Archive for November 2011
NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has begun a historic visit to the long-isolated Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar to test the country’s first civilian government in decades on its commitment to reform, including severing military and nuclear ties with North Korea.
Clinton arrived Wednesday in the capital of Naypyidaw on the first trip by a U.S. secretary of state to the nation also known as Burma in more than 50 years. She is to meet senior Myanmar officials Thursday before heading to the commercial capital of Yangon, where she will see opposition leader and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who is returning to the political scene after years of detention and harassment.
“I am obviously looking to determine for myself and on behalf of our government what is the intention of the current government with respect to continuing reforms both political and economic,” Clinton told reporters before her arrival here.
She declined to discuss the specific measures she would suggest or how the U.S. might reciprocate.
“We and many other nations are quite hopeful that these flickers of progress … will be ignited into a movement for change that will benefit the people of the country,” she said, echoing President Barack Obama when he announced he was sending her to Myanmar.
The Obama administration is betting that the visit will pay dividends, promoting human rights, limiting suspected cooperation with North Korea on ballistic missiles and nuclear activity and loosening Chinese influence in a region where America and its allies are wary of China’s rise.
Officials say Clinton will be seeking assurances from Myanmar’s leaders that they will sign an agreement with the U.N. nuclear watchdog that will permit unfettered access to suspected nuclear sites. The U.S. and other Western nations suspect Myanmar has sought and received nuclear advice along with ballistic missile technology from North Korea in violation of U.N. sanctions. A U.S. official said missiles and missile technology are of primary concern but signs of “nascent” nuclear activity are also worrying.
Clinton also will note the government’s baby steps toward democratic reform after 50 years of military rule that saw brutal crackdowns on pro-democracy activists like Suu Kyi and members of her National League for Democracy party.
Clinton’s private dinner on Thursday and formal meeting with Suu Kyi on Friday probably will be the highlights of the visit. Suu Kyi, who intends to run for parliament in upcoming elections, has welcomed Clinton’s trip and told Obama in a phone call earlier this month that engagement with the government would be positive. Clinton has called Suu Kyi a personal inspiration.
The trip is the first major development in U.S.-Myanmar relations in decades and comes after the Obama administration launched a new effort to prod reforms in 2009 with a package of carrot-and-stick incentives.
One senior official accompanying Clinton on the trip described the administration’s early efforts as “abysmal failures” but said the situation had improved notably in recent months. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the administration’s internal thinking.
The rapprochement sped up when Myanmar held elections last year that gave power to a new government that pledged greater openness. The administration’s special envoy to Myanmar has made three trips to the country in the past three months, and the top U.S. diplomat for human rights has made one.
Those officials pushed for Clinton to make the trip, deeming a test of the reforms as worthwhile despite the risks of backsliding.
President Thein Sein, a former army officer, has pushed reforms forward after Myanmar experienced decades of repression under successive military regimes that canceled 1990 elections that Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won.
Last week, Myanmar’s parliament approved a law guaranteeing the right to protest, which had not previously existed, and improvements have been made in areas such as media and Internet access and political participation. The NLD, which had boycotted previous flawed elections, is now registered as a party.
But the government that took office in March is still dominated by a military-proxy political party, and Myanmar’s commitment to democratization and its willingness to limit its close ties with China are uncertain.
Corruption runs rampant, hundreds of political prisoners are still jailed and violent ethnic conflicts continue in the country’s north and east. Human rights activists have said Clinton’s visit should be judged on improvements in those conditions.
Myanmar’s army continues to torture and kill civilians in campaigns to stamp out some of the world’s longest-running insurgencies, according to rights groups. They say ongoing atrocities against ethnic minorities serve as a reminder that reforms recently unveiled by the country’s military-backed government to worldwide applause are not benefitting everyone.
Aid groups have reported atrocities that occurred as recently as last month: A village leader was killed, allegedly by soldiers, for helping a rebel group, his eyes gouged out and his 9-year-old son buried beside him in a shallow grave. The boy’s tongue was cut out.
With minorities making up some 40 percent of Myanmar’s 56 million people and settled in some of its most resource-rich border regions, resolution of these brutal conflicts is regarded by all sides as crucial. The fighting has uprooted more than 1 million people, now refugees within their country or in neighboring Thailand and Bangladesh.
