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Cablegate: Cambodia's Vulnerable Muslim Minority: Embassy

VZCZCXRO0639
PP RUEHBC RUEHCHI RUEHDBU RUEHDH RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHKUK RUEHLH RUEHNH
RUEHPW RUEHROV RUEHTRO
DE RUEHPF #0003/01 0050521
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 050521Z JAN 10
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1522
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUCNISL/ISLAMIC COLLECTIVE
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC 0195
RHMFISS/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RHHJJAA/JICPAC HONOLULU HI
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 PHNOM PENH 000003

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, S/CT, EAP/PD

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/27/2019
TAGS: PTER PGOV KPAO PREL CB
SUBJECT: CAMBODIA'S VULNERABLE MUSLIM MINORITY: EMBASSY
EFFORTS TO BRIDGE THE GAPS

REF: A. PHNOM PENH 170 (CAMBODIA'S HIGHEST MUSLIM LEADER
DISCUSSES CHALLENGES)
B. 08 PHNOM PENH 968 (WHATEVER HAPPENED TO UMM
AL-QURA)
C. 07 PHNOM PENH 1363 (THE "FUNDAMENTALIZING" OF
CAMBODIA'S MUSLIM MINORITY)

Classified By: CHARGE D'AFFAIRES THEODORE ALLEGRA FOR REASONS 1.4 (B,D)

1. (C) SUMMARY: Cambodia is home to approximately 400,000
Muslims, known as the Cham, who are viewed as generally well
integrated into society by the Cambodian government and by
the Cham themselves. Cambodia's Cham live in extreme poverty
and have low education levels, high illiteracy rates, and
poor health indicators. Cambodia also has porous borders,
rampant corruption, easy access to forged documents and
black-market weapons, and weak rule of law. All of these
factors work together to make Cambodia an attractive haven
for criminals and extremists, and make the Cham, especially
the unemployed youth, susceptible to the potential of
radicalization and violent extremism. The Royal Government
of Cambodia (RGC) has in recent years increased its capacity
in counterterrorism with U.S. support and believes it has a
relatively strong handle on individuals and groups connected
with terrorism. However, gaps still exist in the RGC's
ability to identify and counter unpredictable yet urgent
threats. The Embassy employs a "persistent presence"
approach and actively engages the Cham community as a whole.
Examples of such positive engagement include Ramadan
celebrations, sports diplomacy, education and exchange
programs, emergency relief, medical clinics, and general
outreach. END SUMMARY.

--------
THREATS
--------

2. (C) Branches or affiliates of NGOs suspected of extremist
support such as the Revival for Islamic Heritage (RIHS) and
the World Assembly for Muslim Youth (WAMY) are known to be
active in Cambodia. Tales of infighting, corruption and
ineptness have reportedly led to little progress in the way
of radicalization. However, Cambodia's known deep
vulnerabilities, culture of corruption and limited ability to
govern and maintain law and order make it susceptible to
external influences that are using NGOs and massive donations
as the vessel to disseminate their message to the Cham. This
at-risk segment of the population is accepting help with
essential services, educational aid and mosque construction
from NGOs who have direct ties to tier 1 and tier 2 Terrorist
Support Entities from the Middle East. Although this
emergent threat is not linear and progressive, it is and will
continue to reflect the very real efforts to perpetuate a
safehaven in Cambodia in which a vulnerable and welcoming
Muslim population remains susceptible to money, ideology, and
influence from beyond its borders.

3. (C) Many of the threats such as endemic corruption, porous
borders, lack of capacity to counter terrorism, and weak rule
of law pertain not only to Cambodia, but also to other
countries in the region. And although current U.S.
counterterrorism policy and strategy appropriately focuses on
other countries in the region for specific tasks, the desired
effects of U.S. strategy are relevant to the entire region,
including Cambodia. For that reason, an updated strategy
would benefit from widening the scope of effects to include
an emphasis on the broader region for improvement of maritime
cooperation, connectivity, and interoperability, as well as
for coordination of economic aid, security assistance,
information operations, and capacity building to reduce
safehavens.

