US ambassador to Cambodia Patrick Murphy said cooperation between the two nations regarding legal enforcement had produced results, but was usually ‘unheralded’.
Murphy made the remarks during a press conference at the embassy on Thursday to highlight cooperation between the two countries on legal enforcement, a planned event to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Cambodia-US diplomatic relations.
“I think this is kind of quiet but unheralded area of cooperation. That means it doesn’t always get a lot of attention, but we have a lot of success to show for it. We have law enforcement agencies from the United States who work here in Cambodia every day with their counterparts to help Cambodia become a safer, healthier, more prosperous, well-developed country,” he said.
The ambassador added that the US wanted to counter and dismantle transnational criminal networks around the world, including in Cambodia. It has tried to stop criminal networks from making inroads and gains in Cambodia by countering human and wildlife trafficking and protecting children.
The US is also working to protect the Kingdom’s cultural heritage by returning stolen artefacts to the country. There is also a desire to cooperate with Cambodia on countering the proliferation of weapons, he said.
In the area of environmental crimes, the US, through USAID, has trained hundreds of forest rangers in Cambodia. Over the last year, rangers seized hundreds of snares and chainsaws and arrested 60 suspects. Also, several dozens of endangered wildlife have been saved and released back into the wild, Murphy said.
He said efforts were being made to prevent American criminals from entering Cambodia. Over the last two years, the US identified 20 fugitives in Cambodia and deported them to face justice in the US. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is opening a joint taskforce office with Cambodian police, he said.
“These are the kinds of successes we’ve had. As I said, sometimes it is quiet and behind the scenes. Sometimes it’s known publicly. But it is really important fundamentally for the safety, health and prosperity of Cambodian people,” he said.
The US also works with Cambodia to counter criminal syndicates and illicit narcotic drug trades by uncovering illegal laboratories which produce synthetic drugs in Cambodia, he added.
Former opposition lawmaker Ou Chanrath said he observed that Cambodia, with contributions from the US, had made efforts to combat transnational crimes. But the local and international community seemed to pay less attention to this joint effort. They instead looked more at democracy and human rights, Chanrath said.
“That’s why we seem to see more negative points than positive ones in Cambodia-US relations. I see there is plenty of cooperation on countering human trafficking, drugs, and other transnational crimes.
“But as an opposition party, what we try to improve is democracy and human rights, legal enforcement of the government, and then we show them to the public. The government has to show their achievements,” he said.
Kin Phea, the director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, said Cambodia-US relations seemed to conjure up negative images of human rights, democracy and sanctions.
“Relations between the two countries do have a lot of good going for them in areas such as judicial systems, education, the environment, culture and health. These are good areas of cooperation but they seem to be marred by a black cloud.
“The two nations should look at the good lessons they’ve learned together in order to expand the relationship, instead of tying up themselves to the bad past. A good relationship between the two countries depends on mutual respect of sovereignty and avoiding interfering in the internal affairs of each other,” he said.