And, although the government suspended a controversial Chinese dam project earlier this year, China laid down a marker ahead of Clinton’s trip by having its vice president meet the head of Myanmar’s armed forces on Monday.
China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Vice President Xi Jinping pledged to maintain strong ties with Myanmar and encouraged Gen. Min Aung Hlaing to push for solutions to unspecified challenges in relations.
Myanmar also remains subject to tough sanctions that prohibit Americans and U.S. companies from most commercial transactions in the country.
U.S. officials say Clinton’s trip is a fact-finding visit and will not result in an easing of sanctions. But officials also say that such steps could be taken if Myanmar proves itself to be serious about reform. Other steps being contemplated include upgrading diplomatic relations that would see the two countries exchange ambassadors.
Despite high hopes, U.S. officials remain decidedly cautious about prospects for Clinton’s visit. That caution has been echoed by some members of Congress, who have expressed concern that the trip is an undeserved reward for the regime.
“I am concerned that the visit of the secretary of state sends the wrong signal to the Burmese military thugs that cosmetic actions … are sufficient for the U.S. to engage the regime,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “Secretary Clinton’s visit represents a monumental overture to an outlaw regime whose DNA remains fundamentally brutal.”
Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Ed Royce, D-Calif., urged Clinton to make Myanmar’s dealings with North Korea a top priority of her trip.
NAY PYI TAW, Nov. 30 (Xinhua) — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Nay Pyi Taw Wednesday afternoon for her first official visit to Myanmar in an attempt to look into Myanmar ‘s political and economic reforms.
She was dispatched by U.S. President Barack Obama for a three- day significant visit until Friday, aiming to enhance cooperation in Myanmar’s positive developments and to open a new chapter of mutual relations.
Coming over from Busan, South Korea, Clinton’s Myanmar visit represents the first ever one to the country by a secretary of state of the U.S. in more than 50 years after John Foster Dulles in February 1955.
During the visit, Clinton is expected to meet with President U Thein Sein, Foreign Minister U Wunna Maung Lwin and parliament speakers U Khin Aung Myint and U Shwe Mann in Nay Pyi Taw as well as leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon.
Clinton will register support for Myanmar’s reforms that have been witnessed in recent months and discuss reforms in key areas as well as steps the U.S. can take to reinforce the progress, said U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner.
He said Clinton will also consult with “a broad and diverse group” of civil society and ethnic minority leaders to have their perspectives on the developments in the country.
U.S. President Obama had said his country wanted to seize the historic opportunity for progress and could forge a new relationship with Myanmar.
Encouraged by some of the steps Myanmar has taken — the release of 6,359 prisoners on Oct. 12 including over 200 prisoners of conscience, the amendment of the party registration law and granting of more press freedom, Clinton called on Myanmar to do more for political reform and seek ways to resolve ethnic conflicts.
The new government in Myanmar, which took office on March 30, has been pushing for political and economic reforms in the country.
The moves won Myanmar the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2014 on Nov. 17.
Obama voiced recognition for democratic reforms of Myanmar’s new government at the 3rd ASEAN-US leaders meeting under the programme of the 19th ASEAN Summit held in Bali of Indonesia on Nov. 18 and his remarks was welcome by President U Thein Sein as positive.
Speaker of the Parliamentary House of Representatives U Shwe Mann also expressed wishes to have regular relationship with the U. S..
Meanwhile, Myanmar’s National Human Rights Commission issued a statement on Sunday welcoming Clinton’s visit which the commission said will pave the way for promoting bilateral relations and provide positive impulses towards Myanmar’s building of a democratic society.
PHNOM PENH, Nov. 30 (Xinhua) — Cambodia’s Ministry of Defense has sent a letter to Thailand’s Defense Minister Gen. Yuthasak Sasiprapa to propose the 8th Cambodia-Thailand General Border Commission (GBC) on Dec. 20-25 in Phnom Penh, Lt. Gen. Chhum Socheat, spokesman for Cambodian Ministry of Defense, confirmed on Wednesday.
The letter, signed by Cambodia’s Minister of Defense Gen. Tea Banh, was sent to the Embassy of Thailand to Cambodia on Nov. 29, the spokesman said.
“Now we’re waiting for the reply from the Thai side for the proposed schedule of the meeting,” he said.
