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US Offers Help to Cambodia to Destroy Weapons - 2004-03-02


The U.S. ambassador to Cambodia says the United States will donate more than $200,000 to help the Phnom Penh government destroy its remaining supply of portable surface-to-air missiles. Cambodia has pledged to get rid of the missiles to make certain the weapons will not fall into the hands of terrorists.

U.S. ambassador Charles Ray praised Cambodia for being the first country in Asia to pledge to destroy its remaining stocks of so-called "Man-Portable Air Defense Systems." He told reporters at Cambodias Ministry of Defense Tuesday that the U.S. Congress in February had approved $233,000 for the destruction.

Ambassador Ray told reporters that the November 2002 launch of a shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile at an Israeli-chartered airliner in Kenya underscored the need to dispose of older and obsolete weapons that still pose a threat if obtained by terrorists. The ambassador said Cambodia was wise to take the step to protect its tourist industry, noting that tourism revenue in Kenya fell by 75 percent in the aftermath of the missile incident there.

U.S. defense officials will work with the Cambodian armed forces and the HALO Trust, a charity which specializes in the removal of the debris of war. No date was given for the destruction of the Soviet made missiles.

The Cambodian government announced in mid-December that in order to help combat terrorism, it had reached a deal with the United States to scrap its entire stock of portable Strela-2 missiles that remain from the southeast Asian country's civil war. Weapons from Cambodia are thought to supply rebel groups around Asia such as the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka and militants in Indonesia's Aceh province.

The missile destruction deal came after rumors surfaced last year that missiles had been smuggled from Cambodia to Thailand by Islamic extremists who planned to attack a Pacific summit in Bangkok that included U.S. President George Bush.

Cambodian defense minister General Tea Banh said Tuesday he was confident his country would no longer "be subject to any assertion of being a source of channeling this kind of weapon to criminals". He noted the country's economy, tourism and social development would be seriously damaged if any of its missiles fell into the wrong hands.