PMs from SE Asia’s Mekong countries to meet in Vietnam

Leaders from Southeast Asias five Mekong river countries are set to meet in Vietnams capital, Hanoi

Leaders from Southeast Asia's five Mekong river countries are set to meet in Vietnam's capital, Hanoi

HANOI (AFP) — Leaders from Southeast Asia’s five Mekong river countries were due to meet in Vietnam’s capital from Thursday for two days of talks that aim to boost economic ties and trade across the developing region.

The prime ministers of the communist host nation Vietnam as well as Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar were set to meet on Thursday, then be joined by Thailand’s new premier Somchai Wongsawat on Friday for a wider summit.

Except for middle-income country Thailand, the other four nations remain among the region’s poorest and hope to build prosperity through closer regional transport and commercial links, both with each other and with China.

Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos were cold war battlegrounds until 1975, and conflict raged on in Cambodia until the 1990s. Military-ruled Myanmar, also known as Burma, remains diplomatically isolated and poor.

Thailand said Friday’s meeting aimed to enhance ties in seven areas — telecommunication links, tourism, trade and investment, agriculture, industry and energy, human resource development and public health development.

In the lead-up to the event, Cambodia’s Hun Sen arrived Tuesday in Hanoi for talks with Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and other leaders.

Both countries signed a number of agreements, including on visa exemptions, the transit of goods, and on a future railway connection.

Thailand’s Somchai, who took office last month, on Monday visited his Lao counterpart Bouasone Bouphavanh in Vientiane.

When the Thai and Cambodian premiers come face to face at a dinner Thursday evening, the recent armed border dispute between the two countries over land around an ancient Khmer temple is likely to loom over the meeting.

Somchai said this week: “I may have a chance to see Prime Minister Hun Sen, but the talks will not be official because we have already agreed on how to work together. Everything is following the process and going fine.”

Thursday’s premiers’ meeting is known as the fourth summit of the CLMV group, named after member-states Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.

On Friday, the Thai premier will join his four counterparts for the third summit of another grouping, named after the region’s major rivers, the Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy, or ACMECS.

Senior officials of that group this week discussed developing the regional transport network, streamlining border and customs rules and promoting tourism through a “Five Nations, One Destination” initiative, said state media reports.

Vietnam, Cambodia brace for Mekong floods, crops safe

HANOI, Aug 19 (Reuters) – Rising Mekong floods upstream may cause landslides and deep inundation in Cambodia and southern Vietnam but the seasonal floodwater would also bring farmers good crops of rice and fish, officials said on Tuesday.

The Vietnamese government said rescue forces must be ready to move people from dangerous areas in southern Vietnam, where the Mekong river reaches the South China Sea after travelling more than 4,000 km (2,500 miles) from Tibet through Laos and Cambodia.

Four people have been killed in flooding and landslides in Laos, where the Mekong river has hit its highest level in at least 100 years after several months of unusually heavy rain (For a related story, please double click on [IDnSP192460]).

Cambodia has alerted villagers of rising waters and the authorities have prepared 4,000 boats and life-jackets for the vulnerable areas in the eastern provinces of Kampong Cham and Kratie, the national disaster management committee said.

The Mekong River Commission said the river from northern Thailand to central Cambodia was higher than it was in 2000, when the worst floods in four decades struck southern Vietnam.

“Floods in the Cuu Long River Delta happen every year, so people are used to taking preventive measures for crops and life,” Le Van Banh, director of the Mekong Delta-based Rice Institute, told Reuters by telephone from Can Tho city.

“In the past floods caused problem to transportation and it was hard for children to come to school, but in recent years Vietnam has built protective dykes and residential areas above the flood-peaking level,” he said.


About 20 percent of Vietnam’s 86.5 million people live in the Cuu Long River Delta, the Vietnamese name for the Mekong river, which produces more than half of the country’s paddy output but supplies more than 90 percent of its commercial rice.

Rice growers say they will get extra income from fishing when flooding is high and after they end the summer rice harvest. Flood waters also clean up alum, pests and rats from fields while bringing more fertile soil.

“Since the floods are to wash away alum, we expect the yield of the next winter-spring rice crop to be good, at least on par with this year,” Banh said.

The winter-spring crop, the Delta’s top yielding, produced 10 million tonnes of paddy in April with a yield of 6.2 tonnes per hectare, prompting the government to raise Vietnam’s annual rice exports by 13 percent from earlier targets [nSP283104].


Seasonal floods appeared slowly in the Delta in July, a month earlier than usual. But this week flood waters are rising faster from heavy rains upstream two weeks ago, including the downpours that caused flash floods in northern Vietnam.

“Floods are forecast to rise above the average level in many years,” said Vo Thanh, a meteorologist in An Giang, one of the Mekong Delta’s main rice growing provinces.

Waters are expected to rise to 3.5 metres (12 feet) above sea level at Tan Chau gauging station on Friday, or 0.1 metre below the Alarm Level Two, which indicates inundation and danger of river bank and dyke erosion but towns are still protected.

In 2000, the Delta experienced the worst floods in four decades as waters rose to more than 5 metres, killing nearly 500 people, more than 300 of them children.

