Archive for April 2009
PPPost/ 30 April 2009
By Thet Sambath and Cheang Sokha
792 nearby households given cash, land and building materials.
Nearly 800 families living near Preah Vihear temple have received land, cash and materials to help rebuild their homes at a new site near the disputed temple, officials said Tuesday.
Kong Sorphon, director of Preah Vihear province’s Department of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, said a total of 4,334 hectares have been set aside for 792 families living near the base of the temple.
Some 319 of the families were vendors at the market at the foot of the temple staircase whose homes were destroyed during border clashes earlier this month.
Kong Sorphon said the remaining 473 are from Ko Muoy village, which lies inside the bounds of the Preah Vihear temple grounds and would also be shifted to Sra Em village, a new settlement around 10 kilometres from the temple.
He said each family would receive 2 million riel (US$490), construction wood and 50 sheets of metal roofing from Prime Minister Hun Sen to rebuild their houses, in addition to a 50- metre-by-100-metre plot of land at Sra Em.
“We have land for 792 families to build houses in Sa Em village, and we are working to draw up a map for road construction and places to build a market, school and pagoda,” Kong Sorphon said.
Siv Sophally, a market vendor whose house and property were destroyed in the clashes earlier this month, said she was overjoyed by the assistance given by the government. “We were very happy to hear of Hun Sen’s assistance,” she said.
PPPost/ 30 April 2009
By Sam Rith
Meetings between Thai and Cambodian defence ministers yield some agreements but do not solve border standoff at Preah Vihear temple.
The sixth annual set of talks between Thai and Cambodian defence ministers ended midday Wednesday in Siem Reap, with agreement on some issues including demarcating their shared border, but no breakthrough on the crucial issue of troop withdrawals from around the contested Preah Vihear temple.
Cambodian Defence Minister Tea Banh and his Thai counterpart Prawit Wongsuwan hailed progress made during the meeting, citing agreements to use the Joint Border Commission to find border markers and continue demarcating the neighbouring countries’ shared frontier and a decision to resolve overlapping claims in the Gulf of Thailand through existing mechanisms.
“The two sides confirmed that the border issue should be resolved based on the [Memorandum of Understanding] on measuring and demarcating made on June 14, 2000,” said a joint statement issued on Wednesday after the meeting, referring to a breakthrough agreement eight years ago.
But solving the standoff around the 11th-century temple will take more time, Tea Banh said.
At least seven Thai and Cambodian troops have been killed in recent months in sporadic clashes between the neighbouring countries on disputed land around Preah Vihear temple.
“The issue of troop pullback … from the area near Preah Vihear temple depends on the negotiation related to border demarcation that has not been agreed to yet,” Prawit told reporters in a joint press conference, adding that he himself was struggling to get up to speed on the issue, having only been defence minister for about four months.
Troop withdrawals will have to wait until demarcation has been completed to both countries’ satisfaction, he added.
Tea Banh said that both countries were using all means possible to resolve the border dispute.
Troops from the two countries have been in a border standoff since tensions flared last July, when the temple was awarded United Nations World Heritage status.
Ownership of the temple was awarded to Cambodia in 1962, but the two countries are in dispute over 5 square kilometres of land around it that have yet to be demarcated.
Economist Intelligence Unit – 24 April 2009
A change of heart by Malaysia’s government on race discrimination in some jobs
Malaysia’s government is set to reverse parts of its long-standing policy of economic discrimination in favour of ethnic Malays and indigenous groups. The move will have clear economic benefits, making it easier for foreign firms to operate and invest in the country. It also has a political rationale: Prime Minister Najib Razak’s United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) is currently much less popular among ethnic Chinese and Indians than the opposition Pakatan Rakyat alliance headed by Anwar Ibrahim. Minority groups have long criticised the policy and Mr Anwar has already pledged to reform the policy should he come to power.
