Archive for August 2008
29 August 2008
(BangkokPost.com) – Core leader of People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) Sondhi Limthongkul called on his supporters living throughout the country to come into Bangkok as quickly as they can and join the anti-government rally at the Government House.
Mr Sondhi called Friday the “judgement day” and that the group would not let anyone to dictate them.
“Today is the judgement day,” he said. “We will not let anyone to order us what to do. We will win.”
29 August 2008
(Bangkokpost) Political problems in Bangkok have forced Thailand to postpone talks with Cambodia on further reducing troops in the disputed border area near the Preah Vihear temple, a military source said yesterday. A formal meeting had been scheduled for today and tomorrow in Siem Reap, where informal talks were already under way. They have now been called off.
The source said the anti-government rally by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which laid siege to Government House, influenced the postponement of the Regional Border Committee meeting. Thailand was concerned that the PAD could take advantage of the dispute, the source added.
But the Foreign Ministry denied in a statement that the decision to postpone the talks was in relation to the political situation in Thailand. It said the postponement was because the two countries had not completed their own internal processes necessary for negotiations.
Nipat Thonglek, director-general of the Border Affairs Department, pointed to the failure of the two countries to reach an agreement on the number of troops to be withdrawn from the disputed border area between Si Sa Ket’s Kantharalak district and the Cambodian province of Preah Vihear as the main cause.
The troop reduction was a sensitive issue that required further negotiations, he added. The meeting is expected to be postponed until next month, according to Lt-Gen Nipat.
Thailand and Cambodian agreed in talks between Foreign Minister Tej Bunnag and Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong on Aug 18 for the second phase of military reduction from the disputed area.
Now Thai paramilitary rangers and Cambodian troops number only 30 soldiers each, including 10 each at the Keo Sikha Kiri Svara pagoda near the Preah Vihear temple and 20 in the area around it.
Cambodia also withdrew its soldiers from the Preah Vihear temple. It sent only 50 police and military police to guard the ruins. But 300 Thai rangers remain in other parts of the disputed overlapping zone, along with 500 Cambodian soldiers.
Another source said Cambodian Defence Minister Tea Banh had discussed the reduction of the military presence at the Preah Vihear temple, as well as the dispute over the Ta Moan Thom ruins in Surin during his meeting with Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej on Monday.
29 August 2008
According to reports from some agencies in Phnom Penh, Cambodia is planning to build a “Berlin-style” wall to shut-off Thailand and develop tourist facilities around the still disputed Preah Vihear Temple by its own.
The Cambodian government will build a series of walls at “complicated border areas,” while still calling for talks to mark and properly demarcate the frontier, Camdodian Information
Minister Khieu Kanharith and a government spokesman told reporters at a press conference.
“Both sides should start to discuss to plant border markers from undisputed border areas to the complicated border areas and some complicated border areas will be built with border markers or concrete walls,” Khieu Kanharith said.
“Cambodia will allow private companies to invest at least $2 million dollars at the Preah Vihear Temple to set up cable cars for tourists,” he explained, adding that the government is also trying to rebuild an existing road to the temple.
It seems that the Preah Vihear border gate to Thailand will only be opened again, when the situation there is stable, but foreign tourists could visit the temple from the Cambodian side. At the moment, authorities have closed the temple grounds to visitors. For decades, the only way to get to Preah Vihear was through Thailand, because the temple is situated atop a sharp cliff on the Cambodian side (www.tourismindochina.com/history-cambodia.htm).
Cambodia and Thailand share a border of over 800km with only 73 demarcation markers, the Cambodian official said on Sunday.
At a meeting on Aug 18-19, Cambodian and Thai foreign ministers agreed to arrange second-phase troop redeployment at the disputed border area near the temple.
They agreed to a meeting of the Cambodian Temporary Coordinating Task Force and the Thai Regional Border Committee on Aug 29 in Cambodia to discuss the troop redeployment.The two foreign ministers also agreed to recommend to their governments that the next meeting of legal experts and the Thai-Cambodian Joint Border Committee be convened in early October, to discuss the issues related to border survey and demarcation of the relevant frontier sectors.
