodian jails it monitors, Licadho Director Naly Pilorge said 13 detainees currently fit its definition of political prisoner: anyone persecuted unjustly for promoting and protecting the human rights of their community or other groups using non-violence.

Though each of the 13 were charged or convicted for a nominal crime, from fraud to attempted murder, Ms. Pilorge believes that all but one, Mr. Sonando, were targeted for actively—but peacefully—opposing various land evictions.

Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, a legal aid NGO, said criminal prosecutions made political cases hard to discern.

“It’s very hard because sometimes the [criminal] conviction is suspicious,” Mr. Sam Oeun said.
A definition is even harder still when cases are coupled with an element of organized violence, Mr. Sam Oeun said, noting the Cambodian Freedom Fighters. Several members were convicted of staging a violent attack on government buildings and security forces in 2000.

“The Cambodian Freedom Fighters, though it is a crime, it is still political,” Mr. Sam Oeun said.
Because some political prisoners can be involved in acts of violence, some groups prefer the phrase “prisoner of conscience.”

Amnesty International, which coined the phrase, defines a prisoner of conscience as “someone jailed because of her/his political, religious or other conscientiously held beliefs, ethnic origin, sex, color, language, national or social origin, economic status, birth, sexual orientation or other status, provided they have neither used nor advocated violence.”

Though Amnesty International’s Cambodia researcher, Rupert Abbott, said he could not say how many such prisoners existed in Cambodia, some of the people on Licadho’s list were candidates.

“Particularly in the context of the land crisis in Cambodia—where forced evictions, land disputes and land grabbing have affected thousands of people—human rights defenders and peaceful protesters face harassment, increasing violence, legal action and imprisonment,” he said. “Amnesty International would define some of those imprisoned as [prisoners of conscience].”

Mr. Abbott also included the 13 women arrested in May while peacefully protesting against a Phnom Penh land eviction and convicted that same month on charges of inciting rebellion and illegally occupying land after a summary trial. Sentenced to two-and-a-half years each, the women have since been released but remain convicted.

Rights workers also included those convicted in recent years for distributing anti-government leaflets, usually on grounds of incitement. In 2010, a World Food Program employee was convicted of incitement for printing out pages from the website of K.I. [Khmer Intelligence] Media and sentenced to six months in prison.

But none of these cases add up to a consensus on the definition of political prisoner or prisoner of conscience.

Even in Burma, where America very publicly made the release of political prisoners a key condition for lifting sanctions on the country, the U.S. is still trying to figure out what the phrase should mean.

Just last month, the U.S. government’s Congressional Research Service (CRS) said a definition was in the works.

“The State Department is actively discussing the political prisoner issue—including the definition of political prisoners—with the Burmese government, opposition parties and representatives of some ethnic groups,” the CRS said in a briefing paper.

Borrowing figures from the Burmese government and NGOs, the CRS said the government of Burmese President Thein Sein  had nonetheless released hundreds of political prisoners over the past year and that anywhere from 128 to 914 remained.

Faced with the definition dilemma, the U.N.’s human rights envoy to Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, offered his own, two-pronged description of a prisoner of conscience.

By Mr. Quintana’s definition, a prisoner of conscience is anyone prosecuted for breaking laws that impede “reasonable enjoyment of freedom of expression, opinion, peaceful assembly or association” and who is denied access to a court or only has access to a court that lacks independence or denies due process.

In past reports, Cambodia’s U.N. envoy Mr. Subedi has described an abjectly corrupt court system here.
“Corruption seems to be widespread at all levels in the judiciary,” he said in a 2010 report. “Because the laws needed to protect the judges are not there, the judges are treated as civil servants and seem to rely on patronage and political protection rather than on the laws for the security of their jobs. This has resulted in individual judges and prosecutors compromising their independence.”

Like other local groups in Cambodia, the Community Legal Education Center (CLEC), a legal aid NGO, has neither a definition for political prisoners nor a number. But CLEC program manager Houn Chundy said despite what the government claimed, there was no doubt Cambodia had them.

For all the prime minister’s denials, he said, “people, the public, see that they are politically related.”

ASEAN's sense of urgency under changing situation

Nov 28, 2012
Source: People Daily
Two themes at the 21th meetings of East Asian leaders, which just concluded in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, demand more attention because they have far bigger significance than the South China Sea issue repeatedly mentioned by Western media.

One is that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) emphasized once again to take the launch of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015 as a primary strategic objective and the other is that the ASEAN has determined the time of negotiations with China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand on “regional comprehensive economic partnership” (RCEP).

The ASEAN strives to promote the two programs, which reflected its thirst to strengthen the strength through enhancing intra-regional cooperation, and meanwhile hoping to turn itself into an economic and trade cooperation platform in the Asian-Pacific region and an important pole in Asian-Pacific political and economic pattern.

The ASEAN will certainly face a series of political, economic and legal difficulties when walking toward economic integration, which is noteworthy. However, it more is a common aspiration for ASEAN countries to continue to strengthen them.

The ASEAN’s sense of urgency is related with the changes of East Asian political and economic pattern. Two factors influence the trend of ASEAN: The rapid development of China and the United States’ returning to Asia. The ASEAN is increasingly relying on China in economy but in military and security, some ASEAN countries pin their hope on the United States, which cannot maintain for a long time.

Reluctant to choose sides between the United States and China, the ASEAN will not be attached to any country. It should have a bigger say in international affairs and depend on itself in economy, which is consistent with the development trend of multi-polar world pattern.

With continuous development, the ASEAN will become a strong driving force for the regional cooperation and an important factor to decide the future direction of the Asia-Pacific political and economic structure.

Cambodia to allocate $400m to defence and security

 News Desk
Rasmei Kampuchea Daily
Publication Date : 28-11-2012

The Cambodian government will allocate US$400 million to defence and security spending next year, amounting to 22 per cent of expenditure and 2.5 per cent of gross domestic product.

Finance Minister Keat Chhon said defence and security spending needed to be kept below 3.0 per cent of GDP.
Among other items, health spending is targeted at US$225 million next year while education spending is expected to reach US$280 million.

Defence Minister Tea Banh said earlier this month that Cambodia had bought 100 tanks and armoured vehicles from Eastern Europe to improve the nation's military capacity.

