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Official details Kingdom's drug problems

Senior police officers inspect photos of Trapaing Chhouk village yesterday during a conference on illegal drugs at the Ministry of Interior in Phnom Penh.
Senior police officers inspect photos of Trapaing Chhouk village yesterday during a conference on illegal drugs at the Ministry of Interior in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

Official details Kingdom's drug problems

The nation’s drug czar yesterday described a prison and rehab centre system in which drugs were being sold under the noses of the authorities and suggested police estimates of the number of drug users in Cambodia were “not enough” as he spoke at the Interior Ministry’s annual conference on the topic.

Ke Kim Yan, deputy prime minister and president of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, specifically called out the “My Chance” drug detention centre, saying he had been made aware of individuals smuggling narcotics into the centre in their bags. Men Phal, an administrator at the centre, denied this was the case.

“My Chance” was mentioned in a 2013 Human Rights Watch report lambasting the Kingdom’s rehabilitation centres, in which a former detainee described arbitrary beatings at the facility.

But Phal was not the only government official to reject Kim Yan’s claims.

Som Keo, spokesman for the ministry’s department of prison operations, said later in the day that despite a number of arrests for drug possession in prisons, the Kingdom’s correctional facilities do not have a drug-trafficking problem.

“Previously, there were some problems like this, but it was not trafficking. They illegally used drugs and we cracked down … Sometimes we arrested them when the drugs were brought inside by relatives and sometimes we raided and checked when they were using … but I cannot count how many cases.”

Kim Yan went on to encourage the nation’s oft-criticised rehabilitation centres to improve their treatment of drug users, bemoaning the recidivism rates.

“We have seen those receiving treatment go back and forth … It’s the same people and the numbers do not decrease,” he said, adding that more than 50 per cent of drug users never even see the inside of a centre.

The deputy prime minister also raised an eyebrow at the police’s latest drug-use statistics. A police report issued at the conference claimed Cambodia was home to 16,575 users in 2015, up from its 2014 count of 11,069.

“This number is not enough,” Kim Yan stated flatly. The report also claimed a year-on-year doubling of the number of drug-related arrests, from 2,235 in 2014 to 5,032 in 2015.

But among the gaudy arrest totals, Kim Yan said there were areas of Phnom Penh that still desperately needed attention, among them, the notoriously drug-ridden neighbourhood of Trapaing Chhouk.

“Someone whispered to me that I should not go there because the location is anarchy and it is difficult [to] control … [I] request that Phnom Penh City Hall or the National Police intervene,” he said, though admitting a clean-up of the area would be a months-long endeavour.

Kim Yan also called for a crackdown on cross-border drug smuggling, saying specific attention needed to be paid to the provinces of Stung Treng and Preah Vihear, which border Laos and Thailand.

The police’s report issued yesterday highlighted failures to properly implement anti-cross border smuggling measures.

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