On July 15, Thai troops went into the border area to fetch three trespassers who had intended to claim Thai sovereignty over the Preah Vihear Temple. The incident triggered a military standoff, as troop strength on each side grew to more than 1,000 soldiers. In 1962, the International Court of Justice (or World Court) in Den Haag/Holland decided that the 11-century temple belongs to Cambodia
By Reinhard Hohler, eTN Ambassador, Chiang Mai
(1) PM Samak Sundaravej: 5 PAD leaders will be arrested
(BangkokPost) – Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej said he has ordered the arrest of five leaders of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) that led protesters to lay siege on Government House and government ministries Tuesday morning.
He also confirmed at a televised press conference for foreign media that about 85 people, accused of seizing control of the state-run National Broadcasting Services of Thailand (NBT) television station were detained this morning.
Meanwhile, deputy police spokesman Surapon Thuanthong said police will ask for approval of arrest warrants for the PAD core leaders on Wednesday. He added that police have gathered evidence against them since May 25.
(2) Malaysia’s Anwar wins by landslide in election
Permatang Pauh, Malaysia (dpa) – Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on Tuesday won a landslide victory in a special by-election, marking his return to Parliament after 10 years.
Anwar won by an astounding majority against his opponent Arif Shah Omar Shah from the ruling National Front coalition, Malaysia’s Election Commission officials announced.
While officials have yet to announce the exact majority, total votes for Anwar from all 28 polling stations in the northern Permatang Pauh constituency are ‘at least double’ that of his opponent, opposition members said.
(3) Samak: Our tolerance is limited
The Nation, Published on August 27, 2008
Samak said he would starve out the PAD protestors occupying the Government House’s compound and insisted that he would employ “soft and gentle” tactics in dealing with the demonstrators.
Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej yesterday warned protesters his government’s tolerance was drying up, but he fell short of saying what action authorities would take to end the street protests.
Samak assigned Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Kowit Watana to handle security and oversee police efforts.
“I was granted an audience with His Majesty the King. His Majesty asked me to enforce the law with extreme caution, to be soft and gentle. I beg all of you to understand and sympathise with me,” Samak was quoted by an official source as telling the Cabinet.
Samak accused the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) of going too far with its mass protest in Bangkok yesterday, including the seizure of state-run National Broadcasting Television and some ministries.
Speaking to foreign reporters early yesterday evening, Samak said he would starve out the PAD protesters occupying the Government House’s compound and insisted that he would employ “soft and gentle” tactics in dealing with the demonstrators.
He said no food would be permitted to enter the compound and that more officers from outer provinces would be deployed to Bangkok to help with maintaining security.
Samak said other options, such as the Emergency Law, could be used but expressed concern that such approaches could tarnish Thailand’s international standing.
He told foreign correspondents at the press conference that the protestors wanted the government to “spark” violence so the military could stage a coup.
“They want bloodshed in the country. They want the military to come out to stage a coup,” Samak said.
He said the mass protest, which drew tens of thousands of people to street, were the work of about five of six leaders from the PAD who also succeeded in luring people form upcountry to part in the demonstration.
Samak said the PAD leaders had grievances with ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra who he said had “returned a little too early” because the sentiment against him has yet to subside.
According to him, the leftover anti-Thaksin sentiment, as well as the government’s decision to amend the Constitution, was the reason behind the PAD’s continuing with the street protest.
Samak said he was on good terms with everybody, including the military and the monarchy and insisted that he was not a proxy of Thaksin or receiving funding and instruction from the ousted premier – a claim that has long been dismissed by the PAD and his critics.
He confirmed that the “From National Mother’s Day to National Father’s Day – 116 days to Built Unity” celebration, which HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn will preside over on August 30, will go ahead as scheduled.
Concern over his personal safety has the police from Lat Phrao station boosted the number of guards at Samak’s home in Soi Navamin 81 amid rumours the PAD might go to the PM’s house.
Cabinet ministers were forced to shift their weekly meeting place from Government House to the Supreme Command headquarters on Chaeng Wattana Road, at 10.30am. However, it took about two and a half hours for Samak to make that decision.
