Monday, January 31, 2011

Nigerian nabbed for smuggling 'ice'

31 Jan, 2011
Source: Bangkok Post

A Nigerian woman has been arrested on a charge of smuggling more than three kilogrammes of crystal methamphetamine, or "ice", into Thailand through Suvarnabhumi airport.

Jennifer Sinenye Kwanko, holder of a passport issued by Nigeria, was detained on Monday shortly after her arrival on a flight from Kenya.

Police found the drugs hidden in her bag. She told police that the drugs belonged to her friend.

Police said the woman travelled from Nigeria and changed flights in Nairobi, Kenya, before arriving in Thailand. The woman was en route to Cambodia, police said.

They thiought the drugs would then have been smuggled from Cambodia back into Thailand, or could have been intended for Australia.

Viettel wins mobile licence in Peru

31 Jan, 2011
Source: Telegeography

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Vietnamese military-run mobile network operator Viettel has won Peru's fourth mobile operator licence, citing an announcement from the investment agency ProInversion. The company reportedly plans to invest around USD27 million in the new 1900MHz network and begin operations in the first half of this year.

Viettel will be entering a competitive market where established trio Claro, Movistar, and Nextel del Peru together share 22.5 million subscribers (as at the end of September 2010). Viettel has an eclectic approach towards international expansion, having secured licences in Haiti and Mozambique in 2010, adding to earlier acquisitions in Cambodia and Laos.

Telecom Cambodia FY10 revenue exceeds target

31 Jan, 2011
Source: Telegeography

Cambodia’s state-owned incumbent fixed line operator Telecom Cambodia (TC) has surpassed its revenue target for 2010, Khmer Weekly reports. Without disclosing the firm’s exact revenue or profit total, TC’s general director, Lao Sareoun, said the company aimed to generate turnover of USD31 million in 2010. ‘The recovery of the global financial crisis and especially the improvement of our economy is why [TC’s revenue] rose,’ he said, adding: ‘Although we see the increase [in revenue] of many private companies, our business was still good [because] we tried to upgrade our services and introduced new ones to attract customers.’ In the year ended 31 December 2009 the company achieved 95% of its USD29 million revenue plan, an estimated USD27.55 million. The general director also revealed that at present, TC has over 35,000 fixed line subscribers.

TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database states that TC was created in January 2005 to carry out the telecoms-related operational activities of the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications Cambodia (MPTC) and has been operational since 1 January 2006. It is the principal provider of fixed line services, although it faces significant competition from Vietnamese military-owned Metfone, as well as limited competition from Camintel and Mfone (formerly Camshin). TC will be one of the first companies to list on Cambodia’s stock exchange when it launches later this year.

PM: War the last option

31 Jan, 2011
Source: Bangkok Post

The government will persist in pursuing peaceful means to settle border disputes with Cambodia, with war the very last option, Prime MInister Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Monday.

“I do believe that both the Thai and Cambodian governments will adhere to peaceful ways to resolve our border conflicts.

“My intention of using peaceful approaches to settle the border dispute does not mean that the government is afraid of a war with Cambodia.

"It is also does not mean that the government is the underdog in dealings with our neighbor, as claimed by the yellow-shirt people group.

“The use of force will be the last option and will be resorted to only when there is no other solution left,” Mr Abhisit said.

He stressed that the government is in contact with Cambodia about removing its flag from the disputed area.

On the three demands by the yellow-shirt People’s Alliance for Democracy, Mr Abhisit said the demands would only lead to more damage to the country, instead of any benefit.

“If the government decided to withdraw from Unesco's World Heritage Committee today, there would be no Thai representatives to oppose Cambodia’s plan to also list the area near Preah Vihear temple as a world heritage site.

“Would the yellow-shirts accept responsibility for the foreseeable consequences? My decision on the issue is for the benefit of the country, not for self interest,” Mr Abhisit said.

Thai-Cambodian border traders call for peace

Monday 31 January 2011

BURI RAM -- Traders along the Thai-Cambodian border have urged the governments of Thailand and Cambodia to negotiate on resolving ongoing border disputes and open temporary border passes, Thai News Agency reports on Monday.

Traders said that the Ban Kruad Estate market that stands close to the Thai-Cambodian border in Thailand』s Buri Ram province is currently facing sluggish trading as mounting tensions continue over the border between the two adjacent Kingdoms.

With sales recorded at its lowest in a decade, local traders have voiced their fear that persisting tensions will bring even more severe results to the local economy, urging that peace negotiations be held quickly to restore bilateral relations and resume normal trading and communication between the two neighbours.

Likewise, the Ban Klong Luek permanent border pass in Thailand's Aranyaprathet district remains quiet although with the Chinese New Year approaching as both Thais and Cambodians have preferred to stay home due to safety concerns.

Thai tourists have, too, become reluctant to cross over to the Cambodian side to visit the ancient Angkor Wat temple, including the former Khmer capital, Angkor Thom, with Cambodian traders showing less confidence to do business at the Rong Klua market over on the Thai side.

Meanwhile, Thai Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who supervises national security affairs, said in response to the latest development along the Thai-Cambodian border that the local people should not be worried for the situation has remained under control.

Suthep said that the army chiefs of both countries have agreed in their discussions to avoid building up border tensions in accordance with the Thai government's policy on peaceful coexistence among neighbours.

He also urged the Thai people along border to remain confident in the Thai army, reiterating that authorities at all levels were ready to protect the national sovereignty with efforts that would not fuel more tensions.

Lawyers for three ex-Khmer Rouge call for their release (Roundup)

31 Jan, 2011
Source: Monsters and Critics

Phnom Penh - Cambodia's international war crimes tribunal said Monday that it would rule by mid-February on an appeal for provisional release by three aging Khmer Rouge leaders.

Lawyers for the former leaders, who were arrested in 2007, argued that rules governing the court dictated that their clients should be freed immediately to await the trial expected later this year.

They argued an earlier ruling that the four former Khmer Rouge shoul remain in custody breached the court's rules.

Former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan addressed the court briefly.

'I have just one suggestion,' he said. 'Please abide by the law.'

Four senior Khmer Rouge leaders are in pre-trial detention. All are elderly, with the youngest aged 78, and observers fear one or more might die before their trial concludes.

Nuon Chea, the movement's former ideologue, was also in court Monday but left early complaining of dizziness. Ieng Thirith, the social affairs minister, appeared in court but departed after waiving her right to be present.

Former foreign minister Ieng Sary has not appealed his detention.

Earlier this month, the tribunal confirmed the indictments against the four, clearing the way for their trial to begin on charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

The tribunal's pre-trial chamber had ruled on January 13 that the four should remain in custody.

