Thailand Tries to Project Normality

But unresolved grievances likely to impede efforts to end civil conflict.

Ryan Pierse / Getty Images (left); Vivek Prakash / Reuters-Landov

Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra (left) and current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Following a year of violent antigovernment protest and military backlash in Bangkok, and with elections likely soon, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva appears eager to show that Thailand is on the mend. In late December, the government lifted the state of emergency that had been in place in the capital for more than eight months, and Abhisit then gave an optimistic end-of-year speech promising stability. As one indication, the cabinet also lifted a much older state of emergency in three districts of Thailand’s troubled Deep South—where successive administrations have been unable to quell an insurgency that since 2004 has claimed more than 4,400 lives. “It shows that the government is making progress,” Abhisit said of the move.

Yet analysts familiar with the region, where parts of the Muslim and ethnic-Malay majority have long clamored for a political voice, say the conflict is far from easing. In fact, while violence in the three districts in question has traditionally been low, it has risen overall during Abhisit’s two-year tenure, according to analysts. “The violence isn’t down,” says Zachary Abuza, a professor at the National War College who has done extensive fieldwork in the area. “People just accept that violence as the new normal.”

The conflict has been simmering since 1902, when Thailand annexed what had historically been parts of the Kingdom of Pattani, but flared up in 2004 following the heavy-handed approach to the region by the then-prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra. Insurgent demands now range from more political say to a fully independent state and implementation of Sharia.

Abuza says there’s no end to the conflict in sight: Thai authorities have yet to get a handle on what is a hard-to-pinpoint, low-grade insurgency that has no clear-cut message, central command, or even identifiable leaders. Harsh military and police tactics, meanwhile, such as detaining suspected insurgents without charge and allegedly using torture, seem only to make things worse. And even lifting the state of emergency represents no significant policy shift—many of the measure’s stipulations remain in effect through the Internal Security Act. Conventional wisdom holds that the government must settle its problems in Bangkok before it can properly address the trouble in the South.

The core issue is legitimacy, says Duncan McCargo, a professor of Southeast Asian politics at the University of Leeds. Thailand’s government is extremely centralized, with even regional governors appointed by Bangkok, where the military and monarchy sit. In the South, many residents feel estranged from the power structure, and the notion has been exacerbated by the military presence and decades of neglect. The red-shirt protesters who occupied part of central Bangkok for two months last year were supporters of Shinawatra, a populist billionaire who went into exile after being deposed in a 2006 military coup—and was the first prime minister to begin shifting some power from Bangkok to the country’s North, which is his base. “What you see in the Deep South is just an extreme version of the national problem in Thailand, which is that power is overly concentrated in Bangkok,” McCargo says. The red shirts took to the streets again in the capital this month following the lifting of the emergency decree.

Devolution of power is the only long-term answer, both in the Deep South and countrywide, according to Michael Montesano of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. Yet the controversial subject is unlikely to be broached any time soon: the Bangkok elite are reluctant to cede real power, while Abhisit’s government is backed by Thailand’s most centralized powers—the military and the crown. “It would be hard to do this even if there weren’t a political crisis,” says Montesano. Until the country’s leaders are willing to address the longstanding grievances held by Thais outside the traditional power structure, unrest, both in the South and in Bangkok, will likely continue to be the norm.

PM optimistic detained Thais will be freed by Cambodia; urges army chief to be patient

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BANGKOK, Jan 15 -- Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Saturday he is optimistic that all seven Thai detainees being held in Phnom Penh will be free on bail soon, yet urged army chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha to both use restraint and speed up the process of resolving border problems with the neighbouring country amid slanders by the so-called Thailand Patriots Network (TPN) group.

The group said that senior Thai military officers were somehow profiting from the border troubles and the slow action in helping the detainees.

“I understand the army chief’s feeling," the prime minister said."I wish to ask him to be patient.”.

On Friday, TPN activists rallied at Thailand's defense ministry, calling for the resignation of the prime minister, Foreign Affairs Minister Kasit Piromya and Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan.

They charged that senior military officers chose to stay idle regarding the jailed Thais as they believed the seven were on Thai soil when they were taken into custody by the Cambodian authorities and that several Thai military officers had received payoffs on the border.

Urging Gen Prayuth to be patient, Mr Abhisit said he had ordered Defense Minister Gen Prawit to help resolve the problem of Thai villagers who have rightfully possession of land deeds, but work near the disputed border. The prime minister was responding to concerns that the border problem might affect Thailand’s sovereignty.