Cambodia external borrowing to reach $915m next year

 News Desk
Rasmei Kampuchea Daily
Publication Date : 28-11-2012

Cambodian Finance Minister Keat Chhun said the government would borrow US$915 million from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Asian Development Bank, China, Japan and South Korea next year. 

"We plan to ask for National Assembly approval to let the government borrow 600 million SDR in 2013," he said, referring to special drawing rights, the IMF unit of account. That compares with 700 million SDR this year.

"The loans will be used to invest in economic growth, to build roads, bridges, canals and dams and invest in electricity," the finance minister said. "We are paying attention to road development in rural areas."

Keat Chhon said loans from China would be used to develop 400 kilometres of roads in rural areas.

Vietnam refuses to stamp new Chinese passport


HANOI — Vietnamese immigration officers said Tuesday they were refusing to stamp entry visas into controversial new Chinese passports which feature a map of Beijing's claim to almost all of the South China Sea.

Vietnam has said the computer-chipped passports violate its sovereignty (AFP/File, Hoang Dinh Nam)

Vietnam has said the computer-chipped passports violate its sovereignty and has demanded Beijing withdraw the documents, which show the contested Paracel and Spratly Islands as Chinese territory.
"We do not stamp the new Chinese passports," said an official at Hanoi's Noi Bai Airport, the country's main international gateway.

"We issue them a separate visa," said the official, who did not want to be named.

A border guard in northern Lang Son province said they were also not stamping the new passports but issuing separate visas to Chinese arrivals.

Even with the new passports, however, "Chinese citizens can still travel normally through the border gate," the guard added.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Tuesday that he was not aware of Vietnam's refusal to stamp visas in China's new passports.

Beijing has attempted to downplay the diplomatic fallout from the recently introduced passports, with the foreign ministry arguing the maps were "not made to target any specific country".

Microblog users in China complained the immigration rules for the new passports were causing inconvenience and delays on arrival.

"Immigration is requesting a separate visa form. This is causing lots of trouble, and is very time consuming," one user wrote on Weibo, China's version of Twitter.

Beijing has long infuriated southern neighbours such as Vietnam with its claim to vast swathes of the South China Sea, with Chinese maps showing a "nine-dash line" that runs almost to the Philippine and Malaysian coasts.

Both the Philippines and India have also protested against the map in Beijing's new biometric passports.
India has started stamping its own map onto visas issued to Chinese visitors as the map shows the disputed border areas of Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin as part of Chinese territory.

Manila, which claims part of the Spratlys, sent Beijing a formal protest letter last week, calling the maps "an excessive declaration of maritime space in violation of international law".

The South China Sea is strategically significant, home to some of the world's most important shipping lanes and believed to be rich in resources.

Other claimants to parts of the South China Sea are Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.

Meeting with Human Rights Defenders in Cambodia

Valerie Jarrett, Samantha Power
Source: White House

During the East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh on November 20, President Obama asked us to join with U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia William E. Todd in gathering Cambodian human rights organizations to discuss the state of human rights and civil society in Cambodia.

The courageous individuals we met represented many others who advocate daily, sometimes at personal risk, for the protection and strengthening of human rights in Cambodia. Much of our conversation centered around three issues:  land rights, the rule of law, and free and fair elections.
Samantha Power, Valerie Jarrett, and Ambassador William E. Todd meet with Cambodian human rights organizations
Samantha Power (left), Valerie Jarrett (center), and Ambassador William E. Todd meet with Cambodian human rights organizations in Phnom Penh on November 20, 2012. (Photo from U.S. Embassy Phnom Penh, Cambodia) 

Land tenure issues are a serious problem in Cambodia. Due to the lack of a dependable titling system and a weak judiciary, conflicts frequently arise over land rights. Even more troubling, the Cambodian government has at times forced families to relocate from their homes without due process or compensation. Residents who have protested these steps have been harassed, and some have been arrested and convicted on criminal charges.

Cambodia’s weak judicial system also faces many challenges. Suspects often spend long periods in pre-trial detention – Cambodian law allows for such detention for up to six months for misdemeanors and 18 months for felonies. At times, outspoken activists and opposition politicians have been given lengthy prison terms based on questionable evidence. Most notably, a well-known critic of the Prime Minister and owner of an independent radio station was recently imprisoned for 20 years based on what many observers described as inadequate evidence. Charges of defamation or disinformation – or threats of such charges – have been used as a means to intimidate journalists and human rights activists alike.

Finally, the Cambodians we met with described the steps that could be taken to improve a political system in which many Cambodians appear to have lost faith. The National Elections Committee, responsible for organizing free and fair elections, is not seen to be independent. There are also broad concerns that, during the national elections scheduled for July 2013, Cambodians may be denied the opportunity to choose from the broadest range of opposition candidates who wish to be part of the political process.

During our roundtable, Ambassador Todd and we discussed with Cambodia’s courageous human rights defenders the ways in which the U.S. Government is working to support their efforts to bring about a more just and democratic society. The United States aims to strengthen the demand for democracy, accountability, and human rights – especially among Cambodian youth – while providing support to NGOs advocating for political reform. Our embassy sponsors town hall meetings for Cambodians to discuss areas of concern with their elected officials.  U.S. officials work with local NGOs to investigate land grabbing, illegal arrest and detention, and obstruction of freedom of expression and assembly, while providing legal aid to victims.  And Ambassador Todd and his team are helping to build the next generation of leaders through support for youth civic education -- last year reaching over 370,000 youth through these programs.

Our message to human rights defenders reinforced that of President Obama, who, when he met with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, urged progress on these very issues, stressing that the promise of Cambodia’s great people will only be fully realized when human rights are respected and all voices are heard.

Valerie Jarrett is Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement. Samantha Power is the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights at the National Security Council.

Journalist’s Case Raised by Obama

But a Cambodian official says the president did not call for his freedom.
US President Barack Obama (L) and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen (R) shake hands in Phnom Penh, Nov. 19, 2012.

U.S. President Barack Obama raised concerns over the jailing of an independent Cambodian radio station chief during his visit to the country last week but did not specifically call for the journalist’s release, a Cambodian official said Tuesday.

