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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodia a 'victim' of region's drug traffickers

Cambodia a 'victim' of region's drug traffickers

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Lour Ramin is one of many loyalists to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) who long ago determined to devote himself and his career to the party. Since 1979 he has been involved in government security affairs. During the State of Cambodia (SoC), he was responsible for national security. After the national elections in 1993, he was promoted to a position at the Department of Foreign Immigration to communicate with the outside world and to head up Cambodia’s role in the fight against terrorism. His career has enabled him to send all three of his children to be educated in Australia; one is a permanent resident there. Now Secretary General of the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD), Lour Ramin spoke to Post reporter Vong Sokheng about the fight against  drugs, including the high profile raid a year ago that busted a major amphetamine lab in Kampong Speu. Following that raid, CPP advisor Oum Chhay was arrested. He committed suicide last August.

TRACEY SHELTON

Lour Ramin: “Because of stricter law enforcement in other countries, criminals have turned Cambodia into a drug lab.”

Why did you decide to take this job?

I am with the national police and I have to respect orders and assignments. That is my duty. Whatever bad situation or danger there is, I have to fulfill my obligation.
How do you respond to questions about CPP officials being involved in the drug business?

We have never denied this issue. It is an issue of personality; it is not a connection to the government institution. We must punish those who made a mistake, such as the case of Oum Chhay, even if he holds the title of Okhna. [Editors note: Chhay was an advisor to the National Assembly and to CPP Honorary President Heng Samrin. He jumped to his death from the first floor of Phnom Penh anti-drug police offices on August 21, 2007, six days after he was arrested at the Cambodian-Thai border town of Poipet. He was suspected of being involved in the transportation of four tons of chemicals used in the production of methamphetamine.]

How do you combat drug trafficking?

The National Authority for Combating Drugs is the most important body in the government’s policy to fight against drug trafficking. We have four approaches. First is to reduce the sources of drug supplies, especially drug plantations. With this we have been very successful. Marijuana plantations used to be big problem for Cambodia but now they are no longer an issue.

The second is to reduce the user base. We focus on education as a priority. We actively alert people to the danger of drugs and we have been able to reduce the consumer base and the smuggling of drugs into the country.

The third is to strengthen law enforcement. We have been struggling with this; with an amendment to the law and by strengthening human resources for law enforcement, we are seeing results. For example, in 2007 we cracked down on a large-scale drug lab, something which had never before been seen in Cambodia. We arrested the suppliers.

The fourth approach is cooperation with the international community. Drug trafficking is an international issue. We have paid a lot of attention and worked with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime as a very important partner. We have an MoU with our neighboring countries – Burma, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and China – under the coordination of the UNODC. We have participated in international forums in Asia and Asia-Pacific.

What is your assessment of the drug problem?

Cambodia has been the victim of drug traffickers. Previously, criminals used Cambodia only as a transit area, but because of stricter law enforcement in other countries, criminals have turned Cambodia into a drug lab. We cracked down on them in time. They continue to use Cambodia as a transit area where drug smuggling flows from the Golden Triangle to get to international markets.

Drug users are still increasing. Even as we strengthen our abilities, we see that if the source of the drugs is not stopped, Cambodia will remain victimized by drugs. We have reduced drug trafficking but we still cannot keep it under control. We are determined, along with ASEAN countries plus China, under the coordination of the UNOCD, to free Cambodia of drugs by 2015. But the target is very difficult.

Are there other drug labs under investigation?

Besides the large-scale drug lab which we cracked down on in Kampong Speu, we have had some information about attempts to set up drugs labs in other areas. But so far we haven’t found any.

What kind of drugs do you find in Cambodia?

We find that production of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) is popular because of the consumers. This kind of ATS production is increasing in the region and in Cambodia. We’ve found heroin being smuggled from the Golden Triangle through Cambodia to the international market. Cocaine comes from Europe and transits Cambodia on its way to neighboring markets.

How many people are addicted to drugs?

In 2007 we found 11,000 Cambodian people were addicted to drugs, but the figure was not an accurate one. According to the experts, the figure should be five or ten times as much. The users were between 15 and 40 years old. The number of users that inject was also increasing, especially in Phnom Penh and other provincial towns where there was tourist and economic growth.
Does the drug situation create security issues that could impact local people?

Among the consumers, we found that they were involved in violent crimes, such as robbery and murder, and traffic accidents. These are cases that concern us. HE Sar Kheng, the Minister of Interior and head of the NACD, has paid attention to this issue and has encouraged police officials to take action in order to reduce crimes related to drug use.

What are your biggest concerns?

The flow of ATS because we don’t have enough experience or ability to control these chemical substances. The other difficult issue is there is no medicine for the treatment of users. We are looking forward to getting them access to medical care and to integrate them into the peaceful society.

Within the provincial health centers, we have established about 11 small rehabilitation health centers and they at least can provide services to 100 drug addicts.

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