The prosecution opposed the application for release, saying the judges at Monday's hearing lacked the authority to overrule the decision by their colleagues at the pre-trial chamber.

International prosecutor Andrew Cayley also cited fears over witness intimidation.

'Given (Nuon Chea's) position within Democratic Kampuchea, he could put pressure on witnesses, especially those under his authority (at the time),' Cayley said.

Khieu Samphan's lawyer, Sar Sovan, said his client would not flee and would not intimidate witnesses.

'What my client did was for the country,' he said.

'You say if he is released there will be outrage,' said Sar Sovan, addressing the prosecution. 'At the least my client should be released on bail. It is not good if you use this as revenge.'

The four ex-officials are accused of responsibility for millions of deaths from execution, disease, starvation and overwork during the Khmer Rouge's 1975-79 Maoist regime. All four deny the charges.

A recent demographic study by the tribunal estimated that there were between 1.7 million and 2.2 million deaths in that period, 800,000 of which were violent.

The genocide charges relate to the persecution of Cham Muslims and ethnic Vietnamese living in Cambodia at the time.

The movement's leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998.

PM orders Cambodian flags to be taken down

31 Jan, 2011
Source: Bangkok Post

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is insisting that any Cambodian flag flying above disputed areas must be removed, despite Phnom Penh denouncing the call as "insulting and unacceptable".

The Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has issued a statement criticising Mr Abhisit's demand, saying the call, in parallel with Thai military exercises last week near the border, was provocative.

Mr Abhisit called for the removal of the Cambodian flags yesterday during his weekly radio and television address.

Cambodia is flying its national flag near Wat Kaew Sikha Khiri Sawara temple in the disputed 4.6-square-kilometre area near Preah Vihear temple.

Mr Abhisit said the area did not belong to Cambodia and ordered the Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry to protest against Cambodia's announcement that he had violated its sovereignty by ordering the removal of the flag.

The prime minister also reaffirmed yesterday that he would not meet the demands of the People's Alliance for Democracy, which is protesting against the government's handling of the border row.

The PAD is calling on the government to revoke the 2000 memorandum of understanding between Thailand and Cambodia that governs the countries' boundary quarrel, to withdraw from the World Heritage Committee, and to expel Cambodian people from the disputed area.

Mr Abhisit said it was a misunderstanding that the border agreement allowed Cambodia to encroach on Thai territory. He said the memorandum prohibited either country from further intruding on the other's land.

He denied the agreement put Thailand at a disadvantage or meant that Thailand accepted a 1:200,000 border map used by Cambodia. He insisted the memo was drawn up in line with international principles and could help prevent the disagreement escalating into war.

As for the membership of the World Heritage Committee, Mr Abhisit said the past government of Thailand allowed Cambodia to have the Preah Vihear temple listed as a world heritage site, while his government had resisted Cambodia's desire to manage the temple as a world heritage site alone.

Regarding the expulsion of Cambodian people from the disputed area, the prime minister said such a move could trigger retaliations.

The secretary to the foreign minister, Chavanond Intarakomalyasut, said yesterday the Foreign Ministry would issue a letter of protest against Cambodia's statement accusing Mr Abhisit of violating its sovereignty.

"We should help each other avoid conflicts and should not issue any statement that will lead to more conflicts and confusion," he said.

Fireworks to welcome Tet

31 Jan, 2011
Source: Vietnam News

The Spring Flower Festival in HCM City is popular with visitors. More than 6,000 flower arrangements of 600 domestic and international artisans are represented at the festival. — VNA/VNS Photo Hoang Hai

The Spring Flower Festival in HCM City is popular with visitors. More than 6,000 flower arrangements of 600 domestic and international artisans are represented at the festival. — VNA/VNS Photo Hoang Hai

HA NOI — Fireworks shows in all 63 cities and provinces across the country will blast off at midnight on February 2 to mark the first day of the Lunar New Year (Tet).

The shows will be subsidised by local enterprises.

In Ha Noi, 29 shows including four high-range displays at Hoan Kiem Lake (Hoan Kiem District), Dong Da Lake (Dong Da District), Thang Loi Hotel (Tay Ho District) and Van Quan Lake (Ha Dong District) will light up the night sky.

Meanwhile, eight artistic fireworks shows will be staged in HCM City.

Numerous artistic and cultural performances will also be held on New Years Eve across the country.

Tet celebrated worldwide

The Vietnamese Embassy in France last Saturday held a get-together to welcome the Lunar New Year.

Attending the event were representatives from the embassy along with agencies and a number of overseas Vietnamese living and studying in France.

Addressing the ceremony, Vietnamese Ambassador to France Le Kinh Tai highlighted the country's outstanding achievements last year, adding that 2010 was a year of significant importance with many successes in both internal and external affairs.

The event provided a chance for overseas Vietnamese and international friends to enjoy traditional Vietnamese dishes such as banh chung (square glutinous rice cake), nem (spring roll), xoi (steamed glutinous rice) and gio (pork pie).

On the same day, the Vietnamese Embassy in Malaysia also held an event to celebrate the Tet.

The event welcomed the presence of the Ambassadors of Laos and Myanmar, and representatives of Vietnamese organisations as well as a number of overseas Vietnamese living and studying in Malaysia.

Ambassador to Malaysia Hoang Trong Lap informed the participants of the socio-economic achievements that the country made in 2010 and underlined that Viet Nam had successfully fulfilled its role as the ASEAN chair while organising the 1,000th anniversary of Thang Long-Ha Noi and the 11th National Party Congress.

On the occasion, he extended wishes for a happy and prosperous New Year to the Vietnamese community in Malaysia.

Overseas Vietnamese in the Republic of Korea (RoK) also joined Vietnamese communities worldwide in celebrating the Lunar New Year.

The Vietnamese Embassy in Seoul celebrated the event with the announcement of the establishment of the Vietnamese Association in the RoK, in the presence of overseas Vietnamese, students and guest workers as well as members of two RoK families of Vietnamese origin, Ly Hoa Son and Ly Tinh Thien.

Ambassador Tran Trong Toan spoke highly of the valuable contributions made by the Vietnamese community in the RoK to national development.

He also recognised their role in promoting relations between Viet Nam and the RoK, describing them as a bridge spanning the two nations.

Overseas Vietnamese representatives expressed their deep love for the fatherland, saying they would never forget their roots.

They also pledged to continue contributing to the national development of Viet Nam as well as to relations between the two countries.

The Vietnamese Embassy in Cambodia also held an event to celebrate the Lunar New Year late last week in the capital city of Phnom Penh.

