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Police officials pose with suspects arrested after a drug raid that netted some 55 kilograms of methamphetamine and heroin in June. New police figures show drug arrests have tripled since last year.
Police officials pose with suspects arrested after a drug raid that netted some 55 kilograms of methamphetamine and heroin in June. New police figures show drug arrests have tripled since last year. NATIONAL POLICE

Reasons differ for the spike in drug busts

Drug cases in Cambodia nearly tripled in the first nine months of 2015 compared to the same period last year, police announced on Friday, though authorities and civil society groups differed on the cause behind the spike.

The deputy chief of National Police, Mok Chito, said that the growing caseload reflects more arrests at the hands of better-experienced police forces, not more drug use, but NGOs working in the sector maintained yesterday that meth use is growing in the country due to increased regional availability.

“Before, the police [would] suspect a drug case but did not dare to act or arrest the suspect at the first sign,” Chito stated in a video of a speech given on Friday. “Now that we have discussed with the court and prosecutors [ways] to strengthen legal measures and skills … sending the case to court is a lot easier.”

According to the report cited by Chito, police handled 1,668 drug cases and detained 3,402 drug-related suspects from the start of the year through September, compared to just 564 cases and 1,345 suspects handled in the first nine months of 2014.

The amount of drugs seized more than doubled this year. So far, police have confiscated 87 kilograms of drugs in 2015, not counting marijuana, versus 43 kilograms of drugs taken in the same period last year.

Chito said that approximately 4,724 inmates are currently imprisoned for drug-related offences – mostly the storage, distribution and trafficking of drugs, as opposed to drug use. And while the police report suggests that there are 8,000 drug users in Cambodia, Chito estimated that the number is much higher – closer to 20,000 Cambodians.

Chito went on to credit the massive jump in arrests to increased professionalism among officers.

“Before, most police [were] scared of the reaction made by the suspects after the act.. . . They were scared by those who support the offenders, [who could be] powerful men in society,” he said. “But not anymore; police know how to perform well.”

However, Chito’s assessment was more optimistic than that of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, which on September 25 reported that “synthetic drug markets in East and Southeast Asia are rapidly increasing”. Amphetamine-type stimulants dominate these markets.

In an earlier interview, Meas Vyrith, head of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, said that drug use and trafficking in Cambodia are both increasing, due to the greater production of drugs.

Rather than attributing the explosion in arrests to a more competent police force, Pin Sokhom, the drug project coordinator with the NGO Friends International, said that the growing number of cases is caused by the increasingly widespread availability of drugs, especially meth. The situation is exacerbated, he said, by the fact that most Cambodians don’t fully understand addiction.

“Education is still very low,” he said. “In many provinces and even in the countryside, they still think that the drug is like a powerful pill they can use for many reasons and can stop any time.”

He added that the demographics of the average drug user are changing, with more urban, middle-class users ending up in rehab care over the past few years, compared to the mostly homeless addicts that Friends International used to receive.

He also said that more people are using crystal methamphetamine, as opposed to its pill form, yama.

Hang Choeun, president of DTA, a private rehab centre, said that the vast majority of his clients were urban, mostly between the ages of 20 and 30. Vin Oyna, an 18-year-old DTA client, said that of her class of 31 students, 10 were using methamphetamine.

A former small-time yama dealer in the care of NGO Friends International, who declined to give his real name, also indicated that the professionalism of the police force hadn’t been dealers’ primary concern, saying that he and associates had a well-developed network of informants that tipped them off before police raids.

He was never arrested, but was driven away from dealing after almost being killed several times by competing dealers.

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