The trade in methamphetamine in the Greater Mekong Region including Cambodia is growing at an exponential rate and capacity to combat the problem is a “big challenge”, according to the UN’s top drug official in Southeast Asia.
Senior officials from Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam met representatives from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on Wednesday to discuss how best to combat the region’s rapidly expanding drug trade and provide updates on their progress in the drug war.
In recent years, seizures of methamphetamine have skyrocketed in the region, which Southeast Asia UNODC program coordinator Nay Soe described as the meth market’s “epicentre”. By 2015, pill seizures had doubled from 150 million tablets in 2010 and crystal meth seizures were up almost fivefold from 5 metric tonnes, according to provisional UNODC figures.
Cambodian seizures more than doubled in 2015, up from 87,000 pills and 29kg of crystal in 2014.
Nay Soe said yesterday that he does not see the region’s meth problem going anywhere.
“With two precursor giants around and insecure borders, I don’t see that happening,” he said. “Right now, it’s a super profitable business.”
The UNODC estimates the Southeast Asian trade in methamphetamine to be worth $16 billion.
Precursors are chemicals used in the production of illegal drugs and are often strictly regulated. The two giants he referred to were India and China, who he said supply the majority of the region’s precursor chemicals across their porous borders with Myanmar.
India was due to attend Wednesday’s meeting but pulled out at the last minute.
Echoing a report earlier this year by the UNODC, Nay Soe said part of the problem is the growing interconnectedness of Mekong countries as transport infrastructure develops.
“They need to have a very proper border management mechanism. They also need to pay attention to the region’s development and plan to cope with the situation,” he said.
“Better connectivity could mean better flow of drugs. At the same time, the capacity to interdict is still a big challenge in Mekong states, including Cambodia. So I am really concerned about the future.”
He said that the police forces of many Mekong states, Cambodia included, lack the arms, manpower and training to win the “cat and mouse game” with drug traffickers.
However, General Secretary of Cambodia’s National Authority for Combating Drugs Meas Vyrith was not worried about the police’s ability to counter the surge in methamphetamine.
“Now we’re providing training relating to combating drugs to all police and military police,” Vyrith said, adding that Cambodia’s drug strategy was now focusing on drug users, with community treatment services being offered in clinics and referral hospitals across the country.