Asda Jayanama, the new chairman of Thai-Cambodian Joint Boundary Commission (JBC), went to Cambodia earlier this week for talks with his Cambodian counterparts on the border problem, said Mr Abhisit, adding that he was told the talks went smoothly.

At this stage finding ways to return the seven detainees is the most important issue, Mr Abhisit said.

The Thais were captured by Cambodian soldiers on Dec 29. At present, five are still in custody and have been denied bail by the Cambodian court while two, including Panich Vikitsreth, an MP representing Bangkok and member of the ruling Democrat Party, have been released on bail but are not allowed to leave the country, as they must attend court hearings when they take place.

Some Democrat MPs plan to go to Phnom Penh to visit Mr Panich. The prime minister, however, said he had instructed them to wait until the situation has improved as the Cambodian court announced Friday that the entire issue should be resolved in the near future.

Mr Abhisit said he hoped that the remaining five Thais would also be freed on bail as their lawyers are working to help release them. (MCOT online news)

Obama readies new focus on education
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is putting education overhaul at the forefront of his agenda as he prepares for his State of the Union address and adjusts to the new reality of a divided government. But trouble signs are already emerging.

Despite a bipartisan consensus in favor of more flexibility for students and teachers, political pressures from the coming 2012 presidential campaign and disputes over timing, money and scope loom over a debate affecting millions — the overdue renewal of the nation's governing education law, known as No Child Left Behind.

For all the talk in Washington that education might offer the best chance for the White House to work with Republicans, any consensus could swiftly evaporate in the capital's pitiless political crosscurrents, leaving the debate for another day, perhaps even another presidency.

American parents, teachers and students would be left laboring under a burdensome set of testing guidelines and other rules that many agree are pushing standards lower instead of bringing them up. And frightening statistics would continue to pile up about how American students are being outpaced by their foreign counterparts in key areas like math and science.

It's that specter that Obama and members of his administration intend to use to try to marshal public support and spur balky lawmakers and quarreling interest groups into action against long odds.

"No one I'm talking to is defending the status quo," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in an interview. "Everyone I talk to really shares my sense of urgency that we have to do better for our children. We're fighting for our country here."

Duncan said Obama's commitment to education reform will be reflected in his State of the Union address on Jan. 25. Obama has already spoken of the dangers to the U.S. economy and future competitiveness from lagging student test scores, and lawmakers and advocates will be watching closely to see whether he keeps the issue in the spotlight in the months ahead. They say aggressive advocacy from the president is key.

"I don't think there's any substitute but for him to be out front," said Rep. George Miller of California, top Democrat on the House Education and Workforce Committee.

Some in the GOP, wary of another giant bill like health care, would prefer a series of small measures to the sweeping rewrite of No Child Left Behind favored by the administration. Democrats and many outside advocates say Congress must enact any major education overhaul this year, before the 2012 campaign swings into gear. But some Republicans say getting it right is more important than getting it fast, and they refuse to spend any new money to do it.

"There's room to make cuts, and I think pretty substantial cuts, that would enable us to use some of those savings on things we think work," said Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California conservative who's the new chairman of an Education and Workforce subcommittee. "I like the piecemeal approach. ... If you do it in bite-size pieces, you can tell what needs to be tweaked as you go."

No Child Left Behind would not have passed without President George W. Bush's strong advocacy in the first year of his administration. In the years since, many Democrats and Republicans have concluded that the law failed to meet its overall objectives of raising student achievement, instead resulting in an over-reliance on test results and arbitrary measurements that don't help students learn. Yet no major rewrite of the law has happened since.

The Obama administration produced a framework for a new law last year that would soften many of No Child Left Behind's onerous testing requirements, put a new focus on teacher performance and the lowest-performing schools, and replace unwieldy proficiency requirements with loftier goals of boosting college graduation rates.

The document generated predictable controversy, but Duncan has worked painstakingly with lawmakers of both parties over the past two years to lay the groundwork for a reform bill. Republican and Democratic leaders of the education committees in the House and Senate say they want to move forward. "Everyone agrees this law needs reform," said Education and Workforce Chairman John Kline, R-Minn.

Obama focused on health care at the start of his administration, when Democrats controlled Congress. Now, after the November elections, Republicans control the House and are more powerful in the Senate and have the political capital to burn. It's not clear they'll be spending it on improving education, even if their committee leaders support it.

