Archive for July, 2013

July 30, 2013

U.S. Senate Nears Passage of Veterans Bill Honoring Laos, Hmong Veterans

http://www.heraldonline.com

U.S. Senate Nears Passage of Veterans Bill Honoring Laos, Hmong Veterans

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://www.heraldonline.com/2013/07/29/5064646/us-senate-nears-passage-of-veterans.html
Published: July 29, 2013

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate is closer to taking up legislation to honor Lao- and Hmong-American veterans following passage last Wednesday in the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of a bill that includes language to recognize those who served in the U.S. ‘Secret Army’ in Laos during the Vietnam War. The bill would advance, and study, granting burial honors and benefits to the Lao-Hmong at national cemeteries administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“The Senate omnibus veterans bill, and the effort to further honor, and review, the Lao- and Hmong-American veterans’ service, is being spearheaded by Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), Vice Chairman Richard Burr (R-North Carolina), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Senator Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) and others,” said Philip Smith, Director of the Center for Public Policy Analysis (CPPA) in Washington. “Congressman Jim Costa (D-California) previously introduced the bill in the House.”

Smith continued: “Shortly, we expect the full Senate to consider, and pass, in bipartisan fashion, this crucial and historic veterans legislation, in the form of an omnibus veterans bill, that includes important language to recognize and study the unique role of Lao and Hmong veterans who served in the U.S. ‘Secret Army’ in Laos during the Vietnam War.”

“This progress is the result of the passage last week, in the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, of key legislation, including S. 944, an omnibus veterans bill that incorporates language regarding Lao and Hmong-American veterans–especially as advanced in the ‘Lao Hmong Veterans Burial Honors Bill,’ S. 200, introduced by Senators Murkowski, Begich and Whitehouse,” stated Smith. http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO1307/S00429/us-senate-laos-hmong-veterans-burial-honor-effort.htm

“The anticipated passage of this legislation in the full Senate will be historic for the ethnic Laotian- and Hmong-American veterans who seek to be honored and buried at U.S. national veterans cemeteries administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs,” Smith concluded. http://www.centerforpublicpolicyanalysis.org

“We are pleased that the U.S. Senate has advanced critical legislation that recognizes and honors our Laotian- and Hmong-American veterans who served, sacrificed and died during the Vietnam War in Laos,” said Colonel Wangyee Vang, President of the Lao Veterans of America Institute, in Fresno, California. “We welcome this important progress in the Senate as well as the continued advancement of the ‘Lao Hmong Veterans Burial Honors Bill’ in Congress.”

July 29, 2013

Cambodia’s Hun Sen shaken as opposition rejects poll result

Reuters U.S. Edition

Cambodia’s Hun Sen shaken as opposition rejects poll result

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/07/29/us-cambodia-election-opposition-idUSBRE96S03C20130729

By Prak Chan Thul

PHNOM PENH | Mon Jul 29, 2013 6:12am EDT

(Reuters) – Cambodia’s long-ruling Prime Minister Hun Sen faced his biggest political setback in two decades on Monday as the country’s opposition rejected an election result as tainted by widespread fraud, despite heavy losses for the ruling party.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, buoyed by a near doubling of seats in parliament, called for an inquiry into what he called massive manipulation of electoral rolls in Sunday’s vote.

The government announced late on Sunday that Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) had won 68 seats in the 123-seat parliament to the opposition’s 55, a loss of 22 seats for the ruling party.

That marked the 60-year-old Hun Sen’s worst election result since the war-torn country returned to full democracy in 1998, although the CPP retained a governing majority to enable the prime minister to extend his 28-year rule.

Prolonged wrangling over the result and a weakened Hun Sen could raise policy uncertainty in the small but fast-growing Southeast Asian nation that is drawing growing investor interest and has forged strong economic ties with China and Vietnam.

But the opposition’s chances of overturning the outcome are slim given the ruling party’s grip on the courts and with major foreign donors like the United States unlikely to reject the result without evidence of massive fraud.

The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), whose campaign was given a boost by the return from exile of leader Sam Rainsy, said it wanted an investigation committee set up with representatives from political parties, the United Nations, the election authority and non-governmental organizations.

“There were 1.2 million to 1.3 million people whose names were missing and could not vote. They deleted our rights to vote, how could we recognize this election?” Sam Rainsy, a French-educated former finance minister, told a news conference.

“There were ghost names, names only on paper.”