The official spoke as the wife of 71-year-old Mam Sonando, director of Beehive Radio, pleaded with the Cambodian government to release the independent broadcaster following his recent conviction for masterminding a revolt of villagers over a land dispute. He has rejected the charges.

Cambodia's Council of Ministers Spokesman Phay Siphan said that during Obama’s historic visit to Phnom Penh—the first by a sitting U.S. head of state—the president had simply raised the situation of the country’s political prisoners with Prime Minister Hun Sen during bilateral talks.

“It was only [mentioned as] a concern of the president, not a request,” Phay Siphan said when asked if Obama had called on Hun Sen to release Mam Sonando.

“[Obama] was worried about political prisoners and asked Cambodia to release them. In response, Prime Minister Hun Sen explained that in the Kingdom of Cambodia there are no political prisoners—only politicians who were convicted for breaking the law,” he said.

“There wasn’t any request [to release Mam Sonando].”

Phay Siphan said that Obama asked the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh to continue to “work with Cambodia” to follow up on the issue.

Obama, who was in Phnom Penh to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and East Asia Summits, had expressed concern over Cambodia’s political prisoners during his meeting with Hun Sen and cited Mam Sonando, Cambodian officials said earlier.

Last week, government spokesperson Prak Sokhon said that Hun Sen had explained to Obama that Mam Sonando’s case was receiving a lot of publicity because people “mistakenly believe this was an attempt to shut down the radio station,” when Beehive is “still operating and remains popular.”

Beehive Radio is one of only a few media outlets in Cambodia that air independent news, including coverage of opposition and minority political parties, and is a frequent source of broadcasts critical of the government.

Prak Sokhon said that Hun Sen also told Obama the courts are “working on [Mam Sonando’s] case.”

Mam Sonando has launched an appeal against his verdict by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. The appeal is pending, with no date set for a hearing.

On Tuesday, Mam Sonando’s wife Din Phanara made a personal plea to the government to set her husband free.

She thanked Obama for speaking to Hun Sen about her husband and said the U.S. president’s comments had shown the international community that Mam Sonando was innocent of the charges he was convicted of.

“I am confident that the government and court will offer justice to my husband. He didn’t commit any crimes,” she said.

Political prisoners

Cambodian political analyst Lao Mong Hai on Tuesday said that Mam Sonando is a political prisoner and accused the Phnom Penh Municipal Court of lacking independence in convicting him.

“Mam Sonando’s case is involved with politics,” he said.

“The court was under political influence in handing its verdict down against Mam Sonando.”

Civil society groups Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) and Cambodian Center for Human Rights both condemned Hun Sen’s assertion that the country has no political prisoners and said that Mam Sonando is only one example of an activist jailed for dissent.

ADHOC Chief Investigator Ny Chakriya said Chairman of the Khmer Civilization Foundation “Moeung Sonn is another example of a political prisoner,” although he currently lives in exile in France.

Moeung Sonn was sentenced to two years in prison after he criticized Cabinet Chief Sok An for “mismanaging” the ancient Angkor Wat Hindu complex in Siem Reap province.

Cambodian Center for Human Rights Director Ou Virak said Moeung Sonn and Mam Sonando are “definitely political prisoners,” adding that the two men had been working to “serve the country” and “didn’t commit any crime.”

“Anyone who criticizes the government is considered to be in opposition to the government,” he said.

“The government always wins because the critics are imprisoned.”

Last week, while speaking in Preah Vihear province, Hun Sen stated again that Cambodia has “no political prisoners” and challenged rights groups who have criticized the country’s courts of lacking independence.

“I have already said that Cambodia has no political prisoners. [Rights groups] want me to intervene on behalf of certain prisoners, but then they would accuse me of interfering with the court,” he said, adding that “the court is independent.”

“[Rights groups] want me to break the law to release prisoners. No one should be able to stand above the law.”

Reported by RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

In Cambodia, a Shooting Range Open to Tourists

Thomas Cristofoletti for The International Herald Tribune
Johan Mars of Goteborg, Sweden, fires a semi-automatic rifle at a shooting range on a military base near Phnom Penh, Cambodia.


PHNOM PENH — Just after a Honda pickup truck screeched to a halt beyond the decommissioned Soviet-era Antonov aircraft, four resolute-looking Chinese men with a military escort climbed out, slammed the doors shut and neatly arranged a series of firearms they had been carrying on a nearby table.

Once the pistols’ magazines were loaded with shiny golden bullets, they began emptying round after round into paper targets at a distance of 25 meters, or 82 feet. 

Nearby, Johan Mars had just discharged 30 bullets from a K-50, a Russian submachine gun. 

“That was quite badass,” said Mr. Mars, a 28-year-old electrician from Goteborg, Sweden, striding toward a wall laden with Uzis, AK-47s and assault rifles like the M-4 and M-16. “It’s a boy toy,” he said of the K-50, which on full automatic fills the air with dark smoke and the smell of gunpowder. 

Mr. Mars, who has been traveling in Southeast Asia, added: “I spent two weeks in Vietnam, and then I spend two hours here and I’m asked, ‘Do you want to fire a gun?’ Where else can you do that?” 

Tucked inconspicuously between rice paddies and recently built garment factories, the operations base of the Airborne Brigade 911 is also home to an open-air shooting range. 

There are other shooting ranges in Southeast Asia, like the one outside Ho Chi Minh City, close to the Cu Chi tunnels, and in the popular Thai resort of Ko Samui. Here, the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Brigade 70 also has a public range on a military base. 

But the Airborne Brigade’s range is Cambodia’s original and the only one where tourists can walk around with weapons and fire fully automatic guns. 

A tuk-tuk ride to the range, about 15 kilometers, or 9 miles, outside the capital, takes a visitor along National Road 4, through Phnom Penh’s industrializing outskirts. 

Diesel-guzzling trucks spurt vast plumes of black smoke as they career past entire families of four and five traveling on single motorcycles. In the late afternoon, rickety old trucks move along, their flatbeds packed with scores of young female garment workers who, standing up, have squeezed themselves on for the trip home. And along the roadside, vendors sell sugar cane, fruit and noodles from ramshackle mobile carts.
Eventually, glimpses of Cambodia’s serene countryside of rice paddies dotted with coconut trees start to appear through the concrete buildings on the city’s edge. 

