Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Latest pot seizure just tip of iceberg

Latest pot seizure just tip of iceberg

Latest pot seizure just tip of iceberg

PORT authorities in Vietnam seized 6.3 tons of Cambodia-grown cannabis off a freighter

at Ho Chi Minh City Jan 15, according to the chief of Cambodian Interpol.

The container with the stash was loaded at Sihanoukville before it passed through

Singapore, according to police general Skadavy M Ly Roun.

Narcotics police there seized another 4.3 tons of cannabis off the merchant vessel

Mint Zoom on Jan 27. The pot was reportedly hidden amid a consignment of garments.

Skadavy would not give details about the latest haul of cannabis originating from

Cambodia, except that the container number has been traced to a Phnom Penh-based

freight company. Cambodian Interpol will move on this only when it receives the official

report from its Vietnamese counterpart, Skadavy added.

The Vietnamese and Singa-porean hauls bring to approximately 67 the total tonnage

of Cambodian pot seized off ships around the world in 12 seizures reported since

June 1995, but experts say the tonnage harvested in Kandal, Koh Kong, and Kompong

Cham provinces probably runs into the hundreds, and that it is being grown over hundreds

of hectares.

"The production of cannabis in Cambodia is increasing considerably, and is now

reaching levels in the order of several hundred hectares," said a police source.

"If one hectare produces at least one ton of cannabis, then the scale of cannabis

cultivated in Cambodia has to be in the hundreds of tons."

It remains to be seen whether powerful Cambodian interests are behind the production

and export of cannabis, but so far, Cambodian police lay the blame on Thai and Vietnamese

middlemen who they say are taking advantage of poor Cambodians.

"Thai businessmen are behind the smuggling," Skadavy said. "They give

money to our farmers to grow marijuana in their farms, and then sell it to Vietnam

and Thailand."

The middlemen allegedly supply seeds and equipment to local farmers, paying them

handsome rates for the crop at harvest time.

In one instance, according to Skadavy, Thai entrepreneurs paid farmers up to $170,000

in Cambodia to grow and illegally export more than ten tonnes of pot in 1996.

Police gleaned this information from a booklet found on one of four Cambodians wholesalers,

who were arrested on Jan 30 as they tried to transport 100 kilos of cannabis from

Kandal to the capital.

"In 1996, these Cambodians sold more than 10 tonnes which were sent across the

Thai border at Poipet," Skadavy added.

Skadavy was also adamant that the large quantities of marijuana confiscated in recent

months were home-grown.

"Of course that marijuana is from our country...we can't answer no any more,"

he said, adding that some 500 hectares are being grown in Kandal province alone.

Not everyone in the Royal Government, however, shares the police general's sentiments.

Finance minister Keat Chhon and Customs director Sar Ho both said that the exact

origins of the pot recently seized in Singapore can only be determined once an internal

probe is completed.

"I cannot say it is from our country...I am investigating," Ho said, adding

that he is in constantly in touch with his Vietnamese and Singaporean counterparts.

For his part, Chhon maintains that Cambodian customs officers are clean, and carefully

inspect the contents of every container before ships are cleared for departure.

"I have always told [custom officials] to be careful before they seal and close

the containers," Chhon said. "But if it has happened on our side, we are

responsible."

Addressing the mystery of the Mint Zoom, The minister even hypothesized that the

contraband may have been loaded onto the ship somewhere in the Gulf of Thailand after

it left Cambodian territorial waters.

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