Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Scores killed in floods in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand

Flash floods have killed dozens of people and left tens of thousands camped out on higher ground in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.

In Vietnam, floods in the north and the central highlands have killed at least 17 in the past week, while unseasonably early floods are expected to reach danger levels in the southern Mekong Delta on Thursday.

In the eastern Cambodian province of Kompong Cham, three children have drowned after strong winds overturned their boat as they evacuated to higher ground.

Disaster officials in Phnom Penh say flood warnings had been posted in three provinces along the Mekong.

Meanwhile, residents of northern Thailand are still assessing the damage from flooding described as the worst in decades.

At least six people have been killed and nine are still missing.

UN human rights official calls for release of Cambodia's opposition MP

A United Nations human rights official on Tuesday called for Cambodia's immediate and unconditional release of opposition parliamentarian Cheam Channy, calling the trial lack of fair.

In a statement released here on Tuesday by the United Nations' Cambodia Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Peter Leuprecht, the special representative of the Secretary-General for human rights in Cambodia, "denounced the outcome of two trials in Cambodia earlier this month."

On Aug. 8, the Military Court sentenced opposition party parliamentarian Cheam Channy to seven years in prison for fraud and for forming an illegal army. Earlier on Aug. 1 the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced two persons to 20 years in prison for the murder of trade union leader Chen Vichea on Jan. 22, 2004.

These latest convictions are "in breach of Cambodia's Constitution and the international human rights treaties to which Cambodia is party. The conduct of the investigations and prosecutions... raise fundamental questions about Cambodia's progress towards the rule of law," he said.

The special representative called for "a thorough, impartial and credible investigation into the murder of Chea Vichea" and " for Cheam Channy's immediate and unconditional release and the restoration of his immunity."

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday defended the independence of Cambodia's courts and criticized foreign organizations for encouraging jailed opposition lawmaker to create a "shadow army."

"The phrase I hate most is 'international pressure,'" Hun Sen said. "International pressure only keeps detainees behind bars longer," he said.

"Cambodia needs security. Don't destroy one country under the pretext of democracy," the prime minister said.

Hun Sen pointed out that Cheam Channy's "shadow army" posed a grave threat to national security. Any nation would have acted as Cambodia did under similar circumstances, he said.

Cambodia to build second Special Economic Zone

Cambodia will build its second Special Economic Zone after the first was inaugurated last week, local media reported on Wednesday.

Cambodia's Attwood Investment Group unveiled a master plan Tuesday to invest 89 million US dollars in the country's second Special Economic Zone, to be built in October.

The zone will cover 200 hectares of land in Sihanoukville's Stung Hav district, where a port, utility supply facilities and other infrastructure will be built, according to Khmer newspaper Rasmei Kampuchea.

"We intend to develop this area into an economic and commercial zone to improve the living conditions of rural residents and to provide jobs for young people," said Attwood President Lim Chhiv Ho.

The zone will also make it easy to import raw material and export products thanks to its proximity to the Sihanoukville International Port, she added.

Cambodia's first special economic zone officially began construction in Svay Rieng province, bordering Vietnam, last week.

Deputy Prime Minister Sok An praised Attwood for its active role in local investment, saying it was in line with the government's policy to set up special economic zones to reduce poverty among Cambodian people.

Attwood will receive a nine-year tax break, in accordance with a draft law on Special Economic Zones, and investors could import raw materials duty-free as soon as construction is completed, The Cambodia Daily said.

Cambodia also plans to build special economic zones in the provinces of Koh Kong, Takeo, Kompong Cham, Kratie, Banteay Meanchey and possibly in Pailin.