Police at their drug-burning spectacle at Hun Sen Park on October 8.
Amajor haul of heroin and amphetamines confiscated this month was doused in gasoline
and set aflame on October 8 marking what municipal police chief Heng Peo called Cambodia's
"biggest ever anti-drug operation".
The torching of the 40 kg of drugs at Hun Sen Park was to send a message that Cambodia
is serious about cracking down on drugs, said Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry
of Interior (MoI).
Deputy and acting Prime Minister Sar Kheng used the ceremony to plead for more financial
assistance to combat narcotics trafficking. He said Cambodia had been "excluded
from most international assistance".
The country's anti-drug activity relies heavily on financial support from the international
community for law enforcement training. Sopheak declined to provide figures on the
amount of foreign assistance, but said that Cambodia's rising profile as a key trafficking
route demands extra support.
"If we don't get help, we can [still] fight drugs ourselves," he said.
"But it is a global problem and Cambodia benefits from very little assistance
from the global community."
Graham Shaw, program officer of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNOCD)
said the police involved with drug operations lacked education, training skills and
had inferior equipment.
"You could consider them handicapped," he said.
But despite the rhetoric, the most recent crackdown is not the biggest, said an international
Christian Guth, a law enforcement advisor to the Ministry of Interior (MoI), participated
in a 1996 seizure netting 71 kg of high-quality heroin on a boat in Sre Ambel on
the coastline. He said it was "the first really important and the largest drug
bust" in Cambodia.
Guth worked as an advisor with the anti-drug office of the Cambodian police from
1995 to 1996, along with Heng Peo who was in charge of the anti-drugs operations
funded primarily by the French government.
Shaw of UNOCD was unsure why the recent crackdown was being hyped as the country's
"Perhaps it was for publicity, to appeal to the international community for
support or maybe it was to send a message to various people, like Hok Lundy to show
they could handle it or send a message to people in the drug business," he said.
The October 1 bust, which yielded the drugs burned at the ceremony, uncovered 106
blocks of heroin inside a house in Tuol Kork district along with amphetamines, pill-making
machines and firearms.
Sopheak said the rising tide of drugs flowing through Cambodia had to be stopped.
"We will not allow these traffickers to turn Cambodia into a big concern for
drug trafficking," Sopheak said.
But Guth said Cambodia has long been recognized as a major trafficking route.
"In 1996, Cambodia was definitely identified as a [major] drugs transit country,"
said Guth. The 71 kg heroin seizure he assisted with had been smuggled from Thailand
through Sihanoukville on its way to Australia.
Since then, it appears the drug trade has only expanded.
In the last nine months, 136 cases of drug trafficking have been intercepted, according
to the Ministry of Interior. Since April 1, there have been six major drug busts,
three of them at Phnom Penh airport. The April case included the collaboration of
Australian authorities to trace 24 kg of heroin that had arrived in Sydney from Cambodia.
Altogether, the six busts netted about 76 kg of heroin.
The most recent seizure implicated Lim Samnang, a captain in the intelligence unit
of the Ministry of Defense, who hid 40 kg of heroin in his Tuol Kork house. Seven
of his cohorts were sentenced for drug smuggling on September 8. Some are alleged
to have connections with Chinese triads.