The Post has learned that an undisclosed amount of C4, the same plastic explosive
used in the Bali bombing, has gone missing at various times during the past eight
years from the government's demining agency, the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC).
There have long been rumors that substantial amounts of C4 were stolen from the agency.
That some has in fact disappeared was backed up by a statement from the US Embassy
in Phnom Penh, which admitted that it has received reports that "some small
quantities" had disappeared. However it was not able to provide an estimate
of the total amount.
Figures provided to the Post by CMAC earlier this year showed the agency purchased
15.02 tons of C4 between August 1995 and August 1998. CMAC data showed that only
102 kilograms of C4 remained at CMAC's central store in January 2002.
The current director-general of CMAC, Khem Sophoan, joined the agency in August 1999
after a financial scandal almost closed it. He said he could not release figures
showing how much C4 the organization's demining teams had reported they had used,
even though that could clarify how much had gone missing.
"You are a journalist so I could not report to you about this, because we send
our reports to the United States Embassy. We cannot report ... about the explosives
used in CMAC," he told the Post on October 17. One week later he said he did
not have figures for the period prior to his appointment.
Sophoan insisted that only the US Embassy could provide the figures, but said he
was 100 percent satisfied that since he had been in charge, all C4 had been used
properly in the field. The only amount he was aware had gone missing was 17 kilograms
that fell off a truck in January 1999 and was never traced.
For the period prior to mid-1999, he referred questions to former CMAC head Sam Sotha.
He is currently the head of CMAA, the country's overarching mine authority, but between
July 1995 and July 1999 was CMAC's director-general. Sotha said he was "very,
very sure" that no C4 had gone missing during his tenure.
"I was very careful about that, and the Royal Government was very careful about
that," Sotha said. Internal controls in place, he added, meant he would expect
to have known if some had gone missing.
However the statement received from the US Embassy, whose government manufactures
most of the world's C4, makes it clear that some of the plastic explosive had disappeared,
and placed the onus for the safety of the stocks squarely on the Cambodian government.
"We have received report (sic) over the last eight years that some small quantities
have been lost or stolen," it noted. "We have not conducted any independent
investigations of these claims and we place our trust in the Royal Government of
Cambodia and its agencies to investigate these reports and to maintain accountability
of these sensitive items."
It seems likely that the amounts of C4 disappeared before Sophoan took over at CMAC.
In an interview earlier this year, then-US Ambassador Kent Wiedemann told the Post
that the US had been working with CMAC since 1998 to ensure "US military-style
handling of stores". Among the measures introduced were a two-key system "to
ensure the safety and integrity of the stores' system".
During the interview Ambassador Wiedemann said there was "no evidence of any
kind that there has been any diversion, sale or theft of those stocks". When
asked whether it was possible some had gone missing, he replied: "Of course
it is, but we have done all we can."
The US Embassy statement received on October 22 noted that the US government has
provided funds to CMAC since 1994 allowing the agency to purchase C4 from the US
Department of Defense.
It stressed that responsibility for the security of the explosive was CMAC's alone,
although the US does "maintain a serious interest in accountability and [we]
periodically conduct inspections of CMAC's record-keeping procedures and physical
C4 has been used in several attacks linked to the al-Qaeda group, including the Bali
bombing in mid-October that left around 190 people dead. Some reports suggest that
around 150 kilograms of C4 was used in that attack.