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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - NACD reports explosion in drug use and seizures

NACD reports explosion in drug use and seizures

Cambodian authorities recorded a large increase in drug seizures during 2001 as well

as an almost doubling of seizures of "precursor chemicals", according to

a recently translated report from the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD).

The NACD's Report on Results of 2001 and Strategies for 2002 found a 49 percent increase

in seizures of methamphetimines, amphetamines and ecstasy to around 76,000 tablets.

Among its other findings were that glue sniffing among children increased five-fold

but marijuana cultivation dropped dramatically.

Between December 2000 and December 2001 almost 200 tons of illegally imported precursor

chemicals - almost double the previous year - were seized, most on the

Thai and Vietnamese borders. Chemicals such as hydrochloric acid and sulfuric acid

are used in the manufacture of amphetamine type substances (ATS), including the popular

street drug "yaba".

The chemicals were typically discovered in unlabeled jerry cans concealed among legal

goods at crossings in Cambodia's northwest and at other border points in five provinces

bordering Vietnam. Experts noted that the actual number smuggled was certain to be

far higher.

"Globally the UN assumes that the amount seized usually represents about 10

percent of the actual quantities of drugs being imported," said Graham Shaw

of the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (UNODCCP).

Cambodian authorities moved to shore up both the country's eastern and western borders

against the trafficking of drugs and people at two meetings held in Phnom Penh between

April 22-26.

Both meetings were sponsored by UNODCCP and sought to stablish Border Liaison Offices

(BLOs). The first brought together officials from the Vietnamese/Cambodian border

and the second from the Thai/Cambodian border.

One office will be established at Bavet in Cambodia and Moc Bai in Vietnam. BLOs

at Poipet and Chan Yeam in Cambodia's west will be coupled with offices in Aranyaprathet

and Ban Had Lek in Thailand. Officials from the BLOs will meet regularly to exchange

information and develop joint anti-trafficking initiatives.

"The idea is that once the governments realize how useful the BLOs are, they'll

place them all along the borders," Shaw said. However he warned that the smuggling

of ATS along the Mekong was a growing problem.

"That is the hot one now. Yaba is coming from Myanmar to Laos and through Stung

Treng," said Shaw. A BLO initiative for the Laos/Cambodia border could take

another nine months.

Last year's most surprising discovery was five kilograms of ketamine powder - enough

to produce almost 18,000 tablets - strapped to the body of a Singaporean national

at Phnom Penh's Pochentong Airport.

It was the first time the powerful horse tranquilizer had been found in Cambodia.

Ketamine has recently spread from Singapore, where it has long been popular, to the

Hong Kong drug scene.

The trafficker was extradited to Singapore and the find drew the attention of the

International Drug Control Board, which has become concerned that the drug's popularity

is spreading through East Asia.

Known as "Special-K" in the West, ketamine produces hallucinations, "mystical

revelations", analgesia and amnesia. The airport seizure was one of two ketamine

cases recorded in Cambodia last year.

The most high profile drug case of 2001 involved NACD officials themselves. Colonel

Sok Sophak, personal aide to then NACD head, Em Sam An, and the anti-drugs body's

deputy director of drug control, was charged with drug smuggling October 1.

Shortly after the charges had been laid Em Sam An was relieved of his post on the

NACD, although not of his position as secretary of state in the Ministry of Interior.

Sophak was one of three men convicted of smuggling 15,209 amphetamine and codeine

pills in a Kampong Cham court November 16. He was sentenced to eleven years imprisonment

while accomplices Hun Sambath and Lam Try received five and seven years respectively.

A fourth man, municipal court clerk Ching Phally, was released for lack of evidence,

said Kampong Cham's chief judge Tith Sothy.

While the use, manufacture and trafficking of ATS did increase, the NACD reported

that the cultivation of marijuana dropped dramatically. The year saw an 81 percent

decrease in cannabis cultivation. That followed a highly critical country profile

dated March, 2001 from UNO-DCCP that called Cambodia a "major source of cannabis

on the global market" and accused government officials of protecting production.

The NACD report acknowledged that security forces armed with illegal guns were protecting

cultivation, but claimed a successful government campaign reduced cultivation in

2001 to just 11.6 hectares. Authorities last year destroyed one ton of dried cannabis

and "educated" 29 growers.

The number of children apprehended and educated for sniffing glue recorded a five-fold

increase to 928 cases. The habit has spread to two-thirds of all provinces.

Although Cambodia is not a signatory to any international drug conventions, it has

indicated it will ratify three UN drug control conventions before the ASEAN summit

scheduled for October this year. Deputy Prime Minister and chairman of the NACD,

Sar Kheng, left to attend a Tokyo summit on illicit drugs in Asia April 21.

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