Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Asean on right track, but moving much too slowly

Bangkok Post 24/02/2010
Mahathir Mohamad has earned his reputation as one of Southeast Asia's most influential figures. The former Malaysian prime minister has been credited with modernising Malaysia and playing an active role in integrating the regional bloc that is Asean. Now retired from political duty, his favourite pastime is writing blogs while taking the time to advise foundations and the business sector.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad: ‘‘Asians don’t go around telling people what they should do in their own house.’’—Photo by Nampeth Vorakanonta.

In a recent interview with the Thai media, including Bangkok Post's Assistant News Editor NAOWARAT SUKSAMRAN,Dr Mahathir offered his candid views on Asean and his role in alleviating the strife in Thailand's far South.

What keeps you busy these days?

People come to see me for various reasons. I give interviews to local and foreign newspapers. I write on my blog, and I give stops to many countries. Sometimes I think I'm much busier after retirement. I'm preoccupied.

Looking at Asean, in the '70s or '80s, all the countries in the region had to manufacture a lot, export a lot. But now we're all into tourism and education. For you, looking into the future, what will be some of the new sectors that Southeast Asia should tap into, to earn more income?

Well, most of the East Asian countries depend upon export earnings. They have to manufacture for export but now we find that the markets have shrunk because the markets are in trouble because of the crisis.

So we need to see how much our countries can depend on each other, develop each other's economies so that you don't have to depend that much on foreign markets outside East Asia.

Developing East Asia makes you rich and therefore it makes a good market for all of us.

Is there any particular country that you think we should look to as a model? South Korea, maybe, or China?

We have a policy called "Look East" policy. It was introduced in the early 1980s. By the Look East Policy, we took Japan and South Korea at that time, or even Taiwan, as a model for development. Now, of course, we include China. And we think that by looking at these countries and interacting with them, we can gain knowledge, skills, technology, and also they can become good markets.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

US citizens face Haiti kidnapping charges

TEN members of a US Christian group may face charges of kidnapping minors and child-trafficking after trying to smuggle a group of children out of quake-hit Haiti.

Amid growing concern over the safety of hundreds of thousands of vulnerable women and children left destitute after the January 12 quake, the case could also go to trial in US courts.

Mazar Fortil, interim prosecutor for the main Port-au-Prince court, said the group may also face a lesser charge of criminal conspiracy.

But asked about earlier comments whether the group would be transferred to face charges in the US, Ms Fortil said it was "too early to tell."

The five men and five women with US passports, as well as two Haitians, were seized late Friday as they tried to cross into the neighboring Dominican Republic in a bus with 33 children aged between two months and 14 years.

They have defended their actions, saying they were only trying to do what was right in the aftermath of the 7.0-magnitude quake, but the arrests have again thrown the spotlight on the Caribbean nation's impoverished people.

The leader of the church group, Laura Silsby, denied any intention of illegal activity in an interview with CNN.

"We literally all gave up everything we had, you know, income, and used our own funds to come here and help these children," she said.

The Idaho church's Reverend Clint Henry, also speaking to CNN, said the group’s intentions were "upright and pure".

"It is certainly not our interest to traffic children ... we are simply trying to help," he said.

PM links faeces attack to assets

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva says the throwing of faeces into his house compound could be linked to the assets seizure trial involving the Shinawatra family.

Four bags filled with excrement and fermented fish (pla ra) were thrown into the prime minister's house in Soi Sukhumvit 31 at noon yesterday. Three landed in the front yard and the other on the roof.

Mr Abhisit said he had spoken about attempts to instigate chaos in the lead up to the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions' verdict on Feb 26 on whether Thaksin Shinawatra accumulated 76 billion baht in assets illegally while he was prime minister from 2001 to 2006.

"But the government will not fall prey to intimidation and it will not allow any mayhem like last April to take place," he said, referring to the pro-Thaksin Songkran riots that led to the cancellation of the Asean summit in Pattaya.

The prime minister said he and his family were neither perturbed nor intimidated by yesterday's attack.

"No, they [his family] are not intimidated. I haven't talked to them but I know they are not," he said.

"As for myself, I have seen worse since assuming the post."

Security has been stepped up and barricades have been erected around Mr Abhisit's house after the incident.

Police are reviewing footage from a closed-circuit television system installed at the house to identify the suspects.

