Terror Concerns Keep US Embassy Closed

The US Embassy remained closed for business Monday, and will be shuttered for the time being over continued “concerns” it could be the target of a terrorist attack, officials said.

Although the embassy will still be available to US citizens who need emergency help, all other business is at a standstill, one embassy official said. It was not clear Monday how long the embassy would remain closed, the official added.

The decision to keep the US embassy closed has disrupted services for the hundreds of non-US citizens hoping to get visas to the US. The embassy will continue to consider only “bona fide emergencies” in granting new visas to Cambodians, the official said.

The embassy, along with those of Britain and Australia, closed its doors last Wednesday for the one-year anniversary of the Sept 11 terrorist attacks in the US.

Reports have emerged through the week that an alleged al-Qaida leader in Indonesia confessed he had been told to plan “large-scale attacks” against the US in six countries throughout Southeast Asia—including Cambodia—on or around the anniversary of the attacks.

Embassies in six of those countries reopened Monday, but both Vietnam and Cambodia remain closed indefinitely. A US Depart­ment of State report has listed Vietnam and Cambodia as “the most vulnerable” embassies to terrorist attacks.

Since al-Qaida bombed two US embassies in Eastern Africa in 1998, killing at least 224, countries have been redesigning and resecuring their embassies, moving them off main roads and turning missions into fortresses.

The new steel-wire Japanese Embassy on Norodom Boule­vard is an example of these new kinds of diplomatic facilities, and the threat has spurred the US to new levels of preparedness, ano­ther US Embassy official said Mon­day.

“We’re making improvements that should have been made a long time ago,” that official said. When asked whether the US believes al-Qaida has agents in Cambodia, neither US official would comment.

As the US continues to dig in, National Police Director Hok Lundy—whose officers are charged with protecting all foreign missions in Cambodia—moved Monday to calm fears and answer those who say his government is not taking their jobs seriously.

“We have strengthened the security very strictly, not only at the US Embassy, but also the residences and other places in Phnom Penh to protect against terrorism,” Hok Lundy said.

Concerns that al-Qaida or other international terror groups could be operating in Cambodia were misplaced, the chief said.

“I am not worried anything is going to happen in Cambodia. As I have promised, I am responsible for this job. I promise that nothing will happen, because my police officers have the situation at each embassy under control,” Hok Lundy said.

One US Embassy official said his country was happy with Cam­bo­dia’s response, but acknowledged officials on both sides need to do more to secure the compound. “There is some way to go,” the official said.


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