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Cambodian authorities fear drug production haven

Cambodian authorities fear drug production haven

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Cambodian authorities burned nearly four tonnes of illegal substances that could have been used to produce millions of metamphetamine pills in Phnom Penh on June 2, 2009. This month, authorities may face burning nearly 19 tonnes in another effort to crackdown on rampant drug production. Photograph: AFP PHOTO / Tang Chhin Sothy

Authorities in Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville over the weekend seized drug-production equipment and nearly 19 tonnes of chemical substances thought to be precursor ingredients for illicit drug manufacturing, officials said yesterday.

If testing this week proves that the chemicals were intended to cook illegal narcotics, it would be the second such bust in Cambodia in two weeks and more evidence that drug production, as opposed to simply cross-border smuggling and drug addiction, is a growing problem.

Major General Khieuv Samorn, director of the Anti-Drug unit at the Ministry of Interior, told the Post yesterday that he could not name the confiscated substances.

He did, however, say the haul was “capable of producing hundreds of tons of methamphetamine” in many forms, including crystal meth – which is smoked – and the pill form known as “ya ma” in Cambodia.

The go-to precursor chemicals in the manufacture of methamphetamine are ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, according to a 2011 report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Samples from the seizure are on their way to the anti-drug unit’s testing site in Phnom Penh, and results are expected later in the week.

The discoveries happened on two separate days over the weekend. First, police at the Phnom Penh Port on Saturday found large steel vats, pipes and valves stowed away in a Chinese shipping company container.

Samorn said the equipment included bits and pieces destined for a drug-manufacturing facility. A day later, anti-drug officials found the stock of chemicals at the port in Sihanoukville.

Lou Kim Chhun, director general of Sihanoukville port, is concerned about the illegal flow of chemical substances, “because it impacts the reputation of our port”.

The anti-drug unit, which coordinated the seizures, hypothesised that the group involved in importing the equipment and chemicals is also responsible for the substances targeted in a recent raid.

Earlier this month, police netted 82 tanks containing about 1,000 litres of precursor chemicals on a pig farm in Kampong Speu. After the raid, officials publicly denied that the chemicals were for production purposes.

But Meas Vyrith, deputy secretary-general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, told the Post yesterday that a follow-up lab analysis found traces of chemicals that could be used to manufacture drugs. He added that the person using them had to be an “expert” to pull it off.

Prum Sokhany, the chief executive officer of Phnom Penh port, in charge of checking the container on Saturday, told the Post yesterday that police have stored the equipment as evidence.

“We do not know to which company the equipment belongs … The police are investigating to find the owner, so I don’t know the result yet,” he said.   

Because of availability, the use of methamphetamines in Cambodia has escalated in recent years.

There is also evidence that Cambodia, which has in Phnom Penh the only regional deep-sea port, risks becoming a haven for production.

“Our laboratory conducted more chemical analyses this year than last,” said Vyrith of the NACD, whose figures in a 2011 report show that raids and arrests increased by more than 150 per cent when compared with the previous year, although the amount of chemical substances used in the production of drugs had risen just 10.45 per cent.

In the same time period, drug cases tried in court more than tripled.

Minister of Interior Sar Kheng told the Post in April that Cambodia had become a transit destination for drugs produced in the “golden triangle” countries of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar and the “golden half-moon” countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.

To contact the reporters on this story: Khouth Sophak Chakrya at [email protected]
Joseph Freeman at [email protected]

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