T HE United States - worried that 70 percent of heroin sold there comes from
South East Asia - intends taking a no-nonsense approach to fighting the
burgeoning Cambodian drug trade.
Last week one of its top anti-drug
officials, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law
Enforcement Affairs, Robert Gelbard, said that US support to Cambodian
authorities would eventually extend beyond training.
The US will invest
in equipment, and more, "but I think thats a little further down the track,"
said Gelbard, who met with both Prime Ministers and other officials during his
Gelbard stressed more than once that the US involvement
came at the specific invitation of the Cambodians.
Gelbard spoke of the
problems of West African trafficking groups, specifically Nigerians, in the
region; and answered questions about possible high-level complicity at police,
military or government level with drug traffickers.
Gelbard said the
recent Thai seizure of three Sam-7 missile launchers - destined from Cambodia to
Burmese drug lord Khun Sa, in exchange for three and a half kilograms of heroin
- was circumstantial proof of Khmer Rouge complicity.
"As far as I
understand it there is only one group that possesses Sam-7 missiles, and thats
the Khmer Rouge... so you can draw your own conclusions."
told that the launchers were Russian-made rather than Chinese, and therefore
originally from RCAF stock, Gelbard said he would defer "to others who would
have much more knowledge than I."
"Drugs corrupt in the United States,
they corrupt everywhere else. This is a very poor country... and to the degree
that this problem is allowed to remain unchecked... there is going to be a lot
more corruption," he said.
When asked whether there were any Cambodian
officials on the DEA "watch list" who would be denied American visas, Gelbard
said that was not an issue to be discussed publicly.
Gelbard said the US
was trying to develop much stronger bilateral ties with all South East Asian
"But at the same time we feel its critical for the countries
themselves to be able to arrange close relationships to the point that they are
able to permit information exchange, joint operations and
He said in Cambodia's case, the US needed to help in the
consolidation of strong democratic institutions, especially in the justice
Gelbard also gave the "very good" draft anti-drug law a plug,
saying that during his meetings he had stressed the need for the law to get
swift approval through the Council of Ministers and the National
Laws against money laundering were also important, he
Potential routes of trade in heroin, opium and increasingly
amphetamines have been identified, the Post understands.
One big route
appears to be from the southern provinces of Laos to Preah Vihear and Stung
Treng provinces and out to the international market via Vietnam, or shipped.
Drug enforcement officials in Vientiane admit there is little control over that
stretch of border.
"The situation is quite alarming. Law enforcement
units such as the police are ill-equipped," Dr Duong Socheat, deputy director of
the National Center for Hygiene and Epidemiology in Phnom Penh, said during a
recent seminar in Bangkok. "The Cambodian government must adopt a stricter
approach and law enforcement policy to deal with drug trafficking in our
Cambodia was recently invited to the first meeting on
integrated anti-narcotics cooperation in the Mekong region in Beijing late last
Minister of Justice Chem Snguon signed the Beijing Declaration and
a three-year action plan, with 11 anti-narcotics projects worth $9.6 million
A US Drug Enforcement Agency training program for
anti-narcotics police and military began in the capital last week.
Bangkok, Richard Dickins, UNDP Regional Center's Law Enforcement Adviser, said
the international community has been encouraged by Cambodia's participation in
Asia's "drug combat club".
He said he was scheduled to visit Cambodia
next month. There he will meet with the authorities to discuss and identify
areas where assistance can be accommodated.
"Cambodia would receive
attention from the traffickers because of the lack of law enforcement ability,"