The upcoming meeting will focus on strengthening security along the border by cracking down on cross border crimes and other offensive activities, he said.
Also, the two ministers will discuss troop withdrawals from the provisional demilitarized zone (PDZ) of about 17 km near Preah Vihear temple to comply with the order of the International Court of Justice.
Cambodia and Thailand have had sporadic border conflict over territorial dispute near Cambodia’s Preah Vihear temple since the UNESCO listed the temple as a World Heritage Site on July 7, 2008.
On July 18, the International Court of Justice ordered Cambodia and Thailand to immediately withdraw their military personnel from the provisional demilitarized zone on the disputed border near Preah Vihear temple and to allow ASEAN observers access to the provisional demilitarized zone to monitor ceasefire.
The border tension has eased since the opposition Pheu Thai Party won a victory in Thailand’s lower house election on July 3.
BANGKOK, Nov. 30 (Xinhua) — Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has been discharged from a Bangkok hospital Wednesday noon and left for an official one-day introductory visit to Vietnam, the Mass Communication of Thailand (MCOT) reported on Wednesday.
Yingluck was admitted to Rama 9 Hospital early Tuesday after suffering from diarrhoea due to food poisoning.
Hospital Deputy Director Arthit Jearanaisilawong said the premier was 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 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.
Arthit said her doctors believed her food poisoning may have come from contaminated seafood or sauce, but they needed a couple of days to find the cause.
The premier left Thailand at 1 p.m. local time for Vietnam, the sixth ASEAN member country Yingluck has visited, after 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 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, 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.
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.
During the visit, Yingluck will also make a courtesy call on Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang before returning to Bangkok tonight.
PHNOM PENH, Nov. 30 (Xinhua) — Cambodia’s military police and the United States marines on Wednesday began a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise here, aimed at strengthening the two countries’ military ties.
Speaking at the opening of the exercise, Jeff Daigle, Charge d ‘Affaires of the U.S. Embassy to Cambodia, said some 23 U.S. marines from the III Marine Expeditionary Force have joined the exercise.
“It focuses on sharing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief response techniques to enhance professional relationships and coordination between Cambodia and U.S.,” he said.
“This partnership is a tribute to our combined commitment to strengthen the relationship between the U.S. Marines and the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, and provides another opportunity for the U. S. government to assist with enhancing the overall capacity of Cambodian Armed Forces,” he added.
Brigadier General That Chantha, deputy chief of Cambodia’s Military Police’s planning department, said the exercise would help build capacity for Cambodian military police to provide relief and assistance to victims in the event of natural disasters and crises.
“The exercise is also to create closer cooperation between Cambodian armed forces and their U.S. counterparts,” he said at the opening ceremony.
The exercise will last until Dec. 9.
PHNOM PENH, Nov. 29 (Xinhua) — Only two out of 36 political parties in Cambodia will join race in the country’s third Senate election, chairman of the National Election Committee (NEC) said Tuesday.
Im Soursdey, chairman of the NEC, said only the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the opposition Sam Rainsy Party will take part in the third senate election that will be held on Jan. 29, 2012.
According to the laws, senators are elected by members of the National Assembly or lower house, and commune councilors.
Currently, the total seats in the senate is 61 with two of them are appointed by King Norodom Sihamoni and two other seats filled by National Assembly representatives, and the rest are elected to those representing the political parties obtaining seats in the lower house.
In the last senate election in 2006, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party won 45, followed by FUNCINPC party with 10 and the remaining two went to Sam Rainsy Party.
Sources inside the NEC said there are fewer political parties to take part in the third senate election next year because following the 2008 general election, FUNCINPC and other parties gained few seats at the commune councils or got none; therefore, they will gain risk to get no seat at all if they decide to take part in the upcoming senate election.
In the vote picking number on Tuesday, the Cambodian People’s Party will be the first in the list and to follow by Sam Rainsy Party in the second.
The Senate was first established in 1999, and its first election was held in January 2006.
The Senatorial election is held every six years while the lower house holds its election every five years.
PHNOM PENH, Nov. 28 (Xinhua) — Thirty-two editors-in-chief and senior representatives from major print and electronic media in Cambodia have approved rules for reporting on border conflict with Thailand so as to avoid misunderstanding or incitement that may lead to more tension.
