Archive for May 2010
25/5/2010(PPenhpost) by Tep Nimol
Authorities on Monday were struggling to contain a blaze that has destroyed 17 hectares of community forest in Siem Reap province, as the hunt began for five people suspected of starting the fire, officials said.
Provincial Fisheries Department Director Tim Savuth, who is responsible for the area in question – a section of forest in Kampong Phluk commune that floods during the wet season – said the fire began on Saturday after visitors left behind smouldering charcoal.
“The fire was caused by people from other places,” he said. “They entered the forest to fish or hunt for birds and then carelessly left hot charcoal in the forest.”
He confirmed that his staff is cooperating with local authorities to track down five people thought to be responsible, and that local villagers were working with officials to help contain the blaze on Monday afternoon.
“The area has no water,” Tim Savuth said. “We had to travel about a kilometre to fetch water from a nearby village to put the fire out, but the fire became larger because of the winds.”
The fire did not claim any houses nearby, but officials remain concerned that it could endanger more of the forest and nearby villages.
Also Saturday, a rice storage house at Pursat provincial prison was destroyed by a small fire. Ngoun Lay, chief of the prison, said the shed caught fire around 4:15pm, but was put out before it could spread to any prison cells.
“No one was injured during the fire, and the prisoners stayed in their cells without reacting or wanting to escape from prison,” he said.
25/5/2010 (PPenhpost) by Rann Reuy
SIEM REAP PROVINCE: Around 50 villagers representing 189 families in Siem Reap’s Chong Khneas commune gathered at the provincial hall on Monday to protest the destruction of their fishing nets by local officials, and to request permission to use nets with finer meshing than current rules allow.
Rath Nora, one of the protesters, said Fisheries Department officials had recently destroyed many nets used by the villagers because the meshing was finer than 4 centimetres.
“We came today to plead to officials to allow us to fish by using 2-centimetre or 2.5-centimetre nets, because we cannot fish enough to supply our families with food otherwise,” he said.
Fellow fisherman Hab Da, 43, said: “Fisheries officials have completely destroyed the nets, and villagers have no rice.”
But Tim Savuth, director of the provincial Fisheries Department, said the 4-centimetre rule was absolute, and that oversize nets would also be destroyed.
25/5/2010 PPenhpost by James Otoole and Cheang Sokha
After months of testimony, years of investigation and more than three decades since the fall of Democratic Kampuchea, the Khmer Rouge tribunal will announce a verdict on July 26 in its landmark first case.
The court’s Trial Chamber judges are set to rule in the case of former Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, who stands accused of homicide, torture, crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions. Substantive hearings in the case began in March of last year, with closing arguments finishing in November.
International co-prosecutor Andrew Cayley said the verdict would be “of enormous historical and judicial significance for this country”.
“The first case is of exceptional importance, because for the first time within a judicial forum, these crimes have been recognised,” Cayley said, adding that Tuol Sleng represents “the absolute centre of evil” under the Khmer Rouge.
UN court spokesman Lars Olsen said Monday that the judges had yet to say when decisions about reparations and challenges to civil parties would be announced.
Chum Mey, a Tuol Sleng survivor who testified tearfully before the court in June, expressed hope that the verdict would allow victims to “reduce the suffering they have carried for 30 years”. Life imprisonment, Chum Mey said, would be the only acceptable sentence for Duch.
“I want the court to sentence Duch to life in prison, and I think I speak not only for me, but for other victims and civil parties,” Chum Mey said.
Vann Nath, another Tuol Sleng survivor who is currently struggling with health problems, said Monday that he was anxious to hear the verdict, but had less explicit expectations.
“I want justice to be done, but the decision is for the court, so we will have to wait and see,” he said.
During closing arguments in November, prosecutors called for a 40-year prison sentence for Duch. In declining to pursue a maximum penalty of life in prison, they cited as mitigating factors the unlawful detention that Duch served in a military court from 1999 to 2007, as well as his “general cooperation, limited acceptance of responsibility, his conditional remorse and the possible effect it may have on national reconciliation”. Near the end of closing arguments, however, Duch and his Cambodian co-lawyer, Kar Savuth, shocked the court by asking for an acquittal and a release from detention.
Cayley declined to say Monday what the prosecution was hoping for in terms of a penalty, though he said that Duch’s surprise bid for acquittal “should aggravate his sentence”.
“It actually doesn’t help him at all, because I think it basically cuts against his claims of remorse,” Cayley said. “His remorse should not be taken seriously.”
Kar Savuth said Monday that rather than diverging from one another in strategy, he and international co-lawyer Francois Roux had merely been arguing before the hybrid court on the basis of Cambodian and international law, respectively.
“During closing arguments, some people thought that my colleague, Francois Roux, and I had different views regarding the case of our client, but actually, we divided the work so that I was arguing about Cambodian law and he was arguing about international law,” Kar Savuth said. Under Cambodian law, Kar Savuth added, Duch cannot be held responsible for crimes ordered by his superiors, though he may be accountable for these crimes under international law.
Anne Heindel, a legal adviser at the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, said this explanation made little sense.