The opposition tapped into growing concern among Cambodians over rising inequality and entrenched corruption that Hun Sen’s critics say his policies have exacerbated.

Hun Sen, who has yet to speak publicly about the outcome, may have to adjust some policies in light of the surge in opposition support and show more sensitivity to public opinion. The loss of its two-thirds majority means the CPP will need opposition support to enact any changes in the constitution.

But Hun Sen still has the ability to control policymaking through his majority and the entrenched networks of political influence he has built within the CPP.

“It’s definitely unprecedented and unexpected but for now I don’t think regime stability is at stake,” said Giulia Zino, a Southeast Asia analyst at Control Risks group in Singapore.

ANGRY VOTERS

The CPP had 90 seats in the outgoing parliament and the parties that united to form the CNRP had 29, with minor parties holding the remaining four. Cambodia’s election commission has yet to announce how many seats each party has won, and will not announce full, official results until August 15 at the earliest.

Rights groups have criticized the electoral system as heavily biased in favor of the ruling party. The European Union declined to deploy poll monitors for this election after Cambodia did not act on its previous recommendations.

The Transparency International group, which helped monitor the election, cited various irregularities in the vote and said in a statement it was “very concerned about the disenfranchisement of citizens and suspect voters”.

Voting on Sunday, like the campaign itself, was for the most part peaceful.

The CPP, backed by a compliant domestic media and superior resources, had been confident of victory. Analysts had predicted a reduction in its majority after the merger of two main opposition parties, as well as the return of Sam Rainsy, but the extent of opposition gains was a surprise.

Rising garment exports plus heavy flows of aid and investment from China have fuelled rapid economic growth, but that has been accompanied by a rise in social tension.

Cambodians have protested more frequently over poor conditions in the garment industry and land rights in the country of 14 million, where a third of people live on less than 65 U.S. cents per day.

The urban population has swelled in recent years, giving rise to a new generation of young voters who have access to wider sources of information online and who tend to support the opposition.

“Democracy is stronger in Cambodia than most outsiders anticipated,” said Douglas Clayton, the chief executive of the Leopard Capital investment fund in Phnom Penh.

“The government will likely become more consultative and sensitive to public opinion.”

The United Nations organized an election in 1993 that put Cambodia on a rocky path towards stability after decades of turmoil that included the 1975-79 “Killing Fields” rule of the communist Khmer Rouge.

Hun Sen, a former junior commander in the Khmer Rouge who broke away during their rule, lost that election but refused to accept the result and negotiated a position as joint prime minister before seizing power in a coup in 1997.

(Writing by Alan Raybould and Stuart Grudgings; Editing by Robert Birsel)

—-

Reuters U.S. Edition

Party of PM Hun Sen wins Cambodian election, majority slashed

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:  http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/07/28/us-cambodia-election-idUSBRE96R01G20130728

By Prak Chan Thul

PHNOM PENH | Sun Jul 28, 2013 7:36pm EDT

(Reuters) – Cambodia’s ruling party won Sunday’s general election but with a much-reduced majority, according to the government, a result that will be seen as a setback for authoritarian leader Hun Sen, one of the world’s longest-serving prime ministers.

Khieu Kanharith, government spokesman and information minister, said on his Facebook page the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won 68 seats in parliament to the opposition’s 55, adding that was the final count.

The National Election Committee (NEC) gave a list of results from each polling station but no tally for parliamentary seats.

Backed by a compliant media and with superior resources, the CPP was confident of victory, but analysts had predicted a reduction in its majority after the merger of two main opposition parties plus the return from self-imposed exile of popular long-time opposition leader Sam Rainsy.

While not formally conceding defeat for his Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), Sam Rainsy was conciliatory and called for calm after what were significant gains for the party.

“We want to thank all Cambodian people … regardless of their political affiliation, Cambodians who support all political parties, for their dignified participation in this election, for their contribution to make democracy move forward,” he told a news briefing.

The CPP had 90 of the 123 seats in the outgoing parliament and the parties that united to form the CNRP had just 29.

Sam Rainsy appealed to his youthful supporters not to cause any trouble. “We call for peace and reconciliation,” he said.

Military police blocked off a road leading to the home of Hun Sen, who has been in power for 28 years, and one going to the offices of the CPP and the NEC.

Trucks carrying soldiers were seen going into the city but by late evening the streets were calm.

Earlier, in a highly charged atmosphere, an angry crowd had set fire to two police cars outside a polling station, a Reuters photographer said.