Protesters will be dispersed in 24 hours: Gov’t spokesman
Police are expected to complete clearing protesters off the grounds of Government House within 24 hours, government spokesman Wichianchot Sukchotrat said on Tuesday.
“Government House will open for business no later than Wednesday and everything will be backed to normal in 24 hours,” he said, voicing confidence that police could evict protesters.
The crowds would be dispersed and the prime minister deems the situation unwarranted to declare a state of emergency, he said.
Thailand, Cambodia agrees to develop tourism at disputed Preah Vihear temple
BANGKOK, Aug 25 (TNA) – Thailand and its neighbour Cambodia have agreed to promote tourism at the disputed ancient temple ruins of Preah Vihear, after troops of both countries have been withdrawn, said Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej on Monday.
The agreement was made following a private luncheon and talks at Government House here between Mr. Samak and Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Gen. Tea Banh.
Speaking to journalists after the talks ended, Mr. Samak who is also Defence Minister, said both countries had agreed to solve common border problems and promote areas which could attract tourists.
“Territorial problems which cannot be resolved by now will be left for negotiations later,” he said, adding that Cambodia has agreed to redeploy its troops from the temple and a “middleman will be appointed to oversee promoting tourism with an aim to bring back tourists”.
“Both countries will benefit as Cambodia would collect the gate fee while Thailand will enjoy other benefits,” he said.
“But the temple cannot be opened for tourism now,” said Mr. Samak, “as no one (soldiers) must be there.”
Monday’s agreement to promote tourism at Preah Vihear temple came after Thai Foreign Minister Tej Bunnag and his Cambodian counterpart Hor Namhong on August 19 agreed to adopt a provisional arrangement pending a survey and demarcation of the area to be carried out by the Joint Boundary Commission, expected to be convened in October.
The International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that Preah Vihear belongs to Cambodia, but the surrounding land remains in dispute.
The Thai-Cambodian border has never been fully demarcated, in part because it is littered with landmines left from decades of war in Cambodia. (TNA)
Written by Thet Sambath
Monday, 25 August 2008
(Phnom Penh Post)
Ta Moan Thom temple to be linked to nearby town, will be closer to soldiers
Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered military engineers to build a new 9km road from Prey Veng village in Oddar Meanchey province to the Ta Moan Thom temple complex near the Thai-Cambodian border in a cabinet meeting last week.
Funding for the road will come from a foundation established by the Cambodia Television Network (CTN) to provide support for troops currently stationed along the border, said Tok Kimsay, director of the foundation.
“We are appealing to the general public and to wealthy donors to help fund the road to Ta Moan Thom,” Tok Kimsay said. “We believe people will contribute because the road will help protect the sovereignty of the Kingdom.”
Thai soldiers occupied the Ta Moan Thom temple complex following an escalation in the dispute at Preah Vihear that began in July. They withdrew on August 5 after an agreement was reached between Thai and Cambodian leaders in Oddar Meanchey province, but appear to have reoccupied the ruins over the weekend, military commanders say.
The new road will run from Prey Veng village to a checkpoint gate constructed by Thai forces to prevent civilians and soldiers from accessing the temple.
Heavy rains have made access to the area difficult for soldiers and local residents. “Now we can reach the temple only by tractor or on foot,” said Ho Bunthy, deputy commander of Border Military Unit 402.
“Our soldiers have been guarding the temple for years, and we’ve had to do so on foot during the rainy season. The new road will help us more effectively defend the border.”
CTN’s Tok Kimsay said the lack of roads prevented Cambodian soldiers from getting to the site quickly and allowed Thai soldiers to strengthen their foothold at the temple.
He added that the CTN foundation has already received nearly US$400,000, which it has used to purchase food and supplies for soldiers at Preah Vihear, Anlong Veng district and Ta Moan Thom.
BY: Tan Hui Yee-Monday 25 August 2008 Strait Times
As the train pulls away from Tanjong Pagar, factories loom like skyscrapers and squat houses acquire an imposing air. Familiar sights turn foreign even before we cross the border.Our journey across five countries has just begun.
