Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Thai PM leaves hospital, visiting Vietnam Wednesday afternoon

(MCOT online news)

BANGKOK, Nov 30 - Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has been discharged from a Bangkok hospital Wednesday noon and is leaving to make an official one-day introductory visit to Vietnam to affirm Thailand's strong determination to foster and strengthen bilateral ties particularly in the fields of economy, trade and investment.

Ms Yingluck was admitted to Phraram 9 Hospital early Tuesday after suffering from diarrhoea due to food poisoning.

Hospital Deputy Director Dr Arthit Jearanaisilawong said the premier had no diarrhoea and could be discharged at noon to travel to Vietnam as planned. However, for her safety, the hospital has assigned Dr Wichai Siriboonkhum, her personal physician, to accompany her during the trip.

He said Ms Yingluck is still fatigued and should rest, but it is not necessary to stay in hospital. After the trip, he said, the premier should have a further medical check-up.

Dr Arthit said her doctors believed her food poisoning may have come from contaminated seafood or sauce, but they needed 2-3 days to find the cause.

The premier and her entourage are scheduled to leave Thailand at 1pm for Vietnam, the sixth member country of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), after Ms Yingluck visited Myanmar, the Lao PDR, Cambodia, Indonesia and Brunei.

She will take this opportunity to reaffirm Thailand's policy to strengthen bilateral relations with Vietnam in the economy, trade and investment, particularly in mutual cooperation as strategic partners.

Thailand and Vietnam mark the 35th anniversary of diplomatic ties this year.

Upon the arrival, Ms Yingluck will meet her Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Tan Dung for bilateral talks. This will be their second encounter after meeting on the sidelines of the 19th ASEAN Summit in Bali, Indonesia earlier this month.

Ms Yingluck will discuss cooperation in natural disaster prevention and management after both Thailand and Vietnam were hard hit by floods and see the importance of water resource management.

Cooperation on the Mekong River and trade and investment covering construction, energy, rice and tourism will also be included in the agenda.

Thailand will invite Vietnam to join the ACMECS Single Visa pilot project to promote tourism between the two countries.

The Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS) is a cooperation framework among Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam to use member countries’ diverse strengths and to promote balanced development in the subregion.

During the visit, Ms Yingluck will also make a courtesy call on Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang before returning to Bangkok tonight.

Cambodia urged to drop charges against Boeung Kak Lake activists

Tue, 29/11/2011
Sam Zarifi, director of Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Programme

Tep Vanny is among the women facing politically motivated charges

Tep Vanny is among the women facing politically motivated charges © Amnesty International

Cambodian authorities must drop politically-motivated charges against four women involved in peaceful protests about the situation at Boeung Kak Lake in Phnom Penh, where almost 20,000 people have been forcibly evicted since 2008, Amnesty International said today.

Bo Chhorvy, Heng Mom, Kong Chantha and community leader Tep Vanny -- were charged with “obstructing public officials” and “insult” – crimes that carry hefty fines and prison sentences of up to one year.

Police and security officials used excessive force to break up Monday’s protest involving about 50 women outside a government building in the Cambodian capital. At least six demonstrators were injured and two reportedly attempted suicide.

Women have been at the forefront of a campaign to halt the eviction of families to make way for development around the Boeung Kak Lake area in heart of Phnom Penh. Peaceful protests take place regularly.

“Cambodian authorities must stop targeting activists who are peacefully defending their communities’ rights,” said Sam Zarifi, director of Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Programme.

“The politically-motivated charges against Tep Vanny and the other women, used in an attempt to silence legitimate protest, must be dropped. Authorities must immediately halt the use of excessive force against peaceful protestors.”

The four women spent Monday night in police detention in Phnom Penh and were denied full access to lawyers and medical care. Today they were charged and released under court supervision.

“The authorities’ decision to charge the four women reflects a worrying trend in Cambodia, where the space for legitimate public debate is narrowing,” said Sam Zarifi.

“Those seeking to peacefully claim their rights and voice their concerns are finding it increasingly harder to do so. Such a trend has worrying implications for the peaceful development of the country,” said Sam Zarifi.

In 2007, the Cambodian government granted the Boeung Kak Lake area, through a land concession, to a private development company, Shukaku. Many of the 4,000 families that lived around the lake have been forcibly evicted.

Authorities announced in August that the 779 families that remained near the late would be allotted 12.44 hectares for development.

However, a number of families were excluded from this arrangement, and the homes of eight families were destroyed in September 2011. Meanwhile, the process of granting land in the onsite development area has stalled.

Cambodia landmine summit sparks hopes for survivor

PHNOM PENH // Song Kosal was just five when she lost her right leg to a landmine. But the tragedy inspired her to become one of Cambodia's most outspoken anti-mine campaigners, and even take part in a beauty contest.

Now 27, Kosal will share her dream of a "mine-free world" when she gives the opening address to delegates from more than 100 countries at a conference in Phnom Penh this week taking stock of a global ban on the weapons.

"I have dreamed many times that I still have two legs, but then I wake up," Ms Kosal said. "I don't want to see other people, children especially, to be hurt by landmines like me."

Representatives from the states that have signed the 1997 Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention will discuss progress on eradicating the weapons at the meeting that starts on Monday.

The meeting follows a report just days ago saying that global landmine use is at a seven-year high.

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) said that landmines and explosive remnants of war caused 4,191 new casualties in 2010, including more than 1,000 deaths.

Nearly three decades of civil war have left impoverished Cambodia one of the world's most heavily mined countries. Mines kill people there almost weekly, with 32 deaths recorded in the first nine months of 2011.

Before she became adept at moving around with a crutch, Ms Kosal said, she felt "lonely, disappointed because I have only one leg and I could see other children running, playing".

Since then, she has blossomed, becoming a youth ambassador for ICBL and travelling the world to urge governments to destroy mines and help survivors.

The ICBL won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for its efforts towards the Ottawa Treaty banning the use, production, stockpiling and trade in anti-personnel landmines.

In 2009, in a further effort to raise awareness, Ms Kosal entered the inaugural Miss Landmine Cambodia beauty pageant, but the event was controversially cancelled after the government decided it was in poor taste.

The contest still went ahead online, and Ms Kosal can be seen smiling broadly in her competition photograph, posing on a small boat wearing a tiara and purple summer dress.

"Everyone has the right to be beautiful," Ms Kosal said. "Taking part was one way I could show I am brave enough to do anything, that after we become survivors, we don't become invisible."

Since 1992, around 700 square kilometres have been cleared of mines and other ordnance in Cambodia, destroying nearly a million anti-personnel mines, according to UN data.

But Chum Bun Rong, secretary general of the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority (CMAA), said that much more needed to be done.

"We can't develop the country if the landmines remain," he said, adding that Cambodia intends to clear another 650 square kilometres between 2010 and 2019, requiring US$400-500 million (Dh1469m-Dh1836m).

"Even though many landmines were cleared, there are still a lot more under the ground, and thousands of survivors who really, really need help," Ms Kosal said.

A big frustration is that the US has yet to commit to the treaty, she said. "How long will they have to review the policy?" she said, noting that more than 30 countries - including India, Russia and China - have yet to join.

"I'm grateful because the US gives a lot of support to mine clearance. But it's not enough. We still need them to sign because then a lot of countries will follow."

On a personal level, there is still progress to be made as well. For herself, Ms Kosal said, she hopes to one day find a prosthetic leg that doesn't hurt her as much as models she has tried in the past.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

ASEAN pushing for analogue TV shutoff in 2015 – PTV4 chief

by Domingo B. Natividad V

QUEZON CITY, Nov. 29 (PIA) -- The migration happens in 2015 – that is, for television transmission in ASEAN member-countries from analogue to digital format.

On Tuesday’s “Talking Points” radio program at DZRB-Radyo ng Bayan, People’s Television – Channel 4 (PTV4) General Manager Renato Caluag revealed that the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) is pushing for the digital TV migration, which he described as “beneficial” for the TV audience.

Caluag said there has been a series of ASEAN meetings in various parts of Asia – of which the latest happened in Manila - related to the television digital transmission. “The main point of the series of meetings is to prepare the region on (TV) digital transmission,” he said.

Though, he said, this is not a binding agreement among ASEAN members, yet they are receptive of the global standards. This, as “the world is going digital,” he said. Thus, the ASEAN is now looking into what is referred to as ‘the regional analogue shut off” in 2015.

As to its readiness to shift into digital TV transmission, he said “some (ASEAN) nations are more prepared than others because they consider this economical.” Two countries he identified are Singapore and Brunei Darussalam. The other member-countries of ASEAN are Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, and the Philippines.

