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Raid closes factories set up to make oil used in Ecstasy

Raid closes factories set up to make oil used in Ecstasy

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090225_05.jpg

The facilities, in wildlife sanctuary in Pursat province, were not completed and oil had not yet been manufactured, NGO says.

Photo by:
RICK VALENZUELA

A Pursat wood carver works the wood of a m'reah prov tree, the roots of which are boiled to make the drug Ecstacy. 

TWO factories that had been set up to distill a raw ingredient used to produce the drug Ecstasy were shut down during a raid conducted in Pursat province last month by the environmental conservation group Flora and Fauna International (FFI), working in conjunction with rangers from the Ministry of Environment, an FFI official said.

The operation resulted in four arrests - two when the factories were discovered on January 3, and two more when the raid was conducted on January 29 and January 30, said Wood, an FFI field coordinator, who is based at Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary in the Cardamom Mountains, where the factories were located.

Wood said FFI had passed along the names of about 10 people believed to be affiliated with the factories to Cambodian authorities, but he declined to provide any of the names, citing an ongoing investigation.

"All we know is that there were some Vietnamese nationals involved," he said.

An FFI press release distributed Tuesday morning said the factories were "run by Vietnamese syndicates".

The factories had been set up to distill sassafras oil, which is produced by boiling the roots of m'reah prov trees, according to the press release. Wood said construction of the factories had not been completed at the time of the raid and that production of the oil had not yet begun.   

The oil can be used in the production of cosmetics or "as a precursor chemical in the altogether more sinister process of producing MDMA - more commonly known as Ecstasy", the release states. Wood said it was not clear what the owners of the factories had intended to do with the oil.

Environmental damage

Factories producing sassafras oil "have a very destructive impact on the fragile habitats and ecosystems in the sanctuary" in part because the production process requires "enormous quantities of fuel wood from other rainforest trees" and results in "significant pollution of the environment", the release states.  

FFI staff estimated in 2006 that there were "at least 75" such factories in the western Cardamom Mountains.

Thuk Kroeun Vutha, an undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Environment, said Tuesday that the government began a crackdown on the factories five years ago and that the production of sassafras oil had decreased since then. 

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