Inside the chilly carriages of KTM’s Ekspres Rakyat to Butterworth, Mr Bean stumbles his way through gaffes on the Samsung flatscreen television as a family tucks into a breakfast of bread and apricot jam. Other passengers catch a nap on plush fabric seats before we hit the checkpoint at Woodlands.
It will be the first of four borders we pass in our bid to travel 5,000km to the edge of China via the route of the Singapore-Kunming Rail Link project.
A 13-year-old initiative of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN), the proposed rail network spans more than 5,000km across Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and China, and includes spur lines to Laos and a Vietnam port along one route.
We take 15 hours to reach the northern Malaysian town of Butterworth, before hopping onto the 20-hour Ekspres Antarabangsa sleeper train that cuts through the jungles of southern Thailand. In a region where airports and shipping are an extension of national ego, the rail route gives us an unvarnished backyard glimpse of each destination.
At the Thai-Malaysian checkpoint in Padang Besar, a lopsided sign posts a lingering reminder of Thailand’s more austere past: Aliens with a ‘hippy characteristic’ it warns, will be deported. The order is dated 1979.
Many of our fellow passengers are regulars on this cross-country route. Malaysian Leong Geok Lin, 44, for example, spends most of her time working with Thai orphans and survives on a RM400 ($168)monthly allowance. The train, she says, is the cheapest way for her to travel between the two countries. Two days later, on our third-class-only service 275 from Bangkok to the Cambodian border, the train fills up with villagers laden with fresh produce and Cambodian workers heading home. The migrant workers crowd around the rear wagons. Ms Sieb Saisieb, 38, is heading home for the yearly visit she has been making ever since she started work in a Bangkok plastic bag factory.
She says: ‘Five years ago, I was a farmer in Sisophon town but I earned just enough to survive. In Bangkok, I can make 184 baht (about $7) a day with overtime. ‘Find me a job,’ she implores, half in jest. ‘I want to go to Singapore.’ She gets off, like us, at the Thai border town of Aranyaprathet because the trains go no further from here.
THAILAND’S tracks are not connected to Cambodia’s rail network, which lies in shambles after decades of war and inadequate funding. The country is the main missing link in the Singapore to Kunming railway network. It has about 600km of single metre-gauge track running from the inland town of Sisophon to its port of Sihanoukville via its capital, Phnom Penh. There is only one passenger train service in Cambodia. It runs once a week, crossing some 270km from Phnom Penh to Battambang town on Saturdays and returns to the capital on Sundays. The trip takes 13 hours or more, about three times longer than by bus.
Just over 900 people took that train each week in 2005. These days, the figure is probably closer to 120, reckons train driver Leng Savath. Catching that train entails entering Cambodia via Poipet, a town linked to Thailand by rail until about 50 years ago. It is Cambodia’s busiest land border crossing with Thailand now, though the constant traffic presents both promise and peril.
Trafficking syndicates send indentured children to beg across the border, while the influx of child sex tourists is apparent in posters pleading: ‘Please respect our children. Do not harm or sexually exploit our children.’ Still, there is money to be made, whichever way you see it. Poipet’s smoky, neon-lit casinos bustle with day-trippers from Thailand camped around its baccarat tables with bottles of Singha beer.
Just metres away outside, Cambodian barefoot porters pull wooden carts towards Thailand, where they will load up and lug back durians and mangoes, for 120 baht to 130 baht a day. Among them is a 60-year-old woman who has tucked her eight-month-old grandchild into her cart for company. ‘Sometimes I carry her, sometimes I put her in the cart,’ she says, giving the child a pod of tamarind to suck on.
ABOUT 100km from Poipet lies Battambang town, which boasts of outskirts served by one of the most reliable ‘railways’ in the country. These consist of dozens of bamboo rafts powered by portable motors running on underused rail tracks improvised by the locals. A 30km ride on the ‘bamboo train’ costs locals 5,000 riel ($1.70). It leaves only if there are 10 people on board, or if the driver decides he is done waiting.
At Ou Dambang commune, a 10- minute drive from Battambang, we haggle with 24-year-old driver Sorn Thin, settle on a tourist price of US$15 ($21), then hop onto the strips of bamboo nailed together to form the platform. No handrails are in sight as we hurtle through the Cambodian countryside at 40km per hour, lurching each time its wheels hit the misaligned track.