Though lagging behind in readiness, the implementation phase in the Philippines – maybe not exactly in 2015 – “but not too long after that.” For now the Philippine government is at the process of formally adapting the standards. He also said that the government is being careful as this is a “big decision” which involves the masses, who are used with the conventional television set.

Caluag explained that the current analogue TV transmission refers to the mode of broadcast using the very high frequency (VHF) band. In the Philippines, TV networks that broadcast through VHF bandwidth are Channels 4, 2, 5, 7, 9, and 13, also called as “free TV”.

He said the viewership in the country “is still predominantly on free TV” with television as a primary medium of mass communication. “TV ownership is 87-90 percent of total households nationwide” which are still on free TV apart from those being serviced by cable networks.

Once the digital transmission is in place, Caluag explains that Juan dela Cruz would need to have a “digital set top box” installed on their current TV sets to receive the digital signal.

But this “digital box” comes with a cost that the government is still formulating measures on how to address this that will not cost much to one’s budget. “Ito ay masusi pang pinag-aaralan, dahil doon magkakaroon ang cost to consumers,” he said. He said they are looking into two systems of approach related to the digital box cost – the considerably expensive and the subsidized.

But Caluag is quick to point out that cost should not undermine the upside of the digital transmission. “Remember that everything digital becomes cheaper over time,’ he said.

He also underscored the fact that digital TV transmission “would be clearer in audio and in higher resolution (picture quality)”. He likened the digital migration to the audio and picture quality produced through a “DVD” from that of a “Betamax”.

Apart from this, he pointed out that digital TV transmission would help create more free TV channels in the country. He said the current TV frequencies “will be subdivided into multiplex transmissions” – meaning, more TV channels. He reasoned that having “more channels (mean) more room for product segmentation – and information will cascade faster”. (PIA-NCR/ RJB/ DBNV)

Make or break time for Mekong river as Xayaburi dam decision looms

Posted on 29 November 2011
Source: WWF

Siem Reap, Cambodia – Environment and water resource ministers from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam meeting in Siem Reap next week hold the fate of the Mekong river in their hands as they look set to reach a decision on a go or no-go for the controversial Xayaburi dam in northern Laos.

In April this year the Joint Committee of the Mekong River Commission (MRC), an inter-governmental agency made up of representatives from the four lower Mekong countries, did not reach agreement on the Xayaburi dam and agreed to defer the final decision to the ministerial level.

The MRC’s upcoming Ministerial-level meeting is expected to consider a review by the Finnish water consulting firm, Poyry, on the dam’s compliance with the MRC’s requirements. Commissioned by the Lao government, the review is intended to address concerns raised by Cambodian, Thai and Vietnamese delegates about the project’s impact on biodiversity and fisheries and the effectiveness of the mitigation measures and the MRC design guideline.

The review has concluded that the Xayaburi project meets the MRC’s requirements despite stating that additional baseline data on biology, ecology and livelihood restoration is needed, as well as improved knowledge concerning the proposed passes for migrating fish.

“It is astounding that Poyry affirms there are serious data gaps and weaknesses with the project and still gives it the all clear,” said Dr Jian-hua Meng, WWF’s Sustainable Hydropower Specialist. “Poyry recommends dealing with the critical knowledge gaps during the construction phase. Playing roulette with the livelihoods of over 60 million people would not be acceptable in Europe so why is it different in Asia?”

WWF says the review is yet to be formally released despite appearing on an online forum in Laos. In WWF’s critiques of the Poyry review, the conservation organisation points to failures to fully understand and account for the impacts of the Xayaburi dam, particularly concerning fisheries and sediment flows, and contradictions within the review itself.

“The Poyry review does identify uncertainties and weaknesses with the proposed fish passes and even acknowledges that the Xayaburi dam fails to comply with at least a quarter of the MRC’s guidance on this,” added Dr Meng. “This is completely at odds with their advice to green light the project and flies in the face of the precautionary principle, which underpins the MRC guidelines.”

WWF says the Poyry review also confirms the Xayaburi project will block part of the sediment flow and that important gaps in knowledge concerning the sediment aspects remain. The Mekong’s rich sediment is essential for maintaining balance in the Mekong ecosystem and building up the delta.

“Nothing has changed for the better for the Xayaburi dam project,” said Dr Meng. “A failure to address the uncertainties with this project could have dire consequences for the livelihoods of millions of people living in the Mekong river basin.”

The Mekong winds 4,800 kilometres down to the South China Sea, making it the longest river in Southeast Asia. More than 700 species of freshwater fish ply its water, including four of the world’s biggest freshwater fish species, notably the iconic and endangered Mekong giant catfish.

The Lower Mekong, one of the last large untamed stretches of river in the world, supports nearly 60 million people with its rich fisheries. As the first dam project to enter the MRC’s formal consultation process, the Xayaburi project will test the effectiveness of the MRC, and the consensus decision reached by Ministers will set an important precedent for 10 other dams proposed for the lower mainstream of the river.

“The lower Mekong countries now stand at a cross road, next week they can choose to be a global leader in sustainable hydropower and defer the decision on Xayaburi dam or they can choose to risk putting their people, their livelihoods and their much loved river in peril,” added Dr Meng.

Earlier this year, Vietnam’s Minister of Environment and Natural Resources officially asked for a 10-year delay of mainstream dams and Cambodia’s Minister of Water Resources also supports a delay. This message was heard by the Lao PM, who announced on the side of the ASEAN Summit that construction of Xayaburi dam will be deferred to allow for more studies to be conducted.

WWF urges Ministers to follow the recommendation of the MRC’s Strategic Environmental Assessment of mainstream dams and defer a decision on the dam for 10 years to ensure critical data can be gathered and a decision can be reached using sound science and analysis. WWF advises lower Mekong countries considering hydropower projects to prioritise dams on some Mekong tributaries that are easier to assess and are considered to have a much lower impact and risk.

Capital shortage thwarts development pace in CLMV: Cambodia PM

PHNOM PENH, Nov. 28 (Xinhua) -- Capital shortage is the key challenge for Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam (CLMV) to develop and narrow development gap with the six old ASEAN member states, Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen said Monday.

"Despite the CLMV countries' tireless efforts and desires to accelerate the development, the key challenge of our cooperation is the lack of financing," he said at the opening of the Regional Conference on CLMV countries and the ASEAN Economic Community 2015-bridging the Development Divide.

"Therefore, foreign direct investment, the integration of markets, trades, and investments as well as official development aid play very important roles in the initiative of our cooperation, " he said.

The CLMV countries need to reform on public financial management, trade, legal system, investment regime and public administration in order to sustain growth, economic integration and human resources development, he said, adding that good governance is also an essence to create good investment environment.

The premier said the CLMV countries are situated in the central point of Southeast Asia, playing crucial roles for political geography and economy and prosperity of the Southeast Asian region.

"The CLMV countries have huge potential for the opportunities of markets and economies because the countries are rich in natural resources and have the total population of an estimated 160 million," he said.

The reduction of development gap between the ASEAN old members and new ones need a lot of resources, he said, adding that it is necessary to mobilize domestic resources and to attract private sector participation. Also, there should be a joint effort to open markets for products which are produced in the CLMV.

Meanwhile, K. Kesavapany, director of Singapore's Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, said the CLMV countries have seen robust economic growth, well-performed poverty reduction and human capital development over the past decade; however, the development gap between the ASEAN six members and the CLMV countries remain noticeable.

Bridging the development divide is one of the most pressing challenges facing the success of the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015, he said.

The conference was participated by economists, academics and policymakers from the CLMV countries. It was organized by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, the Asian Development Bank and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS).

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Vietnam cuts jail term of French-Vietnamese blogger

Pham Minh Hoang was arrested in August 2010, and was originally sentenced in August this year to three years in prison (AFP/File, Vietnam News Agency)

HANOI — A Vietnamese court on Tuesday halved the jail sentence of a French-Vietnamese blogger whose release has been sought by Paris and the European Union, his lawyer said.

Pham Minh Hoang, who has dual nationality, will be freed on January 13 after serving a 17-month sentence for attempted subversion but will still have to serve three years' house arrest, lawyer Tran Vu Hai told AFP.

Hai had hoped for greater leniency at the hearing, which lasted less than half a day in Ho Chi Minh City.

"I struggled a lot for him and of course, in my opinion, it would have been better if my client was immediately freed at the appeal process."

Hoang, who was arrested in August 2010, was originally sentenced in August this year to three years in prison for attempted subversion.

At that trial, a court in the southern city ruled that Hoang wrote 33 articles under the pen name Phan Kien Quoc, "blackening the image of the country" and aiming to topple the government.

Hoang, 56, expressed regret at his trial and asked for leniency.

"My writings were not aimed at overthrowing anyone," he testified at the time. "I only pointed out the negative things in society, and I think the country needs to be more democratic."