Mr Najib announced on April 22nd that the government will overturn regulations requiring most service-sector businesses to be at least 30% owned by Malays or indigenous people (known collectively as bumiputera, or “sons of the soil”). Malaysia’s second prime minister, Abdul Razak (Mr Najib’s father), introduced racial quotas for the ownership structure of companies in the 1970s, in an effort to narrow the economic gap between the Muslim Malay majority and the smaller, wealthier Indian and Chinese communities. The policy was part of a broader package of policies that confer race-based preferential access to business licences, public-sector contracts, government grants, bank credit, share capital and jobs.
The recently introduced changes will undo a relatively small but significant part of the bumiputera policy framework. Restrictions will be removed from some 27 sub-sectors of the services sector, including tourism, transport and business services. However, they will continue to apply in several politically sensitive areas, such as utilities, aviation and retail. The changes also do not cover financial services—although Mr Najib has said he will soon announce liberalisation measures in that sector as well.
Mr Najib’s announcement did not come as a complete surprise. In March the prime minister declared his support for a gradual reform of bumiputera policies, which have long hampered economic competition and are incompatible with bilateral trade agreements that Malaysia has signed with a number of countries. However, the timing of the changes suggests that the economic downturn has forced the prime minister’s hand. Malaysia is not yet suffering as badly as many other countries, but the economic outlook is deteriorating rapidly. The Economist Intelligence Unit expects the Malaysian economy to shrink by 3% in 2009. A modest rebound in the global economy will inject momentum into the Malaysian economy in 2010, but the pace of recovery will be slow by historical standards.
If the economic crisis has made reform of bumiputera policies more urgent, such reforms are also in line with Mr Najib’s long-term economic restructuring plans. In policy statements the prime minister has proposed a “new economic model” that would steer the economy away from its dependence on manufactured exports and towards services. Mr Najib emphasises that services offer tremendous scope for growth, as services exports currently account for just 15% of total exports, compared with 73% for manufactured goods. Using government estimates, his medium-term goal is to raise the share of the services sector to some 70% of GDP (from the current 54%), and to establish a knowledge-based economy by 2020.
To the extent that changes to bumiputera policies bolster Malaysia’s economy, they will also boost the political standing of the government. Indeed, Mr Najib appears to be staking his political future on his ability to steer the economy through the roughest conditions it has encountered since the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis. That Mr Najib has acted so soon after taking office in early April also signals that he will be a more decisive leader than his lacklustre predecessor, Abdullah Badawi. The prime minister appears to be gambling that his more assertive style will enable him to stamp his authority on parliament—even though the relaxation of bumiputera policies could jeopardise support from Malay voters, who have been the main beneficiaries.
More fundamentally, there are powerful political arguments to reform or even abolish bumiputera policies. Although designed to raise the standard of living of Malays, in practice the policies have restricted the economic opportunities of ethnic minorities. Promises of reform could offer a strong incentive to the minority parties, which have yet to abandon the UMNO-dominated ruling Barisan National (BN) coalition, not to be tempted by the opposition’s siren song of equal treatment. If the BN is to have any hope of ever regaining a two-thirds majority in parliament, which it lost for the first time at the March 2008 general election, Mr Najib must win the confidence of the ethnic Chinese and Indian communities.
The Economist- 23 April 2009
Despite the indignation caused by an Iranian tirade, some gallant souls were accentuating the positive after a UN deliberation on race
In one of the more dramatic scenes in modern diplomacy, a resolution describing Zionism as a form of racism, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1975, was excoriated by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, America’s UN ambassador, as an “infamous act” and a “terrible lie”. Then in 1991, the resolution was reversed and (to quote another senior American diplomat) consigned “to the dustbin of history”.
In both votes, the outcome matched the times: the first resolution was promoted by a Soviet-Muslim coalition in a spirit of cold-war antagonism; the second reflected expectations of a “new world order” with America at the helm. To judge by the disorderly scenes that unfolded in Geneva this week, at a UN conference on racism, today’s international climate is far more rancorous than it was 18 years ago, and not too far from the poisonous mood that prevailed in 1975.
