General Ke Kim Yan, former commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, was officially named Tuesday as head of the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD) in a move that Prime Minister Hun Sen said signalled the government's renewed focus on eliminating Cambodia's drugs trade.
Hun Sen urged authorities from all levels at an announcement ceremony to crack down on drug distribution "immediately", saying that drug deals had too often been ignored.
"Even though the distribution and sale of drugs is on a small scale, it causes anarchy and insecurity in society," he said.
Son Chhay, a Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker, said Ke Kim Yan was stepping into a difficult job, but that his influence in the army could make him particularly effective at stamping out the cross-border drug trade.
He said drugs smuggling relied on the support of a few high-ranking army officials.
"He knows the officials under his command, and if there are any soldiers involved in the drug business, he can take measures to combat trafficking," Son Chhay said.
Anand Chaudhuri, head of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Cambodia, said that over the years the drugs authority had worked closely with UNODC and notched a number of successes, but that the drug trade remained a problem.
"[Drug trafficking] is an increasingly complex problem, but the drug police have been increasingly tracking and monitoring it," he said.
Between 2000 and 2009, the NACD arrested 3,531 people and collected 2,693,407 amphetamine pills, 105 kilograms of heroin and 14 tonnes of dried marijuana, according to the authority's data.
Graham Shaw, a technical adviser at the WHO, said drugs trafficking remains a critical issue.
"From a public health perspective, the law enforcement approach has failed everywhere else in the world. Why would it be any different in Cambodia?"