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Drug-burning police plead for global aid

Drug-burning police plead for global aid

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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

police expert.

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

biggest.

"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.

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