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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rocketing drug use alarms government

Rocketing drug use alarms government

Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng has warned that illicit drug trafficking, production

and use is getting worse and causing a great concern for Cambodia.

In a letter he wrote to Prime Minister Hun Sen on October 23, 2003, he says more

work needs to be done, and both technical and financial assistance is needed from

all donors at the Consultative Group meeting.

Graham Shaw, program officer of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)

said the 2003 report from the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD) shows

continuation of the rapid increase in the use of Yama, or Yaba (an amphetamine-type

stimulant), and of heroin.

"The trend is rapidly increasing in the whole country," Shaw said. "If

nothing is done in the next three years, then there is going to be disaster."

He said there would be a traumatic effect on Cambodia's economy, GDP, tourism, and

manufacturing, causing a humanitarian crisis.

"The window of opportunity is now," Shaw said. "If the window of opportunity

is not taken now, within the next few years it is going to be too late and Cambodia

will go the way of Thailand."

Though there is no national survey of the levels of drug abuse, Shaw said it has

been estimated 300,000 to 400,000 teenagers are taking drugs and that drug trafficking

is increasing rapidly.

He said young people from 6-to-7-years old upwards were the group that most concerned

both the government and the UNODC, with spreading related crime as youths took to

stealing to buy more drugs.

Shaw said Cambodia continues to have very weak law enforcement capacity because of

low salaries, corruption, lack of knowledge and skills, as well as lack of basic

equipment.

He said Cambodia must rapidly increase its law enforcement ability and develop an

effective cross-border mechanism between southern Laos and northern Cambodia, where

there had been a dramatic increase in drug trafficking compared with previous years.

He warned that rampant corruption and weak law enforcement within Cambodia allowed

drug traffickers to operate with impunity.

He also said there were strong indications that military and police are providing

protection to drug traffickers. The substance of evidence was not available, but

he asserted that military and police are directly involved in drug trafficking.

In mid-October, Phnom Penh Municipal Police launched a high profile campaign against

drug traffickers.

Five members of Sihanoukville Customs Department were arrested and charged with connections

to drug trafficking - then Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered them freed on bail.

Another crackdown was in Phnom Penh on October 13: police raided two residences and

a hotel. A two-star general and a lieutenant colonel were arrested, then freed for

what was claimed to be lack of evidence.

Shaw said the seizing of drugs a few months ago in Phnom Penh appeared to have strongly

implicated the military and there had been tension between civilian police and military

police.

He said the way the investigation proceeded did not meet international standards.

However Cheam Cheap, a CPP member of the National Assembly, said the allegation that

military and police officials were linked to drug trafficking was a defamation against

the government.

A meeting in Phnom Penh on February 24 and 25 at the Ministry of Interior to review

the National Authority for Combating Drugs' work against drug abuse in 2003, and

set objectives for 2004, brought together 331 participants, including the governors,

court chiefs and prosecutors from 24 provinces and cities, three representatives

from the UNODC, 20 from various NGOs, and police and military police officials from

throughout the country.

Sar Kheng, Co-Interior Minister and chairman of the NACD, said on February 24 at

the meeting that many doubts had been expressed focusing on the practice of the drug

laws and their implementation in arresting and judging defendants.

"We also accept that increasing public awareness of the risk of drugs is the

best measure for drug controlling use, and not enough has yet been done," he

said.

"What is important is that we have to find out the root cause of each problem

so that we can follow the national strategic plan for controlling drugs during the

five years 2004 to 2009."

Kheng said each organization must bring its skills to bear on its area of responsibility

and jointly they must reduce the vagueness of overlap and stymieing progress by waiting

for one another to make the first move.

Thus, the Ministry of Health is responsible for treatment, the Ministry of Social

Affairs, Labor, Vocational Training and Youth Rehabilitation responsible for rehabilitation,

the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport for education; provincial and city authorities

are responsible in their localities for controlling drugs by education, by preventing

drug production, trafficking, and use, by treating and rehabilitating drug addicts,

and raising the budget for controlling drugs in their localities.

Akira Fujino, Representative Officer for the UNODC in East Asia and the Pacific,

said two countries, Aghanistan and Burma, produced much of the world's opium.

Akira said two weeks earlier, when he was at a conference in Australia, the Australian

police representative reported that they had seized 750 kg of drugs smuggled from

Cambodia. However the traffickers didn't import directly from Cambodia but from other

countries to Cambodia and then from Cambodia to Australia.

Teng Savong, General Secretary for the NACD, said there are 4,387 known drug addicts

in Cambodia, but many more unknown. Provisional statistics of the NACD and UNODC

stated that in Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville, and Battambang, among 3500 students who

study in grade 9 to 12, one student in every five had tried to use at least one kind

of drug.

Savong said provincial, city and other organizations had burned 12 hectares of marijuana,

foiled 77 cases of smuggling ATS, or amphetamine-type stimulants (arresting 223 people

and seizing 137,660 tablets of ATS) and one case of heroin (arresting one defendant

and seizing 1.9 kg of heroin) in 2002.

In 2003, they destroyed six hectares of marijuana, 184 cases of ATS (arresting

349 and taking 209,527 tablets of ATS) an increase of 52.2 per cent compared with

2002. They intervened in six heroin offences (arresting 24 and seizing 46.274 kg

of heroin).

The Regional Centre for East Asia and the Pacific of UNODC wrote in December 2003

that an estimated 200 kg of heroin, thousands of methamphetamine pills and other

drug cocktails, produced and distributed by drug armies in the Golden Triangle, crossed

Cambodia's borders each month.

It said drug smuggling through Cambodia is a multimillion-dollar business and Cambodia's

rugged border terrain makes it a perfect breeding ground for these activities.

The report said Cambodia's link to the Golden Triangle is no new revelation. A French

drug monitoring body reported in 1996 that Cambodia played an expanding role in the

transit of drugs from the Golden Triangle.

UNDOC said the number of seizures of heroin in Cambodia, and the quantities of those

seizures, has increased since a crackdown in Thailand began.

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