A fledgling and unclear partnership between Thai and Cambodian drug enforcement officials was unable to prevent last week’s arrest of Thai and US undercover agents, a senior Cambodian drug enforcement official said Wednesday.
When Second Prime Minister Hun Sen met with Thai Premier Chuan Leekpai in Bangkok last month, the two agreed to further discuss how the nations could work together to stop drug trafficking along its border.
Meetings to finalize a working arrangement between the two countries will be held after the elections, said Sum Manit, secretary-general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs.
“When we have the formal agreement, such a thing [as last week’s arrest] will not happen again,” he said.
Four Thai and one US anti-drug official were arrested by marine police last week when police thought the fishing boat the agents were in was doing something illegal, Cambodian officials said.
Cambodian officials disagree on what day the boat was seized.
It is known that the agents were detained for a few days in Koh Kong, said Yem Hoeun, the Koh Kong police chief. During that time, local police discussed fining the agents, thinking they were actually illegal fishermen, Yem Hoeun said.
The news apparently reached the US government’s Drug Enforcement Agency and Kenneth Quinn, the US ambassador to Cambodia. Quinn, who is currently abroad, then called Prak Sokhonn, a senior adviser to Hun Sen, on the same day the undercover boat was seized, Prak Sokhonn said.
Prak Sokhonn said he notified Hun Sen about the problem. Hun Sen in turn ordered top-ranking military officials to solve the problem as soon as possible, Prak Sokhonn said.
The Cambodian and US agents then went to Phnom Penh to solve immigration problems, an Interior Ministry official said.
The four Thai drug enforcement agents checked into the Borei Thmei hotel near Olympic Stadium at about 7:30 pm Wednesday, hotel employees said. It is not known where the US drug enforcement official stayed.
The next morning, Thai and US embassy officials met with police at the hotel after which the agents and all the police checked out, hotel employees said.
Hotel records showed that anti-drug police picked up the agents’ hotel bill: about $100. No money or fine was paid to Cambodian officials for the agents’ release, Thai Embassy and Cambodian Interior Ministry officials said.
It is not known exactly what the undercover agents were waiting for in the waters off the coast of the island of Koh Kong last week. But Cambodia is known to be a route for opium, heroin and marijuana trafficking. Opium and heroin is brought in over the Laos border through Strung Treng and Kratie provinces before it is shipped out across Cambodian borders, anti-drug officials said.
Had Cambodia and Thailand built up a better anti-drug relationship, the misunderstanding over last week’s incident might not have occurred, Sum Manit said. The nation’s senior drug control officer expressed optimism in future partnerships with Thailand.