Attending the meeting were Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Men Sam An, heads of ministries and state agencies and overseas Vietnamese.

Speaking at the meeting, the Cambodian Deputy PM congratulated Viet Nam on its successful 11th National Party Congress. She hailed the economic achievements the country had recorded during the last year as well as its investment activities in Cambodia which, she said, had helped generate jobs for local residents.

On the occasion, she also sent her New Year greetings to Viet Nam's leaders and people and expressed her hope for the two countries' traditional friendship to be strengthened.

Gatherings for the same purpose were held by the Vietnamese Embassies in Bangladesh and Italy, and by the Vietnamese Consulate General in Houston, the US. — VNS

Senior Khmer Rouge leaders to appear in Cambodian court

Former Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia (ECCC) in Phnom Penh on 20 March 2008 All of the former Khmer Rouge leaders are elderly, with three of them in their eighties

31 Jan, 2011
Source: BBC

Two of the most senior surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge are due to appear in court in Cambodia on Monday.

Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan will attend a preliminary hearing at the UN-backed war crimes tribunal to request release from pre-trial detention.

They and two other senior figures face charges of genocide for their parts in the deaths of around two million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979.

The elderly defendants have all been in detention since 2007.

Nuon Chea was the second in command to the Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot, and is accused of devising the policies which caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.

The 84-year-old, who was known as "Brother Number Two", is arguing that the Tribunal had no right to extend his pre-trial detention.

Similar points will be made by the former head of state, Khieu Samphan, and ex-social affairs minister, Ieng Thirith, although she is not thought to be attending the hearing in person.

Waiting for trial

The BBC's Guy Delauney in Phnom Penh says it would be a surprise if their appeals were successful, and they will probably spend several more months in detention, before the start of their trial for genocide.

A date for the trial has not yet been set, although it is scheduled to begin by the middle of 2011.

The fourth ex-leader is Ieng Thirith's husband Ieng Sary, who was the Khmer Rouge foreign minister.

His lawyers filed a request several weeks ago for the 85-year-old's tribunal hearings to be limited to half-day sessions due to his fragile health.

The tribunal - officially called the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia - was set up in 2006 but so far it has only tried one person.

Former prison chief Comrade Duch was found guilty last July of crimes against humanity.

The tribunal's financial difficulties have been eased a little by a donation from Japan, which last week pledged $11.7m (£7.4m) to fund court operations in 2011.

But our correspondent says the question of how to fund a trial which may last as long as three years still has not been answered.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

PM: Govt to peacefully solve boarder dispute

29 Jan, 2011

The Thai government will use peaceful ways to settle the continuing border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Saturday.

During an interview given to AP reporter in Davos, Mr Abhisit said both Thailand and Cambodia are parts of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations and therefore, solving of any conflict between the two countries should be in a peaceful manner.

Asked about the three demands by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), the prime minister said PAD has the constitutional right to make such demands or to rally against the government.

“On my part, I will do only for the best of the country”, he said.

The PAD is demanding Thailand’s withdrawal from the Unesco World Heritage Committee, the revocation of the4 2000 MoU sign with Cambodia and ejecting Cambodians in border areas the group claims belong to Thailand back to their homeland.

Thailand: Yellows may join up with reds to topple the govt

29 Jan, 2011

Members of the yellow-shirt People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) interviewed yesterday said they were willing to fight temporarily alongside the red shirts if that is what it takes to topple the Abhisit Vejjajiva administration and reclaim "lost territory" from Cambodia.

"I guess that can be done, because it's our country. We don't even use our [political] colour at this rally," said Boonthai Sirichoke, a PAD member from Samut Prakarn, adding that this government would definitely be removed if the red and yellow shirts joined forces. However, he said he believed the yellow shirts alone could topple the government.

Waen, a 47-year-old yellow-shirt from Chiang Mai, said she would not speculate but would follow instructions from PAD leaders, even if it meant joining forces with the red shirts. "We are just the mass, we don't have the right to question it."

Yupin Prasertsri, an elderly woman from Amnat Charoen province who came with her daughter to take part in the rally yesterday, said they were ready to join forces with the red shirts "because we want to topple the government".

"I can accept it because we have the same goal of getting rid of corruption and defending national integrity," she said. The PAD believes that the government is too soft on the border issue because of vested interests of politicians and generals who reap benefits from illegal cross-border trade.

Her daughter, who asked not to be named, said: "I can accept it because now it's about national interest and not colours."

The rally yesterday drew a moderate crowd of about 5,000 in the evening, with more arriving after dark. Half a dozen villagers who claimed they owned land along the Thai-Cambodian border that was allegedly taken over by Cambodians over the past three decades were invited to speak onstage.

A female villager burst into tears, telling PAD supporters that even though she had a title deed for the land occupied by Cambodians for 30 years, not a single government had helped get her land back.

"My father was so upset that he developed a mental problem," she said, adding that the family ended up having to work as hired help in Bangkok and elsewhere, and suffered immensely because they could not work on "their own land".

-- The Nation/Asia News Network

Thai PM tells AP: I'll do what's right for my country over Cambodia border

Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva speaks during a session at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Friday, Jan. 28, 2011. In a nod to the post-crisis atmosphere, the World Economic Forum shifts its attention on Friday to austerity measures and priorities for improving the economy. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

DAVOS, Switzerland — Thailand's prime minister told The Associated Press on Friday that protesters demanding it revoke its pact with Cambodia over a border dispute have a right to make they're demands, but he will do what is best for the country.

Speaking Friday at the World Economic Forum, Abhisit Vejjajiva said that since both nations are part of ASEAN any resolution must be done in a peaceful manner yet protect Thai interests, too.

"You know, they can make their demands. They have the right to do so. We have to do what is the best for the country," he told AP. "We feel that the way we approach the border problems, and the problems — as far as the relationship with Cambodia is concerned — is best for the country, which is that we try to resolve whatever issues come up in a peaceful manner."

Earlier this week, a rally by the People's Alliance for Democracy — also known as the Yellow Shirts — and an associated fringe group, raised tensions in a country still recovering from political violence last year that turned parts of the capital into a war zone. Police on Monday arrested five men accused of plotting to bomb the protest.

The demonstrators set up a stage along a major street near the U.N.'s Asian headquarters and Government House, the prime minister's office that the Yellows occupied for three months in 2008.

The protesters want the government to revoke a pact with Cambodia on settling border disputes; withdraw from the U.N. Education Scientific and Culture Organization World Heritage Committee, which approved Cambodia's application for landmark status for a temple on the border; and force Cambodian residents off land the group claims should belong to Thailand.