-------------
RGC STEPS UP
-------------

4. (SBU) The RGC has long recognized that Bali bombing
mastermind Hambali's safehaven in Cambodia provided a wakeup
call to get serious about counterterrorism (Ref B).
Hambali's stay at a Muslim school in Cambodia in 2002-2003,
and subsequent arrest, forced Cambodian officials to become
more involved in monitoring the Cham community and outside
influences. The RGC has also worked to better incorporate

PHNOM PENH 00000003 002 OF 003


the Cham into society by allowing traditional clothing in
schools, building a prayer room at the airport, and
appointing dozens of Cham to high-level government positions.
According to the Cambodian Muslim Student Association
president Sos Mousine, many more Cham are attending colleges
or universities in the country than before, and almost
one-third of those attending are female. He considers this
to be a direct result of recent government actions directed
at Cham integration.

5. (SBU) A late 2008 study conducted by the American
Institutes for Research on the marginalization of Cham Muslim
communities found that Cham have been assimilating into
mainstream society in various ways. It also found that
"feelings of exclusion, if and when they exist among Cham
communities in Cambodia today, are much more subtle and
difficult to detect." According to the study, evidence did
not point to "feelings of alienation or extremism among the
Cham communities interviewed." A March 2009 interagency
conflict assessment also found "no significant evidence of
serious or widespread tensions" between the Cham and Khmer,
and determined that the Cham see religion as "a source of
discipline, not radicalization." Most recently, an August
2009 survey conducted by the International Republican
Institute found that the majority of the Cham feel they have
become more involved in Cambodian society over the past ten
years. Only 2% felt they get along poorly with the Buddhist
community, however 23% of Buddhists felt they have a poor
relationship with the Cham community. Finally, 83% of the
Cham sample had a favorable opinion of the United States,
compared with 89% of the general sample.

6. (SBU) The above findings are in contrast to earlier
research on Cham religious schools conducted by Bjorn
Blenglsi. Blenglsi's research emphasized the "possibility
for violent jihad interpretations in Cambodia where
fundamentalist strains of Islam are gaining ground."
Blengsli determined that "Islam in Cambodia is changing," and
that "skepticism towards the West is increasing and many
Muslims are aware of and oppose the USA." The Mufti recently
dismissed such radicalization of the Cham as "old news." (Ref
A). When a potential drama series (detailed below) was
discussed with Cham leaders, they agreed to the general idea
but were adamant that they would not support any portrayal of
radicalism in Cambodia. Their main argument was that since
Hambali, there has been "no sign of extremism in Cambodia,"
and that this has been due to the "efforts of the RGC working
in harmony with Cham leaders to prevent any sort of radical
foothold."

-----------------
EMBASSY STEPS IN
-----------------

7. (C) RGC officials believe they have done a good job at
keeping radicals and money with questionable ties out of
Cambodia in the last few years. While soft approaches to
combating the influence of violent extremist elements within
the Cham community remains the priority effort within the
U.S. Mission in Phnom Penh, the country team recognizes that
the Cambodian Government lacks the capability to respond to
terrorist incidents across the full spectrum. With strong
commitment by the Cambodian government, the United States
supported the creation of a National Counter-Terrorism
Committee (NCTC). This interagency body, under the direct
authority of the Prime Minister, is responsible for
coordinating the country's security elements and intelligence
apparatus to counter any direct threat posed by violent
extremist organizations and their supporting elements.

