For the first time in five years, the US has removed Cambodia from its list of countries the US considers “major” locations for the production or transporting of illegal drugs.
US President George W Bush announced the change in a letter to US lawmakers released Friday.
Bush’s letter states that Cambodia was added to the list in 1996 because it was thought to be a transit country for heroin destined for the US.
“In recent years, there has been no evidence of any heroin transiting Cambodia coming to the United States,” the letter states. “On the basis of this cumulative evidence, I have determined that Cambodia no longer meets the standard for a major drug-transit country and I have removed Cambodia from the…list.”
US Ambassador Kent Wiedemann said Sunday the removal came after an annual review in Washington of countries with drug problems. The key principle for putting a country on the list is how its drug problem affects the US, he said.
“Cambodia does have a major problem with drugs, but it’s not a problem for the US so much,” Wiedemann said.
In reviewing Cambodia’s narcotics problem, officials looked at projections for the country’s production of marijuana, the ambassador said.
“It did not reach levels that would be seen as a threat to the United States,” he said.
Taking Cambodia off the list is an apparent turnaround since March, when a US State Department report cited Cambodia’s corruption, lack of trained law enforcement officers and weak judicial system to justify keeping Cambodia on the same list.
That report named Cambodia a “weak link” in regional drug enforcement and called the country’s anti-drug measures “spotty and ineffective.”
The 23 countries remaining on the US list include Burma, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.
Being taken off the list will have little practical effect on Cambodia, officials say. Under a 1961 US foreign aid bill, countries on the list are subject to aid sanctions. But that penalty has always been waived for Cambodia.
Getting off the US list is an important step for Cambodia, UN Crime Prevention and Drug Control official Graham Shaw said. “This is clearly a recognition that Cambodia is moving in the right direction. By the end of December, [the government] hopes to be in a position to sign all three international drug-control conventions. We think that’s viable.”
The UN has been working with the Cambodian government to draft subdecrees for enforcement of drug laws, he said.
Drugs remain a problem in Cambodia, and being removed from the US list is “not a…seal of approval for Cambodia’s drug efforts,” Wiedemann said.
Agents from the Bangkok regional office of the US Drug Enforcement Agency visit Cambodia about once a month, Wiedemann said; in addition to monitoring the situation, they work directly with Cambodian officials.
, sharing information and offering support.