Rights groups had called for the appeals court to overturn the conviction and immediately release the blogger.

"Hoang was just expressing his views on subjects of public interest in Vietnam, a right guaranteed by the country's constitution," said Paris-based Reporters Without Borders.

Human Rights Watch said Hoang should never have been arrested in the first place.

"Peaceful activists like Pham Minh Hoang deserve to be heard by their fellow citizens, not silenced by the courts," the New York-based watchdog said in a statement.

Ahead of the appeal, Hai told AFP there were humanitarian reasons for a less severe punishment because Hoang's parents are almost 90 years old and he has a disabled brother.

Hoang went to France in 1973 but returned after 27 years to settle in Vietnam, where he worked as a mathematics lecturer at the Polytechnic University of Ho Chi Minh City, his wife has said.

In September France said it was "deeply disappointed" that its call for Hoang to be freed under a routine annual amnesty had not been heeded.

Dozens of peaceful political critics have been sentenced to long prison terms since Vietnam launched a crackdown on free expression in late 2009, according to Amnesty International.

Vietnam, a one-party state, says it has achieved significant progress on human rights.

UN - Secretary-General, in Message to States Parties to Mine Ban Treaty, Calls for Destruction of Landmine Stockpiles, Support for Victims, Families

Following is UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s message to the Eleventh Meeting of the States Parties to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, delivered by Helen Clark, Administrator, UN Development Programme (UNDP), in Phnom Penh, 28 November:

I am pleased to greet the 158 States Parties and all the participants in this meeting on the Mine Ban Convention.

It is especially notable that you gather in Cambodia — a country that for years has symbolized both the human tragedy associated with anti-personnel landmines, but also the hope that, with our common efforts, we can build a safer world, free of these horrendous weapons.

It is intolerable that new anti-personnel mines are being laid, even today, in a number of countries — new uses of weapons that should already belong to history.

This Convention and its implementation are good examples of an effective partnership between States, the United Nations and civil society to end human suffering. I commend your determination to achieve a mine-free world, including through the progress that has been made in implementing the Cartagena Action Plan adopted at the Second Review Conference in 2009.

Against this background, I urge those States that have not yet done so, to complete the destruction of stockpiled anti-personnel mines. I urge the mine-affected States to clear mined areas within the agreed deadlines, ensure effective risk education programmes and provide support to victims and their families. And I urge those States that are in a position to do so, to renew their commitments to provide assistance, including for victims.

I also renew my call on those States that have not yet done so, to accede to the Mine Ban Convention as soon as possible. I commend South Sudan and Tuvalu for acceding to the Convention this year.

The United Nations will continue to support your work and the goal of a mine-free world. Please accept my best wishes for a productive meeting.

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Some 2,500 Cambodians die of HIV/AIDS in 2011: official

Nov 29, 2011

PHNOM PENH – Cambodia's Vice-Chair of National AIDS Authority Tia Phalla said Tuesday that it's estimated that some 2,500 HIV/AIDS patients died this year and the deaths would decline to about 2,300 in 2012.

"Cambodia has seen success in fighting HIV/AIDS -- the prevalence rate among adults aged 15 to 49 has dropped to 0.8 percent in 2010 from 2.5 percent in 1998," he said on Tuesday at a press meeting and photo exhibition to commemorate the World AIDS Day. "However, the deaths, new infections and discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS still persist in this country. "

He said that the number of new infections exceeds 1,000 a year.

In Cambodia, the first HIV infection was detected and diagnosed in 1991 and the first AIDS case was found in 1993.

Tia Phalla said that it is difficult to verify the number of Cambodian people who have died from the disease since then as some AIDS infected people had been killed by opportunity diseases such as hepatitis or tuberculosis.

Meanwhile, he said that the country has seen good results in promoting the use of condoms.

According to a recent annual research survey, he said, condom use of male clients of the entertainment industry and with sweethearts has been steadily increasing.

The survey showed that the condom use among commercial partners increased from 85 percent in 2008 to 96 percent in 2011 thanks to sustained investment and targeted outreach to this important target group.

On the other hand, condom use among sweethearts has increased from 58 percent in 2008 to 60 percent this year, he said.

Currently, the country has an estimated 67,000 people living with HIV/AIDS. Some 6,000 of them are children, according to the National AIDS Authority.

The country needs about 58 million U.S. dollars a year to fight against HIV/AIDS, said Tia Phalla, adding that the current challenge for the country is fund shortage due to the recent announcement of the cancellation of the next round of funding from the Global Fund to Cambodia.

Vietnam, Cambodia boost cross border trade

The fifth Vietnam-Cambodia Border Trade Development Cooperation Conference was held in Kompong Cham province, Cambodia, on Nov. 28.

A view of the conference (Photo: Vietnam News Agency)

Co-organised by the Vietnamese Ministry of Industry and Trade (MIT) and the Cambodian Ministry of Commerce, the conference drew the participation of 250 officials and businesspeople from Vietnamese and Cambodian border provinces.

According to reports, two-way trade between Vietnam and Cambodia increased from 372 million USD in 2001 to nearly 2 billion USD in 2010. The figure is expected to surpass 2 billion USD this year and reach 3 billion USD in 2015.

Participants at the conference said that border trade activities between the two sides have seen many advantages, with expanded markets, simplified administrative procedures, improved infrastructure and effective smuggling prevention.

However, they stressed the need to build a cross-border trade legal framework between the two countries, further improve transport infrastructure and border gates; develop payment, transport, post and telecom services, as well as strengthen coordination in smuggling prevention.

The conference agreed to complete the Vietnam-Cambodia border market network development plan between 2010 and 2020, consider a project to build pilot Vietnam-Cambodia border markets for implementation in 2012, and build regulations on management of Vietnam-Cambodia markets.

Vietnam and Cambodia will boost the implementation of “one-stop” examinations at international border gates between the two countries, border trade activities and exchange of market information.

During the conference, a Vietnam-Cambodia private business forum was also organised.

Source: Vietnam News Agency

Thai, Cambodian foreign ministers to discuss options to help free jailed Thai activists

Nov 29, 2011

BANGKOK -- Thailand's Minister of Foreign Affairs Surapong Tovichakchaikul on Monday said he would meet his Cambodian counterpart Hor Namhong soon to discuss bilateral issues and options to help free two Thai activists detained in Phnom Penh for espionage.

The Thai foreign minister said that the bilateral issues to be raised to discuss with Hor Namhong, who is also Cambodia’s deputy prime minister, would cover the Thai-Cambodian Joint Boundary Commission (JBC), General Border Committee (GBC) and Joint Commission (JC) on the Bilateral Cooperation between Thailand and Cambodia.

Mr Surapong said they would also discuss solutions to help the two Thai activists--Veera Somkwamkid and his secretary Ratree Pipattanapaiboon—detained in Cambodia.

A Cambodian court on Feb 1 ruled that Mr Veera, coordinator of Thailand's Patriots Network and Ms Ratree were guilty of espionage, illegal entry, and trespassing on a military zone.

Mr Veera was sentenced to eight years in jail while Ms Ratree was handed a six-year jail term. Their petitions seeking a royal pardon were rejected as the Cambodian government asserted the two must serve two-thirds of their jail terms first.

Mr Surapong said the Cambodian Interior Ministry has also given permission to a Thai medical doctor to visit Mr Veera to treat his congenital rheumatoid condition.

He said on Nov 15, Mr Veera's mother asked for the ministry's help to coordinate with Cambodia to allow a Thai physician to administer a medical checkup for Mr Veera as his condition had worsened.

It was expected that the physician will travel to Cambodia to treat Mr Veera at Pray Sar Prison on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

Mr Surapong said that the ministry's permanent secretary Theerakun Niyom would meet Defence Minister Gen Yutthasak Sasiprapa to discuss the measures to comply with the International Court of Justice (ICJ)'s decision.

The court on July 18 ordered Thailand and Cambodia to withdraw their troops from the newly defined demilitarised zone in a disputed portion of their border around the historic Preah Vihear temple while urging both countries to work with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to allow the regional bloc's observers to enter the disputed zone. (MCOT online news)

Landmines: A Brutal Legacy Of Conflict

Nov 28, 2011

Landmines continue to exact pain and loss of lives, mostly of children and civilians. In Afghanistan, for example, all deaths by landmines are on those under 18. In an attempt to eliminate forever the use of landmines, Handicap International calls for the universalization of the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty.

The Ottawa Treaty, officially known as the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction, intends to eliminate anti-personnel landmines around the world.

As of September 2011, there were 158 States Parties to the treaty and 38 states which are not party to it. Among the countries which have not signed the treaty are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (People’s Republic of China, Russia and the United States) and, among others, India, Israel and both Koreas, where landmines remain active in the Demilitarized Zone.