"So that we preserve good relations — we are both part of ASEAN — and at the same time we make sure that we protect Thai interests," he said. "So all we can do is to explain to them (that) we feel that this is the best approach and I am confident that majority of Thai people support" it.

The Cambodian issue has its origins in a dispute between Cambodia and Thailand over land near a landmark temple on their border, but has evolved into a Thai domestic political issue.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple belongs to Cambodia, but the decision rankled Thailand, which still claims land around the temple.

As for neighbouring Myanmar, he said while its recent elections "may not be perfect," they were "an important first step and what we want to do now is to see the gradual opening up and making sure that political process becomes more inclusive, and we hope that the rest of the world will try to make sure that we can support Myanmar to do that."

He pointed to the release earlier this year of Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in November after seven years under house arrest as a "positive step" in that process.

Afterward, she gave a recorded address to the Forum, urging investment in technology and infrastructure, and micro-lending programs in her country, but said investors "should pay close attention to the costs and collateral damage of our development, whether environmental or social."

Suu Kyi's party won the country's last election, in 1990, but the army would not let it take power and refused to convene parliament. The first parliamentary session since 1988 is to convene Monday, dominated by a military-sponsored party.

Suu Kyi spoke to the Davos participants hours after Myanmar's highest court declined Friday to hear a case she filed seeking to overturn the government's dissolution of her party.


Grant Peck in Bangkok contributed to this report.

$11.7 million more for Khmer trials

29 Jan, 2011
Source: The Japan Times

PHNOM PENH (Kyodo) Tokyo announced Friday it will provide a further $11.7 million to the U.N-assisted tribunal trying former Khmer Rouge leaders for atrocities.

The Japanese Embassy here said $8.8 million is for the international component and $2.9 million is for the national component of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, as the tribunal is formally known. "This contribution will cover 25 percent of the ECCC's operational cost throughout the year 2011," it said.

The ECCC, which has spent more than $80 million since being set up in 2005, although it has so far convicted only one Khmer Rouge figure, has a budget of $87.1 million for 2010-2011.

Japan is its single largest donor, accounting for nearly half of the total pledges and contributions made to date.

The embassy said this year is critical for the ECCC's judicial proceedings with the hearings of appeal of the case of former chief jailer Kaing Guek Ieu, alias Duch, to commence at the Supreme Court Chamber and trials of five other Khmer Rouge leaders to start at the Trial Chamber.

The embassy said the trials are intended to deliver justice for the victims and ensure atrocities never occur again.

Yellows may join up with reds to topple the govt

Members of the yellow-shirt People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) interviewed yesterday said they were willing to fight temporarily alongside the red shirts if that is what it takes to topple the Abhisit Vejjajiva administration and reclaim "lost territory" from Cambodia.

"I guess that can be done, because it's our country. We don't even use our [political] colour at this rally," said Boonthai Sirichoke, a PAD member from Samut Prakarn, adding that this government would definitely be removed if the red and yellow shirts joined forces. However, he said he believed the yellow shirts alone could topple the government.

Waen, a 47-year-old yellow-shirt from Chiang Mai, said she would not speculate but would follow instructions from PAD leaders, even if it meant joining forces with the red shirts. "We are just the mass, we don't have the right to question it."

Yupin Prasertsri, an elderly woman from Amnat Charoen province who came with her daughter to take part in the rally yesterday, said they were ready to join forces with the red shirts "because we want to topple the government".

"I can accept it because we have the same goal of getting rid of corruption and defending national integrity," she said. The PAD believes that the government is too soft on the border issue because of vested interests of politicians and generals who reap benefits from illegal cross-border trade.

Her daughter, who asked not to be named, said: "I can accept it because now it's about national interest and not colours."

The rally yesterday drew a moderate crowd of about 5,000 in the evening, with more arriving after dark. Half a dozen villagers who claimed they owned land along the Thai-Cambodian border that was allegedly taken over by Cambodians over the past three decades were invited to speak onstage.

A female villager burst into tears, telling PAD supporters that even though she had a title deed for the land occupied by Cambodians for 30 years, not a single government had helped get her land back.

"My father was so upset that he developed a mental problem," she said, adding that the family ended up having to work as hired help in Bangkok and elsewhere, and suffered immensely because they could not work on "their own land".

Friday, January 28, 2011

Vietnam’s black market alchemists

28 Jan, 2011

Life is not easy when annual inflation is more than 12 per cent, your currency is likely to be devalued again shortly and you have to splash out on overpriced Lunar New Year gifts to impress your friends, family and colleagues.

But Vietnamese people, long faced with macroeconomic instability, have become expert at cooking up black market schemes to make a little money on the side. The latest ruse, picked up by the Phnom Penh Post, involves travelling to neighbouring Cambodia, withdrawing dollars from an ATM at the official dong-dollar exchange rate and then converting the greenbacks back to Vietnam dong at the superior black market exchange rate.

Concerns about inflation and expectations of another devaluation after the Lunar New Year holiday, known here as Tet, have forced down the value of the dong in the widely-used black market.

So while banks are not allowed to sell dong for any less than 19,500 per dollar, the dong is trading at around 21,000 in gold shops and other unlicensed foreign exchange providers.

One can no longer withdraw dollars from an ATM in Vietnam but it is still possible to do so in Cambodia, where the riel is even more shunned than Vietnam’s lowly dong.

The scheme works like this: a Vietnamese person withdraws $1000 from an ATM in Cambodia and is charged at the official inter-bank rate of 19,500 dong to the dollar, plus the overseas transaction fee of 2.5 per cent. So $1000 would cost them 19,987,500 dong.

But using black market money changers in either Cambodia or Vietnam, they can buy 21,000,000 dong with the self-same $1000. That’s a tidy profit of 1,012,500 dong, or 5%, with little or no risk.

This is not the only cross-border scheme that has been concocted in recent years to take advantage of Vietnam’s peculiar macroeconomic situation.

There is a strong demand for gold, as well as dollars, as a store of value in Vietnam. But government restrictions on the import and trading of the precious metal have forced up the price in the domestic market.

The gap between the domestic and international gold prices is currently around 1,700,000 dong per tael (1.2 troy ounces).

So, traders say, smugglers have been buying gold from Cambodia and other countries at international prices and selling it into the local market at a premium.

If it really wanted to, the government could stamp out black market trading. In the summer of 2008, when annual inflation hit 28 per cent and Vietnam was on the brink of financial collapse, police were posted outside gold shops in Hanoi to halt the illegal forex trade.

In spite of the official promotion of capital controls, the fact that the government allows this illegal trade to continue is a tacit admission that the free black market can often allocate financial resources in a relatively efficient way.

