C AMBODIAN government officials are cooperating with American officials in efforts
to clamp down on drugs trafficking in the Kingdom, and American Drug Enforcement
Agency (DEA) officials meet regularly with Cambodian counterparts to work on the
problem, according to U.S. Embassy official.
"In a sense the cooperation has been very good. They've asked for cooperation
and we've responded," said the U.S. official who declined to be named.
"DEA agents now visit Cambodia regularly to conduct training and to meet with
counterparts," the source said, who went on to describe how the U.S. government
had provided $325,000 in funds to set up a drug analysis laboratory and other equipment.
The comments came in response to queries about a cover story in the most recent edition
of the Far Eastern Economic Review which says that Cambodia has become a major drugs
trafficking center since the departure of the United Nations in 1993.
The series of articles entitled "Cambodia: Asia's New Narco-State?" describe
an intricate network of relationships between powerful businessmen, government military
and security forces and senior government leaders.
"Western governments, international law-enforcement officials and Cambodian
sources say businessmen engaged in criminal activities have amassed immense power
in Cambodia in the two-and-a-half years since United Nations-run elections. Protected
by senior government officials, they've turned Cambodia into a major center for drug
trafficking, money laundering and smuggling," says the Review, which hit news
stands on Nov 16.
The Review article cited an American official who said criminal syndicates "are
using government planes, helicopters, military trucks, navy boats and soldiers to
Asked to comment on the story, a U.S. Embassy spokesman said on Nov 16 that he did
not know who the official quoted in the Review story was.
The embassy declined further comment saying that the U.S. official position on drug
trafficking in Cambodia was contained in the State Department's "International
Narcotics Control Strategy Report".
The embassy spokesman said: "We feel that this [Review] article is about Cambodia.
It's not Cambodians not Americans."
The report, which was released in March, 1995, said, "involvement of some leading
businessmen with access to the highest levels of government is a know concern. We
are not aware of any prosecutions for narcotics-related corruption. There are indications
that some high-level military officials and powerful businessmen who give financial
support to politicians are involved in heroin smuggling."
However, the Review article, citing former Finance Minister Sam Rainsy, said that
U.S. Ambassador Charles Twining told Rainsy in February, 1994 that the U.S. government
had information that Cambodia's most prominent businessman and recently elected chairman
of the Chamber of Commerce, Theng Bunma, was involved in the narcotics trade.
"Please tell Ranariddh not to get involved with Theng Bunma because we Americans
have evidence that Theng Bunma is involved in drugs trafficking," Rainsy is
quoted by the Review as having been told by Twining during a private meeting at the
The U.S. embassy would not comment on the discussion saying that meetings with government
officials were a private matter.
Ministry of Information spokesman Sieng Lapresse said he had read the Review article
and had called Ambassador Twining. Lapresse said: "[Twining] said that he met
with Rainsy many times and talked about many things. He did not remember saying or
not saying... He said that the word 'evidence' was serious. If it were him he did
not dare use it."
Lapresse added that the report was new to the government but that they would investigate
The issue is further complicated because the U.S. embassy granted Theng Bunma a visa
to visit the United States in April of this year. Bunma, according to the Review,
was part of an official delegation led by National Assembly chairman Chea Sim, which
visited Washington, DC. The delegation met with senior American government leaders,
although Bunma did not attend the meetings.
The U.S. embassy, while confirming the visa, gave a "no comment" on the
reasons why Bunma was allowed to travel to the U.S., saying, "We don't discuss
deliberations by which we made the decision."
Theng Bunma, for his part, has denied all allegations that he is involved in drug
trafficking. Bunma told the Post on Nov 16: "The writer has no evidence, he
just wrote like that [without proof]."
When asked if he had ever been asked to smuggle drugs, Bunma said, "I don't
have any connection with drug traffickers."
The Review article says that in light of the drug trafficking situation in Cambodia,
"American officials say it's only a matter of weeks before Cambodia is placed
on the Major Narcotics Country list. Once that happens, U.S. law will require that
Phnom Penh demonstrate that it has 'taken legal and law-enforcement measures to prevent
and punish public corruption especially by senior government officials - that facilitates
the production, processing or shipment of narcotic drugs, or that discourages investigation
or prosecution of such acts."
The U.S. embassy said that it had no information on the issue. "If there is
such a move we haven't been apprised of it," an embassy spokesman told the Post
on Nov 16.
The spokesman went on to say that even if Cambodia was put on the Major Narcotics
Country list that there might be overriding considerations which would result in
Cambodia getting a "national interest waiver". The official referred to
Thailand as an example of a country where some citizens were known drug traffickers
but, because the Thai government was "making good efforts" to control the
drug trade, it had not been officially sanctioned by the U.S.
For countries which are put on the "narcotics list" and which do not receive
waivers, the U.S. is obliged to consider stopping all foreign assistance including
voting against multilateral aid via the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and
the Asian Development Bank.
Current direct U.S. aid to Cambodia amounts to about $50 million for fiscal year
1995. Multilateral aid is significantly larger and provides the bulk of the financial
resources currently used to cover 44 percent of the Kingdom's $410 million annual