Busted! With the word 'yama' written in Khmer in tablets, police carefully expose a wide variety of objects found at the home of major drug suspect, Lum Sokheng, ranging from an automatic weapon to a drug distilling machine and its products. See CAMBODIA.
A recent raid on yet another "meth lab" has exposed disturbing new evidence
that Cambodia is moving into high-level drug production and experimentation, with
some narcotics destined for foreign markets, local experts and police have told the
The drug lab raided on August 2 in Phnom Penh's Dangkor district - allegedly belonging
to Lum Sokheng, 31, arrested the same day and later charged for drug production -
was initially touted by local press as Cambodia's biggest ever drug production facility
Police are now saying that the earlier March 31 raid of a "super lab" in
Kampong Speu was larger in terms of quantity of materials. The Kampong Speu facility,
however, was only producing raw materials, while the Dangkor site was designed for
the final stage in amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) production - and also as a testing
ground for new generations of increasingly potent methamphetamines.
"As police are now cracking down on a lot of drug trafficking, offenders are
turning from trafficking pills to importing the equipment for experimental laboratories
and mixing new chemicals with the drugs," Moek Dara, anti-drug police chief
at the Ministry of Interior, told the Post on August 8.
Dara said the facility at Dangkor was primarily an experimental laboratory for the
production of new ATS.
"In 2006, we raided nine experimental laboratories and confiscated more than
half a million [methamphetamine or 'yama'] pills, 50 kg of heroin, as well as 'ice'
[crystal methamphetamine]," Dara said. "In the first six months of 2007,
police raided three big production and experimentation facilities: the first in Kampong
Speu, second in Prek Phnov and now the one in Phnom Penh."
Military police arrest drug suspect on August 2.
Sao Sokha, chief of the National Military Police, who executed the recent Dangkor
raid, told the Post the police had been observing Lam Sokheng for a year before his
arrest. Sokheng was found with 870 "yama" pills, 47 ecstasy tablets, 3
bags of ketamine and 250 grams of crystal methamphetamine.
"This was a large-scale operation, and it was surprising for our forces to raid
a drug production site in Phnom Penh," said Sokha, as drug production facilities
are usually located in less accessible rural areas. "We confiscated laboratory
machinery, $100,000 worth of counterfeit notes, a car and an [automatic machine]
gun. Drug use is not just a concern for me alone - it is a problem for society as
a whole. When the country has many drug users, what will this country look like?"
"Now our forces are looking further to apprehend others," Sokha added.
Lars Pedersen, new head of the Cambodian branch of UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNOCD),
said his office is still investigating the raid.
"This laboratory was more upstream in the drug production process," Pedersen
told the Post. "Kampong Speu only produced the raw materials for 'ice' or 'yama.'"
Pedersen said the latest lab raided was a worrying development as it was involved
in the final production of these drugs.
"Drugs are trafficked in and out of Cambodia, but now these new labs [indicate]
there is probably significant production going on."
Pedersen said drugs produced in Cambodia would more than likely be destined for Thailand.
"There is a more oppressive war on drugs in Thailand, and so Thai drug traffickers
are forced to take other routes."
He said the traditional routes come down through Myanmar or Laos. Drugs produced
in Myanmar often end up being trafficked down the Mekong into Cambodia - ultimately
destined mainly for Vietnam and Thailand.
"They are also trafficked out from the airport and Kampong Som, on the way to
places like, Australia, the US or Europe. But many drugs are consumed here,"
Pedersen said. This confirmed Phnom Penh Police Chief Touch Narith's earlier comment
to the Post that Phnom Penh is a major transit point for heroin and ATS in South
According to a August 7 UNODC report on the East Asia and Pacific region, 60 percent
of the world's 25 million abusers of ATS reside in Asia. Recent drug laboratory seizures
indicate that methamphetamine is produced on an "industrial scale" in Asia,
and opium and heroin are fast becoming "out-dated," reported the UNODC.
The recent police raids on "super-labs" in China and Cambodia, show that
both these countries are now moving into significant "ice" production,
which has traditionally been the domain of Burma, the region's main producer of methamphetamines
"Ice is very lucrative because of its purity. You can cut it later," said
the report, but the less pure 'yama' ('yaa baa' or 'crazy drug' as it is known in
Thailand), or ordinary methamphetamine remains the main ATS sold in Thailand, Cambodia,
Laos and Myanmar.
Production of heroin in Myanmar has been drastically cut in the last decade, as a
new generation of Asian drug abusers turn to ATS.
"Heroin users tend to be older, while methamphetamine is really sweeping in
to Asia's youth culture," the report said. In Cambodia ATS abuse is now also
a far bigger concern than heroin abuse, according to the report.
"Cambodia is determined to eliminate drug use, trafficking and production by
2015 in compliance with ASEAN 'no drugs' principles," said Dara.
Despite recent NACD figures indicating the first decline in national drug abuse since
1999, Pedersen said it was too early to be optimistic. "There's a lot of uncertainty,
and we're still looking into it," he said. "The NACD have reported 5,000
registered drug abusers for the first quarter of 2007, but the number of ATS drug
abusers [alone] is estimated at anywhere from 10,000 to 75,000, and I think it would
be on the upper side of this."
ATS account for 78 percent of all drug abuse in Cambodia, but Pedersen's main concern
is who is actually using drugs in the Kingdom.
"Drug abuse in Cambodia is first and foremost a youth problem," he said.
"Twelve percent of all drug abusers are students, and availability of drugs
in schools is definitely increasing. Street kids account for 17 percent of all drug
abusers. Eighty percent of youth drug abuse is with methamphetamines."