A right turn off the main road onto a dirt track, and the tuk-tuk bounces along for nearly a kilometer past vendors and Cambodian-style coffee shops with plastic chairs. Eventually it stops at a walled perimeter, where, nearly 15 years after Khmer Rouge forces surrendered and peace officially returned to Cambodia, the distinctive crack of a Kalashnikov can be heard echoing into the distance. 

The entrance to the operations base of the Airborne Brigade, a special forces unit, is far from what you would expect. On a recent visit, the entrance was unmanned, closed off by just a flimsy metal chain. This time a young soldier waves the tuk-tuk through. 

Inside, children of the military personnel living in the base’s modest wooden homes wave and shout “hello” to visitors, while cows and sheep graze the lush fields nearby. Before reaching the shooting range, visitors pass a rappelling tower, armored vehicles, some heavy artillery, and a cage of three crocodiles. 

At the range, soldiers in fatigues escort guests to a wall of firearms that includes framed portraits of Prime Minister Hun Sen and Lt. Gen. Chap Pheakdey, who commands the brigade. 

A few meters away, eight shooting booths face standing targets adorned with perforated beer cans and, behind, a five-meter-high earthen wall. 

The firing range “was originally created to train the military, but sometimes we have guests, and sometimes we don’t,” Brig. Gen. Moun Sameth, the brigade’s deputy commander, said by telephone.
Firing 30 rounds from an AK-47 costs $40, while a drum of 30 bullets for a submachine gun is $50. (Prices are in U.S. dollars, which is not uncommon in Cambodia.) 

Visitors willing to spend $120 can fire 100 rounds from an M-60 light machine gun, a model once used by the U.S. military, or a Russian-made K-57 L.M.G. And for $350, soldiers will transport a customer about 30 kilometers to military land in Kampong Speu Province to fire a B-40 rocket-propelled grenade launcher.  

Visitors often talk about the odd, somewhat uncomfortable juxtaposition of coming to the range after a trip to the Khmer Rouge-era S-21 prison in Phnom Penh, where thousands were tortured and sent for execution at the Choeung Ek killing fields on the capital’s outskirts. Also, the range is across the road from the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, where the U.N.-supported trial of three former Khmer Rouge leaders is continuing. 

But for some Western tourists, who come from countries with strict restrictions on the use of firearms, the temptation to shoot an automatic machine gun or throw a grenade is simply too hard to resist.
David de Wolf, 24, a chef from Knokke, Belgium, arrived in Cambodia in late October. Three days later, he found himself paying $20 for a duck that he shot with an M-4 rifle. 

“It was glorious — it was like jumping off a bridge for the first time and surviving it,” Mr. de Wolf said over an Angkor Beer at a Phnom Penh bar frequented by tourists and expatriates on Street 51. He said that once the duck had died, a soldier carved it up and fed it to the crocodiles in the cage near the range’s entrance.
“The Belgian laws are very strict right now,” he said. “It’s hard to get a gun or go to the shooting range. But here, of course, money buys everything.” 

In fact, Steve Lee, an Australian songwriter and gun enthusiast, came to Cambodia in October with 10 of his friends and spent $7,000 at the range. He even talked the soldiers into letting them use a Russian-made RPG-7 antitank grenade launcher to blow up a car. 

Mr. Lee, who wrote the popular YouTube hit “I Like Guns” and recently released a 12-song album on guns, has traveled to Cambodia five times to visit the shooting range. 

“When I first went there seven years ago, it was really, really raw, and there’s still something real about it,” he said by telephone from Parkes, Australia. “They’re just real people having a good time and they’re making a living, but it’s done Cambodian style.” 

Mr. Lee, however, says he does not condone the killing of animals. “My philosophy is that I wouldn’t do it,” he said, adding that guns should always be used responsibly. 

Mr. Mars, the Swedish visitor, fired five different weapons during his visit, including exploding a coconut with an M-4 assault rifle. 

So, why did he do it?
“You don’t have that many chances to fire a gun,” he said, “and that’s what I’m doing.”

Peacekeeping: Lessons from Cambodia

by Geraldine Doogue 
28 November 2012
Geraldine Doogue is civilian patron of the Australian Peacekeeping Memorial Project. She presents ABC RN's 'Saturday Extra' and ABC1's 'Compass' programs. Part 1 of this series here; part 2 here
The UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), led by Australian Lieutenant General John Sanderson (later Governor of Western Australia), took over the running of Cambodia after years of civil war. UNTAC's job was to rehabilitate the country, run elections (as opposed to just observing them), safeguard human rights and begin economic and psychological rehabilitation, all in a country with almost unimaginable levels of violence.

Retired General Mike Smith, Director of the Security Sector Advisory & Coordination Division in the UN Support Mission in Libya, highlights the importance of John Sanderson's leadership for many of the successes achieved in Cambodia. However, ultimately the job was left undone when the UN decided it was time to go.
August 1992: Members of the Royal Australian Corps of Military Police serving with UNTAC in Cambodia look for stolen equipment in local shops and markets. Photo by Wayne Ryan, courtesy of the Australian War Memorial (Photo ID:CAMUN/92/038/03).
'UNTAC left unfinished business behind', says Smith. 'No provision had been made for the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of the three coalition armies. No plan was evident for the creation of a viable defence force, and the Khmer Rouge was able to become more active.'
Cambodia served as a valuable lesson in the evolution of peacekeeping. The importance of staying around for rebuilding long after the first burst of 'peace' is achieved became clear to many. Smith says seeing Cambodia after UNTAC made him determined that if he could make changes in peacekeeping process, he would. 'I knew that if ever I was in a position of authority I would ensure that such practices were not repeated. Years later in East Timor, I remained conscious of this lesson.'

The change in peacekeeping activities from concentrating on inter-state to intra-state conflict, like Cambodia, has been profound. Peacekeepers now deal with conflict that isn't limited to controlling a known zone around borders, with identifiable combatants. Intra-state conflict is constant, erupting everywhere. Civilians are displaced within their own country, by their own countrymen. When a society is torn apart like this, from within, an extraordinary level of anxiety, fear, lawlessness and terror pervades communities and people. It can seem uncontrollable. It certainly produces despair, which peacekeepers encounter and need to counter in themselves at times and in those they serve.