Thailand's New Provocation to Declare War of Aggression Against Cambodia

Once again, Thailand is gearing itself to wage war on Cambodia following the statement made by Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva quoted by the Nation entitled "Phnom Penh must remove flag" and other media on 27 January 2011 saying that "Cambodia had no right to rise its national flag over the disputed border area adjacent to the Preah Vihear Temple.

Such a statement made by the Prime Minister of Thailand constitutes a casus belli to declare a war of aggression against Cambodia. The Thai Government has no right to use military force against the sovereignty of any country. The location on which Prime Minister Abhisit demanded the Cambodian Government to remove its national flag is clearly identified as Wat Keo Sikkha Kiri Svara where Thai troops had already initiated one invasion on 15 July 2008.

As far as the Cambodian-Thai relation is concerned, it is crystal clear that the national and international public opinion is fully aware that the two countries share a clear borderline based on the ANNEX 1 Dangrek Map 1/200000 which was produced in 1908 in full conformity with the 1904 Convention and 1907 Treaty. As it turned out, there is absolutely neither disputed nor overlapping area. On the contrary, the provocative act by Thailand to draw up a secret and unilateral map which lacks international legitimacy is aimed only at serving its ambition to invade Cambodia and take soverign Cambodian territory or rather, to forcibly annex Cambodian soil by military means in a foolish and suicidal attempt to succeed by force where it has already failed by international judiciary means.

On 28 January 2011, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Cambodia issued a declaration by quoting the Judgement of the International Court of Justice in The Hague dated 15 June 1962. It stated that:

1. "... the Temple of Preah Vihear is situated in territory under the sovereignty of Cambodia,"

2. "Thailand is under an obligation to withdraw any military or police forces, or other guards or keepers, stationed by her at the Temple, or in its vicinity on Cambodian territory,".

The said-statement also reaffirmed Article 1(c) of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of the Kingdom of Cambodia and the Government of the Kingdom of Thailand on the Survey and Demarcation on Land Boundary, signed on 14 June 2000, which incidentally, also recognizes the above mentioned map as a legal basis for the survey and demarcation of the Land Boundary between the Kingdom of Cambodia and Kingdom of Thailand.

According to the Map produced by the Franco-Siamese Commissions, the Keo Sikha Kiri Svara Pagoda, built by the people of Cambodia in 1998, is clearly situated in the Cambodian territory. Therefore, the national flag of the Kingdom of Cambodia is legitimately flying over this pagoda.

On the other hand, the declaration of the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stressed that the Thai Prime Minister's statement is in parallel with Thailand's millitary excercise at the border with Cambodia is clearly provocative and constitutes a casus belli for future acts of aggression against Cambodia and such a statement and insulting demand are unacceptable and firmly rejected by the latter.

Strong with the internationally recognized legal documents coupled with the territory under the effective sovereignty of Cambodia forms a solid and legitimate foundation for Cambodia that absolutely cannot be violated by Thailand. On top of that, the Royal Government of Cambodia

has time and again clearly stated her principle position to use her self-defence rights as enshrined in the articles 52 and 53 of the Cambodian Constitution so as to protect the national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

However, it is also important to take note that the Royal Government of Cambodia has been undeviatingly sticking to peaceful means through existing mechanisms to settle the border issues between the two countries. Therefore, the warning to recourse to military force against Cambodia undoubtedly reflects the ill-will of Bangkok Governemnt to use Cambodia as hostage of Thai internal politics at a time when both the yellow and red shirt protestors are massively rallying against the government before the general elections to be held this year.

This is clearly a well thought out political strategy by elements within the ruling Democratic Party to beat the drums of war, and drive the wild sentiments of patriotism and nationalism to divert its people’s attention from its domestic political crisis brought about by the multi-colored agent provocateurs and militant activists.

The following acts have clearly demonstrated the ill will of the ignorant Thais, fueled by the yellow shirts and their affiliates as they are all doing this with an agenda – that to invade Cambodia with blind nationalism and in the course, retain political power in Bangkok!

Cambodia, in good faith and to avoid unnecessary tensions, had earlier removed two stone tablets at Wat Keo Sekha Kirisvara, which indicated that the area belonged to Cambodia and had been invaded by Thai troops in 2008.

It certainly does not send the signal for Thailand and its recalcitrant Prime Minister to take this as an act of weakness and up the ante by demanding Cambodia to take down its flag in its own territory. This is tantamount to Cambodia telling Thailand to remove the Thai flag from the border post at the Thai side of the border! Violence begets violence.

This is illogical, defines internationally accepted norms, bilateral and multi-lateral relations and is downright stupidity of the highest order on the part of the Thais!

(by T. Mohan, a long term political analyst in Cambodia

Cambodia, Thai foreign ministers to meet next week on cooperation

28 Jan, 2011

Cambodian and Thai foreign ministers are scheduled to meet next week in Cambodia's Siem Reap province on cooperation.

At the invitation of Hor Namhong, Cambodian foreign minister, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya will lead a delegation to participate in the seventh meeting of the joint commission for bilateral cooperation between Cambodia and Thailand, according to the press release from the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation on Friday.

The meeting, to be held on Feb. 3-4, will focus on strengthening and expanding cooperation in all fields between the two countries. During the meeting, both sides will adopt the record of discussion of the meeting.

On Thursday, a new military confrontation between Cambodia and Thailand at the Preah Vihear temple area happened following a report that Cambodia had raised a national flag over Wat Keo Sekha Kiri Svarak pagoda at Preah Vihear temple and refused to remove it despite Thai side's request.

According to reports, the flag was raised after the contentious stone tablet, with a message "Here is Cambodia," was removed on Wednesday.

Spokesman for Cambodian Foreign Ministry, Koy Kuong, said Friday that it cannot be assumed that the current tension at Preah Vihear temple will be discussed at the meeting. However, it depends on whether the situation will cool down before the meeting.

However, Reth Sitha, deputy chief of general staff at Prime Minister Hun Sen's Bodyguard Unit and commander of Tank Unit, said on Friday that Cambodia has begun to enhance its military capacity.

Cambodia's Preah Vihear temple was enlisted as World Heritage Site on July 7, 2008. Just a week after the enlistment, Cambodia and Thailand had border conflict due to Thai claim of the ownership of 4.6 sq km of scrub next to the temple, triggering a military build-up along the border. Periodic clashes between Cambodian and Thai soldiers have resulted in the deaths of troops on both sides.

Source: Xinhua

CPF increases investments in Cambodia, Russia, Malaysia

28 Jan 2011
Thai integrator, Charoen Pokphand Foods (CPF) is setting its sights on increasing sales from its overseas operations in Cambodia, Russia and Malaysia by 40% in five years time, a 13% increase on its current status.

