Editorial | Articles about Cambodia | Khmer

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Thai-Cambodia ties on the mend, but Thaksin casts a shadow

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen in Phnom Penh on Thursday. REUTERS

by Pavin Chachavalpongpun | Today Online
09:01 AM Sep 17, 2011

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra ended her first visit to Cambodia on Thursday. Her brother, the self-exiled former Premier Thaksin - still considered by supporters as Thailand's "real" Prime Minister - arrived in Phnom Penh just one day after Ms Yingluck's trip.

The twin visits to Cambodia by the Shinawatras have received much publicity in both countries and in the region. This is because they signal a sea-change in Thai policy toward Cambodia which could lead to rapid progress in bilateral ties.

These ties were severely damaged by the so-called Thai nationalists, mostly from the yellow-shirt People Alliance for Democracy (PAD), who had politicised the issues in Thai-Cambodian relations in order to undermine the pro-Thaksin regime in the past. The previous government of Abhisit Vejjajiva, with a foreign minister who was opposed to Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen, also had a large part in sustaining the neighbourly animosity.

Ms Yingluck returned home after a productive discussion with her counterpart, Mr Hun Sen, especially on the issue of the withdrawal of troops in the disputed areas surrounding the Preah Vihear Temple. Ms Yingluck and Mr Hun Sen agreed to allow an Indonesian monitoring team to witness the redeployment of their troops - a win-win for Thailand, Cambodia and the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN).

It was not revealed whether the two leaders also addressed the issue of oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of Thailand where both countries have long engaged in a boundary dispute. But it was almost certain that both premiers would aim to proceed with joint development, rather than begin the demarcation of the maritime border which would be an uphill task.

As for a request to release two Thais from the anti-Thaksin Patriots Network charged last December with espionage and illegal entry, the Cambodian Government made it clear that both would have to serve at least two thirds of their eight-year sentences. Ms Yingluck's offer to negotiate with Cambodia for their release was meant to send a strong message that her government was willing to help its domestic political enemies walk free from a Phnom Penh jail.

Yesterday, Thaksin took his turn to visit Phnom Penh. He holds no official position in Ms Yingluck's government, but has acted as if he was serving in the Thai cabinet. He has claimed that his visit was to assist in rebuilding trust and friendship with Cambodia. Apart from meeting with Mr Hun Sen, he is planning to play golf in Siem Reap and take part in a football match between red-shirt members and Cambodian footballers.

Thaksin's presence in Cambodia will definitely irritate his opponents in Bangkok, and could therefore complicate the work of Ms Yingluck's government in the rapprochement with Cambodia.

Wanted under Thai law on corruption charges, his appearance so close to home is a slap in the face for the traditional elites who have made efforts to block his entry to many foreign countries. The warm Cambodian hospitality will have boosted Thaksin's confidence to make his case to the world that he was in fact a legitimate leader overthrown by a military coup.

As a result, his visit could open the door for the Thai elites to strike back at Ms Yingluck's administration. When he was appointed as an economic advisor to the Cambodian government in 2009, then Prime Minister Abhisit had cut Thailand's relations with Cambodia.

Now, the back-to-back visits may raise concerns among anti-government factions about possible private deals on oil and gas investments between Thaksin and certain influential personalities in Cambodia. And while Ms Yingluck did not meet up with her brother in Phnom Penh, his rush to arrive in Cambodia unfortunately eclipsed his sister's official visit.

Finally, the fact that Mr Hun Sen rolled out the red carpet for the Shinawatras, including organising a football game, underscores the fact that Cambodia is dabbling in the Thai domestic political game - and apparently with the Yingluck government's blessing. It used to be the other way round - Thailand intervening in Cambodian politics since the peak of the Cold War.

It remains to be seen if Ms Yingluck's trip to Cambodia would help heal the deep wound in Thai-Cambodian relations in the long run. There are many contentious issues, worsened by the distortion of history and the misuse of nationalism on both sides.

Ms Yingluck will have to try harder if she wants to seriously improve her country's relations with Cambodia. But she must do this without Thaksin standing in the background.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun
is a fellow at the Institute of South-east Asian Studies.

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Friday, September 09, 2011

Cambodia: Officials, police disrupt rights training event again

By Aliran, on 9 September 2011

For the second time in less than a month, a human rights training event in Cambodia has been disrupted by men carrying AK-47s, reports the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights.

Village, commune and district authorities, together with police armed with AK­47s, disrupted a human rights training event on 7 September. The event was organised by the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) and the Natural Resources Protection Group (NRPG) in Mean Rith commune, Sandan district, Kampong Thom Province. Those involved in the disruption threatened to arrest the organixers if the event proceeded. It was the second such disruption in a month.

While no arrests were made, officials and police photographed individuals seeking to participate in the event. The involved in the event were community members affected by the ongoing destruction of Prey Lang forest or other land conflicts as well as event organisers and observers.

The training event was the first to be held by the CCHR and the NRPG following a media report in The Cambodia Daily on 6 September. The report quoted Kampong Thom provincial police chief Phan Sopheng as accusing the two groups of inciting people through the provision of human rights training. He threatened to seek the suspension of both groups if further training events were conducted.

On 6 September, the chief monk at Wat Kiribotaram, under pressure from commune and district level officials, withdrew the permission he previously granted to both groups for the use of the pagod. The groups were supposed to hold a training event on 8 September in Dang Kambith commune for another community affected by the destruction of Prey Lang.

This morning at 8.30am, staff from CCHR and NRPG arrived in Mean Rith commune to prepare the venue for today’s training event. The training was organised in response to information from community members that deforestation activities in the area had increased of late.

In total, 34 participants registered to take part in the training although organisers were informed by participants that others had been stopped from traveling to take part in the event. Shortly after the venue was prepared, officials and police arrived and informed CCHR and NRPG that, if they were to proceed with the event, they would be arrested.

Commune and district officials stated that the organisers had failed to provide adequate notice of the event. But the Law on Peaceful Demonstrations provides that no such notice is required for “education dissemination activities” including training events. The organisers had nevertheless informed the provincial authorities of the event in writing.

Under the direction of deputy governor of Sandan district, Div Hok, police photographed all participants who had registered for the event as well as the organisers and observers from The Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights (LICADHO) and The Community Legal Education Center (CLEC).

Div Hok requested that the organisers provide the identity cards of all participants and observers. This request was denied. After a two hour stand-off between the authorities and the organisers, the event was eventually allowed to proceed following a discussion with Sandan district council member Uch Bunhy.

In response to the intervention of officials and armed police, Ou Virak, President of CCHR, commented:

For the second time in less than a month, a human rights training event organised by CCHR and NRPG has been disrupted by men carrying AK-47s. Again, the authorities have claimed that CCHR and NRPG have failed to satisfy notification requirements that simply do not exist. To see the authorities resort to these kinds of tactics against ordinary citizens who simply want to inform themselves of their rights under Cambodian and international law is nothing short of shocking.

Nevertheless, what I will remember most from today is not the school yard bully-boy tactics deployed by the authorities; rather it is the defiance of the participants – ordinary people motivated by their desire to inform themselves of their human rights under Cambodian and international law facing down armed police.


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