AFTER being added to the United States' government's list of countries supporting
drug trafficking last year, the Kingdom is now gaining international notoriety as
a major illegal immigration transit point.
Cambodian Interpol admits that while it has recently broken a large international
trafficking ring, as many as eight criminal immigration syndicates may still be operating
in the capital. Police also say that as many as 10,000 illegal Chinese immigrants
trafficked through Hong Kong may now be living in Phnom Penh.
Interpol chief General M Ly Roun Skadavy said the recent arrest at a Tuol Kork villa
of four Hong Kong and Chinese traffickers, along with 83 illegal Chinese immigrants
had exposed merely the "tip of the iceberg" of a booming China-Hong Kong-Cambodia
The arrested traffickers Chan Yui Chun, Chan Hak So, Chen Si Tong and Dong Rong were
in T3 jail awaiting further questioning in Phnom Penh court, at press time, and will
be charged with alleged breaches of the immigration law, police said.
The four could face ten to fifteen year jail terms if convicted, Interpol said.
Skadavy said the busted operation was like other China-Hong Kong-Cambodia trafficking
syndicates here in that it was operated by ethnic Chinese using a tourism company
as a front, in this case, Silver Bridge Tours, which is registered with the Ministries
of Tourism and Economics.
Skadavy said Silver Bridge Tours is also connected to two other front companies operating
from Hong Kong and Hok Kien Province in China and that bribes of up to $30,000 had
been offered to Interpol for the ring leaders' release.
The Interpol swoop, which Skadavy said resulted from a tip off from Chinese Interpol,
has been welcomed by Chinese and United States Embassy officials in Phnom Penh.
US officials said the organized smuggling of Chinese nationals through Cambodia has
become a major problem for the US as well as for the other destinations in Europe,
Canada, Australia and Central and South America.
"Cambodia is fast becoming one of the largest staging and transit points in
Asia for People's Republic of China nationals being smuggled to the United States
and other countries," said Olen Marten, District Director at the US Embassy's
Immigration and Naturalization Office in Bangkok.
The embassy official said since 1992 US immigration officials at the US ports of
entry have found increasing numbers of Chinese nationals whose journey began in Cambodia.
Marten said thousands of Chinese are believed to have entered Cambodia illegally
for the purposes of obtaining forged travel documents and onward smuggling to the
"The smuggling of PRC nationals is being accomplished by a number of sophisticated
criminal organizations with networks operating throughout the world," Marten
He said illegal immigrants are "being transited from Cambodia either directly
to the US or through a variety of European, South and Central American, Canadian
and Caribbean routes."
Phnom Penh's Chinese Embassy First Secretary Zhou Wen Rui said his government also
"strongly opposes" the flow of illegal immigrants into Cambodia.
Zhou said he had requested Cambodia's Ministry of Interior to "take steps to
block the entry of illegal Chinese into Cambodia."
But crippled by a lack of resources Cambodian Interpol says they may be unable to
crack down on other trafficking syndicates because they have no funds to launch the
Another stumbling block in halting the trade is the involvement of corrupt Cambodian
officials with the traffickers, Interpol's General Skadavy said.
"These officials are facilitating the entry into Cambodia of illegal immigrants
either overland from Vietnam or directly thorough Phnom Penh's International airport,"
the General said.
"Corrupt Cambodian officials in collaboration with certain travel agents are
bringing in foreigners illegally by passing immigration check points," he added.
Neighbors and street vendors in Tuol Kork said at least four underground immigration
transit villas are operating in their district and that police and government officials
often visit the villas.
Referring to the Silver Bridge Tour's villa, a local drinks seller said she believed
police and officials were aware of the operation well before the recent arrests took
"Police and commune staff have often gone in there to have a drink...I think
it is corruption like everywhere in this country..." she said.
Official records show more than 21,000 Chinese visited Cambodia legally in 1996 on
either tourist or business visas.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) office in Phnom Penh said the
criminal nature of Cambodia's trafficking syndicates has meant the problem has been
for them "too dangerous to investigate".
IOM's Florian Forster said his organization mainly provides humanitarian assistance
to returnees and refugees but if requested by the government they would be prepared
to investigate ways of assisting the victims of illegal trade.
The mostly young mainland Chinese males and nine women arrested along with the ringleaders
Dec 25 had hoped to be shipped from Cambodia on to the US or Europe, Interpol investigators
Instead, arrested without passports or visas, they are now being held at Pochentong
Immigration Detention Center, awaiting either deportation or transfer to Phnom Penh's