Archive for February 4th, 2011

February 4, 2011

Q+A: Will Myanmar’s strongman fade from political scene?


By Martin Petty

BANGKOK | Fri Feb 4, 2011 3:28am EST

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Prime Minister Thein Sein was chosen on Friday to become president in Myanmar’s new civilian-led political set-up, nominally at least becoming head of state as the country’s junta steps down.

The big question is: what will junta supremo Than Shwe do now?


Unlikely. The presidency is probably something the military strongman never really wanted. The rise of one of his most trusted associates in a choreographed parliamentary vote suggests Than Shwe will remain in charge, but behind the scenes.

The reclusive junta boss is not suited to the public role required of a president. He rarely attends public events or gives speeches and has not spoken to the media in years. His state visits have been restricted to neighboring India and China.


To a certain extent, yes. Many experts say the 78-year-old Than Shwe is seriously worried about what might happen to him and his family, and they assumed he was reluctant to put power into the hands of someone else, even a loyalist.

Than Shwe has made many enemies and he knows it. He’s not too bothered about Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi or the public. His real fear is probably people in the military he has crossed swords with, demoting them or forcing them into retirement.

Insiders say he is concerned he might one day be purged or even assassinated and needed to ensure the new political system was controlled by loyal servants.

Than Shwe knows all about purges. He engineered the downfall of two power-holders in the past, former junta boss the late Ne Win and ex-premier Khin Nyunt. He placed both under house arrest.


One thing seems sure to analysts: he will continue to pull the strings behind the military, legislature and executive.

He could remain head of the military by taking the job of commander-in-chief of Defence Services, which is also a powerful, hands-on political role offering a seat on the National Defense and Security Council, a new entity analysts say could turn out to be similar to the politburo of China.

In a crisis, the commander-in-chief, with the president’s approval, can call a state of emergency and assume sovereign power over the legislature, the executive and the judiciary.

However, there are rumors he may have already appointed a successor. On Thursday state media reported that “the commander-in-chief” attended a meeting of parliament but didn’t mention Than Shwe by name, which is unusual.


It’s an option. He’s 78 years old and his health is deteriorating. He has a palace-like mansion in the new capital, Naypyitaw.

But some suggest he could become a patron of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the junta’s political proxy that controls 76 percent of the legislature.

Concerned the party could develop an agenda of its own and challenge the military status quo, he could take unofficial control and keep its members in check.


Thein Sein is the regime’s fourth-in-command and seen as a neutral figure in Myanmar’s military, having not been a member of any faction. The 65-year-old is seen as a “yes man” with no political agenda and no ambitions for real power, making him the perfect front man for Than Shwe.

Unlike his associates in the old regime, who have become considerably rich, he has no known business interests and has a clean image. He is a shy and retiring figure and military insiders say there’s little reason to dislike him.

Thein Sein was a career soldier who became part of the junta in 1997 when it was reorganized. He replaced General Soe Win as prime minister after his death in October 2007.

He resigned from the army in early 2010 so he could take part in the November election as a civilian.

He was the international face of the old regime and is known to other leaders, having attended summits. His ascendance to the presidency represents a continuation of the status quo.


It seems so. If Than Shwe and his deputy, Maung Aye, seen to be stepping aside, it may make the elections and parliament look more like a political transformation to an international audience after five decades of iron-fisted military rule.

In reality, the regime has not ceded power at all.

The changes are largely cosmetic, simply retiring junta heavyweights and shifting them into other political positions. Most lawmakers are soldiers or retired soldiers. Military people fill many other top positions. (Editing by Alan Raybould and Jonathan Thatcher)


February 4, 2011

Thai, Cambodian troops in deadly clash near temple



A house burns in a Thai village near a 11th-century Preah Vihear temple at the border between Thailand and Cambodia, February 4, 2011. REUTERS/Stringer

By Ambika Ahuja

BANGKOK | Fri Feb 4, 2011 11:10am EST

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thai and Cambodian soldiers exchanged fire in a two-hour border clash on Friday that killed two Cambodian soldiers and a Thai villager, the latest in an ancient feud over land surrounding a 900-year-old Hindu temple.

The fatalities were the first in the militarised border area since a Thai soldier was shot dead a year ago and could rekindle diplomatic tensions between the Southeast Asian neighbours over the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said Cambodia would file a complaint with the U.N. Security Council, accusing Thailand of invading Cambodian territory.

