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ASEAN's Year in Review (Page 2 of 3)

Environmentalist Chhut Vuthy was shot dead in a confrontation over a land concession given to a Chinese company. Charges against Chhouk Bundith, a district governor who was photographed waving a gun after witnesses said he shot three women at a labor protest, were dropped. Equally incredulous was the jailing of veteran broadcaster Mam Sonando, who was convicted of trying to organize a secession movement.  Mam Sonando, like Chhut Vuthy, also had a habit of criticizing the government, however, Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun did not. The pair, after years of legal wrangling, were again jailed for the 2004 murder of Chea Vichea, a prominent union official who did have a habit of criticizing Hun Sen. That decision also outraged human rights groups who argued the pair were simply scapegoats.

Laos followed Cambodia’s lead and signaled it was also moving closer to China through a series of billion-dollar-contracts for the construction of dams, roads and railways. In order to achieve this, Laos has committed itself to Chinese banks and profits from the $3.5 billion Xayaburi Dam.

The dam will block the mainstream of the Mekong River, endangering fish migration patterns and much needed food stocks in Vietnam and Cambodia where 60 million people depend on the river for their livelihoods. Vientiane ignored objections, led largely by its traditional ally, Hanoi, where Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung was having his own troubles with a Communist Party that was angered by his handling of Vietnam’s economy. In August, the nation’s Appeals Court upheld convictions against nine former executives of Vinashin, Vietnam’s largest ship builder, for misappropriating funds. All had close ties with Dung.

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In stark contrast was Indonesia’s economy, which enjoyed a stable year ahead of upcoming elections while the country’s Foreign Minister, Marty Natalegawa, positioned himself as a potential regional leader after he patched up differences — If only temporarily — within ASEAN over China’s advances in the South China Sea.

But the jailing of Umar Patek, a leader of the now defunct al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiya (JI) was also a welcome development for Indonesia. Patek was the last of the Bali bombers to be caught by Indonesian authorities, signaling an end to a horrific decade where the military focus was almost exclusively centered on counterterrorism.

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