A party to the treaty must not only cease the production and development of anti-personnel mines, but must also destroy its stockpile within four years, although it may retain a small number of mines for training purposes. The treaty also calls on States Parties to provide assistance to mine-affected persons in their own country, and to assist other countries in meeting the Mine Ban Treaty obligations.

In its last annual report, recently released in Bangkok, Handicap International found that at least three States which are not party to that treaty used anti-personnel landmines in 2011. According to this organization, Libya, Burma and Israel used these weapons in 2011. Also, independent armed groups in Afghanistan, Colombia, Burma and Pakistan also used landmines between 2010 and 2011. Paul Vermeulen, Head of Advocacy and Institutional Relations at Handicap International calls the persistent use of landmines “unacceptable and extremely worrying.”

In addition to the countries still using landmines, other countries such as Belarus, Greece, Turkey and Ukraine have not yet met the deadline for destroying their stockpiles, in violation of the treaty. The Landmine Monitor 2011 reports that during this year there have been thousands of new victims of anti-personnel landmines. According to Handicap International, “79 countries and territories are still contaminated by these weapons.”

It is estimated that more than 500,000 survivors of accidents caused by landmines and unexploded remnants of war still need lifelong assistance, and the funds allocated for this provision fall short of meeting the victims’ needs. It is estimated that only 10 percent of funding is allocated to victims’ assistance.

There has been some progress, however. Since the treaty’s entry into force in March 1999, signatory nations have destroyed more than 44 million mines. In 2010, decontamination of mined land reached an unprecedented level: Almost 177 square miles of land were demined and more than 1.6 million unexploded remnants of war were destroyed, according to Landmine Monitor 2011. On December 2, 2009, Rwanda was declared free of landmines. On June 18, 2010, Nicaragua was also declared free of landmines and on June 14, 2011, Nepal became the second country to be landmine-free in Asia.

In addition to the treaty, there are two basic clauses of international humanitarian law that prohibit the use of landmines: the first, all means and methods that “fail to discriminate between those taking part in the fighting and those, such as civilians, who are not, the purpose being to protect the civilian population, individual civilians and civilian property,” and second, those means and methods that “cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering.”

From November 28 to December 2, the 11th Meeting of States Parties to the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty will be held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, one of the most affected land-mine countries in the world. This meeting will be a special occasion to remind States of their obligations, particularly in terms of victims’ assistance. It will also be useful to remind people of the barbaric nature of the use of these mines.

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.

Cambodia: Cut Draft Provision Allowing Prison Labor

Trade Partners Need to Warn Phnom Penh Now
November 28, 2011

Allowing private companies to profit from prison labor is a scandalous policy that will wipe out Cambodia’s long sought reputation as a country where cleaner production and better factories are possible. Cambodia’s trading partners need to make their voices heard at the highest levels in Phnom Penh and stop this travesty in its tracks.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

The Cambodian government should urge the Senate to strike a provision of the draft Law on Prisons that would permit prison labor to be used for producing goods for private firms, Human Rights Watch said today. The draft law, which was passed by the lower house of the National Assembly on November 7, 2011, is expected to be sent to the Senate soon.

Permitting prison labor to work for industry would violate Cambodia’s obligations under International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions against forced labor and put Cambodia’s trade partners at risk of importing garments and footwear unlawfully produced by prisoners, Human Rights Watch said.

“Allowing private companies to profit from prison labor is a scandalous policy that will wipe out Cambodia’s long sought reputation as a country where cleaner production and better factories are possible,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Cambodia’s trading partners need to make their voices heard at the highest levels in Phnom Penh and stop this travesty in its tracks.”

Article 71 of the draft Law on Prisons states: “Following the agreement from the Ministry of Interior, the General Director is entitled to enter into a contract to allow prisoners to work for any organization or individual for the purposes of prison industry and farming, and the General Director may enter into a contract to sell the products from prison industry, handicraft and farming.”

Investigations conducted by the media and civil society groups since 2009 have found the persistent production of goods in Cambodia’s prisons for export, despite pronouncements against the practice by Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh, for which he blamed “some unregistered sub-contractors.” More recently, the media reported that footwear was being produced in Sihanoukville prison and then exported. Production of garments for export has also been seen in Correctional Center 1 in Phnom Penh, and provincial prisons in Kandal, Takeo, and Battambang.

International legal standards place important constraints on how prison labor may be used, Human Rights Watch said. Under the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, adopted by the UN as guidance, prison labor must be of a vocational nature, not as punishment, and prisoners should be allowed to choose the type of work they wish to perform. The work must not be driven by financial profit motives, and no prisoner should be forced to work for private entities.

ILO Convention No. 29 on Forced Labor, which Cambodia has ratified, states that only convicts can be compelled to work in prison; that such work must at all times be supervised by a public authority; and that prisoners may not be “hired to or placed at the disposal of private individuals, companies or associations,” which means that prison labor for private entities may be only by consent of the prisoner.

“It’s frankly stunning that Cambodia, which is so dependent on exports of goods produced in labor-intensive sectors like garments and footwear, would consider crossing the red line into prohibited trade practices like using prison labor,“ Robertson said. “Through either ignorance or greed, Cambodia’s policymakers are shooting themselves in the foot. If the government doesn’t step in, it will be up to Cambodia’s trade partners to act.”

Monday, November 28, 2011

Big trouble in Canada's Little Saigon

The new designation will come with special signs singling out the area as a distinct cultural neighborhood (AFP/File, Laurent Vu The)

VANCOUVER, Canada — The designation of a neighborhood in westernmost Canada as "Little Saigon" was meant to revitalize a few seedy city blocks, but has instead inflamed old North and South Vietnamese rivalries.

Saigon was the name of the capital of the former South Vietnam, from where most of Canada's Vietnamese immigrants originated.

Immediately after the South's fall to the communists in 1975, it was renamed Ho Chi Minh City for a former North Vietnamese leader.

For some of those who moved to Canada from the North, the branding of a stretch of Vancouver's Kingsway Avenue "Little Saigon" was too political a move, harking back to Vietnam's colonial past -- Saigon was the name the French used for the city -- and internal feuds following independence in 1955.

Marc Nguyen landed in Canada in 1978 with thousands of other "boat people" who faced deadly storms, diseases and starvation on the open seas after fleeing their homes in Vietnam after the communist takeover.

"If someone were to hang a red flag with a yellow star (a symbol of Vietnam's communist regime) here, I assure you that there would be protests on the street," he told AFP.

Yet it is the opposite that has sparked tensions.

North Vietnamese immigrants voiced their support in a referendum on naming the neighborhood "Little Saigon," but say they have felt excluded by a hail of South Vietnamese nationalist sentiment that followed.

"A small group is using (the new name) for political purposes," said a restaurant owner who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals.

"This area should be for the whole community, including people from the North. Instead, North Vietnamese feel rejected."

The inauguration of Vancouver's "Little Saigon" last month was celebrated with South Vietnam flags, loudspeakers blaring its pre-communist national anthem, and young women in tight-fitting silk tunics worn over pantaloons, or ao dai.

Nancy Bui is a refugee from the North. She refused to attend the gala event, exasperated by all the griping about communism that goes on at such community events.

"We're all Vietnamese," Bui told AFP. "We should be moving forward, together."

Lam Dang, from a community group that helps settle immigrants, explained that most former North Vietnamese stayed away because they are generally "reluctant to participate in events of a political nature.

"The civil war left deep wounds in both camps and the memories are still fresh in their minds," he said.

"Over the years, tensions eased between the two refugee groups and they were working to reconcile," he added, but city council's approval in October of the "Little Saigon" designation has inadvertently reopened those old wounds.

The new designation will come with special street signs, banners and commemorative plaques singling out the area as a distinct cultural neighborhood.

For now, the only indications that 26,000 Vietnamese have settled here over the past four decades to become the fifth largest community in Vancouver, are the Pho soup on local restaurant menus and signs in Vietnamese in some storefronts.

"There's been a lot of traffic, but people aren't yet stopping to buy," said a local herbalist, still hoping that the new designation will eventually make the area "more visible to tourists."

The exact neighborhood boundaries will be determined early next year after further consultations with local residents.

Before then, there are a lot of vacant storefronts that must be filled to boost the street's appeal, said Dean Trinh of a local Vietnamese business association.

Gemba mulling 4-day trip to Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand in Dec.

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba is considering making a four-day trip in late December to visit Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand to pledge efforts to strengthen ties with the Southeast Asian nations and to offer further support for flood-hit Thailand, government sources said Sunday.

Arrangements are being made for Gemba's trip from Dec. 25 to 28, the sources said.