However, voting, like the campaign itself, was for the most part peaceful despite anger at alleged electoral fraud.

Sam Rainsy’s party claimed electoral lists were manipulated to give the CPP more votes and complained about the disruption of meetings and campaigning by the security forces for Hun Sen.

“The partisanship of the military and police has created an intimidating atmosphere for voters in many parts of the country,” U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement ahead of the poll.

ROCKY PATH TO STABILITY

The United Nations organized an election in 1993 that put Cambodia on a rocky path towards stability after decades of turmoil, including the 1975-79 “Killing Fields” rule of the communist Khmer Rouge.

Under Hun Sen, a former junior commander in the Khmer Rouge who broke away during their rule, Cambodia has been transformed into one of Southeast Asia’s fastest-growing economies, helped by garment exports plus aid money and investment from China.

But economic growth has been accompanied by a rise in social tension over poor factory conditions and rural land rights in a country of 14 million where a third of the people live on less than 65 U.S. cents a day.

Before a royal pardon this month, Sam Rainsy had faced a jail sentence handed down in 2010 for spreading disinformation and falsifying maps to contest a new border agreed with Vietnam, charges he called politically motivated.

He returned too late to run in the election or even to vote, and the electoral authorities rejected his request to do so.

But the charismatic former finance minister had attracted large crowds to rallies, appealing to younger voters with no memory of the turmoil before Hun Sen helped restore stability.

At one polling station set up at a pagoda in Phnom Penh, 29-year-old Khat Sreynit said she wanted a better country and jobs for university graduates. “And also that people have a living wage,” she said, before rushing into the crowd to get a glimpse of Sam Rainsy, who had turned up there.

A 70-year-old voter clutching an ID card declined to give her name but said: “This election is important for the country. I have always voted before, since 1993, I voted for living conditions and the country.” She paid little attention to Sam Rainsy’s arrival.

(Writing by Alan Raybould; Editing by Robert Birsel and Peter Graff)

July 26, 2013

Marco Rubio Grills Ambassador Nominees on Dedication to Religious Freedom in Malaysia, Laos

Marco Rubio Grills Ambassador Nominees on Dedication to Religious Freedom in Malaysia, Laos

By Katherine Weber , Christian Post Reporter
July 25, 2013|5:14 pm

Florida Senator Marco Rubio

Florida Senator Marco Rubio has questioned two Asian-Pacific ambassador nominees on their commitment to religious freedom in the region.

The questioning took place at a Senate Foreign Relations meeting earlier this week, in which Rubio, a rising star in the GOP party, questioned Daniel Clune, a nominee to become ambassador of Laos, and Joseph Yun, a nominee for the ambassador of Malaysia, on their commitment to religious freedom in each country.

Rubio pointed to several recent alleged human rights and religious transgressions involving the Asian-Pacific countries, including the recent incident in May in which Laotian authorities arrested nine North Korean defectors en route to South Korea, and sent them back to their homeland where they were likely to face punishment in labor camps for their “disloyalty.”

Rubio also referenced, among other incidences, issues for religious minorities in Malaysia, a predominately Muslim country where recently the country’s leaders rebuked a Vatican official’s suggestion that the term “Allah” (the Arabic word for “God”) be used on Christian churches in the country.

The Florida senator told the nominees that he sees, especially in Malaysia, an “increasing encroachment on religious liberties, which I think is an essential human right.”

Rubio asserted that he hopes the nominees, if confirmed to be ambassadors, do not simply monitor religious persecution, but become forceful advocates for religious minorities around the world.

“Our hope is that if you are confirmed, you won’t just monitor and bring [to our] attention [the issues], but that you’ll be a forceful advocate on behalf of those being oppressed,” Rubio said. “I think it’s important for the U.S. that our representative there be someone who speaks clearly on these issues.”

According to The Christian Broadcasting Network’s “The Brody File”, Rubio’s dedication to religious liberty, both on a national and international scale, could serve him well with the evangelical vote should he choose to run for president in 2016, as some political pundits predict.

Rubio wrote in May 2013 that he feels it is the responsibility of the U.S. to ensure religious liberty is awarded to all around the world.

“[Religious liberty is] a fundamental human right that many of our ancestors did not have before they came to America,” Rubio wrote at the time.

“With this great blessing comes great responsibility to help ensure that others around the world can freely exercise their religious freedom as well,” Rubio added.

