Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday called on authorities to ramp up efforts to eliminate Cambodia’s “booming” drug-trafficking menace, citing a recent heart to heart with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte on the subject, while making sure to distance himself from the type of draconian tactics identified with the fellow ASEAN leader.
“I sat with the Philippines president and talked about the drug problem in his country. The Indonesian president [Joko Widodo] also has an issue similar to ours,” he said of a recent sit-down on the sidelines of an ASEAN summit in Laos. “So these pressing problems need to be solved.”
Duterte has faced severe criticism for his bloody call to stamp out the country’s drug problem, which has resulted in more than 3,000 extrajudicial killings of suspected drug dealers.
But while acknowledging the problem, the prime minister said he would refrain from using killings as a method of solving it, pointing not to the recent killings in the Philippines but those that took place under former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in the early 2000s.
“We will not use the measures of some countries that allowed the savage killing [of drug offenders], but we will not pardon the drug criminals either,” Hun Sen said in a speech to graduating students from the Royal University of Law and Economics.
He added that he would not amend the Constitution to impose the death penalty for drug crimes, as had been suggested to him by certain quarters.
A report released earlier this year by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime identified Cambodia as a transportation hub for methamphetamines and heroin.
Following the premier’s speech, National Police chief Neth Savoeun announced on Facebook that he had convened a meeting yesterday of the Campaign to Counter Illegal Drugs vowing to use new measures to reduce drug activity in the country.
Both Savouen and National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith could not be reached yesterday for details of these new measures.
However, the secretary-general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs Meas Virith said the campaign would use ongoing attempts to combat the drug trade, while adding newer measures.
“We are preparing a special campaign to strengthen and prevent the drugs from entering school because it is prevalent among youth,” he said. “We will also inspect the bar, guest houses, hotel, and truck drivers.”
David Harding, who has worked with Cambodian drug users for 17 years, said stamping out drug trafficking in Cambodia was difficult because low-paid civil servants potentially used it as an additional means of income.
He added that directives like Hun Sen’s would result in police officers feeling compelled to act and would again only target the “small fish” – small-time drug users and dealers –rather than the “big fish” like cartel heads.