In Myanmar, Gemba plans to hold talks with President Thein Sein, while he plans to announce fresh flood-relief measures in Thailand.

Gemba will likely discuss with Thai officials Tokyo's readiness to provide funding via Japan's official development assistance program for recovery from massive flooding, in addition to support for infrastructure restoration and flood prevention works.

In Cambodia, he is expected to pledge continued cooperation in economic, security and other areas with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the sources said. The three Mekong basin countries he is considering visiting belong to the 10-member regional bloc.

With Gemba's visit, Japan also wants to seek ways to strength bilateral ties through economic cooperation and development assistance with Cambodia, which will chair ASEAN in 2012, they said.

(Mainichi Japan) November 28, 2011

Finland - Minister Heidi Hautala to visit Cambodia, South Korea and Nepal

Minister for International Development Heidi Hautala will make a trip to Cambodia, South Korea and Nepal between 26 November and 7 December. During her trip, Hautala will attend the Meeting of the States Parties to the Anti-Personnel Landmine Ban Convention in Phnom Penh and the High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan. In addition, she will visit Nepal, Finland’s long-term partner country.

At the start of her trip, Minister for International Development Heidi Hautala will lead the Finnish delegation at the Meeting of the States Parties to the Anti-Personnel Landmine Ban Convention, to be held in Cambodia from 28 November to 2 December. At the meeting, Hautala’s address will deal with Finland’s accession to the Convention. Parliament approved Finland’s accession on Friday.

The Convention prohibits the use, development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, and transfer of anti-personnel mines and requires that the States Parties destroy the existing stockpiles of landmines. Moreover, the Convention obligates the States Parties to participate in mine clearing and give support to the victims of mines. Finland has supported humanitarian mine work even before acceding to the Convention.

In Cambodia, Minister Hautala will also meet representatives of local and international human rights organisations and will learn about the land registration project supported by Finland.

From Phnom Penh Minister Hautala will continue to Busan, South Korea, the venue for the High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, to be held from 29 November to 1 December. The Minister will lead the Finnish delegation. The participants in the Busan Forum will evaluate what progress has been made in improving the effectiveness and impacts of aid and will decide about future measures. One of the principal goals of the Forum is to get the emerging economies – such as China, India and Brazil – to adhere to the same rules as the traditional donor countries. The Forum will gather together a wide range of donors, partner countries, international organisations and private-sector actors.

During the Forum, Minister Hautala will participate, among others, in the side event on disability issues, organised together by Finland and USAID, the United States Agency for International Development. Signmark will be one of the performers at the event

From Busan, Minister Hautala’s trip will continue to Nepal on 2–6 December, where she will learn about cooperation between Finland and Nepal in the sectors of education and natural resources and in projects promoting human rights, the peace process and democracy. During her visit, Minister Hautala will meet with, among others, the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Minister of Finance and Minister of Education of Nepal, the Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission, as well as representatives of civil society organisations. She will also get first-hand information about the status of minority groups, such as Dalits and Tibetans living in Nepal.

Minister Hautala’s visit will take place at an interesting time with respect to Nepal’s development. A breakthrough was achieved in Nepal’s peace process in November 2011, when the main political parties reached an agreement on the integration of Maoist guerrillas into society. It was additionally agreed that the land areas occupied by the Maoists would be returned, the guerrillas would turn in their weapons to the Government, and a new aid package would be compiled for the victims of the conflict. The agreement also included an important decision to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a Disappearances Commission. During her trip, Minister Hautala will discuss issues pertaining to the implementation of the agreement.

Minister Hautala’s trip to Asia will end in Delhi, India, where she will attend the reception held by the Finnish Ambassador to celebrate Finland’s Independence Day on 6 December.

view original source

At least 10 held at Vietnam demo

Updated: 28/11/2011

Protests are rare in authoritarian Vietnam (AFP/File, Ian Timberlake)

HANOI — At least 10 Vietnamese protestors were detained in Hanoi on Sunday when security agents forcibly broke up a rally in support of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung's recent call for a law on demonstrations.

Around 30 people marched in silence through the centre of the city, before uniformed and plain clothed security agents moved in and forced them to disperse, dragging some demonstrators away onto a bus, an AFP reporter saw.

The protest was to support Dung's proposal for a new law on demonstrations, which he said was necessary after a series of rallies earlier this year over a territorial spat with China exposed gaps in existing legislation.

Protests are rare in authoritarian Vietnam, but analysts said some of the anti-China rallies were tolerated because they helped express Hanoi's displeasure with Beijing. Other marches were broken up by police.

"We do not have a demonstration law so it's difficult for the people and for the administration," Dung told the communist country's National Assembly on Friday.

Bloggers immediately rallied around Dung's proposal, and called for the demonstration Sunday to show their support for the move.

The prime minister called for new legislation on protests "to ensure people's rights to freedom and democracy under the constitution and law." Vietnam's constitution allows for the right to demonstrate.

But the proposed law should also focus on "preventing acts and behaviours that undermine social order and security," Dung said.

The law is being drafted by the Ministry of Public Security, local media have reported.

The ministry's police and internal security agents have detained dozens of peaceful political critics who were later sentenced to long prison terms under a crackdown since late 2009, according to Amnesty International.

Protests are still rare in authoritarian Vietnam but have occurred more frequently in Hanoi this year.

For 11 weeks from June, protesters demonstrated against Chinese actions in the South China Sea, the scene of long-standing tensions between the neighbouring countries over rival territorial claims.

Earlier in November, police peacefully dispersed a march of about 150 Vietnamese Catholics protesting an alleged grab of church land by authorities.

Small protests are also often staged by aggrieved landowners outside government offices in Hanoi, alleging they have been given inadequate compensation for land taken by the state for development.

Country profile: Thailand

By Eoghan Macguire, for CNN
November 28, 2011

Bordered by Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia, the country has a population of roughly 67 million people.

The capital, Bangkok, combines the modern skyscrapers of a bustling Asian metropolis with the ancient temples and monuments of previous Thai civilizations, dating back hundreds of years.

Bangkok: A tale of two cities

Buddhism is the country's major religion, although according to the Thailand National Statistics Office there are also minority Christian and Islamic communities.

Thailand has a diverse landscape with a jungle hinterland in the north and beaches to the south. Thai islands in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Thailand are home to some of the region's most spectacular beauty spots.

Since the modern nation state's founding in 1932, Thailand has been served by a constitutional monarchy and is the only country in Southeast Asia to avoid coming under European colonial rule.

The current head of state is King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who has reigned since 1946, making him the world's oldest serving monarch.

The King is viewed by most Thais as a symbol of stability and a unifying force in what has often been a politically divided country.

The extent of this polarization is borne out by the fact that Thailand has seen more than 18 attempts at military coups since the early 1930s.

The county's political climate has been turbulent in recent years punctuated with scenes of civil unrest and violence.

In 2006 former Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra -- a charismatic populist who drew the majority of his support from the urban working classes and rural poor -- was deposed and forced into exile in a bloodless coup. Post-coup elections in 2007 were won by allies from Shinawatra's party, however Thailand's Constitutional Court ruled that the three main coalition partners were guilty of electoral fraud.

This decision opened the door for the leader of the country's main opposition party, Abhisit Vejjajiva, to form a coalition government in late 2008.

Vejjajiva's Democrat Party, which draws the majority of its support from Thailand's middle and upper classes, found itself with a majority in parliament. A formal parliamentary vote appointed him as prime minister.

Large scale protests against Vejjajiva's government led by supporters of the political pressure group the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UFDD), commonly known as "the red shirts", lead to large scale protests in 2009 and 2010.

The demonstrations turned violent in May 2010 when the military intervened to confront thousands of protestors who had occupied parts of Bangkok, demanding the removal of Prime Minister Vejjajiva. More than 80 people died while hundreds more were wounded.

The democratic elections in mid-2011 saw Vejjajiva defeated at the polls and Yingluck Shinawatra -- sister of the deposed Thaksin Shinawatra -- elected as the country's first female prime minister.

In her first months in charge Yingluck has had to deal with a busy in-tray, including responding to some of the most severe monsoon floods to afflict the country in living memory. More than 300 people have died as a result of the floods and over 100,000 have been forced from their homes.

Deadly floods wreak havoc in Thailand

Yingluck has also had to remain attentive to an ongoing border dispute with Cambodia and a long standing terrorist threat from Islamic Malay separatists based predominantly in the countries southernmost provinces.

In spite of these threats and the country's volatile political life, Thailand has remained one of the strongest performing economies in Southeast Asia. Indonesia is the only nation in the region that has a larger annual output according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Thailand operates a free enterprise economy and is generally pro-investment, according to data from the CIA World Factbook. It is a major exporter of machinery and electronic components, agricultural commodities, and jewellery. Combined, these industries account for over half of the country's GDP.

