NACD chairman and Deputy Prime Minister Ke Kimyan’s admission that his officials are powerless to stop the trade follows the arrest last week of two Cambodians in Australia accused of smuggling 65 kilograms of a substance containing heroin.
Ke Kimyan told the Post this week that Cambodian authorities lacked human resources, materials, money, law enforcement officers and information on drug dealers to effectively tackle the problem.
“According to NACD’s estimation, there are about 100 illegal corridors on the Cambodian-Thai border and about 50 illegal corridors on the Cambodian-Lao borders,” he said.
The NACD was unable to control these areas or even deploy enough officials to monitor them.
Minister of Interior Sar Kheng said Cambodia had become a targeted transit destination for an “epidemic” of drug production in the “golden triangle” countries of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar and the “golden half-moon” countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.
NACD figures for 2011 show that both raids and arrests increased by more than 150 per cent on the previous year, although the amount of chemical substances used in the production of drugs had risen only 10.45 per cent.
The NACD’s annual report found that 951 drug cases had been tried by the courts in 2011, up from just 248 in 2010.
“The popular drugs imported include tablet methamphetamines [WY trademark], crystal methamphetamines [ice], heroin, marijuana and ecstasy,” he said.
Heroin was mostly imported from the golden triangle and golden half-moon areas, and cocaine was sourced and imported from South Africa, he added.
“Besides this, [drug criminals] were trying to get into Cambodia by using it as a place for cross drug-trafficking activities. They have also been using Cambodia as a targeted site of drug producing, recycling and trafficking activities,” he said.
Made in Cambodia
More than 2,000 people, many Thai, cross the Cambodian-Thai border at the O’Smach International Border Checkpoint in Oddar Meanchey, each day, Cambodian police say.
The lure for some is not just the ease of gambling at the two casinos in Samrong district’s O’Smach commune – methamphetamines are also a temptation.
Kun Sarun, commander of O’Smach military police, said investigations had shown Cambodian-produced tablet methamphetamines and powder methamphetamines (ice) were rife.
“Most of the drug users here are construction workers, motorbike drivers, taxi drivers and especially those who come to play games,” he said. “They have used these drugs in gardens or nearby forests at night.”
Most of the drugs that flood into the casino precinct come from other border provinces, including Banteay Meanchey and Koh Kong, he said, while other shipments come from Dom Kralor International Border Checkpoint in Stung Treng province and Champa Sak province in Laos.
In separate incidents last year, five people were arrested for dealing a total of 5,000 methamphetamines pills in O’Smach.
They were charged and sent to court, but police did not arrest anyone for using drugs in the area, Kun Sarun said.
“This is because people are using drugs at night time while the police are off duty,” he said, adding that police had nowhere to send drug users because there was no drug relief or rehabilitation centres in the province.
Although police, including O’Smach police chief Chhey Veasna, said the government had cracked down on drug smuggling at the border crossing, criticism has come from Thailand about what happens inside Cambodia.
Vera Sisakhorn, deputy commander of a Thai paratrooper unit based in Thailand’s neighbouring Surin province, said Cambodian authorities had not done enough to stamp out drug use around the casinos.
Police and military police had even dealt drugs or accepted payments to look the other way when deals had taken place, he claimed.
“The Thai authority has taken measures and actions in preventing and combating it. There is no drug use on Thai soil like there is in O’Smach,” he said, adding that drugs were often used or sold in front of the checkpoint or near the casinos.
Chhy Sophorl, deputy chief of Cambodian-Thai border coordination for O’Smach International Border Checkpoint, said contrary to criticism, the government had been doing a lot to reduce drug trafficking and use, including distributing printed materials warning of the dangers of drugs and working with Thai officials to target dealers.
Users the Post spoke to, however, said it was easy to buy and use drugs in O’Smach.
A Thai national, 41, living in Surin province, said drug addiction drew him to Cambodia most weekends.
“I have been a drug addict for many years,” he said. “To smoke drugs, I cross the border, because it is the only place where I can use it easily,” he said. “Every time I go to O’Smach, I spend at least 1,000 baht [US$32] buying drugs. I buy it from Cambodian motor taxi drivers,” he said. “I use ya ma [methamphetamines].”
A fellow Thai national, 28, told the Post he, too, crossed the border to buy drugs in O’Smach because of how easy it was.
He said he had frequented O’Smach since 2006 with friends – at times, almost every weekend.
“Every time I come to O’Smach, I use ya ma because it is cheap and it is easy to buy from Cambodian people,” he said. “I smoke it outside the casinos at night.”
This story is one familiar to some Cambodians, too.
A construction worker, 25, in O’Smach said he and his friends had been using ya ma for “many years”.
“I decided to use drugs because I wanted to increase my strength and capacity for hard work in order to make more money to support my family,” he said. “Without drugs, I feel very tired and I cannot work. So I have to use it although I know that it might affect my health.
“I realise now I am addicted to drugs. I want to stop using, but I cannot. I also want to go to a drug relief centre, but there isn’t one in Oddar Meanchey.”
Thousands of known cases of drug addiction were reported in Cambodia last year. The NACD annual report states that 4,484 people, aged from 10 to 45, were known to be addicted to drugs in 2011, down from about 5,000 from the year before.
When Cambodia hosted the ASEAN Summit on April 3 and 4, leaders spoke of achieving a drug-free ASEAN by 2015.
Strengthening law enforcement and increasing cooperation with neighbours are objectives the government believes will help achieve this, Khiey Saman, director of Cambodia’s Anti-Drug Department at the Ministry of Interior and acting secretary-general of NACD, said.
But reducing the need for drugs and treating those with addictions are also priorities.
In March, UN organisations called for countries, including Cambodia, to close compulsory drug detention facilities in favour of community-based health and social services.
But Khiey Saman said rehabilitation centres in Cambodia played an important role in treating addictions and were not compulsory.
More than 1,600 people, mostly men, were sent to 12 rehabilitation centres for drug treatment and “education” last year, an increase of more than 300 on the previous year, he said.
“To reduce those affected by or addicted to drugs, we provide relief and education for them in these centres,” he said. “Cambodia will establish more rehabilitation centres in far provinces.”
For cities and provinces where the drug rehabilitation centres cannot be opened, the government will increase drug treatment at municipal and provincial referral hospitals or health centres, he said.
Time will tell if the same shortfalls are found in treating addiction and preventing drug use as authorities face in fighting trafficking.
This story was produced under the “Imaging Our Mekong” media fellowship Programme, run by IPS Asia-Pacific and Probe Media Foundation Inc with the support of the Rockefeller Foundation.
To contact the reporter on this story: Buth Reaksmey Kongkea at firstname.lastname@example.org