Both sides accused each other of firing first in the 4.6-sq-km (two-sq-mile) disputed area around Preah Vihear, a jungle-clad escarpment claimed by both countries and scene of deadly, sporadic clashes in recent years.

Several Thai soldiers were also wounded and four Thai villages were evacuated, Thai media reported. Five Thai soldiers were captured, said army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd.

“It seems to have been a result of a misunderstanding,” Thai army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters. “There is no point in fighting because it could escalate and damage relations… We don’t want that.”

The Cambodian government accused the Thai army of targeting Cambodian villagers and said the fighting erupted when Thai soldiers illegally entered Cambodia territory.

“We said to them ‘don’t come in the area’ and they still came. We fired into the air and they began to shoot at us,” said Cambodian government spokesman Khieu Kanharith.


The clash comes three days after a Cambodian court handed down jail terms of six and eight years to two Thai nationalists found guilty of trespassing and spying in the border region, a verdict that has angered some in Thailand.

Shelling began at about 3 p.m. (8:00 a.m. British time) and continued into early evening. Artillery shells landed at several villages on the Thai side, setting at least four houses on fire, witnesses said.

A Thai police colonel, Chatchawan Kaewchandee, said at least one villager was killed during the shelling. “We found one body of a male villager and there might be more,” he said.

The fighting could give a boost to a small but prolonged protest by Thailand’s “yellow shirt” activists demanding Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva take a tougher line against Cambodia.

Chamlong Srimuang, a yellow shirt leader, said his group would step up pressure on the government, saying the fighting showed that Abhisit was weak in handling border tensions.

“We have warned about this sort of thing for a long time. We didn’t call for a clash just for the government to show our military strength precisely to prevent any clash from taking place,” he told reporters.

The temple, known as Preah Vihear in Cambodia and Khao Phra Viharn in Thailand, sits on land that forms a natural border and has been a source of tension for generations.

The International Court of Justice awarded it to Cambodia in 1962 but the ruling did not determine the ownership of the scrub next to the ruins, leaving considerable scope for disagreement.

The fighting coincided with meetings in Cambodia between Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya and his Cambodian counterpart aimed at reducing tensions.

(Additional reporting by Prak Chan Thul in Phnom Penh; Writingby Jason Szep; Editing by Nick Macfie)

February 4, 2011

Cambodia-Thai border dispute flares up


By Tim Johnston in Bangkok

Published: February 4 2011 15:19 | Last updated: February 4 2011 15:19

At least one man died when Cambodian and Thai forces traded artillery and mortar fire along a disputed stretch of border, marking a new low point in the troubled relations between the south-east Asian neighbours.

Col Sansern Kaewkamnerd, a spokesman for the Thai army, said that one villager had died in the hour-long exchange of shells on Friday afternoon.

The two sides gave different accounts of how the clash began. Khieu Kanharith, the Cambodian minister of information, said that it began when Cambodian troops fired warning shots to discourage Thai troops from entering its territory and the Thais responded with shelling.

Col Sansern told the Financial Times that the clash began after a Cambodian artillery shell landed near a military outpost and Thai troops fired warning shots back.

The fighting erupted near a disputed 11th century Hindu temple which is claimed by both sides and has become a focal point for both Thai and Cambodian nationalists. There have been numerous clashes near the temple, known as Preah Vihear in Thailand and Khao Prah Viharn in Cambodia, but Thani Thongpakdi, the spokesman for the Thai foreign ministry, played down the significance of the latest clash.

“It is too soon to rush to the conclusion that we are in confrontation: it could have been accidental,” he said.

Kasit Piromya, the Thai Foreign Minister, was in Cambodia on Friday to discuss a number of economic and political issues, including the border issue. Mr Thani said the talks had gone well, but the delegation had left Phnom Penh before the clashes broke out.

Thailand and Cambodia, both members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, have an uneasy relationship that has been made more turbulent by the lack of clarity surrounding their shared border, an issue which has long provided a ready source of fuel for nationalist chauvinism on both sides.

Although the temple buildings at the centre of Friday’s clash were awarded to Cambodia by the International Court of Justice in 1962, Thai nationalists say that a 4.6 square km area that forms the only practical approach to the temple belongs to Thailand.