An initial investigation indicates the bags were thrown by a man riding a blue motorcycle. The attacker wearing a helmet parked his vehicle and hurled the bags in less than a minute.

Police investigators also suspect another blue motorcycle and a bronze pickup truck which followed the vehicle could be part of the team.

Pol Lt Gen Asawin Kwanmuang, assistant police chief, said yesterday he would call a meeting today with police investigators to discuss the development.

He said the attack took place when a police officer stationed in front of the prime minister's house took a toilet break.

Meanwhile, Wirat Chinwinitkul, the secretary-general of the Courts of Justice, yesterday dismissed a report that a safe house had been arranged for judges sitting on the panel ruling on the Thaksin assets case.

Mr Wirat said none of the nine judges had asked for protection.

Authorities have been alarmed by the remarks by Maj Gen Khattiya Sawasdipol that people were plotting the assassination of the judges.

Military coup no solution to political impasse

Despite all the known disadvantages of a coup and the certainty that another unlawful usurpation of power would be roundly condemned everywhere, there are, regrettably, still elements in our military establishment who believe the army is the cure for our worst political crisis.

The coup rumours that swept across Bangkok last week were largely fuelled by the unannounced appearance of a dozen or rmore armoured personnel carriers on the city’s streets, the unusual nationwide “show of force” by army soldiers in support of Army Commander-in-Chief Gen Anupong Paojinda -- and by red-shirt leaders

Despite strong denials by the army chief himself, the rumour refuses to go away and remains a subject of topical debate.

Is the rumour founded? Or is it completely baseless?

Prominent academic Chai-anan Samudvanich, a member of the Royal Academy, believes he has the answer.

Writing in his column in The Manager newspaper and website yesterday, Mr Chai-anan said that he had sought the opinions of a veteran political analyst whose views were regularly sought by politicians of different colours and shades.

According to the analyst, the idea of a coup came from four sources:

- First, the “old soldiers who never die”. These retired soldiers, whom he did not identify, are unhappy with the current top brass for their deemed failure to deal with the criticism made against them.

- Second, the current top brass and their predecessors who have turned politician, and who are worried that they may be exposed for their alleged involvement in the attempt on the life of media proprietor and political loudmouth Sondhi Limthongkul.

- Third, supporters of deposed former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra who have been trying to woo some military men to stage a coup.

- And, lastly, young army officers who are staunchly royalist and who are disturbed by the brazen challenge to the army chief’s authority which, in their view, does not only hurt the army chief’s reputation but also the honour of the army as an institution.

Mr Chai-anan said the army believes that a dissolution and general election would usher in a new government but would not end the political impasse, and the country would lose any opportunity to compete with other countries in the region.

A coup, if it does take place, would not only change the political rules of the game, but would allow the army to make adjustments and allow a strong leader to the reins.

In such a scenario, Mr Chai-anan expressed grave concern and predicted that the situation would turn violent.

The red shirts, meanwhile, have been trumpeting the possibility of a coup some time around the end of this month or early March, when Gen Anupong will be overseas and his shoes will be temporarily filled by Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, the army chief-of-staff who has been very vocal in his criticism of Thaksin and his supporters

A red-shirt leader, Arisman Pongruangrong, was reported to have urged the red-shirts to descend on Bangkok during this period, and that each was told to carry a one-litre container of petrol, without specifying its purpose.

Although no one seems to have the an answer to the political impasse which is acceptable to all parties in the conflict, a military dictatorship is not the solution either.

Worse still, this primitive method of settling differences would only plunge the country deeper into the politiical abyss -- a hole it would take many years to emerge from.

Monday, February 1, 2010

US, China lock horns over Taiwan arms sale

CHINA and the United States were locked in an escalating row over US arms sales to Taiwan, with Washington overnight rebuffing Chinese protests and insisting the deal promotes stability in the Taiwan Strait.

The Pentagon Friday sparked the latest challenge to China-US relations under President Barack Obama when it approved the 6.4-billion-dollar sale of Patriot missiles, Black Hawk helicopters, mine-hunting ships and other weaponry.

China responded furiously with a raft of reprisals, saying it would suspend military and security contacts with Washington and impose sanctions on US firms involved in the deal.

Beijing warned of "severe harm" to relations.

The Pentagon expressed "regret" over the bitter response, which reflected a rapid souring of relations with the United States amid strains over trade, climate change and China's Internet controls.

