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‘Necessary’ drug crackdown to continue

Cambodian police officials burn drugs in Phnom Penh in June. AFP
Cambodian police officials burn drugs in Phnom Penh in June. AFP

‘Necessary’ drug crackdown to continue

The National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD) has deemed it “necessary” to extend Cambodia’s controversial drug crackdown, which was scheduled to end last year, and continues to make arrests while awaiting official approval from the government.

Meas Vyrith, secretary-general of the NACD, said a technical working group had concluded their analysis of their campaign, which he said attempted to “get rid of the root causes” of drug abuse.

“There is still a need to continue the campaign . . . because of the positive outcome,” he said. “It will take time for the senior officials to make a decision. The campaign still goes on.”

Meanwhile, at a meeting between the government and stakeholders yesterday, NACD officer Thong Sokunthea presented the results of the crackdown last year.

In 2017, more than 17,800 people were arrested in the drug crackdown, with more than 50 percent being solely drug users, according to a participant at the meeting who asked not to be named. Of these, 11,000 were sent to rehabilitation centres.

Read more: Is Cambodia’s war on drugs working?

Sokunthea himself could not be reached yesterday, but the participant said his focus was on educating people to prevent drug use.

The drug crackdown was initially scheduled to last from January to June last year, but was extended until the end of the year. Further aggravating already persistent overcrowding of prisons and a lack of adequate medical care, the campaign has drawn criticism from civil society and observers, casting doubt over the effectiveness of the campaign.

Vyrith yesterday said the third campaign phase was envisaged to last until the end of the government’s mandate, with elections coming up in July.

Sou Sochenda, an officer at NGO Khana, said in an interview earlier this year that the government seemed to have shifted its focus from simply imprisoning people to more community-based treatment, but its implementation still required improvement.

“For the second phase it seems like we worked more closely with the government and that the government is paying more attention to what drug users need,” she said. “And there seems to be more focus on the involvement of all key stakeholders.”

Yet, there still needed to be more and better community-based treatment, she said, as some local doctors lacked the expertise or time because they were in charge of “many different clients, not only drug users”.

“That’s the gap,” she said.

While welcoming efforts from the government to combat drug use and addiction, Khana Executive Director Choub Sok Chamreun in an email noted that the government had to continue to invest in the quality of service delivery.

“This [includes] sufficient and timely supplies of medicines, and the availability of medical materials and equipments for helping the service providers [in] performing their jobs,” he said.

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