Asenior government spokesman has said the US Embassy in Phnom Penh has provided
the authorities with a list of names of potential terrorist suspects from Iraq,
for fear they could strike US interests here. That follows the commencement of
the controversial war in Iraq, which began March 19 with the first US-led
bombing of Baghdad.
"The US government and embassy in Phnom Penh have
provided a list of terrorists, those based in Iraq," said General Khieu Sopheak
of the Ministry of Interior (MoI). He added that airport staff had been briefed
to be on high alert for suspicious persons. The names of all arriving Iraqi
nationals were to be reported to the US Embassy.
"We have to scrutinize
the passports and their validity, we have to scrutinize and monitor the
transportation of guns and firearms," he said. "We don't want to make Cambodia
one of the targets."
However the US Embassy would not comment on
intelligence gathering "as a matter of policy" and would not say whether such a
list had been handed over to the government.
"We have met with the most
senior levels of the government to discuss our security concerns as they relate
to military action in Iraq," the embassy spokesperson said, "particularly with
regard to the safety of American citizens and the official American presence in
Three Iraqi diplomats and eight other Iraqi nationals were
expelled from neighboring Thailand on March 20, the Bangkok Post reported. The
Thai government cited "security reasons" that had surfaced following
intelligence cooperation with the US.
The MoI also expressed concern that
people with links to terrorist organizations could come here to regroup
following the possible fall of the regime in Baghdad. That is despite the lack
of any published evidence linking Iraq with the al-Qaeda terror
"Iraq has been hit by airstrikes, and some of the terrorist
organizations in Iraq are going to find a safe haven," said Sopheak. "Cambodian
law enforcement should be aware. We should be very vigilant, not providing a
safe haven for their terrorist activities."
Those working in migration,
however, are more concerned at the plight of Iraqis fleeing their homeland for
humanitarian reasons. Mohammad Al-Nassery, program officer at the UN's
International Organization for Migration, said all asylum seekers he had
encountered were genuine, although he conceded Cambodia could become a
"Most of [the asylum seekers] are looking for a better future,"
he said. "I don't know how much the terrorist networks are using Cambodia [but
it is] a potential spot for having more pockets."
During the 2001 war in
Afghanistan, 241 Afghans and Pakistanis were discovered on a boat off the
Sihanoukville coast. All were repatriated. In March this year 31 Bangladeshis
were repatriated after they were found to be heading for
Raymond Alikpala, legal officer at international NGO Jesuit
Service (JS), said the country's lax regulations and reputation for lawlessness
has long enticed those looking to escape persecution at home.
is attractive because they do not detain immigrants," said Alikpala. "It is also
very easy to get a visa to Cambodia. All you need is a valid, or a valid
looking, passport and $20, and very few questions are asked. The fact is that
the country is so corrupt you can get away with anything."
And with the
Iraqi war destroying homes and displacing families, Alikpala said some may try
to escape by way of Cambodia.
"That is what we fear," he said. "They find
the door being closed to them, but in Cambodia the door is still open. One Iraqi
family went to Jordan, then to Bangkok, and then to Cambodia. They are very
The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said to date it
had not noted any increase in asylum-seekers, and speculated that Iraqis would
probably try to reach neighboring countries first. If Iraqis were to come to
Cambodia, said a UNHCR spokesperson, they would be dealt with under the UN
Convention for Refugees.
JS's Alikpala said the main refugee intake was
currently from Vietnam, and the government had had difficulties dealing with
"I don't know whether the Cambodian government could protect asylum
seekers from Iraq," he said, "when it can't even handle refugees from Vietnam."