Daniel Clune, the nominee for ambassador of Laos, currently serves as principal deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs at the State Department, while Joseph Yun works as the principal deputy assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the State Department.

July 24, 2013

Laos Wins Refugee Bidding Game

Laos Wins Refugee Bidding Game

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source: http://asiasentinel.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=5589&Itemid=189

Written by Steven Borowiec

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Vientiane figures out a way to get increased development aid

Protesters from a human rights group hold signs during a rally against Laos’ repatriation of nine North Korean defectors, in front of the Laotian Embassy in Seoul on May 31, 2013. (Photo: Reuters / Kim Hong-ji)

The brutal competition for influence between North and South Korea in Southeast Asia played itself out last week in Laos, when Seoul announced plans to more than double no-strings development aid to the Laotian government, to 4.84 billion won (US$4.83 million), more than twice the W2.04 billion from this year.

Analysts say that increased generosity appears related to a luckless group of nine young North Korean refugees who had escaped from the north and traveled thousands of kilometers across China to seek haven only to be repatriated by Laos in May despite efforts by South Korean diplomats to secure their custody. The rising aid grant is believed tied to making sure that doesn’t happen again.

There was considerable international outcry when the youths, aged 15 to 23, were sent back to the North. Human rights advocates and the United Nations High Commission on Refugees criticized the Laotian decision, noting that international law protects refugees from being forced to return to places where they face persecution.

The refugees, aged 15 to 23 years old, were part of a larger group of 15 who had been hiding in China for up to four years before they crossed into Laos. China doesn’t recognize refugees and routinely sends back any North Koreans they catch. The other seven managed to make it to Seoul.

Until the decision to send the North Koreans back where they came from, refugees and the groups that work with them had considered Laos a safe haven on refugee routes from China to the South Korean embassy in Bangkok. The refugees turned over to North Korea were expected to be punished severely, possibly tortured or even killed upon their return.

The implicit message in the decision by Laos to cooperate with North instead of South Korea was that Vientiane had more to gain by appeasing the North. With per-capita gross domestic product of US$1,399 according to the World Bank, Laos remains one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia, largely dependent on the sale of natural resources to China and Thailand. It therefore looks to aid to help finance its development projects.

Seoul and Pyongyang have long competed for sway in Southeast Asia, and the South’s apparent ability to secure Laos’ cooperation on North Korean refugees now shows it has the upper hand with the ability to buy influence. The May incident constituted a loss of face for Seoul, which also faced harsh criticism at home from human rights groups that criticized what they described as only halfhearted efforts to gain custody of the refugees.

In the immediate aftermath, the South Korean government said it would devise plans to better coordinate with Southeast Asian countries to ensure the safety of more refugees. Seoul could now be hoping that after having received the promised aid, Laos will follow its wishes and prevent another such incident.

Southeast Asian countries like Laos are a common transit point for North Korean defectors after they flee through China on their way to Seoul. Both South and North Korea have an interest in gaining custody of the refugees: the North because it’s a loss of face for the refugees to be fleeing and the South because of the public backlash they face when failing to save the refugees from harsh treatment in the North.

In May, Laotian officials in Seoul said the North Koreans were handled according to protocol and without any special considerations. The Laotian embassy in Seoul said the refugees were apprehended because they had entered the country without documentation and that they handed them over to North Korea because they were all North Korean nationals.

That seems to contain some sophistry, since refugees have been using Laos as a way point to Bangkok and beyond for years.

Laos may have all along been trying to demonstrate its frustration with Seoul, whose support for the poor, landlocked country had been waning. South Korea’s aid to Laos had fallen to 2 billion won this year, after having been 5.8 billion won in 2009 and 6.8 billion won in 2011. It’s possible that Laos was trying to get Seoul’s attention by using the refugees as leverage. If that was indeed their intention, it appears to have worked.

Since Kim Jong Un came to power, North Korea has been trying restore relationships with countries it has histories of cooperation with, as was seen in last week’s failed effort to repair some of Cuba’s obsolete weaponry that was caught by authorities at the Panama Canal. Pyongyang, however, is extremely limited in what it can do internationally due to sanctions, which were strengthened in February of this year after the North’s third nuclear test.

Southeast Asia is a logical place for North Korea to look for opportunities because it has histories of productive relations with a few countries in the regions, including Laos, with which it has maintained diplomatic relations since 1974. Twice last year Laos hosted high-level officials from North Korea. Then-People’s Army Chief of General Staff Ri Yong Ho visited in May, followed by an August visit by Supreme People’s Assembly President Kim Yong Nam.

