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Top officials vow harder line with drugs initiative

Sar Kheng speaks at Phnom Penh’s National Education Institution yesterday.
Sar Kheng speaks at Phnom Penh’s National Education Institution yesterday. Heng Chivoan

Top officials vow harder line with drugs initiative

Interior Minister Sar Kheng and the heads of the nation’s law enforcement agencies yesterday appealed to police to work harder to crack down on small-scale drug users and dealers and to better monitor the nation’s borders to stop the entry of narcotics.

Speaking at the launch of the country’s first official Anti-Drug Campaign at the National Institute of Education, the officials also warned police who are caught involved in drug trafficking operations that they will be punished more severely than others.

Kheng said the six-month anti-drug campaign starting January 1 would be run out of a centre that would oversee hourly inspections of the Cambodian-Laos border across Stung Treng, Preah Vihear and Ratanakkiri. He said those provinces were the “biggest passage” for drugs coming into Cambodia.

Ke Kim Yan, the former commander in chief of the military who now serves as head of national anti-drug authority, also warned that any police officers caught moving drugs would be severely punished. “Our officials who are in high positions will be punished even more heavily … the punishment will be doubled, not reduced,” he said.

National Police chief Neth Savoeun also urged police to crack down on small-scale drug users in order to eventually track down producers.

David Harding, an independent drug specialist, welcomed the government’s emphasis of inspecting borders but said “targeting small-time dealers really tends to have no effect” on the scourge of trafficking.

“All that has a tendency of doing is filling up prisons with huge numbers of small-time dealers, pushing the trade even further underground, and creating huge health problems for drug users,” he said.

“If the Cambodian government really wants to even begin to have an effect on reducing supply into the country, they need to put more emphasis and more resources into reaching the cartels that are actually running the traffic.”

In a separate speech on Wednesday, Kheng had said “the fight against drugs might be complicated, but we will not do it like the Philippines” – a reference to President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs, which has claimed more than 6,000 lives in six months.

The recent focus on drugs from the government has come off the back of increasing use in recent years, with a government report issued last week saying that the number of drug addicts in Cambodia had increased by almost a third since last year.

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