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Cambodia a ‘hub for drugs’

Tracing Cambodia's crime routes.
Tracing Cambodia's crime routes. Daniel Nass

Cambodia a ‘hub for drugs’

A report released yesterday by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) identifies Cambodia as a transportation hub of growing importance for heroin and methamphetamine as well as precursor chemicals used in their manufacture.

The report examines the rapid growth of transnational crime across the ASEAN region. It found that as regional integration has increased and economies have expanded, so too have organised crime networks.

The UNODC estimates transnational crime across Southeast Asia and China to be worth at least $100 billion annually.

Jeremy Douglas, UNODC’s regional representative, yesterday said the Kingdom’s developing role in the regional drugs trade was partly because of geography.

“Cambodia is very well placed between two middle-income countries that are doing very well, Thailand and Vietnam,” said Douglas, with illicit timber, human beings and drugs – particularly methamphetamine – being trafficked from and through the Kingdom to its wealthier neighbours.

“For years, we’ve been pointing out to countries that meth is rising,” he said. “We see that it will continue to rise because you have a large youth culture and increased purchasing power.”

While Cambodia does not have the purchasing power of some of its middle-income neighbours, the affordability and availability of “yama”, a pill-form of methamphetamine, means it is not immune to the issue.

David Harding has been working with Cambodian drug users for the past 15 years. He said yesterday that yama first appeared on the Cambodian market in the late 1990s.

“The whole [drug] culture is dominated by meth,” said Harding.

He agreed that Cambodia was predominantly a source and transit country for drugs, rather than a destination. The high level of drug consumption in Cambodia, he said, was testament to the extent of the trade’s presence in the country.

“Traffickers don’t pay people off in cash, they pay them with drugs. So the fact that there is a significant drug issue in Cambodia suggests there is a very significant traffic,” he said.

Meas Vyrith, secretary-general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD), yesterday said Cambodia was a “victim country” in the global drug trade “as a result of increased production and trafficking of methamphetamine”.

The UNODC’s Douglas called upon the ASEAN nations to increase budgeting for border security and transnational law enforcement projects at a level more in line with investment in economic cooperation.

“The security agenda is several steps behind the economic agenda. The security agenda is quite a ways behind that, which is not as well resourced,” he said.

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