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Saturday, February 28, 2009

US: drug problems in Cambodia, Philippines

By FOSTER KLUG

WASHINGTON - The United States on Friday praised Beijing for its efforts to fight drug smugglers but said China remains a major transit point for international drug markets.

The State Department, in its annual survey of global counter-narcotics efforts, also described substantial drug problems facing Asia, including in Cambodia, the Philippines and Myanmar; progress was seen in Laos and Vietnam.

While Beijing recognizes drugs as a major threat to its security and economy, "corruption in far-flung drug-producing and drug transit regions of China limits what dedicated enforcement officials can accomplish," the report said.

North Korean drug activity, the report said, "appears to be down sharply. There have been no instances of drug trafficking suggestive of state-directed trafficking for six years."

But, the State Department said, not enough evidence exists to determine if state-sponsored trafficking has stopped. The State Department has previously raised suspicions that Pyongyang derived money from drug production and trafficking.

In the report, the United States also said that drug runners have increasingly looked to move their products through Cambodia because of Thai and Chinese crackdowns.

The report noted "a significant and growing illegal drug problem" in Cambodia. It praised the country for destroying seized drugs and stiffening penalties for drug use and trafficking but said corruption hampers government efforts.

The State Department called the scope of the drug problem in the Philippines "immense," despite law enforcement efforts to disrupt major drug organizations. Still, the report said, the government had some success enforcing counter-narcotics laws.

Laos has made "tremendous progress" in reducing opium cultivation, but, the report said, the country's momentum is "stalling, and gains remain precarious."

Vietnam was said to have continued making progress in fighting drugs, improving its pursuit of drug runners and its cooperation among state agencies and with the United Nations.

The report said that, in 2007, rising opium values pushed poppy cultivation into new regions of military-run Myanmar. The State Department did not receive 2008 U.N. statistics on Myanmar in time for the annual report.

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Burma, Cambodia Bar Rights Activists from ASEAN Talks

By VOA News

Burma and Cambodia blocked leading activists from attending talks with Southeast Asian leaders Saturday in Thailand, where the regional bloc is trying to promote human rights as part of its charter.

Leaders from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations - ASEAN - were set to hold rare talks with civil society representatives at their annual summit, taking place in the Thai beach resort of Hua Hin.

But, Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein and his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen said they would not take part if activists from their own countries were present.

Debbie Stothard, a coordinator with the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, said rights groups had no choice but the withdraw their Burmese and Cambodian representatives.

The barred activists were Khin Omar, a democracy campaigner from Burma, and Pen Somony, a volunteer coordinator from Cambodia.

Human rights have been a recurring issue for ASEAN, which has a charter that prevents interference in its members' affairs.

Soe Aung, with the Burmese rights group, told reporters that ASEAN needs to change its policy of non-interference or no change will ever come to Burma.

ASEAN comprises Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, Brunei and the Philippines.
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