Since then the government has launched a campaign to protect life and property, having built 82,000 new homes, relocated 110,000 families or 80 percent of those living in dangerous areas, and opened swimming class for children and teachers.

However, about 30,000 families living near rivers are still facing risk of landslides, according to provincial figures. (Additional reporting by Ek Madra in PHNOM PENH; Editing by Paul Tait)

Khmer Krom: Peaceful Protest Silenced

Representatives of the Khmer Krom civil society voice their concerns over the police assault on a peaceful demonstration of Khmer Krom monks in Phnom Penh asking for the release of Tim Sakhorn and respect of minority rights.

Below is  press statement published by CCHR-CHRAC Secretariat , LICADHO and CLEC:

We, representatives of civil society, strongly condemn the excessive use of violence by the authorities against a group of Khmer Kampuchea Krom monks who gathered peacefully in front of the Vietnamese Embassy on the morning of 17 December 2007.

A group of 48 Khmer Kampuchea Krom monks, ethnic Khmer originally from southern Vietnam, had convened peacefully in front of the Vietnamese Embassy to submit a petition calling for the release of Kampuchea Krom Buddhist monk Tim Sakhorn and five other monks imprisoned in Vietnam, the resolution of land issues, and respect for minority rights. The Ministry of Interior responded swiftly by deploying a large contingent of police and anti-riot forces who arrived armed with shields, electric batons and guns.

After the monks request for a meeting with an Embassy representative was officially rejected, they sat down at the site to conduct a traditional Buddhist ceremony.

At the end of an hour-long of standoff, the monks decided to walk towards the gate of the embassy, where they were met with heavy resistance by the anti-riot police, who used their batons and shields to hit and force back the monks. Some of the monks then threw plastic bottles at the police. The anti-riot unit responded instantly, brutally charging against the monks with their shields and electric batons. The monks then scattered and tried to run away to avoid further injury.

The police continued to violently attack the monks even after they dispersed. They chased the monks four blocks down various side-streets in the area around the Vietnamese Embassy, hitting and beating the monks. Surprised passers-by were told by the police “those who we are beating are not real monks.” (In khmer: “yung wai mun men dejekhun.”)

Two monks were seriously injured after being shocked by electric batons on the backs of their heads; causing one to temporarily lose conscious. Four other monks suffered minor injuries after being assaulted by the police.

Like all citizens, monks have the right to express their opinions and gather peacefully. We appeal to the authorities to refrain from any further use of violence against monks and to ensure that the monks who gathered today will not face any recriminations from religious or state authorities. Furthermore, we request that the relevant authorities investigate and take action against officials that were responsible for assaulting the monks.

Nine hurt as Cambodian monk protest turns ugly

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – Three Cambodian Buddhist monks and six riot police were hurt on Monday in a fight that broke out when the monks tried to deliver a protest letter to the Vietnamese embassy in Phnom Penh, officials and witnesses said.

About 40 saffron-robed monks were trying to demand Vietnam stop persecuting Buddhists. When their path was blocked, they started throwing bottles and hitting the 100 riot police positioned near the embassy compound.

The riot police, who were not armed, chased the monks away with electric batons.

One of the marchers, 20-year-old Thach Many, accused police of overreacting. “We just wanted to deliver a protest petition,” he told Reuters.

The petition urged Vietnam to free a jailed Cambodian monk called Tim Sakhorn, release five others disrobed by Hanoi early this year and respect the religious rights of the ethnic Cambodian minority in Vietnam’s Mekong delta area.

Tim Sakhorn, 39, was defrocked in June and sentenced to a year in jail in Vietnam on charges of upsetting Cambodia-Vietnam relations.

Police accused the monks of staging an illegal and violent protest.

“Monks hid stones in their bags and hit police, injuring them in the arms and legs,” said police chief Touch Naroth.

Nobody at the Vietnamese embassy was immediately available for comment.

Cambodia Buddhist monks, police clash during protest to show solidarity with Vietnam monks

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: Dozens of Buddhist monks kicked, punched and hurled bottles at baton-wielding police in Cambodia’s capital Monday at a demonstration to demand religious freedom for monks in neighboring Vietnam.

The clashes erupted as about 40 monks approached the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh to submit a petition against authorities’ alleged mistreatment of Buddhist monks in the communist country.

The protesters accused Vietnamese authorities of arresting and defrocking several ethnic Cambodian monks over the past few months.

Authorities let only a few state-sponsored religious organizations operate in Vietnam, a situation that has led to altercations there with some groups including Buddhists.

A large part of southern Vietnam, known in Cambodia as Kampuchea Krom, used to be part of Cambodia’s Khmer empire centuries ago. Many ethnic Cambodians still live there.

In the Phnom Penh protest, about 100 riot police used batons to beat back the monks, blocking them from marching near the embassy.

The monks responded by punching the police and throwing water-filled plastic bottles at them. One monk was seen kicking a police officer in the groin.

Touch Naroth, the Phnom Penh police chief, said six policemen were slightly injured.

“They tried to storm the embassy, and police had the duty to protect the embassy,” he said.

The police bruised seven monks on their heads or bodies, said Chan Saveth, an investigator with the nonprofit Cambodian human rights group Adhoc. He accused police of violence against the monks, who are widely revered in Cambodia.