Modern peacekeeping has changed because modern warfare has changed. No longer is the battle the finish of things. It was US Marine General Charles Krulak who first described the difficulty of modern 'three-block warfare', in which soldiers must be trained to fight but must also know how to keep peace, keep combatants apart, prevent further conflict and then help create the conditions in which lasting peace can be built.
This requires our men and women on the ground to work with locals and civilian authorities to rebuild ravaged and exhausted communities through battles that are not ours and to explicitly define what a functioning society might look like. Clearly this takes soldiers and police beyond traditional training.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard, in her anniversary message to peacekeepers, wrote of her gratitude 'that our nation is served by men and women of such courage and compassion, who continue to make the world a better place.'

But the daily dramas of constructive peacekeeping are not the stuff of evening news bulletins. Heroes don't emerge in the same emotionally satisfying way. Goodies and baddies are harder to identify. The achievements are slowly-built competence in the communities concerned, results that hopefully keep them off the front pages. Our gratitude is thus muted.

So the challenge is finding a narrative around peacekeeping that ensures peacekeepers find their place in the popular imagination, equal to the sacrifices and conscientiousness they bring to bear on this noble work.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Fighting Human Trafficking in Cambodia

 Valerie Jarrett, Samantha Power
November 26, 2012

On each leg of his trip to Southeast Asia this week, President Obama raised with foreign leaders one of his priority human rights issues: ending human trafficking, a form of modern-day slavery.

In September, the President spoke passionately about this issue, noting that human trafficking is an issue that ought to concern every person, community, business, and nation around the world. Making good on those words, during the trip the President secured new commitments from the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to strengthen and harmonize their anti-trafficking laws, and established a landmark joint plan with the Government of Burma to help eliminate that country’s use of forced labor, including child soldiers.

At the President’s request, on Tuesday we had the pleasure of joining U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia William Todd in gathering with trafficking survivors in Cambodia, as well as some of our partners who are working to combat the crime. The conversations we had with trafficking survivors and advocates on the front lines of this fight left us feeling inspired by their courage, and encouraged by some of the progress made to date, but also concerned about the ongoing vulnerability of Cambodians to human trafficking.
Valerie Jarrett, Samantha Power, Ambassador William E. Todd, USAID/Cambodia Mission Director Flynn Fuller, and NGO participants
Valerie Jarrett, Samantha Power, Ambassador William E. Todd, USAID/Cambodia Mission Director Flynn Fuller, and NGO participants. (U.S. Embassy Phnom Penh, Cambodia) 

Ending human trafficking is a top U.S. priority in Cambodia. To get there, progress will have to be made in preventing trafficking, protecting survivors, and holding offenders accountable. Our partners help educate the public to understand the key ways in which traffickers seek to exploit the vulnerable, particularly those migrating to neighboring countries for work. They also provide victims with rehabilitation services and vocational training, and train law enforcement personnel to more effectively investigate and prosecute perpetrators.

We first met a group of young Cambodians who were part of the U.S.-funded MTV EXIT (End Exploitation and Trafficking) campaign. MTV EXIT is providing youth in Cambodia with training and mentorship on using art, drama, and technology as tools for communicating messages about safe migration and the dangers posed to at-risk communities – especially Cambodia’s rural poor. We watched these imaginative youth perform a short skit in which a child resisted the manipulations of a recruiter, and we viewed their paintings depicting the ways in which trafficking networks strike.  We were told that these vivid paintings would soon be hanging in villages in which Cambodians are known to be recruited and exploited.

We also met with several survivors of labor and sex trafficking who receive U.S.-funded legal and rehabilitation assistance. After surviving the unimaginable, these brave men and women described their efforts to speak out about their experiences, to try to ensure the perpetrators are held accountable, and to teach others how to protect themselves, all the while helping reduce the stigma surrounding this crime. It was moving to be in the presence of their remarkable courage, as well as to witness the indefatigable work of the shelters and legal aid organizations that assist them.

Lastly, we sat down with anti-trafficking non-governmental leaders to discuss their efforts, particularly the rarity with which offenders are prosecuted. Last year, there were 62 trafficking-related convictions in Cambodia, an increase from the year before, but nevertheless a relatively small number given the scope of the challenge. Indeed, the leaders we met with identified prosecution as the weakest link in Cambodia’s efforts to combat human trafficking, reporting that survivors are often treated like criminals, and have little hope of seeing justice meted out to their victimizers.

The roundtable participants noted the important gender dimensions to trafficking. While a significant percentage of trafficking in Cambodia involves men being lured into forced labor, the advocates noted that female trafficking survivors often have a more difficult time reintegrating into society. They also noted that until the broader society values its women as much as its men, women will continue to be vulnerable to exploitation.

Participants described some steps that the Cambodian government had taken to combat trafficking, but stressed the need to do far more, given the horrors being experienced by those living in slavery. As President Obama said during his meeting with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, if the Cambodian government steps up to prioritize fighting corruption, strengthening the rule of law, and protecting the rights of all Cambodians, including the vulnerable, it will find a willing partner in the United States. In the meantime, we will continue to support education aimed at prevention, law enforcement training, and the rehabilitation of those who have survived this horrible crime.

Valerie Jarrett is Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement. Samantha Power is the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights at the National Security Council.

Hun Sen Walks Back Criticism

Cambodia's prime minister tones down his statement that NGOs and political parties should not interfere in land disputes.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen stands for the national anthem at a groundbreaking ceremony for a bridge in Phnom Penh, Nov. 26, 2012.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen kicked up a storm by saying he forbids political parties and non-governmental organizations from intervening in land disputes but toned down his policy on Monday after his remarks drew a public outcry.

In a statement that baffled observers, Hun Sen said on Friday that his government would not work to resolve land disputes in which NGOs or political parties had become involved, warning residents locked in such disputes not to seek support from such groups.

For years, civil society and political groups have actively advocated on behalf of hundreds of thousands of villagers forced from their homes or threatened with forced eviction with little or no compensation.

Speaking at land-titling ceremony in Preah Vihear province on Friday, Hun Sen said that NGOs and political parties had worsened the country’s land problems by meddling in land conflicts.

