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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Khmer drug fight to get heavy US help

Khmer drug fight to get heavy US help

T HE United States - worried that 70 percent of heroin sold there comes from

South East Asia - intends taking a no-nonsense approach to fighting the

burgeoning Cambodian drug trade.

Last week one of its top anti-drug

officials, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law

Enforcement Affairs, Robert Gelbard, said that US support to Cambodian

authorities would eventually extend beyond training.

The US will invest

in equipment, and more, "but I think thats a little further down the track,"

said Gelbard, who met with both Prime Ministers and other officials during his

Cambodian visit.

Gelbard stressed more than once that the US involvement

came at the specific invitation of the Cambodians.

Gelbard spoke of the

problems of West African trafficking groups, specifically Nigerians, in the

region; and answered questions about possible high-level complicity at police,

military or government level with drug traffickers.

Gelbard said the

recent Thai seizure of three Sam-7 missile launchers - destined from Cambodia to

Burmese drug lord Khun Sa, in exchange for three and a half kilograms of heroin

- was circumstantial proof of Khmer Rouge complicity.

"As far as I

understand it there is only one group that possesses Sam-7 missiles, and thats

the Khmer Rouge... so you can draw your own conclusions."

However, when

told that the launchers were Russian-made rather than Chinese, and therefore

originally from RCAF stock, Gelbard said he would defer "to others who would

have much more knowledge than I."

"Drugs corrupt in the United States,

they corrupt everywhere else. This is a very poor country... and to the degree

that this problem is allowed to remain unchecked... there is going to be a lot

more corruption," he said.

When asked whether there were any Cambodian

officials on the DEA "watch list" who would be denied American visas, Gelbard

said that was not an issue to be discussed publicly.

Gelbard said the US

was trying to develop much stronger bilateral ties with all South East Asian

countries.

"But at the same time we feel its critical for the countries

themselves to be able to arrange close relationships to the point that they are

able to permit information exchange, joint operations and

investigations."

He said in Cambodia's case, the US needed to help in the

consolidation of strong democratic institutions, especially in the justice

sector.

Gelbard also gave the "very good" draft anti-drug law a plug,

saying that during his meetings he had stressed the need for the law to get

swift approval through the Council of Ministers and the National

Assembly.

Laws against money laundering were also important, he

said.

Potential routes of trade in heroin, opium and increasingly

amphetamines have been identified, the Post understands.

One big route

appears to be from the southern provinces of Laos to Preah Vihear and Stung

Treng provinces and out to the international market via Vietnam, or shipped.

Drug enforcement officials in Vientiane admit there is little control over that

stretch of border.

"The situation is quite alarming. Law enforcement

units such as the police are ill-equipped," Dr Duong Socheat, deputy director of

the National Center for Hygiene and Epidemiology in Phnom Penh, said during a

recent seminar in Bangkok. "The Cambodian government must adopt a stricter

approach and law enforcement policy to deal with drug trafficking in our

country."

Cambodia was recently invited to the first meeting on

integrated anti-narcotics cooperation in the Mekong region in Beijing late last

month.

Minister of Justice Chem Snguon signed the Beijing Declaration and

a three-year action plan, with 11 anti-narcotics projects worth $9.6 million

identified.

A US Drug Enforcement Agency training program for

anti-narcotics police and military began in the capital last week.

In

Bangkok, Richard Dickins, UNDP Regional Center's Law Enforcement Adviser, said

the international community has been encouraged by Cambodia's participation in

Asia's "drug combat club".

He said he was scheduled to visit Cambodia

next month. There he will meet with the authorities to discuss and identify

areas where assistance can be accommodated.

"Cambodia would receive

attention from the traffickers because of the lack of law enforcement ability,"

said Dickins.

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