Another major sector for Thailand's economy is tourism. The country is home to five UNESCO World Heritage sites. The Tourism Authority of Thailand has stated that it expects to receive more than 19 million visitors in 2011 alone.

Given the extent of recent flooding however, with some internal analysts predicting that parts of Thailand may remain under water until early 2012, this figure may yet be revised downwards.

Survivor sees hope in Cambodia landmine summit

November 28, 2011
By Suy Se, AFP

Survivor sees hope in Cambodia landmine summit
A Cambodian soldier scans for mines at the Training and Mine Unexploded Ordnance Clearance Center in Oudong, some 40 kilometers north of Phnom Penh on Sunday, Nov. 27. Delegates from more than 100 countries will take part in a conference in Phnom Penh this week taking stock of a global ban on mines. (AFP)

PHNOM PENH -- Song Kosal was just 5 when she lost her right leg to a landmine. But the tragedy inspired her to become one of Cambodia's most outspoken anti-mine campaigners, and even take part in a beauty contest.

Now 27, Kosal will share her dream of a “mine-free world” when she gives the opening address to delegates from more than 100 countries at a conference in Phnom Penh this week taking stock of a global ban on the weapons.

“I have dreamed many times that I still have two legs, but then I wake up,” Kosal told AFP. “I don't want to see other people, children especially, to be hurt by landmines like me.”

Representatives from the states that have signed the 1997 Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention will discuss progress on eradicating the weapons at the meeting that starts on Monday.

The meeting follows a report just days ago saying that global landmine use is at a seven-year high.

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) said that landmines and explosive remnants of war caused 4,191 new casualties in 2010, including more than 1,000 deaths.

Nearly three decades of civil war have left impoverished Cambodia one of the world's most heavily mined countries. Mines kill people there almost weekly, with 32 deaths recorded in the first nine months of 2011.

Before she became adept at moving around with a crutch, Kosal said, she felt “lonely, disappointed because I have only one leg and I could see other children running, playing.”

Since then, she has blossomed, becoming a youth ambassador for ICBL and traveling the world to urge governments to destroy mines and help survivors.

The ICBL won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for its efforts toward the Ottawa Treaty banning the use, production, stockpiling and trade in anti-personnel landmines.

In 2009, in a further effort to raise awareness, Kosal entered the inaugural Miss Landmine Cambodia beauty pageant, but the event was controversially cancelled after the government decided it was in poor taste.

The contest still went ahead online, and Kosal can be seen smiling broadly in her competition photo, posing on a small boat wearing a tiara and purple summer dress.

“Everyone has the right to be beautiful,”

Kosal said. “Taking part was one way I could show I am brave enough to do anything, that after we become survivors, we don't become invisible.”

Since 1992, around 700 square kilometers (270 square miles) have been cleared of mines and other ordnance in Cambodia, destroying nearly a million anti-personnel mines, according to U.N. data.

But Chum Bun Rong, secretary general of the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority (CMAA), said that much more needed to be done.

“We can't develop the country if the landmines remain,” he said, adding that Cambodia intends to clear another 650 square kilometers between 2010 and 2019, requiring US$400-US$500 million.

“Even though many landmines were cleared, there are still a lot more under the ground, and thousands of survivors who really, really need help,” Kosal said.

A big frustration is that the United States has yet to commit to the treaty, she said.

“How long will they have to review the policy?” she sighed, noting that more than 30 countries — including India, Russia and China — have yet to join.

“I'm grateful because the U.S. gives a lot of support to mine clearance. But it's not enough. We still need them to sign because then a lot of countries will follow.”

On a personal level, there is still progress to be made as well. For herself, Kosal said, she hopes to one day find a prosthetic leg that doesn't hurt her as much as models she has tried in the past.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Manulife Plans to Hire 800 People in Indonesia Over Next Year

By Sean B. Pasternak

Nov. 24 (Bloomberg) -- Manulife Financial Corp., Canada’s largest insurer, plans to increase its staff by about two-thirds over the next year in Indonesia to take advantage of demand for insurance, mutual fund and asset-management products.

Manulife has about 1,200 people in the republic and wants to add another 800 over the next year, said Philip Hampden-Smith, executive vice-president and general manager of Southeast Asia.

“We have to make sure we position ourselves for the opportunity we’re creating,” Hampden-Smith said in an interview from Malaysia. “It illustrates our willingness to work this business.”

Indonesia is one of the fastest-growing areas for Manulife in Southeast Asia, said Hampden-Smith. Last month, the company announced a partnership with PT Bank Danamon that will offer banking, insurance and wealth-management products to Danamon customers beginning next year.

“Demographically, Indonesia is very hard to argue against,” said Hampden-Smith, who oversees Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines and Vietnam. “You’ve got 250 million people, you’ve got massive economic strength. It’s politically very important that Indonesia does well to the western world.”

Manulife, which has been in Asia for 115 years, had net income of C$623 million ($595.1 million) from the continent last year. Chief Executive Officer Donald Guloien has said annual profit from Asia will reach C$1.5 billion by 2015.

Manulife received approval this month to establish a life insurer in Cambodia from the government’s Ministry of Economy and Finance, which will be the 11th Asian region in which the company operates.

--Editor: David Scanlan

To contact the reporter on this story: Sean B. Pasternak in Toronto at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: David Scanlan at; Dan Kraut at

Yingluck wants everyone to cooperate

The Nation/Asia News Network

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra yesterday urged the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) to ease people's suffering and drain the floods as soon as possible, while Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra announced that the Mahasawat Canal-connecting Khlong Soi, Khlong Khunsri Burirak and Khlong Kwai sluice gates would be opened by a metre.

In relation to the conflict between the Flood Relief Operations Centre (FROC) and the BMA over draining water through the Mahasawat and Thawee Watthana canals, Yingluck said that since being flooded, Bangkok was being drained through the east and west.

However, now that the floods were starting to recede, both sides should agree upon new drainage routes, she said. She has also told the Water Drainage Committee to study the guidelines, especially in relation to Pathum Thani and Nonthaburi, and has instructed Natural Resources and Environment Minister Preecha Rengsomboonsuk to install pumps to drain the water faster.

When asked why Bangkokians remained dry at the expense of Nonthaburi, Yingluck said she wanted people in Bangkok to cooperate and let the flood water to be directed through their areas. She said she had told FROC to discuss this issue with both sides and find solutions. She also urged the BMA to look at the overall picture and find ways to drain the water, adding that the government had no information about the BMA's drainage system and capacity.

Meanwhile, Sukhumbhand said that at a meeting with FROC and Nonthaburi residents on Tuesday BMA had only agreed to "consider" opening the Mahasawat Canal sluice gate by a metre and had never said it would be done right away. He said the BMA would observe the situation for another 24 hours before deciding whether to open sluice gates wider.

However, later in the evening, he told a press conference that the BMA agreed to open the Mahasawat Canal sluice gate, which connects to Khlong Soi, Khlong Khunsri Burirak and Khlong Kwai, by a metre to help Nonthaburi residents because observation so far had shown limited impact. However, he said, BMA reserved the right to adjust the sluice gate opening.

Sukhumbhand also said that he would ask FROC to have the Royal Irrigation Department open the Khlong Chimplee and Nakhon Chaisri sluice gates so flooding on the western bank of the Chao Phraya River is eased. He admitted that the dismantling of the big-bag barrier on Phaholyothin Road yesterday might affect Don Muang district and the Khlong Bang Bua area.

FROC director Pracha Promnok said Khlong Mahasawat could take more water, though opening the sluice gate further could have an adverse impact on downstream residents, especially those in Phetchakasem and Rama II roads. He said 1,000 water pumps had been installed in preparation for the high tide on Friday, adding that he would speak to Sukhumbhand and Wichien about the option of draining water through Tha Chin River.

Ayutthaya Irrigation Project director Maitree Pitinanont said the opening of the Phra-in Racha sluice gate had slowed down the draining of Pathum Thani and that the Irrigation Department would start directing the water through Khlong Rangsit. He added that hopefully this would help quickly drain Pathum Thani and Ayutthaya's Wang Noi district, which have been flooded since October.

Former Cambodian head of State denies responsibility at UN-backed war crimes trial

Nov 23, 2011
UN News

Khieu Samphan appears before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia on 22 November 2011

23 November 2011 –
A former Cambodian head of State during the rule of the notorious Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s told a United Nations-backed war crimes tribunal today that the genocide trial he is facing is based on guesses, generalizations and bias.

Khieu Samphan told the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) in Phnom Penh, where he is facing charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, that he was merely a nominal head of State with no real powers.