It will spend about 1.25 million baht to increase its CP operations in these three countries says CPF president and chief executive Adirek Sripratak.

“CPF will spend 500 million baht to acquire 1,475 newly issued ordinary shares at US $11,03 per share, in CP Cambodia Co (CPC) manufacturer of animal feed and meat products, increasing CPF’s shares in CPC to 25% of paid-up capital.”

In addition, as part of its investment increasing CPF’s capital in two companies in Russia; Charoen Pokphand Foods (Overseas) has increased its capital holdings, worth 429 million roubles (Baht 444 million) and 60 million roubles in CPF Agro, to facilitate expansion of its animal farms.

In another move to increase its stake in overseas subsidiaries, the Charoen Pokphand Group has allowed its Hong Kong-based subsidiary, CP Pokphand, to buy a 70.8% stake in CP Vietnam Livestock Corp. The purchase price is to be determined as an adjusted multiple of the target’s net income that would be paid with an issue of new stock and convertible shares.

(By Joyce Rainat)

Cambodia rejects Thai PM's demand to remove flag at pagoda

28 Jan, 2011

Cambodia Friday afternoon rejected Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's demand to remove Cambodia's flag at the pagoda near Preah Vihear temple, according to the declaration of Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

The rejection was made following the demand by Abhisit on Thursday that Cambodia must remove its flag from the Keo Sikha Kiri Svara pagoda of Cambodia.

"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation wishes to emphasize that this statement made by the prime minister of Thailand is unacceptable and that Cambodia firmly rejects such an insulting demand," said the declaration.

It added that "such a statement made by Thai prime minister in parallel with Thailand's military exercise at the border with Cambodia is clearly provocative and constitutes a casus belli for future acts of aggression against Cambodia."

"Cambodia reserves its legitimate rights to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity," it said.

According to the map produced by the Franco-Siamese commissions between the period of 1905 and 1908, the Keo Sikha Kiri Svara pagoda, built by the people of Cambodia in 1998, is clearly situated in the Cambodian territory. "Therefore, the flag of Cambodia is legitimately flying over this pagoda."

The tension between Cambodia and Thailand over the border happened on Thursday after there was a report that Cambodia had raised a national flag over Wat Keo Sekha Kiri Svarak pagoda at Preah Vihear temple and Thai side requested to remove it, but Cambodian side rejected it.

The flag had reportedly been flown at the temple instead after the contentious stone tablet with a message 'Here is Cambodia' was removed on Wednesday.

Reth Sitha, deputy chief of general staff at the Prime Minister Hun Sen's Bodyguard Unit and commander of Tank Unit, said on Friday that Cambodia has begun to enhance its military capacity at border area.

Cambodia's Preah Vihear temple was enlisted as World Heritage Site on July 7, 2008. Just a week after the enlistment, Cambodia and Thailand have had border conflict due to Thai claim of the ownership of 1.8 square miles (4.6 sq km) of scrub next to the temple, triggering a military build-up along the border, and periodic clashes between Cambodian and Thai soldiers have resulted in the deaths of troops on both sides.

Source: Xinhua

Cambodia flies flag over disputed area

Source: Bangkok Post

Cambodia is reported to have raised a national flag over Wat Kaew Sikha Khiri Sawara, after earlier destroying a controversial sign - sparking a new controversy over the disputed border area.

The flag was reported to have been raised after the contentious stone tablet with a message that the area belongs to Cambodia was demolished on Wednesday to great fanfare.

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

He said it was agreed by both sides not to put up any sign showing ownership in a disputed area.

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

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

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

Preah Vihear temple has been declared a world heritage site uindr Camboldian management by Unesco. Thailand has opposed the decision arguing that there will be problems managing it as long as the dispute over the land immediately adjoining it remains unsettled.

Cambodian minister, educator hit by drunk driver and dies

Minister killed by drunk driver - Tawn Lork and his wife, Navy.

ERIK TRYGGESTAD | The Christian Chronicle
28 Jan, 2011

Tawn Lork, Cambodian minister and educator, died Dec. 26 from wounds he suffered when a drunk driver struck his motorcycle days earlier.

Lork, 33, was dean of students for Cambodia Bible Institute, a ministry training school in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, affiliated with Lubbock, Texas-based Sunset International Bible Institute.

“He was a devout Bible student as well as effective preacher and teacher,” said Rich Dolan, the Cambodia institute’s director. “God blessed him with a great personality, capable of reaching many with his kind words, smile, encouragement and belief in God.”

Lork served as translator for Dolan and his wife, Ronda, who moved to Phnom Penh in 2007.

Lork also worked with Bill Singleton, a church member who helps Cambodian Christians in church-planting efforts.

“He is one of the greatest Cambodian warriors of the faith,” Singleton said of Lork, “and I will always love him for that.”

After the wreck, Lork underwent surgery in Phnom Penh but showed no signs of improvement. The Dolans were making plans to transport him to a hospital in Bangkok, Thailand, when “his heart gave out,” Rich Dolan said.

“I know that he walks with the King,” Rich Dolan said. “But please remember all of us who are left here with broken hearts — especially his sweet wife, Navy, and all our students.

Japan to help curb diseases

28 Jan, 2011

The Government of Japan will help Vietnam strengthen its laboratory capacity to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

The deal is part of a US$4.4 million project that was signed in Hanoi on Jan. 26.

"By implementing this new project, we hope that Japan's experience in controlling infectious diseases would be further disseminated to not only Vietnam, but to other countries like Laos, Cambodia and Myan-mar", said Chief Representative of JICA Vietnam Office Tsuno Motonori.

The five-year project was signed by representatives from Japan's International Co-operation Agency (JICA) and the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology (NIHE).

The project aims to enhance the NIHE's capacity to examine infectious pathogens. Pasteur institutes and selected Preventive Medicine Centres will also participate in the project. Hazardous infectious pathogens can cause pandemics including A/H5N1, A/H1N1, anthrax and tuberculosis.

Under the project's framework, Japanese experts will co-operate with NIHE and two Pasteur institutes to organise training for Vietnamese counterparts, who will be managing hazardous infectious pathogens, strengthening laboratory's operations, and developing Standard Operating Procedures for Biosafety Laboratories.

Vietnam Plus

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Thai "yellow-shirt" leader threatens to raid Gov't House

27 Jan, 2011

The nationalistic People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) core leader Chamlong Srimuang has threatened to raid Government House if their three demands are still unmet.

"If Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva continues to ignore our demands, then the PAD will storm Government House to ask for an answer," Chamlong said while making speech on Wednesday night.