“I think it was clear from everything that [Kar Savuth] said, and Roux’s reaction, that this was not a decision to split the work between them on that basis,” she said.
As the judges work to finalise their decision, Heindel added, they will be forced to confront a number of factors beyond the questions about Duch’s culpability and remorse that were raised in November.
“Everyone seems to think about guilt or innocence, but there’s so many things that they’re going to have to delve into in this judgment,” Heindel said, noting the need to clearly define the crimes for which Duch is convicted and to examine relevant precedents from other international tribunals.
Olsen said these considerations, as well as decisions about civil party reparations and translation issues, had contributed to the eight-month gap between closing arguments and a verdict that promised to be an “important moment”.
“The court is wary of the fact that a lot of people are waiting for a verdict and justice to be done, and it’s working as fast as it can,” he said.
25/5/2010(PPenhpost) by Cheang Sokha
The Cambodian embassy in Bangkok has found a lawyer to represent a man accused of committing an arson attack on a bank during violent protests in the Thai capital last week, officials said.
San Mony Phet, 27, a native of Battambang province, was arrested by Thai authorities on Wednesday outside the Bangkok beverage shop where he is employed, on suspicion of involvement in an arson attack committed by antigovernment Red Shirt protesters.
Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Monday that a Thai attorney has been found to defend him when he appears in court.
“We will try our best to help him,” he said Monday, and added that Cambodian embassy officials and the man’s wife went to meet him in custody on Sunday.
Cambodian officials have so far denied San Mony Phet’s involvement in the protests. Koy Kuong said the suspect has worked legally in Thailand for five years and is married to a Thai woman, who has cooperated with embassy officials and Thai authorities in order to expedite the release of her husband.
At least 86 people were killed and around 1,900 injured in clashes between government forces and Red Shirts before the protesters were dispersed by force last week.
25/5/2010(AFP)—PHNOM PENH- Top police from ten Southeast Asian countries met in Cambodia on Tuesday to discuss strategies for combating terrorism, arms smuggling, commercial crimes and drug and human trafficking.
Two hundred senior police from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) attended the 30th ASEAN Chiefs of National Police Conference in the capital Phnom Penh.
Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng said in remarks to open the conference that cross-border crime had flourished while the world was busy resolving the global financial crisis.
‘These activities have seriously affected social stability, resources, the lives of people and law enforcement forces,’ Mr Sar Kheng said.
Delegates from China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand as well as Interpol also attended the two-day meeting.
Asean groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. In November they pledged to create a regional immigration database to catch criminals and terrorists going across their borders.
25/5/2010(AFP)—MEULABOH (Indonesia) – Islamic police in Indonesia’s Aceh province have been issued with 20,000 long skirts and ordered to cover up women deemed to have broken Muslim dress codes, an official said on Tuesday.
The province on northern Sumatra island has banned Muslim women from wearing figure-hugging clothing such as tight trousers, under Islamic by-laws that have outraged less conservative parts of the mainly Muslim archipelago.
Vice and virtue officers in West Aceh district have been told that from Wednesday they should ask women wearing the wrong clothes to put on the government-issue skirts on the spot. ‘Starting tomorrow morning, I will hand over some 20,000 skirts to the sharia police in West Aceh,’ West Aceh district chief Ramli Mansur said.
‘Female offenders can then immediately change their tight pants to the long, loose skirts if the sharia police catch them.’ Mr Mansur said that one day he would have to answer to God about what he did to enforce sharia or Islamic laws, so residents should expect increased vigilance and ‘raids’ by the morality squad, known as the ‘wilayatul hisbah.’
Vice and virtue officers stopped and interrogated 30 women over their clothes as they entered a village in West Aceh on Tuesday. ‘What’s wrong with the way I’m dressed? What law did I break? Am I a terrorist that I’m being asked to show my identity card?’ 40-year-old Fatimah asked officers who stopped her. Her protests fell on deaf ears and she eventually covered her jeans with a skirt she had brought from home.
The ‘Islamic police’ do not have the power to arrest women for violations of the dress codes but they regularly stop them and demand they change their clothing. The force can however arrest people for other religious offences such as gambling, adultery and drinking alcohol, for which the punishment is caning. Last year the outgoing provincial parliament passed a bill allowing adulterers and homosexuals to be put to death by stoning, but it has not been signed into law by Governor Irwandi Yusuf. Human rights groups say the vice and virtue squad has no legal standing under the country’s secular constitution, disproportionately targets women and encourages vigilantism.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s government has accused Thaksin of inciting unrest and bankrolling the mass rallies by the opposition ‘Red Shirts’, many of whom seek the return of the former telecoms tycoon.
‘A court found there was enough evidence so it issued an arrest warrant,’ Naras Savestanan, deputy chief of the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), told reporters after the closed-door hearing at the Criminal Court. ‘Now it’s the attorney general’s job to enforce the warrant,’ he said.
The tycoon-turned-premier was ousted in a bloodless military coup in 2006 and lives in self-imposed exile, mainly in Dubai, to avoid a jail term for corruption. If found guilty, Thaksin could in theory face the death penalty, but the warrant appears aimed at boosting attempts to extradite Thaksin, who has found sanctuary in several countries.