Mr. Samphan, 80, used his opening statement in the trial to deny any responsibility for the atrocities that took place under the Khmer Rouge, which ruled Cambodia from April 1975 to January 1979 and is thought to be responsible for the deaths of as many as two million people.

“From the beginning, the co-prosecutors have conducted guesswork and peremptory claims and generalizations in statements,” he said, saying they had relied on anonymous witnesses, books and newspapers to present their case.

“As far as I know, historians, chroniclers and journalists are not judges… They are entitled to be biased, partial, wrong and express opinions freely.”

He said he bore no responsibility for the evacuation of thousands of Cambodians from Phnom Penh in 1975, saying this took place before his arrival in the capital.

Mr. Samphan is one of three co-defendants in what is known as Case 002 at the ECCC, a mixed court which was set up under an agreement between the UN and the Cambodian Government. The others are Nuon Chea, the former second-in-command of the Khmer Rouge, and Ieng Sary, the former foreign minister and deputy prime minister.

Mr. Ieng told the ECCC today that he would not testify until the country’s Supreme Court rules on a previous court ruling over a 1996 royal pardon and amnesty. Convicted of genocide while in absentia in 1979, he had been pardoned in 1996.

Cambodian PM highlights Vietnam’s assistance

Nov 24, 2011

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has expressed deep gratitude for Vietnam’s constant assistance to the Cambodian people.

At a reception for the delegation from the Vietnam-Cambodia Friendship Association led by its Chairman Vu Mao in Phnom Penh on November 22, Mr Hun Sen said that Vietnam and Cambodia are set to tighten the ties of friendship and cooperation for the benefit of developments in both countries.

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) for the Prosecution of Crimes Committed during the Period of Democratic Cambodia is trying the three senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime, including Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sary.

During Pol Pot’s genocidal regime, Khieu Samphan acted as State leader, Nuon Chea was known as the “Brother Number Two” second in command, and Ieang Sary as Foreign Minister.

Ieng Thirith, Ieng Sarry’s wife who was the then Minister of Social Affairs, was absent from the court due to her loss of memory.

Hundreds of Cambodian people including Buddhists, students and survivors from the Khmer Rouge regime are closely following the four-day trial.

All of the four defendants still deny their genocidal crime of killing 2 million Cambodian people during the Khmer Rouge rule from 1975-1979.

The ECCC was established in 2006 under the auspices of the UN. In July, 2010 it passed a 35- year imprisonment sentence on Kaing Guek Eav alias “Duch” who had overseen the Tuol Sleng (S-21) prison, for his war crimes and crimes against humanity.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thai troops stay put in temple area

Nov 23, 2011
Bangkok Post

Thai troops will not withdraw from the 17.3 square kilometre demilitarised zone drawn up by the International Court of Justice until instructed to do so by the government, Supreme Commander Thanasak Patimaprakorn said yesterday.

"Until now, we have not received any instruction from the government so we will maintain our troops in our existing responsible areas," Gen Thanasak said.

The ICJ ruled on July 18 following a request by Cambodia that both Thailand and Cambodia should withdraw their soldiers from the disputed area and allow observers from Asean, which Indonesia has volunteered for, to have access to the area pending a court decision on ownership rights to land next to the temple.

The ICJ set up the provisional demilitarised zone covering an area of 17.3sq/km, of which 8.5sq/km is determined as on Thai soil and 8.8sq/km in Cambodia.

Gen Thanasak argued at the meeting of military top brass at the Royal Thai Armed Forces Headquarters that to withdraw Thai troops from the demilitarised zone would mean Thailand practically loses sovereignty over the area.

"The armed forces do not follow the instructions of the ICJ _ we abide by the instructions of the government," the supreme commander said.

He said if the government wants the armed forces to follow the ICJ instruction, it must give a clear order to do so.

"[At this stage] if Thai troops would have to seek approval from Asean observers before entering the disputed area, it mean that the country would practically lose its territory," Gen Thanasak said.

The Thai government submitted a 900-page report on the disputed Preah Vihear temple issue to the court on Monday.

According to Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul, the report contains 300 pages of detailed narrative and 600 pages of annexes.

But he said he could not disclose details unless given permission by the ICJ.

At the same time, a Thai military source at the Thai-Cambodian border said the Cambodian military has inquired about conducting an interview with Thai military leaders regarding the ICJ provisional measures.

It has prompted concern among the Thai military that border violence might break out again.

Security along the border has been stepped up, the source said.

Can Cambodia match Indonesia’s good job at ASEAN’s helm?

Mustaqim Adamrah,
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Wed, 11/23/2011

Experts are praising Indonesia’s leadership of ASEAN this year while voicing concerns that incoming chair Cambodia may not do as well and may not use the office neutrally to resolve its border disputes with Thailand.

University of Indonesia international relations expert Syamsul Hadi said on Tuesday that granting ASEAN’s rotating chair to Myanmar in 2014 would have political implications for the region, and particularly for China.

“ASEAN has entrusted Myanmar to chair ASEAN in 2014, but has given it notice that it has to undertake needed steps toward democracy. This is also in line with US strategy,” he said.

Syamsul said that Myanmar might be a more open country and may not entirely be on the same page with China if it carried out its democracy agenda.

“There will be a change in the political constellation, where the US and democratic countries in ASEAN might make China feel more ‘alienated’. China’s political influence might be less and less because Myanmar has now increasingly been welcomed with open arms by ASEAN and its dependency on China is more or less declining,” Hadi said.

Dewi Fortuna Anwar, the chairwoman of the Habibie Center’s Institute for Democracy and Human Rights and a special advisor to Vice President Boediono, said US support of Myanmar’s bid should be seen as a vote of confidence in ASEAN and not a lowering of American standards.

“It’s not just the US giving a blank check to Myanmar. [US President Barack] Obama wants to see even more progress … Obama’s even sending his secretary of state to Myanmar,” she said.

Obama previously said the US was concerned about Myanmar’s closed political system, treatment of minorities, detention of political prisoners and relationship with North Korea.

“We want to seize what might be a historic opportunity for progress, and make it clear that if Burma continues to travel down the road of democratic reform, it can forge a new relationship with the United States of America,” Obama said on Friday on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Nusa Dua, Bali.

Hillary Clinton will be the first US secretary of state to go to Myanmar in over half a century. Clinton will explore what kinds of assistance the US can provide to promote political reform in Myanmar.

Teuku Rezasyah, a researcher at the Indonesian Center of Democracy, Diplomacy and Defense, said that ASEAN had proven itself to be “bonafide, credible and acceptable to the West” during its chairmanship.

“ASEAN has successfully made the US think over whether they want to continue criticizing Myanmar and push it even closer to China [...] or invite Myanmar to learn together with ASEAN how to be a modern democratic country,” he told The Jakarta Post.

Indonesia symbolically handed ASEAN’s rotating chairmanship to Cambodia last week in Bali.

Rezasyah, however, was concerned that Cambodia would not be neutral in heading ASEAN due to the nation’s border disputes with Thailand.

“It will probably be hard for Cambodia not to use its chairmanship and to act as a fair chairman in border disputes with Thailand,” Rezasyah said.

Syamsul agreed, saying Cambodia might use ASEAN’s bully pulpit to press Thailand, which has refused to bring its disputes to ASEAN due to its superior position in a bilateral framework.

“As ASEAN has a number of different functions, it’s the responsibility of members who have more capacity to help members who have less capacity,” Dewi said.

No end in sight on Cambodian maid ban

KUALA LUMPUR: The ban on Cambodian maids is not expected to be lifted soon, according to National Association of Employment Agencies (Pikap) president Datuk Raja Zulkepley Dahalan.

Zulkepley, who visited Cambodia recently, said that there is still no word from the Cambodian authorities on rescinding the ban.

He said 20 Pikap members went to Cambodia and met with its Labour Minister Vong Sauth, officials and recruitment agencies.

“Our trip to Cambodia was solely for commercial interests. We did not discuss any political issues related to this ban. Those issues are government-to-government matters,” Zulkepley said.

“We are doing what we can as an association of employment agencies to seek the lifting of the ban, such as taking measures to increase protection and prevent abuses, but in the end this is a government matter,” Zulkepley said at a press conference on Tuesday.

Zulkepley said that apart from Vong, they also met officials from the Labour Ministry and the Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Department as well as the Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies (Acra) during their visit.

“Pikap is currently working with Acra to set up a shelter offering protection, counseling services and training to unhappy maids or those who run away,” he said. “We are also setting up a mediation centre to resolve employer-maid issues such as claims of sexual harassment and holding back salary.”

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen had issued an immediate ban on the recruitment, training and sending of its domestic workers to Malaysia on Oct 15 this year, following allegations by various NGOs of rape, murder and abuse by Malaysian employers.

