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Drug probes halted as police play politics

Drug probes halted as police play politics

G OVERNMENT in-fighting has spread into the ranks of Cambodia's anti-narcotics police,

putting a halt to virtually all non-political drug investigations, officials say.

The Ministry of Interior's national anti-drug unit has been brought to a stand-still.

Its Funcinpec-appointed chief, General Poly Da, said this week he is unable to go

to work, because of arrest and death threats.

Second Prime Minister Hun Sen has called for Poly Da's arrest over allegations that

he is involved in the drug trade, and a top CPP policeman has called for the anti-drug

chief's removal.

Poly Da in return accused CPP of involvement in drugs, and blamed the power struggle

between Funcinpec and CPP for his problems: "The two parties have chosen drugs

as something to fight over.

"They [CPP] don't want me to continue in my post because I have important information

about organized crime and CPP involvement in drug running," said the general.

Poly Da said that - since Hun Sen called for his arrest Apr 11 - he has not reported

for duty at his office, which is housed in the same building as the Cambodian branch

of Interpol.

A senior Interpol officer, General Skadavy M Ly Roun (CPP), has rounded on Poly Da

over the recent seizure of more than 1,000kg of marijuana in Phnom Penh.

Skadavy, who is an advisor on international crime to co-Minister of Interior Sar

Kheng (CPP), wants Poly Da questioned over the drug haul, and another one in February

last year. Poly Da claims that CPP officials are trying to frame him.

Poly Da did go to the Interpol building on May 21, for the first time in six weeks,

accompanied by 15 guards armed with AK47s, B40 rocket launchers and grenades, according

to Skadavy.

"When we complained, he said his men were straight from the jungle and knew

no different," said Skadavy, who claimed live grenades were planted outside

his own office during the visit.

Poly Da, holed up in his modest home on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, close to Funcinpec

general Nhek Bun Chhay's house and guarded by Funcinpec troops, said he was receiving

death threats nightly.

"I am very worried about my security and if I go to my office [I fear] the fighting

will start."

The latest political free-for-all over drug smuggling - which follows the hotly-disputed

Sihanoukville marijuana seizure last month - was sparked by the confiscation of a

total of 1,561kg of marijuana in two places in Phnom Penh, May 15th and 17th.

Chan Mao, an immigration policeman and an anti-drug unit informant who was reporting

to Poly Da, was arrested along with 10 other people.

Skadavy, who ordered the arrests, alleged that Mao had implicated Poly Da in the

drug haul.

Now in T-3 prison, Mao was a registered police informant, according to documents

seen by the Post. Mao was authorized by Poly Da on Mar 27 to collaborate with Thai

drug dealers, to get information on marijuana warehouses in the capital.

Poly Da claimed that Mao's arrest contravenes Cambodia's new anti-drug law, which

specifies that informers who are assisting police drug investigations cannot be arrested.

"He [Skadavy] wanted to arrest Chan Mao, so he could cause trouble for me,"

said Poly Da.

Skadavy said that although Mao had been registered as a police spy by both Poly Da

and his CPP deputy Keo Kosal, there was evidence that he was double dealing and selling

drugs on the side.

After his arrest, Mao had given evidence implicating Poly Da in a "protection

racket involving marijuana growers", Skadavy said.

Citing a written statement to police by Mao, Skadavy said that in March Poly Da gave

Mao 100,000 riels to buy marijuana from farmers and arrange to sell it to Thai businessmen.

The Thai businessmen were to be arrested after the sale, Mao's statement said.

Skadavy, denying that the Poly Da's operation was simply a straight-forward drug

sting, said that Poly Da had asked Mao to give him some of the money from the drug

sale.

The profits were to be split 30/70 between the anti-drug unit and the marijuana farmers,

Skadavy alleged.

He stressed that Poly Da had acted "illegally" because he did not have

the approval of National Police chief Hok Lundy to carry out the drug sale operation.

However, a hand-written letter to Hok Lundy from Keo Kosal dated May 13, two days

before the drug operation, informs General Lundy that Chan Mao would be acting as

a police agent in the deal. A copy of the letter, obtained by the Post, appears to

carry Lundy's signature below the annotation "proposal agreed".

Skadavy also claimed that, in the past, Poly Da had appropriated cars and other property

seized from drug suspects.

"They took all the suspects' belongings, even dishes and spoons," he said.

"We are police officers - our duty is to crack down on the drug smugglers, not

to go and rob them."

The only thing that Skadavy and Poly Da agreed upon was that government officials

are involved in the drug trade, and that any independent anti-drug investigations

are all but paralyzed in the current political climate.

Skadavy said that Poly Da - as well the Funcinpec co-Minister of Interior You Hockry

- should be questioned over the saga of missing heroin in February last year. In

that case, some 2kg of heroin reportedly disappeared after the ministry's Funcinpec

aligned anti-drug unit clashed with Phnom Penh municipality's CPP-led anti-narcotics

officers over a drug sting operation.

Poly Da claimed that CPP are trumping up charges against Funcinpec officials, as

they had done with military police officer Chao Sokhon, arrested in connection with

last month's seizure of nearly seven tonnes of marijuana in Sihanoukville. Funcinpec

police claim the real culprit in that case is businessman Mong Reththy, a special

envoy of Hun Sen.

"According to the anti-drug law I should have full powers to investigate drug

dealing both inside and outside Cambodia," said Poly Da. "But in reality

they give the jobs to municipal [drug] police because they don't want me to see what

is going on.

"Now the problem of drug trafficking in Cambodia is getting worse because the

authorities are very weak, because of the political conflicts, and the bad guys are

getting very strong," he said. "Cambodia wants to clean up its drug problem

but now we can do nothing".

Skadavy agreed that the inter-cop rivalry had stopped drug investigations work. He

proposed the solution of removing both Poly Da and his CPP deputy, Keo Kosal, from

their posts.

"We have to take away the political element and keep the parties away,"

Skadavy said. "Drug trafficking is increasing and since the internal problems

in the anti-narcotics department began no one wants to make arrests and stop trafficking,"

he said, pointing to idle anti-drug squad officers lounging outside the Interpol

office.

"There're no investigations, it means the whole department has nothing to do...it's

a good opportunity for the drug traffickers".

To cut back political rivalries within the police, Poly Da, meanwhile, is calling

for the United States Drug Enforcement Agency to set up a base in Cambodia to carry

out independent inquiries into who is really behind the drug business.

"Tell President Clinton I want the DEA to come to Cambodia," said Poly

Da, adding that he promised to kill himself if an independent investigation found

him guilty of drug corruption.

International drug trafficking experts, however, unimpressed by the political in-fighting,

say that until anti-drug police begin arresting offenders from their own political

parties, their policing efforts will not be taken seriously.

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