The government has exerted pressure on countries he has visited and moved to freeze his finances. Abhisit said the court ruling and the severity of the charge would help the government’s efforts to have Thaksin extradited.
‘It will make our work with foreign countries easier,’ he told reporters. ‘We still have to monitor his movements and seek cooperation in line with existing agreements. As of now many countries are banning him, but not all.’
The DSI, tasked with investigating violence surrounding the anti-government demonstrations by the Red Shirts, said on Monday it had submitted evidence ‘which show Thaksin’s coordinating role’ in the unrest. Thaksin last week denied he was the ‘mastermind of the terrorists’.
25/5/2010 (AFP)—WASHINGTON – The US Senate unanimously approved a resolution late on Monday that affirms its support for ‘a strong and vital alliance’ with Thailand and calls for an end to the bloody unrest there.
The Senate ‘calls for the restoration of peace and stability throughout Thailand’ and ‘urges all parties involved in the political crisis in Thailand to renounce the use of violence and to resolve their differences peacefully through dialogue,’ the measure says.
Democratic Senator Jim Webb, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations East Asia and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee, wrote the resolution.
The measure also expresses the US Senate’s support for the Thai government’s five-point roadmap for national reconciliation culminating with free and fair elections that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva says could happen in November.
The blueprint calls for respect for the monarchy, greater social equality, an impartial media, an independent probe into the current political crisis and a debate on the need for constitutional reform.
The Senate acted hours after the US State Department announced its embassy in Bangkok had opened for ‘limited operations’ and would fully reopen on Tuesday after being closed for more than a week amid violent protests.
25/5/2010 (AP)—BANGKOK – After deadly street violence 18 years ago, a military strongman and a pro-democracy activist prostrated themselves at the feet of Thailand’s king as he lectured the bitter enemies before television cameras like schoolboys after a playground brawl. No more blood was shed on Bangkok’s streets.
Today, as Thailand repairs its violence-scarred capital and tries to heal deepening social divisions, two crucial questions hang over the unnerved kingdom: Why didn’t King Bhumibol Adulyadej intervene this time, and what is the future of an institution that did so much to hold the country together for more than half a century?
During the two-month crisis, which killed 88 people, injured more than 1,800 and reduced landmark buildings to ashes, the aging and ailing monarch remained virtually silent despite widespread appeals for his intervention – a dramatic contrast to times when just a few words from the palace were enough to pull Thailand back from the brink. Both the anti-government Red Shirt protesters who seized areas of downtown Bangkok and pro-monarchy groups issued the pleas, saying only King Bhumibol could save the day.
It is unlikely Thailand will see a replay of 1992, when the king called in General Suchinda Kraprayoon, who had earlier staged a coup, and Chamlong Srimuang, leader of mass bloody protests against the strongman. Even then, the king stepped in after the fighting had ceased, ‘because he has to be sure he has made the right move,’ said Craig J. Reynolds, a Thai expert at The Australian National University.
The king has been hospitalised since Sept 19, is confined to a wheelchair and appears frail. His health is cited for his silence by many Thais, with some speculating that he is also just too depressed to act at seeing the country spiraling downwards toward the end of his nearly 64-year reign. But there may be other reasons. The king in recent years has lost some of his semi-divine aura as opposing political camps sought to drag him into the political fray, often using ‘lese majeste’, a law criminalising offences against the monarchy punishable by up to 15 years in prison, as a weapon against one another. If King Bhumibol had acted, or acts now, the old magic may not work, thus further weakening the institution.
Some academics and persons with close knowledge of royal affairs say the king probably could not have stopped the latest violence because the conflicts are too deeply rooted and his words no longer sacred. ‘The last thing he wants to do is to try and fail to use his influence. This explains why even at the height of his health and powers, he typically was slow to weigh in,’ said Danny Unger, a Thailand expert at Northern Illinois University.
21/5/2010 PPenhPost by May Titthara
Hundreds of villagers affected by an economic land concession in Kampong Speu province’s Omlaing commune complained during a public forum Thursday that soldiers and company employees were preventing them from planting corn on their land, even though they had been issued new land titles.
During the forum, organised by the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR), villagers, rights groups, parliamentarians and local authorities discussed disputes stemming from the 9,000-hectare land concession granted to the Phnom Penh Sugar Company, which is owned by Cambodian People’s Party senator Ly Yong Phat.
“Even though some villagers have gotten new land titles from the provincial authorities, the soldiers are not allowing them to plant corn on their farmland,” said San Tho, a villager who attended the forum.
Hab Dam, Omlaing commune chief, said that more than 200 villagers had been issued new titles since last month. Despite this, she said, “The company did not allow some villagers to plant crops because their land had already been cleared, so those villagers will have to relocate.”
Chhean Kimsuon, a Phnom Penh Sugar Company representative, said by phone that the villagers “always made up lies” and that the company had a right to “protect its land”.
“The villagers are tricksters,” she said. “They haven’t planted anything on their own land but they want to plant corn on the company’s land.”
The soldiers are like a “referee”, she said, adding that the company had already cleared about 3,000 hectares. “When the rainy season starts, we will start planting sugarcane,” she said.