The "Pledge to America" the House GOP unveiled before taking power in the November elections never mentions the education. Brendan Buck, a spokesman for new House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said that Boehner's focus is on "addressing the top priorities of the American people — creating jobs and cutting spending.

British man in Cambodia charged with sexual abuse of 4 teenage boys

By: The Associated Press

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - A British man in Cambodia has been charged with sexually abusing four teenage boys.

Sok Keo Bandit, a prosecutor in Siem Reap province, says Robert Layland was charged Tuesday with paying to procure a child for prostitution and indecent acts with a minor.

He alleges the 54-year-old Layland, who runs a souvenir shop in the province, had sex with four boys, ranging from 14 to 18 years old. He says the boys worked in Layland's shop.

The anti-child sex group Action Pour Les Enfants says Layland was arrested Monday. Layland is in custody and was not available for comment.

Cambodia has long been a magnet for foreign pedophiles, but in recent years has cracked down on offenders.

Siem Reap is popular with tourists for its Angkor temple

3 generations of women murdered in new multiple killing in Cambodia

Phnom Penh - Three Cambodian women from the same family were killed in their home in the country's second multiple murder in as many days, local media reported Tuesday.

Police said the three victims - 70-year-old Eng Ly, her daughter and her 20-year-old granddaughter - were killed early Monday in Siem Reap province in the country's north-west.

The attackers slit their throats after raping the youngest woman, The Phnom Penh Post newspaper reported.

The police chief of Siem Reap town said robbery was likely behind the killings.

'This is the cruellest murder I have seen since I became police chief over 10 years ago,' Thoeung Chantharith told the newspaper.

'We are working to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice,' he said.

A vendor discovered the bodies in the early morning as he delivered ice to the home where the family ran a small grocery business.

On Sunday, a Cambodian man was shot dead by police in the north-eastern province of Ratanakkiri after allegedly stabbing to death his brother-in-law and three unrelated children in two attacks.

Top Glove to invest RM160mil in Cambodian rubber plantation

KUALA LUMPUR: Top Glove Corp Bhd, the world's largest rubber glove manufacturer, is investing RM160mil in Cambodia to plant rubber trees to reduce its dependency on latex which is bought at market prices.

Chairman Tan Sri Lim Wee Chai said the company was targetting to obtain 20% of its latex requirement from the plantation over time.

“We have about 8,000 ha of net plantable land for rubber trees,” he said at a briefing for analysts and reporters on Top Glove's first quarter results ended Nov 30, 2010 here yesterday.

By owning its own rubber plantation, Top Glove would be able to mitigate the rising cost of buying latex at market prices in future.

Tan Sri Lim Wee Chai (right) says the company is targeting to obtain 20% of its latex requirement from the plantation. On his right is managing director Lee Kim Meow.

“We had to revise our rubber glove prices several times in the last quarter due to the volatility of latex prices,” he said.

The average latex prices rose by 57% from RM4.58 per kg in the first quarter of 2010 to about RM7.20 per kg currently.

Lim said about 80% of the company's profit was still in manufacturing latex glove.

Top Glove would focus more on producing nitrile gloves as they command better margins and were not subjected to the volatility in latex prices.

In its first quarter ended Nov 30, 2010, the group's production mix for nitrile was 7%, while its nitrile production for December last year stood at 10%.

“We have a large number of nitrile raw material manufacturers in Malaysia, so we have better cost advantages over China in terms of raw materials and labour,” he said.

“Because of the higher prices of latex glove, customers have kept their inventory levels at a minimum level,” he said.

For the first quarter ended Nov 30, Top Glove posted a 44.6% drop in net profit to RM36mil compared with RM65mil in the corresponding quarter a year earlier.

Revenue stood at RM491.5mil against RM472.3mil previously.

Lim said the company had exceptional sales up till the third quarter of last year, due to concerns of A(HINI) and other factors.

“This year will be challenging but we hope to do better than the previous financial year,” he said.

He added that the company was planning to size up by acquiring smaller rubber plants to improve on its economies of scale and synergy.

Lim said the company had RM343mil in cash reserves to undertake such acquisition activities.

“We are in talks with several parties and hope to secure a deal before year end or earlier,” he said, adding that timing of the acquisition was important.

Lim pointed out that this adverse situation of higher latex prices would possibly lead to further consolidation among the industry players,

“We are in a good position to further enlarge our business when opportunities arise,” he noted.

Top Glove currently has 14 plants in Malaysia, four in Thailand, and two in China, with a total capacity of 33 billion pieces of glove per annum, which is nearly one fifth of the world's demand.


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