Phnom Penh – Cambodian Prime Minster Hun Sen has finally confirmed one of the region's worst-kept secrets: That his country is a key supplier of arms to militants in Asia. In doing so, he also appeals for aid to install detectors at ports to kill the illegal trade.
Mr Hun Sen made the admission during a forum of diplomats and foreign investors in the Cambodian capital on Oct 14.
"We have to make sure that drugs won't be taken out of Cambodia to other countries, and we also have to make sure that weapons won't be smuggled out ofCambodia to other countries.
"Because in past years, Cambodia used to be a place where weapons were taken to Sri Lanka for the Tamil group, to Philippines' Mindanao island ... and for the Karen in Myanmar. We have some documents about this," AFP quoted Mr Hun Sen said, without indicating the scale of the smuggling.
The arms were accumulated during the long years of fighting in the 1970s and 1980s as the Khmer Rouge won a civil war and were then ousted by a Vietnamese invasion.
According to Reuters, a 2002 United Nations report had said that arms dealers in the region "are known to provide weapons and ammunition to groups such as Abu Sayyaf and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines, the Jemaah Islamiah in Indonesia and other South-east Asian countries that are linked with Al-Qaeda".
The report also added that Cambodian middlemen had also been smuggling weapons to militant groups such as the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayyaba – believed to have ties to Al-Qaeda – and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka.
Mr Hun Sen said the weapons can be shipped out from Cambodia because scanning equipment at border crossings is inadequate. Only 60 per cent of all containers imported and exported through its international checkpoints are currently screened.
"All our border gates must be equipped with scanners, not only to search for smuggled goods, but also to fight arms and drugs smuggling. Terrorists could use containers to hide explosives and detonate them on the ships or in the planes on arrival overseas," he told his 300-strong audience.
Mr Hun Sen said his government is seeking donors or foreign investors to set up a better system, which would also help in the battle against human trafficking.
* RP rebels getting arms from Cambodia? (The Philippine Star, Oct 16)
* Cambodia a source of arms for militants (The Straits Times, Oct 15)