At this week’s gathering, expectations were cautious, to put it mildly. A legion of critics (in governments and elsewhere) said the affair would just be a hatefest directed at Israel and the Jews: no better, they said, than the UN’s anti-racism conference in 2001. Fear of a repetition had persuaded Australia, Canada, Israel and four European countries to stay away. So, at the last minute, did America, dashing hopes that a black president would warm to a discussion, however flawed, on racism.
The sceptics’ case received a huge fillip from Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who railed not only against Israel but the Western countries which helped found the Jewish state, and “under the pretext of protecting the Jews…made a nation homeless with military expeditions and invasion.” Although in his public remarks he dropped an earlier formula which directly called in question the Holocaust, the speech led to a walkout by 23 European delegations. The governments that walked out (or stayed away) got notes of thanks from Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister.
That scene is undoubtedly the thing that the world will remember most about the week’s proceedings. Yet only a day later, supporters of the conference (including some sane-ish governments and NGOs) were speaking of success: the adoption of a resolution that might just be a landmark in the battle for tolerance and free speech.
Most of the European countries that walked out of Mr Ahmadinejad’s speech made clear soon after that they were not quitting the whole conference. (Only the Czech Republic did; it now holds the European-Union presidency, but on this matter it was not acting for the EU.)
For those who walked back in, another source of relief was the fact that few were inclined to follow the lead of Mr Ahmadinejad (the only head of government who was present) and focus mainly on Israel and the Middle East. This change of tone, plus the fact that a carefully drafted resolution was adopted by consensus, led some Western governments to claim that the sharp-tongued visitor had been neutralised. It all “showed just how out of step the Iranian government is,” said Peter Gooderham, Britain’s envoy to the UN in Geneva.
For diehard optimists in the human-rights world, Mr Ahmadinejad’s intervention was only a hiccup in the process of crafting a charter setting out principles that could guide national legislation and other efforts to combat racism.
It is true that some hard work went into making the final resolution easier for Western governments to sign. In early drafts, Islamic countries had sought to introduce a clause making defamation of religion a breach of human rights, with disturbing implications for freedom of expression. Iran, alone, had also sought to exclude any reference to the Holocaust.
The document finally adopted makes no explicit reference to Israel and the Middle East. Its chief flaw, in the eyes of critics, is that it reaffirms the outcome of the 2001 conference, where the Jewish state had come in for much criticism. Despite that, Western human-rights groups hailed the new text’s exclusion of illiberal language deploring the “defamation” of faith; instead, it deplores the “derogatory stereotyping and stigmatisation of persons based on their religion or belief”. Thus “it recognises the primacy of individuals, not the primacy of religions or ideologies,” noted Agnes Callamard of the London-based free-speech group, Article 19.
For B’nai B’rith, one of a raft of Jewish groups which came to Geneva to voice alarm over the UN proceedings, the final text was still “fatally flawed” because of its allusion to the 2001 meeting in Durban. “The adoption of this document shows nothing has changed since 2001, no lessons have been learnt—and the hope for a unified approach to fighting racism and intolerance around the world will again go unfulfilled,” B’nai B’rith said.
But several human-rights groups concurred with Mr Gooderham’s view that the final statement “covers the ground pretty well”. It avoids some of the unwelcome language (from a Western standpoint) that was initially mooted.
“It’s a breakthrough because it overcomes the polarisation that existed between the Islamic countries and the Western world. It shows they can find common ground on issues that had caused this polarisation,” said Julie de Rivero, Geneva representative of Human Rights Watch (HRW), a global civil-liberties group.
For HRW, the outcome added weight to its contention that liberal-minded governments should stay in the room and argue rather than storming out and leaving the ground to noisy extremists. Perhaps so—but it might be a tad too optimistic to say that polarisation between the West, the Islamic world and other ideological and regional blocks has been overcome. In any case, some fresh evidence on that question will emerge next month—when the United States stands for election to the UN Human Rights Council in the hope of changing that body and making it less inclined to direct all its fire at Israel.