These ‘trains’ transport everything from fuel and fertiliser to livestock to communities hard to access by road. Since dozens of bamboo trains zip about on one single track on any given day, there’s a lot of give and take to make sure everybody gets to where they are headed in good time. Heft, ironically, gets us to our destination faster because lighter ‘trains’ – by community consensus – have to be dismantled to let us pass.
But these lightning-quick calculations of who should give way are thrown out of the window when a real train suddenly chugs by. The lumbering giant loaded with logs causes a suspension of bamboo train services but presents an opportunity for extra income.
Out of nowhere, hordes of young men, women and children rush forward to haul the wood to the side of the tracks. A businesswoman haggles with an armed policeman guarding the wood, then hands over a stack of riel. An hour later, the train is almost emptied of wood, and continues on its bereft way to Battambang station.
The grinning porters pocket 10,000 riel each and promptly spend it on pong tea khon (fertilised duck eggs) at a roadside stall.
The train to Phnom Penh
IT IS not exactly news when the passenger train due to travel from Battambang to Phnom Penh doesn’t show up. It has broken down – again. We hitch a ride instead on a cargo train. It grinds along at a glacial speed of 10kmh on a track partially smothered under weeds. Beat-up motorcycles and buses zoom past us on a parallel highway.
In a dark wagon filled with boxes of Thai ketchup, milk powder and claw hammers, railway employees and businessmen swing languidly in hammocks they have brought along and strung across the carriage. These small proprietors, says train supervisor Kong Thom, have to travel with their goods to ‘guarantee their safe arrival’.
The trains run so irregularly that our driver Leng Savath, 56, sometimes gets behind the wheel just once a month. Mr Kong Thom says: ‘Most people working on the trains have other jobs. I help my wife to run her grocery shop in Phnom Penh. I do this trip only two to three times a month.’
The salaries are correspondingly low. Train guard Teuk Sophal, 46, earns 67,000 riel a month, and can only afford to live in an abandoned railway carriage by Phnom Penh train station.
Two hours into the journey, the train grinds to a halt. Engine problems. We get off with the staff for fresh air, while the driver does repairs. Half an hour later, we resume our crawl to Phnom Penh.
After six more hours of wobbling on ketchup box-seats, we get off at Pursat town to seek the comfort of an unmoving bed. The train, we later learn, arrives at Phnom Penh 166km away only in the wee hours of the next morning.
LATER, in Phnom Penh, we stumble upon the passenger train that we had meant to take, and realise why it is shunned by all but the poorest of locals. The carriage’s wooden floorboard bears gaping wounds that give a clear view of the tracks beneath. Broken benches unscrewed from the carriage floor are heaped in one corner. Sunlight streams in through a rusting hole in the roof.
It may seem dismal now. But Cambodia’s rail network is due for renewal if its government stays the course on one of its latest high-profile projects. The country started work earlier this year to rehabilitate and rebuild 650km of rail track after getting US$55 million in loans from the Asian Development Bank and Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
Malaysia is contributing US$3 million worth of reclaimed rails. The plan is to reconnect Cambodia’s railway to Thailand’s, and, hopefully, provide safer and more comfortable options to the bamboo train.
Domestically, the project promises to take freight off the roads, reduce congestion and cut pollution at a time of soaring fuel costs. Regionally, it could give the Singapore to Kunming Rail Link plan – which has sputtered more than once due to its high estimated cost of $3 billion – a shot in the arm.
Once Cambodia completes its rail project by 2011, all that would stand between a single uninterrupted rail route from Singapore to Kunming within Asean’s borders would be a missing 400km section between Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. China, on its part, has already started rebuilding its century-old rail link to north-western Vietnam, which forms the tail end of the route.
The regional rail network is crucial in bringing the young economies of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam up to speed with Asean’s more affluent members and to pave the way for a genuine Asean economic community, says Asean watcher Denis Hew.
Mr Barry Cable, director of the transport and tourism division of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, says developing the railway sector will diversify development away from coastal areas.