The PAD, known as "yellow-shirt" movement, has vowed to continue rallying until the government agrees to cancel the 2000 memorandum of understanding on Thai-Cambodian borders, to pull out from the UNESCO's World Heritage Convention and to drive Cambodian soldiers and people out of disputed areas.

Meanwhile, Thai Patriots Network (TPN), a splinter group of PAD, still continues their protest at the Government House for the third day, calling the government for speeding up the solution for border disputes between Thailand and Cambodia.

In addition to PAD's demands, TPN pressured the government to rapidly help Veera Somkwamkid and his secretary Ratree Pipattanapaiboon who are now detained in Cambodia for being charged of illegal entry and espionage.

About 600 police officers have been deployed to endure security and order around the rally sites.

In 2008, the yellow-shirt PAD's protracted protests culminated in the seizure of the Government House and two international airports to pressure PM Samak Sudaravej and later Somchai Wongsawat, whom they saw as nominees of the fugitive ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra, to resign consecutively.

Source: Xinhua

Ministry to review NGO draft law amendments

27 January 2011
Thomas Miller
Source: Phnom Penh Post

Local civil society groups have submitted suggested revisions of the Kingdom’s proposed NGO Law to the government, though it remains to be seen how the recommendations will be reflected in the legislation.

Nuth Sa An, secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, said he had submitted recommendations proposed by NGOs to Minister Sar Kheng.

“Many points they said need to change have been sent to Sar Kheng for approval,” he said. “There will be a meeting again with NGOs,” he added.

After the government held a consultative meeting on January 10, four umbrella organisations – the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia, Medicam, NGO Forum on Cambodia and the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee – requested further public debate and a joint government-civil society committee charged with making revisions to the law.

Instead, the Ministry of Interior invited their leadership to an all-day meeting, which took place on Friday and also included a representative from Oxfam.

Lun Borithy, executive director of CCC, said the government had also “committed to sharing a second draft” of the law before submitting it to the Council of Ministers. However, there are no plans to hold another large consultation meeting, he said.

“There was some sort of verbal agreement that there is a need to change [the law] and further look into it,” Lun Borithy said.

“Overall, about 80 percent of recommendations put forward by civil society were taken on board.”

He acknowledged, however, that the government made no guarantees the proposed changes would be reflected in the final legislation.

“It was only a discussion, we can only be sure that the comments are fully accepted when we see the second draft.”

NGOs have raised concerns that the mandatory registration process in the draft law would be too burdensome for community-based organisations or informal groups and would violate the right to associate.

But Nuth Sa An said he advanced a compromise to Sar Kheng that would allow community-based groups that are part of umbrella organisations to avoid registration.

“Now we will allow the central-based NGOs to list their community NGOs so that we recognise them and they have no need to get licences,” he said. “If the central NGO does not recognise them, the small NGO must file for a licence so that it’s easy to manage them.”

Sok Sam Oeun, director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said the government had agreed to insert language allowing organisations to appeal a rejected application for registration to the courts.

Provisions of the law affecting international NGOs were not discussed because they fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Lun Borithy said.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said the government could easily change the law outright by avoiding further public debate.

“You could get the government to agree verbally, but I wouldn’t be surprised if most of these things mentioned are not written down,” he said.

“Because of that, the outcome of the law could be something else completely different.”


Civil society urges review of defamation

27 January 2011
May Titthara
Source: Phnom Penh Post

Cambodia NGOs yesterday slammed the conviction of a local human rights worker for defamation and called on the Constitutional Council to review defamation and disinformation as defined in the Kingdom’s new Penal Code.

Twenty-eight Cambodian NGOs released a joint statement condemning the Kampong Chhnang provincial court’s Tuesday ruling against Sam Chankea, provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, for a statement he made during an interview with Radio Free Asia in 2009.

The statement referred to a land dispute between local villagers and KDC International, which is owned by Chea Kheng, the wife of Minister for Industry, Mines and Energy Suy Sem.

The court fined Sam Chankea 1 million riels (US$247) and ordered him to pay 3 million riels in compensation to the company,

The court’s decision reflected a restriction on free speech that would prevent people charged with investigating and monitoring human rights from doing their jobs, the groups said.

“Such an action will make other human rights activists not dare to express his/her opinion about any event,” they said.

The groups urged higher courts to reverse the decisions against Sam Chankea and local resident Reach Seima, who was convicted of disinformation in a related case last week.

Tith Sothea, spokesman for the Press and Quick Reactions Unit at the Council of Ministers, said yesterday the statement would have no bearing on court procedure.

“The court sentences anyone with enough proof and witnesses.”

In the Radio Free Asia interview in question, according to a translation of his remarks by the rights group Forum-Asia, Sam Chankea stated: “What the company has done is an act of violation since the court has yet to rule on the merits of the case. Therefore, the company should suspend the activity and await the ruling on the merits of the case.”

In June last year, KDC International sued Sam Chankea for defamation and disinformation.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a division of the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights, said in a statement yesterday that it was concerned about “the judicial harassment against Mr Chankea and the two community leaders, which seems to merely aim at [punishing] their human rights activities”.

The Observatory called on the Cambodian government to “refrain from abusing the Criminal Code and other laws to restrict [freedom] of expression and silence legitimate criticisms”.

Sam Chankea’s conviction follows a string of political prosecutions that have earned the government international criticism. In December, Seng Kunnaka, a security guard employed by the United Nations World Food Programme, was found guilty of incitement and sentenced to six months in prison for allegedly printing out and distributing material from a popular opposition blog.

Kasit warns PAD, rejects demands

27 Jan, 2011
Source: Bangkok Post

Political protesters should not link foreign affairs with domestic politics, Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said on Thursday.

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

The minister said he rejected the three demands of the yellow-shirt People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD).

The PAD wants the government to withdraw from the Unesco World Heritage Committee, revoke the memorandum of understanding on the Thai-Cambodian border signed in 2000, and drive out Cambodian people from disputed border areas.

Mr Kasit called on PAD leaders to end their protest outside Government House.

"I give you 100 per cent assurance that we will not lose any land as long as negotiations are continuing.

"We should not let our emotions drive our actions, as Thai businesses have been affected. The sale of Thai products in Cambodia is down to 60 or 70 per cent," Mr Kasit said.

He planned to visit Cambodia on Feb 3-4 to attend the 7th Thai-Cambodian Joint Border Commission meeting in Siem Reap. He would also visit yellow-shirt activist Veera Somkwamkid and his secretary Ratree Pipatanapaiboon, who are being held in Prey Sar prison on spying charges.