Following a deluge of criticism, on Monday he said that the groups can help resolve land disputes as long as they are acting with good intentions and without political motives.

His comments at a groundbreaking ceremony for a bridge in Phnom Penh came as activists investigated the destruction of a community-owned protected forest in northeastern Cambodia’s Rattanakiri province.
Hun Sen categorized land disputes in which political parties or NGOs are involved as “political land disputes.”

He insisted that the groups should not be involved in addressing land disputes in the country, which have sparked violent conflicts between local residents and authorities.

“I forbid any political parties, including [my own ruling] Cambodian People’s Party, from using land disputes for political benefit,” he said, adding that land disputes cannot be resolved if political issues interfere.

“If a land dispute involves politics, even if we try until we die to resolve it, we still won’t be able to,” he said.

But his earlier comments had already provoked an outcry from rights groups in the country.
Sia Phearum, director of the Housing Rights Task Force, said Hun Sen’s government should focus on resolving land disputes instead of accusing NGOs of interfering in them.

“As a country’s leader, he should be able to resolve the disputes, and the government should stop accusing other people,” he told RFA’s Khmer service.

He said NGOs do not work on land disputes for any political benefit and have played an important role in helping villagers with legal advice and advising them to avoid violent confrontation.

According to the rights watchdog Licadho, at least 400,000 people have been affected by land disputes over the past decade in just half of Cambodia’s provinces, mostly after land concessions were granted to private companies in their area.

Am Sam Ath, Licadho’s senior investigator, said that because no one else will listen, villagers embroiled in land disputes or forced off their land without compensation have no choice but to seek assistance from NGOs or opposition party lawmakers to bring their grievances to local authorities.

He added that NGOs were an effective channel to relay information from villagers to government institutions.
Political parties have taken up land disputes because the issues are important to their constituents and resolving them is key to avoiding a national crisis, opposition Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann said.
“I would be happy if the ruling party could resolve the land dispute without discrimination and without letting the issues become a national crisis,” he told RFA’s Khmer service.

The Cambodian Center for Human Rights said the prime minister’s warning was aimed at eroding support for the opposition ahead of next year’s general election.

“The message highlights the extent of the restrictions on human rights and freedoms of victims of land conflicts but also shows Hun Sen’s wish to control NGOs and to crush any political opposition,” the group’s spokesman Vann Sophath said in a statement Friday.
A bulldozer clears trees from the protected forest in Oyadaw district Rattanakiri province, Nov. 2012. Credit: RFA.
Community forest bulldozed
The outcry over Hun Sen’s comments came as rights groups investigated a land dispute in northern Rattanakiri province, where residents say the government has granted a concession to  clear forest in what is supposed to be a protected area.

Local residents said some 30 hectares (74 acres) of their community-owned forest in Oyadaw district have been destroyed since a logging company was granted the concession.

The company was granted the license to clear the forest even though provincial authorities and the government had recognized the area as protected land belonging to the community, they said.

The company has been given a license to clear about 600 hectares (1,500 acres) of forest in the area and began clearing last week, community representative Sav Youn told RFA.

The company, Chea Chanrith, had deployed bulldozers and hired Vietnamese workers to clear the forest, local rights group Adhoc’s provincial coordinator Chay Thy said.

Rattanakiri Forestry Director Vong Sopeisei said the company had been licensed by the Ministry of Agriculture to clear land but said his staff is investigating the case.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.

Cambodia, China Red Cross to Advance Ties

Web Editor: luodan

The Cambodian Red Cross (CRC) and the Red Cross Society of China (RCSC) on Tuesday pledged to further enhance bilateral relations and cooperation in humanitarian activities.

The pledge was made during a meeting between Annie Sok An, CRC' s first Vice President, and Hua Jianmin, RCSC's president and Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress.

Hua said his first visit to Cambodia was to strengthen and expand cooperation between the two humanitarian agencies.

He said the RCSC decided to donate humanitarian aid worth 200, 000 U.S. dollars to the CRC for humanitarian activities and the aid will be delivered later.

Hua also highly spoke of long-standing relations between China and Cambodia, and thanked Cambodia for its staunch support for China on issues related to China's core interests.

Annie Sok An said Hua's visit would further promote bilateral ties between the two humanitarian bodies.

She said the CRC and the RCSC have offered mutual assistance in natural disasters.

"On behalf of the Cambodian Red Cross and Cambodian people, I'd like to express my gratitude to the RCSC for its humanitarian assistance to Cambodia during difficult times such as storm or flood disasters," said Annie, who is wife of Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An.

She also reiterated that Cambodia fully supports one-China policy and the stance would never change.

Hua arrived in Cambodia on Monday for a four-day visit during which he will also pay tribute to late King Father Norodom Sihanouk at the Royal Palace.

Agreement Signed for Construction of Lower Sesan 2 Dam

 The Cambodia Daily
By and
November 27, 2012 

Local conglomerate Royal Group yesterday signed a deal in Phnom Penh with China’s Hydrolancang International Energy Co. Ltd. to build the controversial Lower Sesan 2 dam in Stung Treng province.
After the investment agreement was signed between Royal Group’s chairman Kith Meng and Hydrolancang’s chairman Huang Guangming, representatives from both companies then signed a separate agreement with the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Industry, which allows for construction on the project to move forward.

According to a statement released at the ceremony, construction will take place over a five-year period and the dam will be operated for 40 years before ownership is transferred to the government.

China’s state-run news agency Xinhua reported yesterday that the total investment in the dam is worth $781 million. Once the project is operational, the government will earn tax revenues of $29.6 million per year.
According to a Ministry of Industry document obtained earlier this month, Royal Group will hold a 90 percent stake in the project in partnership with Hydrolancang, while Vietnam’s state-owned electricity giant Electricity Vietnam has a 10 percent stake.

It was not explained yesterday why representatives of Electricity Vietnam were not present at the signing ceremony and Mr. Huang of Hydrolancang declined to comment on his company’s involvement in the project. According to the ministry documents, the consortium made up of Royal Group, Hydrolancang and Vietnam Electricity will be known as Hydro Power Lower Sesan 2 Co. Ltd.