At the time of Kim’s visit, Korean Central News Agency reported that officials from the two countries discussed increasing economic cooperation. “It is the steadfast stand of the DPRK government to develop the traditional relations of friendship with Laos,” KCNA quoted Kim as saying.

In September 2011, KCNA reported a visit by Laotian President Choummaly Sayasone for a summit with the late Kim Jong Il. Kim Jong Un reportedly participated in the meeting, which would have been his first official contact with a foreign head of state.

Regardless of North Korea’s efforts at diplomacy, South Korea is still a much bigger economic player in the region. Bilateral trade between South Korea and the Asean bloc was US$124.9 billion in 2011, making Asean South Korea’s second largest trade partner after China.

South Korea and Laos established diplomatic relations in 1974, though that only lasted until the following year when a communist government came to power in Vientiane. Relations were re-established in 1995, after the fall of the Soviet Union when Laos began to look outward.

(Steven Borowiec, stevenborowiec@gmail.com, is a writer based in South Korea)

——

Related News:

Laos Wins Refugee Bidding Game as Koreas Vie for SE Asia Influence

The Irrawaddy News Magazine-Jul 24, 2013
Protesters from a human rights group hold signs during a rally against Laos’ repatriation of nine North Korean defectors, in front of the Laotian …
July 23, 2013

Scholars voice support for missing Lao activist

Radio Australia

Scholars voice support for missing Lao activist

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Updated 23 July 2013, 13:33 AEST
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More than 40 scholars from Australia’s leading universities have banded together to call on Canberra to take a tougher stand with authorities in Laos over the disappearance of the country’s best know community leader.

Sombath Somphone, who’s in his early sixties, has been missing since being driven away from a police post seven months ago.

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speaker: Keith Barney, Australian National University’s Crawford School of Public Policy.

BARNEY: No there is no new information, the families and those closest to the case indicate that there’s no new details with the investigation. Sombath’s family have called the police investigation superficial, and the Lao government has refused international offers of technical assistance with the investigation, for example with examining the original camera footage. So there does not seem to be the political will within Laos to seriously investigate the abduction.
LAM: And Keith Barney you and of course with your colleagues, you’re all calling on the Australian government to do more. What exactly do you expect of Canberra?
BARNEY: Well in relation to our concerned scholars letter, we received a reply from Senator Carr on June 21st and Bob Carr responded to questions raised by Senator Lee Rhiannon in the June senate estimate hearing, and in his letter Carr explained that he had personally raised Sombath’s case with his Lao counterparts, particularly the Lao Prime Minister and the Foreign Affairs Minister. And he mentioned the human rights dialogues with Laos that Australia engages in the latest being in April 2012. However in response to our request for a more formal public statement by the Australian government, in his letter Carr referred back to the senate estimate transcripts and in the transcripts it was stated that the request to issue a formal statement at the highest level would be taken on notice. So it seems as though the department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is being a bit circular in their response to date to our letter.
LAM: Indeed Australia’s Foreign Minister Bob Carr did raise the issue of Sombath Somphone with the Laotian authorities directly when he visited Vientianne earlier this year, so why should things be different now?
BARNEY: Well we feel that Australia is lagging behind other countries in its rather muted response to date regarding Sombath. For example the US Secretary of State Clinton and Kerry have both issues formal press statements on Sombath’s case, and the EU parliament has passed a formal resolution calling for a speeded up investigation and for Lao authorities to end the practice of arbitrary arrests and secret detentions. So we’re requesting that the Australian Foreign Minister make a more formal public statement on Sombath’s abduction, so more than a tweet and more than a statement buried in senate estimate transcripts.
LAM: So Australia of course has a 50-million dollar aid program with Laos. Are you hopeful that that might give us some kind of political leverage?
BARNEY: Yes Australia does fund many worthy initiatives in Laos supporting human rights and improved governance, civil society and sustainable natural resources management. And in fact the organisation that Sombath Somphone founded, the Participatory Development Training Centre, was a previous recipient of Australian support. So Sombath is a leading and inspiring proponent of the good governance agenda that Australia wishes to support in Laos. And we feel that Australia needs to send a clear message that the poor investigation into his abduction is unacceptable and that his plight will be placed at the front end of all bilateral discussions with Laos until he’s located.
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