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Losing battle against illegal drugs

Losing battle against illegal drugs

The government has no strategy in place to battle the nation's spiraling illegal

drug use and lacks the resources and political will necessary to address the problem

effectively, a range of experts and officials have told the Post.

According to the 2005 National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD) report, Cambodia

is laced with drug trafficking routes, its airports are used to ship heroin to Australia,

Singapore and Hong Kong, and the number of drug offenses shot up almost 70 percent

since 2004.

Moreover, the annual budget for the NACD has not changed in the last five years,

leaving the government woefully ill-prepared to tackle any impending challenges,

said NACD Technical Adviser Graham Shaw.

"The budget is approximately US$200,000 to $250,000 for the entire operation,"

Shaw said. "Cambodia is basically starting from nothing. Everything needs to

be developed, the hardware and the software. And the drugs aren't going to wait for

the Ministry of Finance."

Shaw, who in April will release the first government-authorized drug guides for health

professionals and teachers, said that the government has just recently admitted the

extent of Cambodia's drug problem.

"In fact, it's only this year that the Ministry of Health has shown action,

before they rarely even talked about it," Shaw said. "Since 2003 there

have been several key policy speeches by the Prime Minister and others, and some

policy action implemented, but the human and financial requirements have not been

forthcoming. Last year the NACD and the UNOCD developed the first Master Plan for

combating drugs over five years for the cost of about $7 million. To date, I am not

aware of any government financial support for that plan."

The report found that methamphetamine - know locally as "yama" -is by far

the most prevalent drug in Cambodia and the greatest cause of addiction. The NACD

reports that there are 6,876 drug addicts in the nation, but Martin Lutterjohann,

NACD technical expert, estimates there are as many as 50,000.

"For us the biggest issue is treatment, and creating a network of effective

treatment opportunities," said Lutterjohann. "The military police have

opened some centers and the NACD welcomes this move. But the government has not delivered

or established any government treatment centers. The NACD requested the municipality

of Phnom Penh to set aside land and construct a treatment center, but I don't know

how far this idea has gone."

According to the NACD, methamphetamine is smuggled into Cambodia from Laos and Thailand

through such border provinces as Koh Kong, Battambang, Banteay Meanchey and Preah

Vihear-where two men were arrested on February 20 in possession of 24,000 yama pills.

The report named Stung Treng province as the main gateway for smuggled yama that

in some cases may have originated in Myanmar (Burma).

"Cambodia is not important as a drug producing center, but since Thailand's

war on drugs after 1997 it became a transit country," Lutterjohann said. "The

bulk of the meth comes down the Mekong from the Wa region of Burma. The United Wa

Army controls the drug trade and they have a deal to control methamphetamine and

heroin."

According to NACD officials, most of the yama tablets found on the streets of Phnom

Penh are stamped with the WY logo of the United Wa State Army.

"The number of tablets they're producing in the Wa region is huge," Shaw

said. "What's being brought through Cambodia is heroin and yama sometimes with

ecstasy and cannabis. It goes to Laos and then to here mostly by boat. But certainly

it's coming over roads as well. In Preah Vihear people are walking it over the border

or using bikes to bring it over and then down the Mekong."

Chou Pi Chhoura, Stung Treng province penal police chief, acknowledged that methamphetamines

are trafficked from Laos through the deep forest and on the many waterways that cross

his province.

"The drugs traffickers are always developing new tactics and routes, and at

the moment we are running behind them," Pi Chhoura said.

According to Pi Chhoura, the traffickers are from other provinces and the local people

he has arrested in the past were only guiding the smugglers through the area.

He said the provincial authorities lack the human resources, funding and transportation

to monitor the trafficking routes.

"It is a hot issue for our forces to curb the drug trafficking," Chhoura

said. "Currently, we cannot stop them. It is a shame for our authorities."

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