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Cambodia to investigate Vietnam's claims of coast guard piracy

Deutsche Presse Agentur
Published: Tuesday August 29, 2006

Phnom Penh/Hamoi- Two Cambodian officials pledged Tuesday to investigate Vietnam's accusations that four members of the Cambodian coast guard were caught in acts of piracy on Vietnamese fishing boats. Police General Touch Vorleak, coast guard chief in the southeastern Cambodian province of Kampot, and Kampot provincial governor Thach Khorn each said they would launch investigations into Vietnam's arrest last week of four heavily armed Cambodians accused of commandeering Vietnamese fishing boats.

The four were arrested last Thursday, but were released the same day after they said they were Cambodian coast guard officials and a Cambodian official requested their return, according to two Vietnamese officials.

"I am very sad when I hear this," General Vorleak said by telephone. "I will launch a full investigation into the matter, and if this is the truth, we will announce it and let the government fix it."

Kampot governor Khorn said Tuesday he had already dispatched an investigative team to get to the bottom of the matter, saying that while it was still unclear if the coast guard officials were moonlighting as pirates, the allegations should not be ignored.

"Activities such as this would not only tarnish the reputation of Kampot, but all of Cambodia," Khorn said.

Vietnam's deputy commander of the southeastern coast guard, Nguyen Kim Hong, identified one of the Cambodian men arrested as Captain Khieu Be, 39, who said he was deputy head of the Kampot province's Battalion Number 241 and also commander of Interdisciplinary Checkpoint Number 15.

Hong said the other three men identified themselves as Sub-lieutenant Say Sovann, 32, a senior officer at the same checkpoint, Sergeant Su Kia, 32, and Sergeant Nu Phon La, 35.

The Vietnamese official said the four men were arrested on board one of four Vietnamese fishing boats that had been seized by a band of pirates in two high-speed boats 130 kilometres south-southwest of the Vietnamese island of Phu Quoc.

"Their strategy was to catch up with Vietnam fishing boats and their men jump onto the boats to take control," Hong said. "They would take the boats to a deserted island and ask for a ransom."

The Cambodian speedboats, manned by at least 16 men, were equipped with a B-41 rocket launcher and 12'7 cannon, according to the Vietnamese coast guard report. The boats and the rest of the men fled when Vietnamese coast guard approached, but left four behind, the report said.

"After they were arrested, they confessed their names and positions. Then we contacted the marine police department in [Cambodia's province of] Kompong Som and they confirmed that the arrested men were theirs," Hong said.

He added that a Cambodian boat with a major identified as "Oc Phon" and two other Cambodian officers picked up the four men the same day.

"I think that these Cambodian marine police were working independently, and they wanted to make extra money," Hong said. "They pledged not to violate [Vietnamese territory] again."

The Vietnamese chairman of the Phu Quoc People's Committee said that the island's fishermen have faced dozens of pirate raids in the past.

"Vietnamese fishing boats have been raided like this many times, but this is the first time the Cambodian force is caught red-handed," Luong said by telephone Tuesday. "We are considering asking the two governments to tightening cooperation in marine management."

Vietnam and Cambodia do not have a treaty on sea borders and the waters around Phu Quoc, which is only 15 kilometres offshore from Cambodia's Kampot province, are disputed.

However, Hong said Tuesday that it was unlikely Vietnam would make a formal complaint to Cambodia.

"Vietnam and Cambodia are neighbours so this shouldn't have any impact on relations between the two countries," he said.

© 2006 DPA - Deutsche Presse-Agenteur