The wound was reopened in late December, when a group of seven Thais, including a member of parliament, were arrested by the Cambodian authorities after illegally crossing another part of their disputed border.

Most were released, but three days ago Veera Somkwarmkid, a leader of a group called the Thai Patriots Network, was sentenced to eight years in prison after he was convicted of espionage for illegally crossing into Cambodian territory.

A right-wing pressure group has been camped outside the office of Abhisit Vejjajiva, the Thai prime minister, since last week demanding that he expedite Mr Veera’s release.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2011. You may share using our article tools. Please don’t cut articles from and redistribute by email or post to the web.

Q+A: Preah Vihear temple and Thai-Cambodian tensions


BANGKOK | Fri Feb 4, 2011 7:25am EST

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Fighting broke out on Friday between Thai and Cambodian soldiers on a disputed stretch of the border between the two Southeast Asian countries, the latest flare-up in an ancient feud over a 900-year-old Hindu temple.

Below are some facts about the temple, the territorial dispute and possible political ramifications in Thailand.


Preah Vihear, or Khao Phra Viharn as the Thais call it, was completed in the 11th century and predates Cambodia’s more famous Angkor Wat temple complex by 100 years.

Many say its stunning setting atop a jungle-clad escarpment overlooking northern Cambodia eclipses its celebrated cousin as the finest of all the ruins left from the mighty Khmer civilization.

The temple has in recent years been accessible mainly from Thailand. Landmines and Khmer Rouge guerrillas kept it off-limits from the Cambodian side for decades.


Both sides have historically laid claim to the temple but a 1962 World Court ruling awarded it to Cambodia.

Thailand and Cambodia have squabbled ever since over demarcation of the border and jurisdiction over the 1.8 square miles (4.6 sq km) of land around Preah Vihear, which was not covered by the ruling.

For generations, the temple has stirred nationalist passions on both sides. Before the court in The Hague issued its ruling, Thailand’s government organized a fundraiser in which every citizen donated 1 baht to pay for the legal team.


Cambodia’s bid since March 2008 to list the ruins as a World Heritage Site sparked an exchange of gunfire in October that year in which one Thai and three Cambodian soldiers died.

There have since been sporadic flare-ups, the most recent in April last year, when there were no casualties.

However, the dispute has been back in the headlines since the end of last year, when a group of Thai nationalists was arrested for allegedly encroaching into Cambodian territory.

A Cambodian court sentenced two of them on February 1 to jail terms of six and eight years for trespass and spying.

“Yellow shirt” nationalists demonstrating over the territorial dispute near the Thai prime minister’s office since January 25 have threatened to step up their protests, putting pressure on the government to take a tougher line.


The two countries routinely pledge cooperation over the temple issue, give guarantees their border troops will engage in no hostilities and agree to delineate the border once and for all, but the quarrelling never seems to stop.

Thailand wants joint development and supervision of the Hindu temple, which could one day be a lucrative tourist site.

However, the debate is often used in both countries as a tool to gain popular support or to distract the public from other issues at home.

(Compiled by Martin Petty and Alan Raybould; Editing by Jason Szep and Ron Popeski)

February 4, 2011

Foreign journalists attacked in Egypt


Last Updated: Thursday, February 3, 2011 | 4:40 PM ET

Mohammed Omar, an Egyptian photographer, seeks help for his head wound from a soldier during clashes between President Hosni Mubarak's supporters and anti-Mubarak protesters in Cairo on Wednesday. (Ahmed Ali/Associated Press) Read more:

CBC News

Many foreign journalists covering the protests in Cairo were rounded up by the military and had their equipment confiscated Thursday — possibly for their own protection — after some were attacked in the clashes between anti- and pro-government protesters.

Tensions were running high on the streets of the capital city on the 10th day of the political crisis.

Foreign journalists from several outlets reported a string of attacks on them near Tahrir Square, the scene of battles between supporters of embattled President Hosni Mubarak and protesters demanding he step down immediately after nearly 30 years in power.

CBC News has a team of reporters on the ground in Cairo. They include David Common, who described the situation via Skype on Thursday morning.

