Cambodia’s government has said it was not being negligent in defending against terrorism, after a UN official warned the country could become a breeding ground for terrorists unless it gets international help quickly.
“We do have the will and have joined the international community through several activities to prevent any terrorist bases from being created in Cambodia,” Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said. “We’re not negligent on this.”
He was responding to comments made last week by Heraldo Munoz, the head of the UN Security Council committee on al-Qaida, who said Cambodia had no anti-terrorism legislation in place and lacks the capacity to enforce such laws if they were introduced.
This made it more likely that terrorist groups such as Jemaah Islamiyah, al-Qaida’s Southeast Asian affiliate, could set up operations in the impoverished Southeast Asian country.
“Cambodia, as well as other countries, urgently need international co-operation to enhance their capability to fight terrorism,” Munoz said. “Without that, they will be a breeding ground for terrorism.”
Khieu Sopheak said that just because Cambodia doesn’t have anti-terrorism legislation “doesn’t mean terrorists can just come and hide in our country”.
He said Cambodia had “already demonstrated preventative measures,” apparently referring to the closure last year of a Saudi-funded Islamic school outside Phnom Penh, the capital.
Three terrorist suspects – an Egyptian and two Thais – allegedly used the school as a cover for training terrorists and planning attacks against US and other Western interests in Cambodia.
A judge ordered their case be reinvestigated after their lawyer successfully claimed they could not be charged with terrorism because Cambodia had no anti-terrorism law.
The judge changed the charges to attempted murder, and the suspects remain in jail pending a new trial.
Khieu Sopheak said the Interior Ministry has sought help from other countries to draft an anti-terrorism law that would meet international standards.