US State Department spokeswoman Laura Tischler said the sale "contributes to maintaining security and stability across the Taiwan Strait", a view echoed by Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou.

"It will let Taiwan feel more confident and secure so we can have more interactions with China," Mr Ma, who has overseen a historic warming in relations with China, was quoted as saying by Taiwan's Central News Agency.

Haiti kids taken by Americans 'have family': care centre

HAITIAN police are holding 10 US citizens on suspicion they tried to slip out of the country with 33 Haitian children in a trafficking scheme.

Most of the children taken by a US church group "have family" that survived the earthquake, head of the international care center, Patricia Vargas said .

According to Ms Vargas' conversation with older children of the group, above seven years old, some of the youngsters "say their parents are alive, and some of them gave us an address and phone numbers," she said.

The children are being cared for at the center in Croix des Bouquets, a town west of the capital Port-au-Prince.

Haitian Social Affairs Minister Yves Christallin said the police arrested five men and five women with US passports, and two Haitians, as they tried to cross into the Dominican Republic with the children on Friday night. He said two pastors were also involved, one in Haiti and one in Atlanta, Georgia.

Mr Christallin said the US citizens did not have the proper documents to take the children out of Haiti, nor letters of authorisation from their parents.

The children were aged two months to 12 years and had come from different places, he said.

"What is important for us in Haiti is that a child needs to have an authorisation from this ministry to leave the country," he said.

US embassy officials were not immediately available to comment on the case.

Haitian officials have voiced fears that child traffickers will take advantage of the chaos after Haiti's massive January 12 earthquake to slip out of the country with children in illegal adoption schemes.

There is also concern that legitimate adoption agencies may rush to take earthquake orphans out of Haiti before proper checks have been conducted to confirm their parents have perished.

Haiti's quake severely crippled government agencies and pitched the country into a communications morass.

In an interview with NBC news, a family member of one of those arrested said the Americans were being charged with child trafficking, and that they believed the matter was a misunderstanding over documentation.

The Americans were identified as members of an Idaho-based charity called New Life Children's Refuge.

CT (Computed Tomography) Scan Radiation Draws Concern

VOA News 30/01/2010

Doctors use X-rays to view internal organs, obtain clear images of possible disease and to treat cancer. For years radiation has been used to save lives, but there is growing concern that some patients are getting more than they ask for when they undergo what's called a CT (Computed Tomography) scan. Research has shown that exposure to radiation can cause cancer and some recent studies raise doubts about the overall safety of CT Scans.

Patricia Quirk of Illinois had radiation to treat her endometrial cancer. The radiation killed the cancer. It also killed her by rupturing her bowel. The hospital record shows she was given 50 percent more radiation than she needed.

Her husband, Tom Quirk, says it should never have happened.

"I pray to God that it never happens to anybody again," said Tom Quirk.
More than half of the cancer patients in the U.S. receive radiation as part of their treatment.

The CT (Computed Tomography) Scan is a method often used to diagnose cancer. It exposes a patient to much larger doses of radiation than the usual x-ray.

Election Commission buying time: Pheu Thai

Pheu Thai Party spokesman Prompong Nopparit called on the public yesterday to judge whether Election Commission chairman Apichart Sukhagganond should continue in his post after "choosing to buy time" and postpone a decision on whether the Democratic Party should be dissolved over donations charges. Prompong said Apichart had said he could not make a decision during February, even though the EC and the Department of Special Investigation had taken almost a year investigating allegations the Democrat Party illegally accepted Bt258 million in donations from TPI Polene.

"Apichart can no longer cite time constraints and keep deferring the decision as he has been doing every month, because it shows his intention to prolong the case and wait for the right timing before giving the same recommendation he had earlier suggested - that the case be dropped,'' he said.

"We are not going to make any demands on Apichart but we want society to see his true colours and real self - and to judge whether he carries out his duty with objectivity and justice, comparing the party dissolution case with the People Power Party, Chart Thai Party and Matchima Thipataya Party [cases]. Thai society should decide on whether Apichart should continue in his post and receive taxpayers' money as his salary,'' he said.

Thepthai Senpong, a personal spokesman of the Democrat Party leader, defended Apichart saying the EC chairman postponed the decision because of additional evidence and he needed to ensure fairness to all parties.

"Pheu Thai's accusation that Apichart is buying time is politically motivated. They have been making false accusations of double standards against the EC. They have been plotting a rally outside the EC office.