Located near the confluence of the Sesan and Srepok rivers in Stung Treng, the 400-megawatt dam project is set to displace about 5,000 villagers, though environmentalists believe that thousands more villagers will be affected. One report also estimated that the Lower Sesan 2 dam could cause a 9.2 percent loss of fish stocks to the entire Mekong River Basin.

Speaking on the sidelines of the signing ceremonies in the Royal Group-owned Cambodiana Hotel, Mr. Meng said all the dam’s energy would be supplied to Cambodia.

“It will 100 percent be provided to the Cambodian people to develop their economy,” Mr. Meng said.
Downplaying concern by the thousands of villagers who must move to make way for the dam, Mr. Meng said an inter-ministerial committee would be set up to make sure that resettlement and compensation is fair.
Despite Mr. Meng’s assurance, Chan Thon, a villager representative in Srekor commune said villagers had yet to receive any information regarding their future.

“Would you be happy if you will be displaced, lose your livelihoods and your careers?” Mr. Thon asked.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Cambodian ex-king to be cremated on February 4

26 November 2012
PHNOM PENH: Cambodia's beloved former monarch Norodom Sihanouk, who died aged 89 last month, will be cremated on February 4 following an elaborate ceremony, Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Monday.

The cremation will be preceded by a procession on February 1 that will see Sihanouk's coffin carried from the royal palace in Phnom Penh to a funeral pyre in a nearby park, the premier said in a speech on national radio.

"It will be a big ceremony," Hun Sen said.

More than a million mourners are expected to line the streets for the lavish procession, which will be broadcast live on television, government spokesman Khieu Kanharith told AFP.

"After the procession, the body will stay at the (cremation) site for three days to give people a chance to pay their respects," he said.

A tall cremation pyre is already under construction near the royal residence.

Sihanouk, who abdicated in 2004 after steering Cambodia through six decades marked by independence from France, civil war, the murderous Khmer Rouge regime and finally peace, died of a heart attack in Beijing on October 15.

The death of the popular royal, who is currently lying in state at the palace, plunged his nation into deep mourning. Hundreds of thousands filled the capital's boulevards when his body returned home from China last month.

Out of respect for the late monarch, the government has cancelled this week's Water Festival celebrations, an annual event that usually draws millions of visitors to the capital to enjoy dragon boat racing, fireworks and concerts.

"It's not appropriate when the royal body lies inside the royal palace for us to laugh happily outside the palace," Hun Sen said.

- AFP/de

Cambodia breaks ground for 3rd flyover in capital

Xinhua | 2012-11-26

Cambodia on Monday broke ground for the construction of a $19-million flyover in Phnom Penh's southwestern part to meet the growing number of vehicles.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said it will take 28 months to complete the construction of the 429-meter flyover.

"The sky bridge will not only help ease traffic congestion, but also uplift the beauty of the city," he said at the groundbreaking ceremony.

The premier said that currently the city has more than one million motorcycles and nearly a million cars, buses and trucks.

It will be the third flyover in the kingdom. The first one was inaugurated in June 2010 and the second one opened to traffic in January 2012.

Russia should focus on Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam

Nov 26, 2012 
Since the historic U.S. defeat in Vietnam in 1973, South East Asia has been a hard nut for Washington to crack. It seems that America may now have a chance to restore its former influence and, at the same time, to solve the Chinese problem; currently dominating modern U.S. foreign policy. The question for Russia is how to react?
The best evidence of South East Asia's growing importance to Washington lies in the fact that the re-elected U.S. President has paid his first international visits to three key regional powers. It is also important to remember that in China, which is rapidly becoming the leading U.S. antagonist, a new leadership was installed in November. The so-called “fifth generation” came to power in Beijing and announced an increase in defence spending, to include the creation of an ocean Navy; thus challenging U.S. dominance in East Asia and the Pacific. 

Strategically there are two main reasons for the United States to maintain warm relations with countries in South East Asia. First, the Malacca Strait, the very narrow route for a key energy pipeline; controlling that could potentially allow the U.S. to paralyse the Chinese economy in a month. Then there is Taiwan, the most probable focal point of any future U.S.–China confrontation. In the hypothetic event of conflict, America's military presence in South East Asia will help to divert at least a part of Chinese forces from Taipei. Hardly a realistic scenario at the moment but, theoretically possible.

The big question remains, what foreign policy position Russia should adopt as the inevitable rivalry between the United States and China takes shape? Also it is far from clear how, and in what form, relations with various South East Asian countries might best serve Russian interests. Arguably the best tactic might be to steer clear of confrontation but it is doubtful that Russia would be able to do so. Both Washington and Beijing will do their best to secure Moscow as ally. In the event of a Russia–China alliance, America's containment plans become meaningless. The two great military and economic powers combining forces would pose a serious threat to any American plans to maintain its current domination on the Pacific Ocean. On the other hand, a U.S.-Russia rapprochement, along with other American allies already active in East Asia, would totally isolate China.

Russia's significance as a regional player means that both sides of the potential new Pacific Cold War will be keen to court Moscow as a partner and it will be hard to stay out of the rivalry. Nevertheless, the country could play a role in smoothing things over and encouraging balance. This could help avoid serious confrontation and the need to make unpleasant, and unprofitable, choices. The best step in this direction could be to establish good relations with the countries that the United States plans to use in its 'Chinese containment network'.

Russian foreign policy makers should pay close attention to countries like Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam as well as other Asian states. Some will feel as though they are on the horns of a dilemma (the USA or China?) and, with a good relationship, Russia may be able to suggest another, non-partisan way forward. For now though, all of that is no more than a theoretical possibility far from being realised. Nevertheless, the overall trends concerning the region are more than clear and Russia must prepare for the future today.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan protest map of territorial claims in new Chinese passports

Inside the passports, an outline of China printed in the upper left corner includes Taiwan and the sea, hemmed in by the dashes. The change highlights China’s longstanding claim on the South China Sea in its entirety, though parts of the waters also are claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia.

China’s official maps have long included Taiwan and the South China Sea as Chinese territory, but the act of including them in its passports could be seen as a provocation since it would require other nations to tacitly endorse those claims by affixing their official seals to the documents.