Cambodia removes second provocative tablet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big hearts, stronger minds

by Connie Midey - Jan. 27, 2011
The Arizona Republic

They've been to Kenya and Uganda, Cambodia and Nepal. They serve on a board that helps Valley families escaping homelessness and domestic violence.

They're on the phone three or four times a week, sometimes just to chat, often to consult on their next project (although "adventure" might better describe what they undertake).

So when Eileen Rogers and Debbie Hill faced big birthdays, their choice for a celebration probably surprised few of the family members, friends and work associates invited to participate.

Rogers, of Scottsdale, was going to turn 50, and Hill, a Phoenix resident, would be 55. As the dates approached, they considered the possibilities.

"First, I was going to do a parachuting party, but that idea didn't catch on," says Rogers, owner of Allegra Marketing & Print. "Then I thought of a fabulous trip somewhere, but I've been fortunate to be able to do that."

Together and separately, the women had journeyed several times to Africa - through Carefree-based TurtleWill, a non-profit that helps people in Ethiopia, Mali and Niger, and the Foundation for Global Leadership, a Phoenix organization that encourages partnerships and philanthropy in emerging democracies.

"We both were aware of the real needs (in Africa)," says Hill, a lawyer and the mother of two grown daughters.

So they decided to help. In 2009, they created the Big Birthday Wish, asking for gifts in the form of money, advice or simply spreading the word - not for themselves but for the construction of a school in Mali, a nation in West Africa.

Rogers had volunteered for a TurtleWill medical mission in Mali just months earlier.

"I've seen extreme poverty," she says. "But in Mali, it's also so incredibly remote. People die because they don't have access to very simple things. Imagine having no medicine, not even having clean water to wash (wounds)."

Village in Mali selected

Rogers and Hill, friends for 20 years, focused their efforts on Tourari, a Malian village about 10 miles from Tombouctou (Timbuktu). The 100 families living there lacked many resources, but a school for their children was their top priority.

"You see how little they have there," Rogers says, "Often just blackboards and chalk."

The women mailed and e-mailed letters to everyone they knew, inviting them to mark the upcoming birthdays "in a sustainable and memorable way." They attached a map and information about the country, along with a detailed list of the village's needs and the costs.

Then they waited.

People receiving the invitations learned that two simple, brick-and-concrete classrooms for 90 students would cost $13,000 to construct.

In Malian villages that are fortunate enough to have schools, the facilities are cobbled together with old straw mats, "with children sitting in the sand, prey to respiratory infections, snakes and scorpions," Rogers and Hill wrote. "We want to build a permanent structure and create a healthy learning environment for these (Tourari) kids."

Thirty desks, each seating three students, would cost an additional $3,000, and uniforms, at $10 each, would add $900 to the proposed budget.

The wish list also included books and other class supplies, salaries for two teachers, meals for students, improvements to a well, a school vegetable garden, a goat herd, a latrine and millet grinders.

All together, the project would total $43,800.

"Our money can go so far over there," Rogers says. "We can accomplish so much with what, in an American environment, would be very little money."

Hill never doubted that she and Rogers would reach their goal. Friends had dug into their pockets in the past, asking the women to donate $50 or $100 on their behalf wherever they saw a need during their travels. The two would return with snapshots to show their friends where the money had gone.

Latrine covered

Donations to the Big Birthday Wish began to arrive in June 2009, the year of the friends' big birthdays. The mail would bring $10 one day, $40 another, and the money arrived early enough for villagers in Tourari to begin making bricks while waiting for the summer rains to end.

One man picked up the entire $8,000 cost of a four-seat latrine. Access to a latrine's toilets and sinks improves sanitation and reduces rates of dysentery, among the top three killers of African children. It also keeps maturing girls in school by enabling them to maintain their modesty, Rogers explains.

Other donors sent in smaller amounts: $10 to pay for one student's books and other supplies, $80 for a year's worth of meals for two students, $85 for one millet grinder. Family responsibilities also cause girls to drop out of school, a problem the birthday project addressed with the purchase of 20 grain grinders for the community.

"Five families could share one grinder, grind their millet quickly, and then the girls would have time to do their homework," Rogers says.

Within three months, the women had reached their goal. But the checks kept trickling in past the official fundraising deadline of September 2009.

Construction of the school began that October. As donations continued to arrive, other work in Tourari got under way, small project by small project.

After the school was completed in December 2009, desks and other supplies were purchased and transported to the site. But additional improvements lay ahead.

By February 2010, more than 300 people had contributed about $78,000 to the Big Birthday Wish, and their money had been put to work.

Hill wasn't surprised that the project drew almost double the figure on the original wish list.

"People are quite generous if they know the money is going where you said it's going (and) if they know it will be well spent," she says.

More money, more goats

The extra money allowed the Tourari school to tack on three more classrooms and install solar lights so adults could attend literacy classes at night.

Today, with more than 270 kids enrolled in the school and the night classes a hit with their parents, "we are serving more people than we ever imagined when we started the project," Rogers says.

Villagers also were able to build a school library and pharmacy and buy a second herd of 30 goats. The goats sustain students with fresh milk and generate occasional income for the school.

There was enough money to repair Tourari's existing well, as planned, and almost enough to build a second one. TurtleWill made up the difference for the extra well, and it agreed to fund the ongoing operation of the new school.

Not everyone can contribute on the scale of the latrine donor, and not everyone can manage a project as ambitious as the Big Birthday Wish. But people working toward smaller goals - collecting supplies for a single class in their neighborhood, for example - can make a difference, Hill says. Just as enough people pitching in a few spare dollars made it possible for the Big Birthday Wish to grow even bigger.

The women celebrated the project's completion with a party for donors. Rogers and Hill had to postpone two trips to see the results in person because travel in Mali was risky. But they shared photos and progress reports from Tourari that told the story of the accomplishments more vividly than their financial accounting.

Party guests saw photos, taken by a local man with a donated digital camera, of the school under construction and completed, of students tending their garden and feeding their goats. They heard stories about moms and dads thrilled that they could now make a living and that their kids finally were getting an education.

Carol Rogers, Eileen's mother, was seriously ill when the Big Birthday Wish began, and she died, at age 76, a week before the party. She had followed the project's progress with great interest.

"She was in the hospital most of that time," Rogers says, "and we'd go to see her and share details. She would have loved seeing the school. As soon as I can, I want to take her ashes there and a plaque with her name for the school."

People who made Rogers' and Hill's birthday wish - and the dreams of 100 Tourari families - come true wear a thank-you gift from the women: a circle bracelet inspired by a legend that says, "If you give a circle of friends to a person you care for, your bonds of friendship will endure forever."