U NITED States President Bill Clinton has specifically pointed the finger at "narcotics-related
corruption" among Cambodian government officials, business people, military
Cambodian Foreign Minister Ung Huot, in rebuttal, urged the US to reveal any evidence
it had to support Clinton's statement.
"If America and other countries know who is involved, they should tell us. We
are willing to cooperate," Huot said this week.
Despite the allegation of government and business complicity in the drug trade, Clinton
gave Cambodia a reprieve and did not impose US aid sanctions on the Kingdom. In fact,
he "certified" Cambodia as a country which was making efforts to stop the
flow of drugs.
In a Feb 23 letter to Congress, Clinton added two countries - Cambodia and Belize
- to an official US government list of "major illicit drug producing and drug
"Over the past year we have seen numerous indicators that the heroin trafficking
problem in Cambodia is severe," Clinton wrote.
"Cambodian police and customs sources have uncovered narcotics cases that involve
the Cambodian military and police.
"Narcotics-related corruption also seems to be a problem in government and business
circles," he added.
While Clinton referred to Cambodian and Thai drug investigations netting military
and police suspects, he did not give any substantiation for his comment on government
and business people.
Citing an estimate by one Cambodian policeman that 600kg of heroin was smuggled through
Cambodia each week, the President wrote: "While we have no evidence to corroborate
this figure, which seems high, seizures in Cambodia give us reason to believe there
is a significant volume of heroin transiting the country."
He referred to a 71 kg heroin seizure in Koh Kong in August - the largest ever in
Cambodia - and said that the "extent of narcotics-related corruption suggests
the overall drug transshipment problem in Cambodia may be even greater than recent
Clinton noted the Royal Government had formally acknowledged the drug transiting
problem and established an interministerial committee against narcotics.
Cambodia was added to the US drug list - which numbers 31 countries this year, including
all of Cambodia's neighbors, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam - as a "transit country."
The US President is required to update the list annually, under a 1986 amendment
to the Foreign Assistance Act which permits the cutting off of most US aid to countries
which do little to stem the flow of drugs to the US.
The amendment was borne out of Congressional concern that the government was too
soft on drug producing or trafficking countries, particularly if the countries were
considered important to US strategic interests.
Under the law, the President has to identify all major countries participating in
the drug trade to the US, and to "certify" whether they are making efforts
to crack down on narcotics.
In a subsequent Mar 1 letter to Congress, Clinton announced that he had determined
that Cambodia should be given certification.
In total, 22 countries - including Cambodia and its neighbors - were certified as
having "cooperated fully" with US anti-drug programs or "taken adequate
steps on their own" to combat the drug business.
Three countries - Lebanon, Pakistan and Paraguay - were given "US vital interests"
waivers, meaning they were only certified because it was in US interests to do so.
Six countries, most which have decidedly uneasy relations with the US - Afghanistan,
Burma, Colombia, Iran, Nigeria and Syria - were not certified. According to the law,
the US has to suspend all aid except humanitarian relief and anti-narcotics training
and equipment, and vote against all multilateral bank loans, to those countries.
In fact, according to the law, half of all US aid to Cambodia should have been suspended
for the seven day period between Clinton's Feb 23 naming of Cambodia on the US drug
list and his subsequent certification of the country. But that was apparently forgotten.
Cambodia, nevertheless, was not happy to have its name ranked alongside some of the
biggest drug nations in the world.
"We do not want to be on that list," Secretary of State for the Council
of Ministers Nouv Kanun said this week.
"We recognize that it is really an international problem. We are really the
victims - [Cambodians] are not the people who are using drugs."
Ung Huot said that First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh - who suggested
this week that the US should put itself on a list of "countries that use drugs"
- would be writing to the US government to complain.
"Cambodia is trying hard to cooperate fully with all agencies to stop drug transiting,"
On government officials' alleged involvement, he said: "If there's anyone in
the government, they [the US] should tell us, to find out who they are.
"If there is someone in the government [involved in drugs], so be it, he should
be arrested. But to accuse the government as a whole is not fair."