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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Drug trafficking "out of control" says UN

Drug trafficking "out of control" says UN

Illegal drug trafficking in the Kingdom skyrocketed in 2004 according to

information compiled by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Compared with 2003, estimates of the amount of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS)

coming into the country increased ten times according to an annual report that

will be released in 2005. Figures indicate that as many as 500,000 Cambodians

may be involved in illegal drug usage.

"Yes, the illicit drug trafficking

and abuse situation is out of control in Cambodia," Graham Shaw, UNODC program

officer in Phnom Penh, told the Post on December 8.

He said that seizures

of ATS have increased exponentially, and somewhere in the region of 100,000

tablets are trafficked on average each day from the Lao border into Stung Treng

province in northern Cambodia and then primarily to Phnom Penh. Shaw said that

it would appear to be very organized regarding the larger cargoes of illicit

drugs trafficked by boat and overland by foot.

"It appears to continue to

happen now," said Shaw. "I would estimate that 2004 will see an exponential

massive increase in ATS seizures, as much as 5-10 times greater than in

2003."

He said it is difficult to estimate if imports of illicit drugs

are still on the rise, but indications such as seizures, street price and

availability of such substances strongly suggest that there are still relatively

large quantities of illicit drugs entering Cambodia for domestic consumption as

well as transiting to other countries in the region and beyond

Heroin

also continues to flow into Cambodia, according to Shaw, but most is transited

onward to countries such as Vietnam, Australia and New Zealand.

Shaw said

that the problem was worsening because of the low capacity of law enforcement,

lack of adequate and well-maintained equipment, lack of specialized skills in

law enforcement, low salaries of law enforcement personnel and in the judiciary,

corruption, lack of knowledge regarding how to identify illicit drugs and how to

test substances when they are seized.

The Cambodia 2003 report on illicit

drugs said that specifically methamphetamines - referred to locally as 'yama',

'yaba', or 'ma' - are the most common drug available in virtually every urban

center of the county.

"Of great concern is the increasing number of

reports of yaba or yama use in rural areas associated with both labour-intensive

agricultural activities as well as due to social pressures," said the report.

Shaw said vulnerable persons included youth, especially school children from

around age 12 up to mid-20s, people in labour-intensive activities such as

construction, porters, agricultural workers, sex workers, truck and taxi

drivers, fishermen, junior military personnel, garment factory workers, and beer

girls.

"But the youth are the major area of concern owing to the

potential social and economic chaos caused by widespread drug abuse for the

future development of Cambodia," said Shaw.

He said that in general heavy

users can take at least three or four tablets of yama per day.

According

to Shaw the UNODC report on the illicit drug situation in Cambodia 2004 will

issued in March, 2005.

In 2003 a total of 349 people were arrested

nationwide for ATS-related offenses as compared to 223 in 2002.

There

were seven officially reported cases involving heroin in Cambodia in 2003, all

in Phnom Penh with a total of 46.72kgs seized. A total of 209,529 tablets of

methamphetamines were seized in Cambodia which is a rise of 66 percent as

compared with 2002.

Whilst methamphetamines trafficking is a great

concern, it is the trafficking of heroin through Cambodia from the area around

Myanmar and Laos that is causing the most concern in the international community

and the amounts appear to be increasing compared to previous years.

The

report said that stockpiles of heroin are believed to exist within Cambodia for

future shipment within the region and beyond. Shipping containers also appear to

be one of several methods of transporting heroin to the global market, including

North America, according to unconfirmed reports from sources within Cambodian

law enforcement agencies and elsewhere.

Shaw said that Cambodia's failure

to ratify the three international Conventions on drug control was due to the

political impasse following the national election on July 27, 2003. However,

there is no deadline and the Cambodian government can accede at any

time.

"We will have to see whether the government as a whole shows the

willingness to proceed with debating and voting on the three Conventions as a

matter of urgency or whether further bureaucratic delays will be encountered,"

said Shaw

He warned that failure to accede to any of the conventions will

send a very bad signal to the international community that Cambodia is not

serious about its regional and international drug control

obligations.

"It is quite likely that substantial support would be

offered by many of the larger donors following accession in order to help

Cambodia raise its domestic drug control procedures for example to meet the

international standards embodied within the three Conventions," he

said.

International Narcotic Control Board (INCB) in its report for 2003

commends Cambodia on having completed the preparations for its ratification of

the three international drug control treaties and calls on Cambodia to ratify

those treaties as soon as possible.

Ngan Chamroeun, deputy secretary

general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD) said that the three

Conventions were already signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen, and had been sent to

the National Assembly both in English and Khmer.

"We want to be a member

of the treaties as soon as possible, but we had technical problem (political

impasse)," said Chamroeun. He said he agreed with the UN's information that the

drugs trafficking and abuse situation had increased

dramatically.

Chamroeun said that during the first eleven months in 2004,

the police seized 800,000 tablets of ATS, a fourfold increase when compared to

2003.

He said that in 2005, the NACD planned to establish a center for

drug treatment as the demand for treatment services had increased. The center

will be capable of serving about 400 addicts and serious addicts would face

compulsory drug rehabilitation treatment.

"We know there will be a

criticism of human rights abuses, but in order to reduce crime, and strengthen

security for the public we have to carry out the compulsory treatments," said

Chamroeun.

He said that the NACD would allow NGOs to deal with addicts

who volunteer for treatment.

"We know individual parents whose children

are addicts. They demand treatment but they do not know where to go, and cannot

educate their children and then let them freely go on the streets," said

Chamroeun. He said that reports from provinces across the country indicated

there were around 4,000 addicts, but in reality the figure was higher because

other addicts were hiding from authorities.

He also said that drug

awareness and prevention for youth was one of the key areas of cooperation

between NACD and the UNODC and other partner agencies such as the Ministry of

Social Affairs, Education, Health. NGOs were also playing a key role in raising

the awareness of people about the dangerous consequences of using illicit drugs.

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