Senior US statesmen say cooperation with small countries like Cambodia and regional neighbors Thailand, and Indonesia is essential to global security and improving US relations with Muslim communities around the world.
Speaking at a briefing on the Project on National Security Reform, Ambassador Thomas Pickering, a member of the project’s Guiding Coalition, said his group has looked at broad priorities for the US administration, not challenges they face on a daily basis.
Pickering said the recommendations put forth by the project envision the U.S. stepping up cooperation with big and small nations alike. In response to a question posed by VOA Khmer about the role of small countries such as Cambodia in future U.S. national security plans, he indicated a greater flexibility would improve U.S. international relations.
“You have defined precisely the kind of problems that new system would be in a stronger position to deal with because it involves obviously multiple American interests and multiple countries,” he said in an auditorium at the VOA headquarters.
US-Cambodian relations have improved since after the lifting of a 10-year ban on direct assistance, in February 2007. Cambodia is now the third largest recipient of US development assistance in Southeast Asia, after Indonesia and the Philippines. Cambodia received $61 million last year alone, with one of the main objectives of the assistance to reduce threats from terrorism.
“The Cambodian government has been an excellent partner in the fight against terrorism, and mostly the assistance that we provide in that area is to try to build the capacity in combating crime, trafficking in persons and strengthening their border operations,” John Johnson, the US embassy spokesperson in Cambodia, told VOA Khmer by telephone Monday.
Cambodia’s cooperation with the US included an absentia life sentence to Jemaah Islamiyah’s ringleader, Hambali, and two associates in 2004.
Lt. Gen. Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Cambodia’s Ministry of Interior, said that the arrest of Hambali, through Cambodian help, in Thailand in 2004, showed the “good cooperation” Cambodia extended to the US.
Meanwhile, the US put on trial US-Cambodian Chhun Yasith, leader of the Cambodian Freedom Fighters, who allegedly orchestrated an attack on the government in late 2000, while the two countries are cooperating to hunt for more plotters of failed bomb attacks near government buildings late last year, Khieu Sopheak said.
Cambodia has improved its security system and destroyed its stockpiles of surface-to-air missiles to prevent them from falling into the hands of terrorists.
“In Cambodia we use our existing principles to fight terrorism, which is to prevent terrorism activities from happening, instead of finding a solution when a problem already arises,” Lt. Gen. Nem Sovath, director general of the Ministry of Defense’s department of politics and foreign affairs, told VOA Khmer by phone Sunday.
Gen. Pol Saroeun, commander of the Cambodian armed forces, praised the US government for extending technical and humanitarian assistance to the ministry and said the country still needs more support fighting terrorism.
As part of increasing global security, the US has begun paying attention to improving relations with Muslim communities.
A study by a US-Muslim project, released in February, concluded now is the right time for national discussions on relations with the global Muslim community.
In a hearing, titled “Engaging With Muslim Communities,” at the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee last Thursday, Sen. John Kerry spoke about President Barrack Obama’s intention to open a new chapter to improving relations with the Muslim world.
“Today, we must send a simple message to all Muslims: we share your aspirations for freedom, dignity, justice and security,’’ Kerry said at the opening of the hearing, which was attended by VOA Khmer.‘’We’re ready to listen, to learn, and to honor the president’s commitment to approach the Muslim world with a spirit of mutual respect.”
Former US secretary of state Madeline Albright told the Senate hearing that the West’s interest in Muslim communities spiked after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“A dialogue driven by such a traumatic event is sure to evoke accusations on one side and defensive on the other,” she said. “This means that if we are serious, we should separate our engagement as much as possible from the context of terrorism.”
Cambodia has around 500,000 Muslims living in the country and, as Zakariya Adam, secretary of state at the Ministry of Cults and Religion, told VOA Khmer in a phone interview, they are moderate and normally do not resort to violence to achieve their goals.