It could also mean more. British current affairs magazine Monocle calls rail connections ‘a hopeful sign of stability’ as the existence of regular, scheduled rail services between countries are more powerful symbols of integration than disparate roads or air links.
It is a sign that is sorely needed now, as Cambodia and Thailand bicker over the ownership of the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple on their shared border.
Crucial motivation to close the rail gap between Vietnam and Cambodia will come from the success of the current Cambodian project.
ADB Cambodian director Arjun Goswami says: ‘As a vision, I love the idea of the (regional rail link). If we get the Cambodian project done, we can say the dream has legs, or should I say, wheels.’
Cambodians like security guard Mey Chea, 31, cling to that dream. He says: ‘In the future, our trains will be like the ones in China we see on TV. They will be comfortable, efficient and modern.’
The train to Hanoi
ON BOARD the Vietnam’s Reunification Express, which travels the length of the country, Hanoi natives working in the southern financial hub of Ho Chi Minh City return home with gifts of cake and dragon fruit, joining holidaymakers heading north to catch the sights of the limestone karsts of Halong Bay. Youths charge their iPods in the electrical sockets in the toilets, while tan-averse women hunker down for the long ride with sun hats and cloth masks.
The 1,726km-long Saigon to Hanoi line, built in the 1930s, was repeatedly bombed and sabotaged during World War II, the Franco-Viet Minh War and the subsequent conflict between the American-backed South and the communist North. It was quickly repaired within one year after the North’s victory to symbolise Vietnamese unity.The service has come a long way since, says retiree Nguyen Ngoc Loat, 70, who is on his way to visit relatives in Hanoi.
It used to be very messy in the past. It could take three days to get from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. ‘People would steal things from you when you were sleeping, or they would put fragile things on the edge of their seats, and demand inflated sums if you break the items when you walk past them. It is much safer now.’Still, there are other things to worry about. As we speed past buffaloes taking a dip in a pond one hour from Hue, the air-conditioner seizes up. The women remove their sodden cloth masks. A train attendant turns up with a hairdryer and spends the next hour trying to thaw out the aircon vent above our heads. It yields – but only briefly.
Embarrassed that foreigners should be witnessing such a spectacle, a Vietnamese mutters to us: ‘Excuse me, excuse me.’ But a few hours later, as the carriage fills up with the odour of stale sweat and dinner scraps, he props his feet by my elbow and snores his way to dreamland.Lao Cai final stop, for now.
I LIE awake on my bunk bed as rain beats on the windows of service SP3 from Hanoi to Lao Cai. In the distance, the clouds hang low over the Hoang Lien mountain range. This route is frequented by tourists heading towards the hill resort of Sapa, which means that it is served by some of the most luxurious sleeper trains in the country.
Darkwood interiors, soft lighting, complementary fruit baskets all add up to a one-way ride that can cost US$140. Meanwhile, those who endure the 294km ride on a hard wooden seat pay only 80,000 dong ($6.80) a ticket.
Lao Cai, our fifth border in 17 days, is our final stop. Passenger train services onward to China do not exist as Beijing is rehabilitating its section of the regional link that runs from Kunming to its border town of Hekou. That lies just across the Red River, from Lao Cai.
The first section of the work is set to be completed by next year, while work on the remaining section is due to start this year. When that is completed, it will re-establish a rail connection that was built way back in 1910.
Meanwhile, the town’s residents bridge the missing links in their own way. Renminbi is readily accepted in the casino at Lao Cai International Hotel. Chinese signs at the jackpot machines plead: ‘Please do not place your cigarette butts on the coin dispenser trays.’
Most of the fruit and vegetables on sale in the local market come from China. Vietnamese salesgirls at the souvenir store at Lao Cai-Biti’s Trade Centre light up when they hear ‘Duo shao qian?’ (‘how much’ in Mandarin). Labourers haul sacks of Vietnamese peanuts and lychee across the bridge linking both sides while Chinese trucks roar by in the other direction. A billboard in Hekou greets visitors entering China with a postcard picture of Vietnam’s Halong Bay.
In years to come, the train that passes through here will cut through more than five borders as it wends its way through South-east Asia. By then, perhaps, the borders may cease to matter.