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Cambodia Watching Islamic Extremists for Regional Threats

Fighters with the militant group Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also called ISIS by some) wave flags as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Raqqa province, northern Syria, June 30, 2014.

Cambodian security officials say they are not yet ready to express a position on the US coalition to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, preferring instead to monitor whether the group is a threat to Southeast Asia.

Defense Minister Tea Banh told VOA Khmer that so far the threat of the extremist group has not spread to Asean—where pro-al-Qaida movements have grown in the past. “This issue does not seem to spread to Asean,” he said. “It is occurring in the far distance and does not seem to affect us at all.”

However, he said, Cambodia is paying close attention to the new threat, and he condemned the killing of Western journalists in online videos that spurred American strikes on the group in Iraq.

“Actually, we’ve seen only through video the killing of the prisoners,” he said. “That seems not good at all because what we’ve seen, it’s too extreme.”

Keat Chantharith, a spokesman for the national police, told VOA Khmer that authorities are “consistently” wary of extremists. “We don’t have any remarkable, big signs,” he said.

Cambodia is in a monitoring stage and not yet joining a coalition against ISIS, he said.

Yem Ponhearith, a spokesman for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, said Cambodian Muslims “are not extremists.” “So, in my observation, there is nothing noticeable,” he said.

Meanwhile, the US has begun to support Iraqi troops with air strikes against ISIS, an escalation of counter-terrorism efforts announced by President Barack Obama last week.

Ny Chakrya, director of the rights group Adhoc, said a conflict between the Islamic State and the West could be confused as a “religious war” and is therefore dangerous. It could lead to “political discrimination or a political crisis,” he said.