A series of seminars sponsored by the US embassy hopes to bring Muslim
communities and law enforcement officials into closer contact as they
work to combat Islamic extremism.
Cham Muslims at their prayers in a mosque on Oudong mountain in Kampong Speu province in this file photo.
CAMBODIAN police in three provinces are to attend seminars this week as part of a US effort to promote a closer relationship between Cham communities and Cambodian law enforcement officials as they attempt to keep Islamic extremism at bay in the Kingdom.
In a speech Monday at the opening of the first seminar in Phnom Penh, US Ambassador Carol Rodley said the case of convicted Bali bomber Hambali, who took refuge in Cambodia in 2003, showed that no Muslim communities were immune from malignant outside influences.
"Muslim leaders in Cambodia have been forthright and united in their condemnation of terrorism, pointing out that Islam is a religion of peace," she told the audience.
"Through your dialogue and mutual understanding, networks and bonds can be created which will go a long way towards the prevention of any type of threat - be it terrorist, criminal or social."
US embassy spokesman John Johnson said the seminars, which will be held Tuesday in Kampong Cham and Thursday in Kampot, would focus on ensuring that effective local police efforts involved participation from local Cham communities.
He added that 150 police were expected to take part in the seminars, which are to feature a speaker from the US and two law enforcement experts from Indonesia with firsthand experience of policing in Muslim minority areas.
Rodley added that the knowledge gained in the seminars would help Chams build "stable communit[ies]" and "prevent future Hambalis from taking refuge on Cambodian soil".
Cham representatives and law enforcement officials said they were glad to support the US initiative and called on authorities to work more closely with Cambodia's estimated 400,000 Cham Muslims.
"I am happy to support the US embassy in providing training courses on law enforcement to the authorities who are working with Muslim communities in Cambodia," said Othsman Hassan, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Labour who is also Cham.
"I hope police authorities will make an effort to do their professional duty and cooperate with Khmer Muslim communities for their peaceful social development."
While he had not heard of the seminar, Phnom Penh police Chief Touch Naruth said he hoped law enforcement officials who attended the course would gain experience in working with Cham communities, adding that police who know the law well enjoy "the support and encouragement of the people".
Ahmad Yahya, a Cham government adviser, also said he knew little about the forums but offered his support to all US efforts to prevent extremism from becoming embedded in local Cham communities.
But when asked whether close policing of Cham communities could create problems, he responded that the obligation to prevent Islamic extremism went both ways.
"I don't think [this is a problem]. It is the duty of the police to watch everything," he said Tuesday.
"As Muslim community leaders, we must also watch and see who comes to Cambodia, and for what."