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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Drug trade increasing says UN report

Drug trade increasing says UN report

Anew UN report has stated that the country's drug trade and drug use are both flourishing

under the control of foreign organized crime gangs with the protection of high level

business, military and political figures.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime's situation report for 2002 paints a picture of

increased drug use, production and trafficking partly fueled by crackdowns in neighboring

countries, particularly Thailand.

Khieu Sopheak, the deputy secretary-general of the National Authority for Combating

Drugs, conceded the problem but defended the government's record.

"Some under-secretaries of state, military and police officers are involved

in drug operations [but] if we knew who stood behind the drug operators, we would

arrest them," he said.

Sopheak offered as evidence the March 18 arrest on drug trafficking charges of Tep

Sumphan, a senior member of the government's human rights committee.

The UN report said gangs from Thailand, mainland China, Taiwan and, to a lesser extent

ethnic Cambodians from Australasia, France and the US, were involved in the trade.

"A development of 2002 has been the increasing activity of West African organized

crime gangs who appear to be relocating drugs-related activities from Bangkok,"

it warned.

The increase in transnational crime has in part come about through the boom in casino

operations in 2001 and 2002. The report said that was particularly the case "in

the laundering of money through such establishments as well as the stockpiling of

drugs, especially heroin, within such casinos," although it conceded that was

hard to verify.

It also noted that the use of methamphetamines, colloquially known as yaba, "is

rising at an alarming rate similar to that experienced in neighboring Thailand five

years ago".

Seizures of yaba had increased 82 percent compared to 2001, but a steady fall in

the street price of the drug to $1 per tablet indicated that "substantial quantities

of the drug are still making it onto the market".

And it said that heroin trafficking through Cambodia from the Golden Triangle was

also on the increase. That was apparently confirmed on April 3 when Australia landed

a $15 million heroin catch of 24 kilograms hidden in a consignment of fish paste

from Cambodia. Australian police arrested a 32-year-old Vietnamese man in connection

with the shipment.

Sopheak hinted at local arrests in the smuggling case and told the Post to "wait

and see" the authorities do their work.

Cannabis cultivation is also on the rise with organized gangs enlisting impoverished

farmers to conceal small crops in fields of corn and tobacco.

The report comes a week after a delegation from the UN's drugs watchdog, the International

Narcotics Control Board (INCB), met senior political and law enforcement officials

here to discuss the country's poor drug enforcement record.

The INCB recently urged the government to ratify international drug control treaties

"without delay". That is expected to happen before the end of 2003, the

UN situation report stated.

INCB officials declined to meet the press but a copy of the agenda viewed by the

Post included a number of specific issues to be raised that indicated a less-than-cooperative

working relationship.

Issues to be raised included the "non-provision of information to the Secretary-General

on drug trafficking and abuse; systematic non-compliance with reporting obligations

to INCB; lack of cooperation with respect to the Board's inquiries; non-implementation

of the Board's recommendations and trends that may endanger the objectives of the

Conventions".

Sopheak said the government wished to cooperate with the international body.

"Let them complain," he said. "We want to cooperate but they don't

come to us. They sit far away and make an evaluation at a distance," he said.

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