Radio-Canada cameraman Sylvain Castonguay was badly beaten by pro-government supporters near Cairo's airport on Wednesday. (CBC) Read more:

“One of the reasons that I am speaking to you by Skype is that it’s simply not safe for us to go out above this square. People are pointing us out and this comes on a day when it appears foreign journalists are being targeted,” Common said in an interview from his hotel room.

In the square, gunfire could still be heard and Molotov cocktails were thrown late into the night Wednesday and in the early morning Thursday, sparking huge fires, he said.

Violent confrontations between the two sets of protesters continue, he added.

“We saw people being pulled out of vehicles, punched relentlessly. We saw what may have been a man killed, saw someone who was hit by a Molotov cocktail and catch on fire.”

Radio-Canada reporter Jean-François Lépine and cameraman Sylvain Castonguay were roughed up by pro-government supporters near Cairo’s airport Wednesday. Castonguay was badly beaten, and the attack only ended after soldiers intervened.

Globe and Mail reporter Sonia Verma said she and her colleague Patrick Martin were “taken into some sort of custody” Thursday morning after their passports were seized at a military checkpoint.

They were freed three hours later, Verma said on Twitter.

Reporters from across the globe attacked

Several reporters and photographers from other news outlets also reported being roughed up.

Among them:

  • Al-Jazeera said two correspondents had been attacked by “thugs.”
  • ABC News international correspondent Christiane Amanpour said that on Wednesday, her car was surrounded by men banging on the sides and windows, and a rock was thrown through the windshield, shattering glass on the occupants. They escaped without injury.
  • CNN’s Anderson Cooper said he, a producer and camera operator were set upon by people who began punching them and trying to break their camera. Another CNN reporter, Hala Gorani, said she was shoved against a fence when demonstrators rode in on horses and camels, and feared she was going to get trampled.
  • There were reported assaults Wednesday on journalists for the BBC, Danish TV2 News and Swiss television. Two Associated Press correspondents were also roughed up.
  • CBS newsman Mark Strassman said he and a camera operator were attacked as they attempted to get close to the rock-throwing and take pictures. The camera operator, whom he would not name, was punched repeatedly and hit in the face with Mace.

The attacks appeared to reflect a pro-government view that many media outlets are sympathetic to protesters who want Mubarak to quit now rather than complete his term.

“There is a concerted campaign to intimidate international journalists in Cairo and interfere with their reporting. We condemn such actions,” PJ Crowley, spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said on Twitter.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs offered a strong denunciation of reports of “systematic targeting” of journalists in Egypt, saying those actions are “totally unacceptable.”

“Any journalist that has been detained should be released immediately,” Gibbs said. “I think we need to be clear that the world is watching the actions that are taking place right now in Egypt.”

In Ottawa, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said Thursday the government is gravely concerned about the intimidation of Canadian journalists in Cairo and he is calling in Egypt’s ambassador to Canada to protest their treatment.

“I have [also] asked our ambassador in Cairo to follow up on my call to the foreign minister and ensure that Canadians, particularly Canadian journalists, are guaranteed safety.”

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday that violence against journalists was part of a series of deliberate attacks, and urged the Egyptian military to provide protection for reporters.

On Wednesday, Egyptian government spokesman Magdy Rady said the assertion of state involvement in street clashes and attacks on reporters was “fiction” and that the government welcomed objective coverage.

On Thursday, Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq acknowledged that the attack on anti-government protesters “seemed to have been organized.” He promised an investigation into who was behind it.

With files from The Associated Press.

Egypt government supporters attack foreign journalists


News groups around the world say their reporters have been beaten up or detained in Cairo. The U.S. condemns ‘a concerted campaign’ of intimidation.

By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles TimesFebruary 3, 2011, 4:50 p.m.

A photographer shoots a protest scene in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Members of the international media have come under attack from pro-government demonstrators in Cairo. (Felipe Trueba / EPA)

Loyalists of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak attacked foreign journalists Thursday, drawing Washington’s censure and international rights groups’ accusations that the beatings and detentions were desperate moves by a teetering regime trying to cling to power.

Although the abuse of reporters and camera crews risked discrediting Mubarak in the eyes of already wary democratic allies, it also served to mobilize his supporters against a 10-day-old campaign for his ouster and block some of the damaging imagery from reaching readers and viewers around the world.