In a statement released Monday by Club of Cambodian Journalists after ending of a two-day editors’forum in Kep Province, 180 kilometers south of Phnom Penh, it said all the editors-in-chief and senior representatives from both major print and electronic media adopted 11-point rules for reporting on border conflict, especially with Thailand among other rules for reporting on domestic conflicts.
The statement said the rules were corresponding to the notification on many reports concerning the border conflict between Cambodia and Thailand that began from mid 2008 to the mid 2010.
Among the rules adopted, they agreed that “to avoid any articles that may lead to anger against another race or religion or jeopardize the diplomatic relations as results of unclear and groundless news analysis on their own.”
“Avoiding any harm to Cambodian citizens as well as those from the country of conflict with Cambodia, especially, those who are living along the border and the workers including tourists of all nationality,” it added.
Pen Samitthy, president of the Club of Cambodian Journalists said the editors’ forum is important to help improve professional journalism in Cambodia.
During the whole coverage of border conflict with Thailand, despite no serious harm or damage to the diplomatic relations between the two nations, a few journalists were found less professional and make reports mostly relied on limited sources or one side.
CCJ is the largest and most influential journalists association in Cambodia.
Cambodia and Thai border had conflict in 2008 after Cambodia’s Preah Vihear Temple, located near the border line with Thailand, was listed as the world’s heritage site.
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.
PHNOM PENH, Nov. 28 (Xinhua) — The ninth meeting of the Regional Consultative Committee on Disaster Management (RCC) was held here on Monday, bringing together officials from 26 countries and development partners to discuss ways to respond to disaster risk and climate change.
The meeting was co-chaired by Cambodia’s Vice President of the National Committee for Disaster Management Nhim Vanda and the Chairman of Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC) Krasae Chanowongse.
“It is held in the wake of the devastating floods in Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam,”Nhim Vanda said at the opening ceremony, adding”it is very important for us to meet and discuss ways to reduce the impacts from the disaster risk and climate change.”
“Our Asian region has been suffering the worst from climate change in recent years,” he said.
He added that the recent floods in Cambodia has killed at least 250 people and affected 1.5 million people. In terms of economics, the floods cost the country an estimated 521 million U.S. dollars, mainly the damage of rice paddies and physical infrastructures.
The meeting, which lasts until Wednesday, will also discuss on the progress has made and next steps of the RCC program on mainstreaming Disaster Risk Reduction into development, according to a press release from the ADPC.
The RCC mechanism was established by ADPC in 2000 and comprises of members who are working in key government positions in the National Disaster Management systems of countries of the Asian region, it said.
The role of RCC is to provide a consultative mechanism for the development of action strategies for disaster risk reduction in the region.
BANGKOK, Nov. 28 (Xinhua) — Thai-Cambodian General Border Committee (GBC) meeting will be held in December in Cambodia to discuss in further detail the redeployment of military along both countries’border, Thailand’s state-run media MCOT quoted Defence Minister Gen Yutthasak Sasiprapa as saying on Monday.
Related Thai authorities are waiting for Phnom Penh to confirm details of the talks, Gen Yutthasak said. The content that Thai delegations will bring up for the discussion has been already approved by the Parliament as required by Article 190 of the 2007 Constitution, he added.
In March following deadly clashes along the two countries’ border, Cambodia asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague to reconsider its 1962 verdict and to issue provisional measures during the reinterpretation. The court on July 18 ordered Thailand and Cambodia to withdraw their troops from the newly- defined demilitarized zone in a disputed area around the ancient Preah Vihear Temple.
Bangkok and Phnom Penh earlier agreed to follow the ICJ’s order and will use the GBC as a platform to consider details in implementing the court’s order.
The two neighboring countries share a common border of approximately 800 kilometers (500 miles) long but demarcation has never been fully completed. The 11th-century Preah Vihear has been the subject of age-old border dispute for decades. Although the ICJ awarded the Hindu temple to Cambodia in 1962, the dispute over area adjacent to the temple has never been solved.
Listing of the temple to Unesco’s World Heritage Site in 2008 fueled tensions between the two countries, resulting in military build-up with sporadic skirmishes. The latest deadly clashes on Feb. 4-7 and Apr. 22-28, 2011, when both countries exchanged firing and shelling, caused loss of lives of civilian population and soldiers on both sides as well as massive evacuation of residents along the border.