"The EC, however, should not feel intimidated. If the Democrat Party is wrong, then so be it, otherwise the case should be dropped,'' he said.

He said Pheu Thai had made a claim the Democrats would not be dissolved because the party belongs to the bureaucratic polity; the Opposition party wants to link its movements to bring down the institution with the Democrat Party - even though it was not true. "We have belonged to the people for the 63 years since we were founded."

I'm not PM's image-maker, says Satit

PM's Office Minister Satit Wongnongtoey is sincere and logical about what his ruling party should fear most. Curiously, it is not a coup or Thaksin Shinawatra's red shirts. Of all the issues facing the Democrat Party, he said, there was only one it had no control over whatsoever. The biggest potential timebomb is none other than the campaign contribution scandal, which could ultimately see the party punished by dissolution.

"When this case is concerned, we can't control anything and we can't predict anything," he told The Nation in an exclusive interview on Friday.

Critics may argue he overlooked the gossip about good relations between the Election Commission chairman and his party.

Election Commission chief Apichart Sukhagganond has been criticised by some for what they claim is a lack of significant progress. Only a few days ago he said a review of the case, in which the Democrat Party was accused of having unlawfully received a donation of Bt258 million from TPI Polene, could not be concluded before the end of February.

Apichart, the political party registrar, said the working committee he assigned to review the case had yet to find enough evidence so it would not able to resolve the matter next month.

Observers believe coup still possible

THE NATION 01/02/ 2010

To many observers, a military coup still looms on the horizon, and the question tilts toward when it would happen rather than if it would occur.They believe the military was about to stage a coup last Friday but, for unknown reasons, decided to walk away from it at the last minute.

The timing was tantalizing. "Then Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was on his way to Switzerland, while General Anupong Paochinda, the Army chief, was making a trip to the South," one source said.

Activities and comments coming from the the red-shirt movement helped fuel coup speculation. Natthawut Saikua, one of their leaders, kept warning that the public should keep an eye on the period between February 4 and 14 when Army Chief Gen Anupong will make an overseas trip. He said that within that 10-day period a military coup could take place.

The red shirts are particularly wary of Gen Prayuth Chan-Ocha, the deputy Army chief who has become a focus of serious speculation. Despite his denials last week, Prayuth has remained hounded by rumours that a coup leader has been designated, with preparatory measures ready to be introduced before, during and after the coup.

"If the coup were to happen, the National United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship will create an uprising to ward off the coup," he said.

Giving rise to this talk is the question how Thailand will cope with the spectre of bitter conflict and violence in the run-up to the Supreme Court's ruling on the Bt76 billion asset seizure case against former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on February 26. Thaksin is expected to fight to his death to protect his last fortune.

In September 2006, the military rolled out the tanks to remove Thak-sin and to prevent clashes between the Yellow Shirt protesters and Thaksin's supporters. The military was said to be far from enjoying unity then, almost shooting at each other.

This time around, the military is said to be firmly united around the brainy Gen Prayuth, the new Army chief-designated. Proclaimed confidence in Prayuth has to do with the delicate consequences linked to the ruling on Thaksin's asset seizure case, and a belief that the Abhisit government is no longer in total charge of the situation, particularly with a desperate Thaksin on the loose.

Last Monday His Majesty the King granted an audience for new judges and called on them to exercise their duty with bravery, righteousness and justice. This followed rumours of alleged attempts to lobby the Su-preme Court on the asset seizure case.

Thaksin has completely lost his support from the military, as seen by last week's gatherings of mid-level commanders and their troops to demonstrate unequivocal backing for Army chief Gen Anupong.

Virtually all the mid-level military commanders, including rangers from Pak Thongchai, Nakhon Ratchasima, have signalled that they would support Gen Anupong and boycott Maj Gen Khattiya Sawasdiphol, one of the outspoken leaders of the Thaksin's red shirts. Maj Gen Khattiya has made veiled threats against Anupong, members of the Asset Examination Committee and judges involved in the asset seizure case.

A desperate Thaksin may resort to a red shirt uprising to create social upheaval to the extent that His Majesty the King is obliged to intervene for a truce. He also might launch last-minute lobbying efforts targetting the Supreme Court.

In addition to that, Thaksin could try to embarrass Thailand by taking the asset seizure case to the World Court. He claimed people everywhere knew that his family had been rich before he entered politics.