What began as seemingly random incidents in which journalists were roughed up by Mubarak backers Wednesday escalated Thursday with the arrests, beatings and destruction of equipment of dozens of journalists covering the chaotic confrontation in central Cairo.

The attacks on media and human rights monitors numbered in the dozens and followed broadcasts on Egyptian state television casting foreign journalists and Western governments as fomenting the unrest that has paralyzed the economy, chased away tourists and threatened to further impoverish workers in the Middle East’s most populous nation.

Obama administration officials said they saw the attacks as part of a deliberate strategy of intimidation.

“Any journalist that has been detained should be released immediately,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, deeming the targeting of reporters “completely and totally unacceptable.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the attacks were “unacceptable under any circumstances,” and department spokesman Philip J. Crowley called the mistreatment “a concerted campaign” orchestrated from within Mubarak’s inner circle.

“We have traced it to elements close to the government, or the ruling party,” Crowley told reporters in Washington. “I don’t know that we have a sense how far up the chain it went.”

The Washington Post, the New York Times, CBS News and the global Al Jazeera network reported the detention of correspondents trying to report on the growing lawlessness gripping the Egyptian capital.

Reporters for National Public Radio and Foreign Policy magazine suffered blows to the head from pro-Mubarak thugs. Reuters television reported that a camera crew was beaten up near Tahrir Square while filming a story about the unrest’s economic fallout. A Swedish television journalist for SVT whose editors feared that he had been kidnapped was found in a Cairo hospital, severely beaten. A Greek journalist for the newspaper Kathimerini was stabbed in the leg, and a photographer with him struck on the head.

A day earlier, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper and ABC’s Christiane Amanpour said they were punched and kicked by pro-government henchmen who also smashed their crews’ equipment. The Mubarak supporters descended on Tahrir Square — some clad in uniforms of Giza pyramid sentries and riding camels and horses — to attack what had until then been a peaceful protest of the president’s 30-year grip on power. Los Angeles Times photographer Carolyn Cole and two Associated Press reporters were detained while covering the melee, as were journalists from Al Arabiya network, four Israeli correspondents and a Belgian who was writing for French-language publications.

Fox News Channel reported that correspondent Greg Palkot and cameraman Olaf Wiig were “severely beaten” Wednesday, and BBC correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes was detained, blindfolded and interrogated after his car was forced off the road in Cairo.

In his first televised interview since being named vice president five days earlier, former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman blamed foreigners and the opposition Muslim Brotherhood for the disruptions that he said had cost Egypt at least $1 billion in lost tourism income.

“I blame some friendly states that have completely unfriendly stations which set the young against the state … with false claims and exaggeration,” Suleiman said. He urged Egyptians to ignore “the rumors and satellite channels that incite you against the state.”

That deflection of blame for Egyptians’ misery appeared to encourage Mubarak loyalists to exact revenge on journalists, seen as responsible for conveying an image of Egypt and its treasured antiquities as too dangerous to visit.

“The government has resorted to blanket censorship, intimidation and today a series of deliberate attacks on journalists carried out by pro-government mobs,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, Middle East and North Africa coordinator for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. The group reported 21 assaults on media, two dozen arrests and five instances of camera equipment being destroyed Thursday.

Tala Dowlatshahi, a spokeswoman for Reporters Without Borders, said the imagery now being broadcast in Egypt “looks very much like a media strategy has been devised by Mubarak to use men for hire to create a scene of chaos and to hijack the democracy movement.”

Human rights monitors also denounced the apparently orchestrated moves to intimidate and muzzle foreign media representatives and rights advocates.

“These actions mark a new low in the Mubarak regime’s futile attempts to silence the Egyptian people and hide mounting calls for reform from rest of the world,” said Neil Hicks, international policy advisor for Human Rights First. The U.S.-based group also wrote to major international telecommunications companies to ask what orders they got from the Egyptian government about shutting down cellphone and Internet access as the anti-government protests gathered momentum.

Egyptian authorities ordered Al Jazeera, a network that reaches 220 million households worldwide, to cease broadcasting from the country as the protests built last week, forcing its journalists to resort to Internet and telephone reports from the scene. Those communications were also blocked during the height of the protests, although some telecommunications providers activated idle and outdated dial-up lines to help customers in Egypt get connected.

Times staff writer Melissa Maerz in New York contributed to this report.Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times

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