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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Illegal arms point to wider network

Illegal arms point to wider network

Cambodian authorities have widened an investigation into illegal arms dealings

after initial arrests and the seizure of two anti-tank weapons led

counter-terrorism police to believe a much wider network is operating in the

country.

But Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said the government

would remain prudent on releasing any information regarding the make-up of the

network, fearing police work would be undermined if sensitive details were made

public.

He said the focus of the probe would remain on where the arms

cache - two Armbrust rocket launchers - came from and where they were going and

it was too early to say whether the haul was linked to any "terrorist" or

militant outfit.

"We can't say anything because our police are working on

and investigating this case," Kanharith told the Post. "We should let our police

work finish. If we reveal anything at this time then the network will be cut

off."

The names of three people arrested on April 4 after the arms bust,

coordinated by the intelligence department of the Ministry of Interior, have

been suppressed until charges are laid in court.

Police described the

three men as an Islamic Khmer, a Cambodian court clerk from northeastern Stung

Treng province, and a Cambodian male. Two were arrested in Chraing Chamras

village, 10 kilometers north of the capital, where the weapons were seized. The

third male was apprehended on Street 61 in Phnom Penh.

"We have

sufficient evidence to justify the arrests," said Khieu Sopheak, Interior

Ministry spokesman. "These weapons are new. We are trying to find out where

these weapons were bought and when these weapons were made."

The

shoulder-fired Armbrust carries similar firepower to a Rocket Propelled Grenade

(RPG) 7 launcher and is capable of disabling a tank. It was reportedly first

introduced to Cambodia through Singapore in 1989 after the Vietnamese

withdrawal.

It has been described as a "delightful urban warfare weapon

of choice" because unlike the RPG 7, the Armbrust (German for crossbow) is a

recoilless gun with no back-blast and can therefore be fired comfortably from

within confined spaces.

They had also been shipped to Cambodia before the

eruption in 1997 of fierce factional fighting between forces loyal to Prince

Norodom Ranarridh and Hun Sen, who were then the first and second prime

ministers, respectively.

Nearly three decades of war resulted in Cambodia

emerging as key transit point in the international weapons trade, which the

authorities have sought to curb since hostilities formally ended in

1998.

However, the emergence of Islamic militants in Cambodia with links

to the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network over recent

years has raised international fears that Cambodia is being used by militants as

a business haven.

This was highlighted by the arrest of Hambali, the

alleged mastermind of the October 2002 suicide bombing on the island resort of

Bali that left more than 200 people dead.

Hambali was arrested in

mid-2003 in Thailand. Intelligence and local sources later confirmed he had most

probably plotted the attacks on Cambodian soil, revealing he had lived in Phnom

Penh from mid-2002 until late January 2003.

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