Ruling party and opposition lawmakers alike condemned the map in Taiwan, a self-governed island that split from China after a civil war in 1949. They said it could harm the warming ties the historic rivals have enjoyed since Ma Ying-jeou became president 4 1/2 years ago.

“This is total ignorance of reality and only provokes disputes,” said Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, the Cabinet-level body responsible for ties with Beijing. The council said the government cannot accept the map.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario told reporters in Manila that he sent a note to the Chinese Embassy that his country “strongly protests” the image. He said China’s claims include an area that is “clearly part of the Philippines’ territory and maritime domain.”

The Vietnamese government said it had also sent a diplomatic note to the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi, demanding that Beijing remove the “erroneous content” printed in the passport.

In Beijing, the Foreign Ministry said the new passport was issued based on international standards. China began issuing new versions of its passports to include electronic chips on May 15, though criticism cropped up only this week.

“The design of this type of passports is not directed against any particular country,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a daily media briefing Friday. “We hope the relevant countries can calmly treat it with rationality and restraint so that the normal visits by the Chinese and foreigners will not be unnecessarily interfered with.”

It’s unclear whether China’s South China Sea neighbors will respond in any way beyond protesting to Beijing. China, in a territorial dispute with India, once stapled visas into passports to avoid stamping them.
“Vietnam reserves the right to carry out necessary measures suitable to Vietnamese law, international law and practices toward such passports,” Vietnamese foreign ministry spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi said.

Taiwan does not recognize China’s passports in any case; Chinese visitors to the island have special travel documents.

China maintains it has ancient claims to all of the South China Sea, despite much of it being within the exclusive economic zones of Southeast Asian neighbors. The islands and waters are potentially rich in oil and gas.

There are concerns that the disputes could escalate into violence. China and the Philippines had a tense maritime standoff at a shoal west of the main Philippine island of Luzon early this year.

The United States, which has said it takes no sides in the territorial spats but that it considers ensuring safe maritime traffic in the waters to be in its national interest, has backed a call for a “code of conduct” to prevent clashes in the disputed territories. But it remains unclear if and when China will sit down with rival claimants to draft such a legally binding nonaggression pact.

The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam are scheduled to meet Dec. 12 to discuss claims in the South China Sea and the role of China.
Associated Press writers Oliver Teves in Manila, Philippines, Chris Brummitt in Hanoi, Vietnam, and researcher Zhao Liang in Beijing contributed to this report.

Obama finds Southeast Asia much tougher than he thought

Murray Hunter, Kuala Lumpur
Sat, November 24 2012
Obama given servant's greeting by Cambodian first lady.
Coded slight? First Lady Rany greeted the president with a pressed-hands greeting typically used only with servants

US President Barack Obama’s visits to both Thailand and Myanmar went symbolically well. He did all the right things in Thailand and in spite of all the reservations about Obama’s Myanmar visit, he may have sent all the right messages, particularly through the way the visit was orchestrated and his speech at Rangoon University where he talked strongly about inclusiveness. Local news reports in local papers warmly reported the visit.

However the same could not be said for his visit to Cambodia.

Like Myanmar, Obama’s trip to Cambodia was also criticized by some human rights activists. And probably it was a visit with more concerns because, unlike Myanmar’s Thein Sien who has started on a road of liberalization and opening up to the world, Hun Sen is reluctant to carry out any major reform in the country.

Human rights watch published a list of numerous breaches of human rights in Cambodia over the last 20 years, forcing Obama’s hand to declare publicly that his visit to Cambodia was only to attend the ASEAN and East Asian Summits.

There are many reports that Obama’s meeting with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen upon arrival in Cambodia was a very tense one. The Obama administration, although not Obama directly, had previously criticized Hun Sen for his human rights record, political intimidation, imprisonment of opposition leaders, forced expulsion of peasants from the land, and the failure to hold free and fair elections.

A report in The Cambodian Daily reported the meeting between the two leaders and gave a very different account to the version that Obama aides gave the media.

According to Reuters quoting US deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes the meeting was almost totally devoted to human rights, but speaking at a press conference after the meeting, the Cambodian Council of Ministers Secretary of State Prak Sokhon said that Obama had only raised human rights issues because of being asked to by US lawmakers.

Ahead of the meeting Obama was specifically urged to ask for a pardon for opposition leader Sam Rainsy so he could return to Cambodia without having to serve an 11 year jail sentence believed to be politically motivated. According to Prak Sokhon this matter was not brought up by Obama at all.

According to Prak Sokhon, Hun Sen did request that a US$400 Million loan with interest given to the Lon Nol Government back in the 1970s be converted to 30 percent of that amount with a 1 percent interest rate, where the Cambodian government could spend the rest of the loan amount on education and cultural projects. Sohkon remarked that this request was met with silence by Obama.

Hun Sen is a long-time politician in the region seasoned by frequent criticism from other foreign leaders over the years. Obama is just another one of those leaders and Hun Sen may even outlast Obama in office. Cambodia receives aid from China, South Korea and even Vietnam with little in the way of conditions over the use of the funds or rhetoric about human rights, something he continually says publicly. Therefore Obama’s visit and statements to Hun Sen just went on deaf ears.

Consequently, the US pivot into Asia is unlikely to include Cambodia. It appears naval ship visits, joint military exercises, counter terrorism training, and cooperation on human trafficking over the last five years have done little to warm up US-Cambodian relations. On the contrary, Obama’s visit to Cambodia has benefitted Hun Sen who could bask in the photo and TV opportunities with the US President which were all displayed prominently on Cambodian television.

The ASEAN Summit once again failed to reach any consensus in regards to territorial sea disputes with China. The Philippines even lodged a formal protest against Cambodia accusing it of suppressing discussion on disputed territorial areas with Vietnam. No questions from the media were answered on these matters during the summit.

This was a good close-up and personal lesson for Obama on the difficulty of reaching agreement to act within the region. The President’s Asia pivot is necessary for the US to create free trade agreements so the economy can continue to grow and maintain a balance of power in the region vis a vis China.

If Obama’s time on the ground in Cambodia is an example of his effectiveness in achieving his Southeast Asian policy objectives, it’s going to be a tough road ahead.

The writer is an associate professor at University Malaysia Perlis, and the author of a number of books on agriculture, economics, and entrepreneurship.