The sudden ban left agencies, already reeling from the moratorium imposed by Indonesia, unable to provide maids to Malaysians who had already paid for their services.

Zulkepley said nearly RM20 million had been paid to secure the services of 3,500 Cambodian women to be recruited as maids.

“The ban has affected the businesses and agencies badly. Around 35 Acra agencies in Cambodia are now empty as the girls have been sent home,” he said.

Khmer leader denies genocide charges

Nov 23, 2011

Khieu Samphan, the former head of state in the Khmer Rouge government, has told the UN-backed court he joined the communist party to benefit his nation, and has complained that the prosecution "really wants my head on a block".

"What I wanted at that time was the best experience for my country," he said of his time in Paris in the 1950s when he encountered communism while completing his doctorate in economics.

"Today you may see (communism) as a joke," he said, addressing the prosecution on the third day of the trial of the former leaders.

"However, I shall remind you that at that time communism was the one movement that gave hope to millions of youths around the world."

Khieu Samphan and former foreign minister Ieng Sary, who also spoke briefly on Wednesday, have denied charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, as has the third defendant Nuon Chea who spoke on Tuesday to refute the charges against him.

Khieu Samphan said the US bombing of Cambodia in the early 1970s had wrought profound damage.

"Could you imagine what my country faced after such a bloody killing?" he asked the prosecutors.

"Whether you like it or not, the majority of the Cambodian people gave their support to us to oppose the Lon Nol regime (then in power)."

He said the prosecution's case, based to some degree on journalists' accounts, was "monumentally biased".

"I have the feeling that you really want my head on a block," he said.

Both Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sary told the court they will continue to participate in proceedings.

The prosecution wrapped up its opening statements on Tuesday describing the three accused as "thieves of time and common murderers of an entire generation of Cambodians".

The tribunal says as many as 2.2 million people died from execution, disease, starvation and overwork under the Khmer Rouge's 1975-79 rule.

This week's session is hearing opening arguments, with the presentation of evidence scheduled to begin December 5.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

ASEAN hails supports, advices from partners

JAKARTA, Nov. 22 (Xinhua) -- The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) welcomed supports and advices from its partners for the sake of the bloc's progress, a top official said here on Tuesday.

"We have been much more important and critical to the world. Anything happens here will have far more implication to the global community. But, we know that we still have many unfinished agenda. We know that we can count on your supports, because with your goodwill, we could stand against nature, wind, storm, cyclone, flood and earthquake," ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan told ambassadors of foreign countries to Indonesia in a briefing of post ASEAN and East Asia Summit.

He said that the support is very important as ASEAN will change its revolving chairmanship to Cambodia in 2012, replacing Indonesia's position.

"Next year will be Cambodia (to chair ASEAN). On 21st of this month, I and my deputy have visited Phnom Penh to discuss with the new chair about its priority and agenda and what would be the role that Cambodia expects to play," said Pitsuwan.

He also praised Indonesia's chairmanship during 2011, saying that the country's vision is about the future.

Khmer Rouge ideologue says defended Cambodia from invaders

By Prak Chan Thul
PHNOM PENH | Tue Nov 22, 2011

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - The Khmer Rouge revolution in the 1970s was aimed at freeing Cambodia from colonialism and protecting it from invasion by Vietnam, the party's ideologue, Nuon Chea, told a court on Tuesday, opening his defense against a charge of genocide.

The testimony marked the first time a leader of the Khmer Rouge has defended the motives of the ultra-communist regime since the U.N.-backed court started to try cases last year related to the bloody "Killing Fields" revolution that wiped out a quarter of the population from 1975-1979.

Former President Khieu Samphan, ex-Foreign Minister Ieng Sary and "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea are charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes as well as genocide.

Nuon Chea, the first defendant to take the stand, denied all the charges.

"My position in the revolution was to serve the interests of the nation and people," he said.

"Oppression, injustice compelled me to devote myself to fight for my country. I had to leave my family behind to liberate my motherland from colonialism and aggression, and oppression by the thieves who wished to steal our land and wipe Cambodia off the face of the earth," he told the court.

Vietnam wanted to "swallow" Cambodia, Nuon Chea said.

"The army of the communist party of Vietnam and Vietnam cadres still remain discreetly on Cambodian soil ... with the ambition of occupying, swallowing Cambodia and getting rid of Cambodia, of her race and ethnicity, bringing in Vietnamese immigrants illegally to live in Cambodia to this day."

Prosecutors say as many as 2.2 million people were killed under the Khmer Rouge, which was finally forced from power when Vietnam invaded in 1979.

Remnants of the Khmer Rouge fought on until the 1990s.

Pol Pot, the French-educated architect of the "Year Zero" revolution, died in 1998.

A fourth defendant, former Social Affairs Minister Ieng Thirith, was declared mentally ill and unfit for trial last week. She remains in detention pending an appeal by prosecutors.


In opening arguments on Monday, Cambodian and international prosecutors said the defendants had masterminded one of the worst horrors in modern history, killing or enslaving millions of people in their creation of a "living nightmare."

International co-prosecutor Andrew Cayley told the tribunal it should not be tempted by feelings of compassion for the elderly and infirm defendants in their 80s who had "murdered, tortured and terrorized" their own people.

Their case is the second to be brought before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) and could be the last, with rights groups furious over the court's unexplained rejection of a third high-profile case.

Since its creation in 2005, it has spent close to $150 million and has been mired in controversy, fraught with delay, resignations, allegations of misconduct, apathy and political interference directed at the U.N. and Cambodian authorities.

Many Cambodians lost confidence in the court after its first and only ruling so far, a 35-year jail term, commuted to 19 years, handed down to Kaing Guek Eav.

Also known as "Duch," he oversaw the deaths of more than 14,000 people at a torture center in Phnom Penh. His appeal is set for February 3 next year.

(Writing by Martin Petty and Alan Raybould; Editing by Jason Szep and Jonathan Thatcher)

World Bank warns of risks to East Asia, which also covered Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Cambodia, Fiji, Laos, Mongolia

Associated Press

The World Bank held its East Asian growth forecast steady but warned of growing risks including Europe's sovereign debt crisis and uncertainty about Thai manufacturing's recovery from widespread flooding.

In a half-yearly report on the outlook for 11 emerging East Asian and Pacific economies, the bank on Tuesday forecast economic growth of 8.2 percent this year and 7.8 percent in 2012, practically unchanged from an earlier prediction in April.

Growth in East Asia's economic linchpin, China, is expected to ease to 9.1 percent this year and 8.4 percent in 2012 after a searing 10.4 percent growth in 2010.

The bank cut Thailand's growth forecast by about 1 percentage point to 2.4 percent for 2011 because of damage to car and electronics factories and their suppliers from months of flooding. Four percent growth is forecast for next year.

Thailand's worst flooding in more than half a century affected two-thirds of its 77 provinces and killed more than 600 people. More than 1,000 factories in six industrial estates have been disrupted, the report said.

It's the second major natural disaster to hit East Asia this year, following a devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March, killing some 20,000 people. Both disasters have tested Asian production supply chains.

"Losses in production are felt in the entire region, as the impacts of the disaster are spreading through industrial supply chains," the World Bank said.

The tsunami wiped out a vast stretch of factories in Japan's northeast, severely disrupting manufacturing for several months. However, production levels there and in other affected countries recovered by the summer. The World Bank said it's unclear whether manufacturing in Thailand can rebound as quickly as it did in Japan.

"Whether the levels of production in Thailand can recover in the coming months remains to be seen, and will depend on demand for electronics and cars, which in turn is linked to global growth," the report said.

The report, which also covered Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Fiji, Laos, Mongolia and Papua New Guinea, said Europe's debt crisis is a growing worry for East Asian growth.

Policymakers in Europe are struggling to come up with a solid plan to contain the continent's unfolding debt crisis and investors are concerned about the possibility of defaults in weaker countries.

"Should such an event occur, it may well trigger another recession in Europe. Spillovers to developing East Asia will be substantial, through trade, financial flows, remittances and consumer and investor sentiment," the report said.

While the region's export-oriented economies were seeing sluggish demand for their goods from their traditional U.S. and European markets, the slack was being taken up by growing domestic demand from China, which is trying to shift its economy away from being heavily dependent on low-value manufacturing for exports to one based on domestic consumption.

"East Asia, and China in particular, continued to grow in importance as a source of global demand," the report said. China's imports are closing in on the equivalent of 10 percent of global gross domestic product, and the country now imports almost as much as the European Union, it said.

Economic growth will lift 38 million people out of poverty this year, and the proportion of people still in poverty _ defined as living on $2 or less a day _ will fall 2.2 percentage points to 24.3 percent, the report said.