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Heroin arrests put spotlight on visitors

Heroin arrests put spotlight on visitors

P olice say they will pay greater attention to foreigners arriving in Cambodia after three African men were caught with a kilogram of heroin on Dec 21.

"From now on, I will take strong measures to control foreigners entering the country, but not every one of them will be checked," said Brigadier General Heng Peo, chief of the Phnom Penh police's anti-drug office.

"I do this for the sake of my Cambodian people and all people in the world." He said suspicious people like tourists and small traders who frequently traveled to Cambodia would be "checked" - searched or put under surveillance - after arriving at Pochentong International Airport.

"Investors, big traders and good tourists will be exempted and warmly welcomed," he said.

He warned that foreigners who had heard of Cambodia's lack of laws, particularly in regard to some drugs illegal elsewhere in the world, should not be tempted to smuggle drugs.

The arrest of the three Africans in the town of Takhmao, 15km southeast of Phnom Penh, is said to have been the first of alleged foreign drug smugglers in Cambodia.

Gen Peo said the men - identified as Solomon Chuchwae Meka, 34, from Nigeria, Harry Thamos Metsantara, 21, from Ghana and N. Dele Kandenga, 22, from Zaire - arrived in Cambodia on Dec 19, their fourth trip here this year.

"We became suspicious and began following them as soon as they arrived at Pochentong airport."

The trio were believed to have bought the heroin in Phnom Penh and, after apparently suspecting they were being followed by police, got motos to Takhmao.

Police stopped and searched them there, the general said, and found the heroin stuffed down their boots and strapped to their waists.

They were taken to Phnom Penh's T-3 prison, where they were likely to remain for 4-6 months until they went to trial.

The general said the three had "confessed" but denied they had intended to deal the drug in Cambodia.

They had said they had planned to smuggle it into the United States.

They would face a prison sentence of anything between 5 to 15 years under Cambodian law. He believed they were likely to receive about 10 years.

He said the heroin, which probably originated in Laos or Burma, would be worth anything from $20,000 to $1 million on the international open market.

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