CHINESE organized crime syndicates - the Triads - are running Ecstasy, the hip drug
of generation X, into Cambodia.
The proliferation of "E", which has been the rave at Phnom Penh nightspots
in recent months, is the work of triads operating out of Hong Kong, Taiwan, and mainland
China, according to the chief of Cambodian Interpol's anti-drug unit.
"Over the past four months, we have been alerted by our informants who work
the nightclubs and gambling dens of the capital, that E-pills are being supplied
by foreign criminal elements," said Pol Gen Skadavy M Ly Roun, who is also an
advisor to Minister of Interior Sar Kheng.
Although he did not specify the whereabouts of the triads and the exact volume of
their trade in the psycho-stimulant which has become so fashionable among the young
elites of Bangkok, Jakarta, and Manila, he suspects that the triads are running a
two-way operation here.
Skadavy said they are bringing in ecstasy and most probably shipping grade three
and four heroin down the Mekong river and out of Pochentong airport, Koh Kong seaport
and overland routes.
In the past fortnight, four Chinese gangsters who had entered Cambodia illicitly
over the Vietnamese border, and who were allegedly dealing in ecstasy, were arrested
by Interpol and sent back to the People's Republic. There they await punishment for
armed robbery, kidnapping and rape.
Last year, said Skadavy, an ethnic-Chinese Cambodian and a Thai national were arrested
in Thailand when local police seized a stash of 325,000 E-pills.
For a Khmer "dealer", this would be a huge amount. In a country whose annual
per capita income is $200, one pill costs between $30 and $40.
"In other countries, there are strict controls on the consumption of alcohol
and drugs," Skadavy added. "In Cambodia, if you are young and rich, money
will buy you anything."
The Interpol chief, who remained tight-lipped about the status of the investigation
into the triad connection, however said it was being constrained by Cambodia's institutional
weaknesses and lack of effective laws.
"It is very easy for traffickers to smuggle drugs in and out of Cambodia,"
he said. "You must remember, the Ministry of Interior was only established in
In Skadavy's opinion, it will take time to staff and train anti-narcotics teams.
At present, he explained Cambodia does not even have such basic resources as drug-sniffing
dogs, to do the job up to scratch.
A stiff anti-drug law is soon to be adopted by the National Assembly, he added.
The law will slap fines of up to 50m riels ($19,000) and jail sentences of up to
20 years for anyone who is caught dealing or using drugs, including ecstasy, said
"We don't want to move in too soon on the ecstasy ring," he cautioned.
"We need time to identify the main source of ecstasy in Cambodia and seize a
large quantity of E-pills, not a small one."
Ecstasy, the synthetic drug suited for a post-flower power generation fixated - not
on the marmalade eyes of Lucy in the Sky - but on the hypnotic rhythms of technopop,
originated in the laboratories of West Europe.
"In Europe, ecstasy is seen as a recreational drug, which has become part of
the House and Rave cultures, where 20 to 35-year olds dance all night in discotheques,"
said Dr Georg Petersen, the local representative of the World Health Organization.
"Ecstasy has its own sub-culture which caters to young people who supposedly
function in society, not those who are seen as social outcasts."
Petersen also listed some of the risks associated with popping E-pills.
"When you take one of these pills, you cannot really tell how many milligrams
of the stuff it contains," he said.
"At least if you are smoking marijuana, or downing it with an alcoholic drink,
you have some idea of how much you are consuming."
Although there have been no reported ecstasy-related deaths in Cambodia so far, Petersen
said reported cases in Europe had resulted from dehydration.