Cable Shows Dara a Trusted Source for US

A May 2006 cable from a US diplomat in Phnom Penh shows Lieutenant Gen­eral Moek Dara, the secretary-general of the National Authority of Combating Drugs currently facing corruption charges here, to be a trusted source to the US Embassy in Phnom Penh and active in fighting illegal drug smuggling.

The cable, which was published on the website of the Guardian newspaper on Thursday and ob­tained by anti-secrecy organization Wikileaks, explains how antidrug officials in Cambodia had started to step up their campaign against the illegal drug trade through the help of training from the US Drug Enforcement Ad­min­istration and the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

It also shines light on how ef­forts to train officials in stamping out drug smuggling resulted in reducing corruption among both high- and low-ranking officials.

The cable, which was written by Mark Storella, deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy in Phnom Penh between 2003 and 2006, and is marked as “confidential,” ex­presses information provided to the US Embassy by Lt Gen Dara, who was then director of the anti-drugs department, as well as by an unnamed official at the World Health Organization.

The cable also uses the example of the arrest of two Taiwanese na­tionals on May 19 and 20, 2006, at the Phnom Penh International Air­port for attempting to smuggle a to­tal of 7 kg of heroin in supporting the premise that the government was cracking down on drug smuggling at the time.

According to the cable, the official at the World Health Organization “speculated that the training and pressure on the Cambodian government to clamp down on drug activity has finally made an impression on higher ranking officials, and lower-level officers are ‘being allowed’ to make more seizures.”

“Seizures of amphetamine-type stimulants are more than double last year’s levels,” the cable added.

The cable stated that Lt Gen Dara had said that an uptick in arrests and seizures of drugs was due to counternarcotics training funded by the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

“Before the training sessions, which were conducted in January and April 2006, police officers along Cambodia’s porous northern border were not very active and would not even conduct foot patrols in the forest, according to Moek Dara,” the cable said.

“Now, however, the officers have more skills and are more motivated to patrol actively, he said, and have seized drugs and a lot of drug production equipment as well.”

“Customs, immigration, and police officials at the airports are also better trained and more active, and Moek Dara noted that all of the officials involved in the weekend’s airport arrests had completed DEA training,” the cable added.

Cambodian law enforcement authorities cooperate actively with US agencies, including DEA, FBI, Department of State, USAID, Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Defense.

Together the institutions help to raise the capacity of the maritime security and provide training for military, gendarmerie, police, and officials from Cambodia’s Border Liaison Offices.

Though the cable would seem to paint Lt Gen as a close source of the US embassy, and one that was active in reducing drug crime in Cambodia, recent events would not paint such a rosy picture.

On Jan 12 officials from the Anticorruption Unit and Interior Ministry detained Lt Gen Dara. That same day they also detained Lieutenant Colonel Chea Leng, who is also an antidrug official. On Wednesday Banteay Meanchey provincial court charged Lt Gen Dara and Lt Col Leng with corruption.

Officials at the Anticorruption Unit yesterday announced at a press conference that Lt Gen Dara had led a drug distribution network in Banteay Meanchey province that involved protecting drug dealers and stealing drugs from dealers they had already arrested.

“The assumption that I and others in the UN have always made is that as the chief of the antidrug police in Cambodia that he would be one of the most instrumental authorities in the approach taken by the antidrug police in supply reduction” of drugs, said Graham Shaw, technical officer at the WHO in Cambodia.

“If you look at the official statistics of the supply reduction activities, drugs seized, people arrested, I think you will probably see that during the time of Moek Dara…there has been some significant steps forward.”

“The only thing we will never know is if he was involved in corrupt practices at that time and how many cases slipped through,” he added.

The US embassy in Phnom Penh declined to comment.

“We will not comment on the authenticity, veracity, or content of any allegedly leaked US government documents,” a spokesperson at the Embassy said in an email.

Indeed, there have been very few arrests of any one senior in the government in relation to drug charges while Lt Gen Dara has been in charge of the National Authority of Combating Drugs.

Though in 2007 Oum Chhay, an advisor to National Assembly President Heng Samrin, was arrested for his alleged role in an illicit building in Kompong Speu province believed to be a methamphetamine laboratory that contained three tons of chemicals used in the fabrication of drugs.

Mr Chhay later reportedly committed suicide by jumping from Lt Gen Dara’s second-story office at the Anti-Drug Department in Phnom Penh

According to a US State Department report on narcotics published in March, “Drug smugglers travel south through Laos into Cambodia where they enter Thailand across the Thai-Cambodian border. Drugs are also transported from Burma through Laos to Vietnam and Cambodia for regional export.”

The report also said that Cambodia “has a significant and growing illegal drug problem consisting of increased levels of consumption, trafficking, and production of dangerous drugs.”


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