Speaking before a crowd of police officials at the Interior Ministry yesterday, Interior Minister Sar Kheng publicly announced the start of the second six-month phase of the government’s anti-drug campaign.
“The fear and reduction of criminals’ activities occurred because our authorities investigated and collected information until they could identify the main targets clearly,” said Kheng, lauding the successes of the campaign’s first half.
Kheng’s claims, however, contradicted recent assessments by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which has said the crackdown had little discernible impact on the international trafficking networks responsible for the flow of drugs into the country.
Though the first six months of the campaign resulted in thousands of arrests, observers called on the government to emphasise treatment over incarceration.
Sithat Sem, a drug programme manager at NGO Mith Samlanh, said he hoped civil society groups would be allowed to collaborate more with the government during the second phase of the campaign. “Right now we are not getting any information regarding coordination between the government and civil society,” he said. Still, he continued, “we need to be optimistic”.
A meeting between NGOs, recovering drug users, government agencies and UNAIDS organised by the NGO Khana last month was meant to encourage dialogue between civil society and the government.
However, the gathering showed the limits of such collaboration, with a Khana rep asking officials to consider alternatives to jail time for users who survived as petty dealers, only to be dismissed for “mixing the law with emotion” by Deputy Secretary-General of the NACD Neak Yuthea.