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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Huge heroin trade protected by graft, say cops

Huge heroin trade protected by graft, say cops

S ACKED National Police deputy Noun Soeur says that 600 kilograms of heroin is

trafficked through Phnom Penh from Myanmar and Laos each week.

Soeur,

formerly head of the national anti-drug squad, said he "knew about this, but

couldn't do anything about it" - sentiments shared by the Phnom Penh anti-drug

chief, General Heng Peo.

"It is right, I agree with what Noun Soeur says,

that 600 kilograms of heroin is being trafficked weekly through Cambodia,"

General Heng Peo said.

Comments by both men implicity linked high-ranking

police and government officials being bought off by smugglers with access to

millions of dollars.

Heng Peo said some of the smugglers held high

official rank themselves.

Neither Soeur nor Heng Peo had been able to go

after the smugglers. Soeur said he knew the identities of the key figures

involved but said: "I can't tell you that or I will die."

Heng Peo said

heroin was big business in Cambodia and that "Cambodia has become a big place to

smuggle heroin."

There was no truth in statements from some officials who

said heroin was not a problem, he said. "If we investigated those officials, we

would find that their families are involved with heroin," he said.

"Some

officials ask me that if I claim that there is 600 kilograms of heroin being

trafficked each week, then please arrest [the smugglers]. But how can I?" he

said.

"My policemen lack equipment and experience, and the smugglers are

rich and have high-ranking officials behind them."

Soeur - who is

currently deputy secretary of the FUNCINPEC party behind Prince Norodom Sirivudh

- was speaking to the Post about his recent sacking, which he blamed on his

party colleague and former friend and commander, Co-Minister of Interior You

Hockry.

"I'm sorry that Cambodia is now the place from which to smuggle

heroin. In the past year I was in charge of anti-drug smuggling, but I couldn't

do my job," he said.

"The trafficking problem is much worse than any

political problem," he said.

Soeur said that in his previous position as

head of the anti-drug section "it was my duty to know" about the extent of the

Cambodian heroin problem. "If no-one believes me then give me the money and I

could buy it to show them," he said.

US government Drug Enforcement

Agency (DEA) officials in Bangkok refused to comment on Soeur's claims. Despite

conducting anti-drug training with Cambodian police officers, a US Information

Service (USIS) spokeswoman in Bangkok claimed that DEA officials "could not

comment on this, because it had to do with another country in the

region."

In Phnom Penh, USIS director Frank Huffman said that though it

was impossible for them to know how much heroin was trafficked through Cambodia,

they would "have to take [the statements by Soeur and Peo] at face value as

people who are in a better position than we to know about what's going

on."

Soeur said of recent efforts by the US - through the DEA - to train

Cambodian anti-drug teams: "Are they trying to arrest people for heroin or not?

If they want to know they could come to me directly".

Soeur talked about

casinos - of which Phnom Penh has at least three - as long having been known as

places where "dirty" money can be laundered, while providing explanations as to

how individuals can suddenly come by large sums of money.

Soeur lost his

job, he claims, because of political squabbles within the Ministry of Interior,

and his desire of stamp out internal police corruption. Hockry would elaborate

little more than to say that Soeur had not done his job properly, and that he

treated his subordinates unsuitably.

However, Heng Peo said: "Noun Soeur

is a good and experienced policeman... his work was very good".

He said

that he disagreed with reports saying Soeur was arrogant. "To me his is a good

and likeable man, but he is strict because he is experienced as a policeman. I

don't know why he lost his job," he said.

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