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Container scanning on hold

Prime Minister Hun Sen suspended the mandatory computerized scanning of exports at

the Sihanoukville port on October 14, after the inefficient two-week-old system held

up the shipment of 90 garment containers. Industry officials estimated the delay

cost factories up to $4 million.

Later that day, Hun Sen defended the controversial total-scanning policy at the ninth

Government-Private Sector Forum. He said full scanning operations would resume after

foreign donors provide additional equipment.

"With these scanners we can fight arms trade, drugs, human trafficking and international

terrorism," he said, adding that the increased security would burnish Cambodia's

reputation and increase foreign investment in Cambodia.

But though illicit trafficking is certainly a problem for Cambodia, it is unclear

whether it involves shipping containers in Sihanoukville.

David de Beer, advisor for a European Union program to curb small arms in Cambodia,

called the likelihood of arms trafficking in Sihanoukville "minimal."

And Bill Forbes, who works on human trafficking issues for World Vision, said he

had never heard of human trafficking through shipping containers.

An official at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime could not think of a

single instance of drug trafficking through containers shipped out of the Sihanoukville

port in recent years. "The port is always a concern," he said, "but

we have had no confirmation of [drug trafficking] lately."

The single car-mounted scanner at the Sihanoukville port is owned and operated by

Sindei, a company run by National Assembly member and AZ businessman Eung Bun How.

Joe Lu, chairman of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia, said port

officials announced months ago that from October 1 electronic scanning would be required

for all containers leaving Cambodia. Manufacturers must pay $45 or $72 a container

for scanning, depending on length.

Cambodia's scanning fee is average compared with other ports in the region, but its

requirement that all exports be scanned is not. Lu said ports in Hong Kong and Singapore

employ a risk-management system to identify and scan suspicious containers without

disrupting other shipping.

He said industry officials proposed a similar plan for the port in Sihanoukville,

but government officials were not interested.

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