8. (C) Through regular U.S. Special Operations Forces
(USSOF) Joint Combined Exchanges for Training (JCETs) and
persistent engagement by USSOF personnel from the Pacific
Command Augmentation Team, the Embassy is slowly beginning to
build tactical and technical capacity within a select joint
unit comprised of Cambodian Military and Military Police
operating under the NCTC. The Federal Bureau of
Investigation has also conducted training and exchanges in
forensic post-blast investigations, and several members of
Cambodia's law enforcement community have received U.S.
Treasury training on CT Financing or attended CT-related
training at ILEA in Bangkok. The Embassy is also currently
undertaking a maritime security capacity building project in

PHNOM PENH 00000003 003 OF 003


an effort to close porous maritime borders to potential
transit by Terrorist Support Entities through the creation of
a central coordination authority for maritime security within
the government and associated operational capacity building
within the Cambodian Navy and National Police maritime units.

9. (U) In addition to general outreach into Cham communities
which include school visits, mosque openings,
micro-scholarships, and exchanges, the Embassy added to the
success of last year's outreach into provincial Cambodia by
again holding a Ramadan event outside of Phnom Penh. The
Embassy worked closely with the deputy Imam of Kampong Cham
province to ensure we reached the widest possible audience,
which included imams, community leaders, religious teachers,
and especially students from four of the poorest Cham
districts. The President's Ramadan address was dubbed into
Khmer and shown to guests prior to serving a halal meal. All
eyes were glued to the screen, and many of the participants
actively discussed the President's message during the meal.
One student from Kampong Cham declared "The U.S. President is
black, and I've been invited to share a meal with a female
U.S. Ambassador. This is like heaven." Zakarya Adam, a
Parliamentarian and deputy Mufti, stated that the Iftar
"offers us friendship and deepens the relationship among our
peoples regardless of our religious beliefs." The Embassy
provided each guest with a translated copy of the latest
version of "Being Muslim in America" as well as the 2010
Richness and Diversity calendar. Both events received
positive press, and imams from various communities have
requested we visit them next year.

10. (SBU) The Embassy continues to utilize the Ambassador's
Fund for Counterterrorism to further engage with the Muslim
minority. The "Islam for Law Enforcement" seminars conducted
in April have been followed by an Islamic Law and Human
Rights seminar and circus performances in Cham communities
which incorporate the messages of trust, tolerance and
integration presented in prior seminars. Moreover, a sports
diplomacy project which incorporates messages of community
and tolerance is planned to begin in January.

11. (SBU) The Department of Defense's (DoD) Civil Affairs
team works closely with both State and USAID when planning
and implementing humanitarian projects. Medcaps, Dentcaps,
and civil engineering construction visits all target both
Cham and Khmer villages with noticeable and immediate results
evidenced by the smiling faces and camaraderie shown by the
villagers. Further DoD funding has been used for
infrastructure development, to include playgrounds and sports
facilities, in schools in some of the poorest and most
conservative of Cham communities. Additionally, a television
drama series is being developed which will incorporate social
issues confronting Cham and Khmer alike with a focus on
tolerance, friendship, and inclusion.

12. (U) Most recently the Embassy was able to quickly
mobilize and respond to an emergency in the Cham community by
providing over 80 boxes of clothing and mosquito nets for
approximately 2000 individuals affected by a fire which
leveled hundreds of homes. The Mufti stated the U.S. Embassy
was the first to respond to the humanitarian needs of the
community. The goodwill this one action created cannot be
overstated.

13. (C) COMMENT: Although certain Muslim areas in Cambodia
can certainly be termed conservative or even Salafist, the
radicalization of the small Cham population does not seem to
have materialized as quickly or to the extent feared by
experts even as little as two years ago. Embassy officials
have found villages previously reported to be closed to
foreigners open to engagement, especially if that engagement
includes assistance with health and education. While large
gaps remain in the RGC's ability to investigate and respond
to immediate terrorist threats, it would appear that the
RGC's few but important efforts to integrate the Cham,
coupled with U.S. humanitarian and outreach activities, have
succeeded in increasing understanding and goodwill.
Continued monitoring, engagement, and resources directed
toward such preventative programs will be key to addressing
gaps and ensuring this trend continues. END COMMENT.
ALLEGRA

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