AFP/ 30 April 2009
Bangkok – Senior Thai monks are to teach Buddhist etiquette to homosexual novices to help curb ‘flamboyant’ behaviour including wearing lipstick and overly tightening their saffron robes, they said on Thursday.
They said numerous reports of new monks plucking their eyebrows into a feminine arch, walking with a exaggerated swing of the hips and carrying handbags were all sullying the reputation of the conservative Buddhist faith.
‘The aim of teaching them etiquette is to educate them on how they should act, talk, eat and dress properly,’ leading preacher Phra Vudhijaya Vajiramedhi, who is launching the behaviour classes next month, told AFP.
‘The biggest concerns are they don’t walk properly, they wear lipstick… and carry colourful bags. Some also indulge in sexual behaviour,’ he said.
But Phra Vudhijaya Vajiramedhi said that, while monks found to have sex in their sleeping quarters would be thrown out, homosexuality itself was not banned.
‘Otherwise more than half of them would be defrocked,’ he added.
The first lessons will be for 120 new recruits at the country’s first Buddhist missionary school in the northern province of Chiang Rai.
‘I believe after the school year is over, at least 70 percent of novices who have flamboyant behaviour will know how to act to restore respect,’ the senior monk said.
‘If we want good monks, we have to teach them when they are young,’ he added.
He said he planned to introduce the course at other temples and religious schools in the near future.
AFP/ 30 April 2009
Seoul – South Korea will move closer to a full free trade deal with Southeast Asian nations when an agreement on opening up the services sector comes into force on Friday, officials said.
The trade ministry said the agreement involves six of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) – Singapore, Vietnam, Myanmar, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei.
Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Indonesia are expected to complete internal procedures soon regarding the services pact, it said.
South Korea and Asean have been in negotiations to complete free trade talks on four accords, pertaining to merchandise, services, investment and dispute settlement.
In 2006 Seoul forged a deal with Asean countries, excluding Thailand, to free up merchandise trade by 2010. Thailand joined in February this year after disagreements on the rice trade were resolved.
In April both sides reached agreement on bilateral investment.
Two-way trade was worth US$90.2 billion (S$134 billion) last year, 10.5 per cent of South Korea’s total trade volume.
Seoul in recent years has sought numerous free trade pacts to bolster its export-dominated economy. It already has deals with Chile, Singapore and the European Free Trade Association.
A pact signed by Seoul and Washington almost two years ago awaits ratification by both legislatures.
South Korea is also in FTA talks with the European Union, Canada, India and Mexico, while it has agreed to open preparatory discussions with Australia and New Zealand.
AFP/ 30 April 2009
Yangon- The party of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi Wednesday set stiff conditions for taking part in elections planned for 2010 by the ruling junta, including the release of the detained icon.
The National League for Democracy (NLD) issued a statement after a two-day meeting in Yangon to decide on its stance ahead of the polls, which critics have derided as a sham intended to entrench the generals’ power.
The statement said that it ‘intends to participate in the elections’ but only if all political prisoners including leaders of the NLD are ‘unconditionally’ released from jail.
Secondly it also demanded changes to a controversial army-backed constitution approved in May 2008 – days after Cyclone Nargis ravaged the country – under which the vote will be held.
The constitution gives the army a major role in any future government.
The third condition set by the NLD was that the elections had to be ‘inclusive, free and fair’ and held under international supervision.
The NLD said it also wanted to be able to study Myanmar’s upcoming party registration act and the law relating to the elections.
The military, which has ruled impoverished Myanmar since 1962, has announced the polls next year under its so-called ‘road map to democracy’.
Diplomats say the junta may be aiming for a date in March 2010.
Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won a landslide victory in 1990 elections but the military never let it take office.
Aung San Suu Kyi, 63, who won the Nobel prize in 1991, has been detained for most of the past two decades, mostly isolated from the outside world, only receiving visits from her doctor and lawyer.