The two officials leading the government’s six-month anti-drug campaign blasted a meeting room full of senior officials on Thursday for failing to net major drug traffickers or submit action plans to crack down on drug offenders.
“Why can’t you find the big fish?” Ke Kim Yan, chairman of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, said to the room of senior police, military, court and provincial government officials at the Interior Ministry’s headquarters in Phnom Penh.
“You arrested only small potatoes. That’s why [the public] reacts against us,” said Mr. Kim Yan, the former commander-in-chief of the military.
The government launched its anti-drug crackdown on January 1, aiming to clamp down on drug trafficking and expand rehabilitation services for drug users. In December, officials said the anti-drug campaign was needed to halt a growing national problem, citing a nearly 30 percent increase in the number of identified drug addicts from 2015 to last year.
In its first month, authorities arrested 2,773 people for drug-related offenses, with more than half—1,440—arrested for using drugs, according to figures released by the Interior Ministry on Thursday. The figures were higher than government data provided to reporters on Wednesday.
Of the alleged drug users arrested, 452 were released with warnings, 818 were sent to rehabilitation centers and 170 were sent to the court. Four police officers, one military police officer and one soldier were among 1,330 people arrested for suspected drug trafficking.
In the 1,144 total drug cases last month, authorities confiscated about 9.15 kg grams of illicit drugs, including 5.25 kg of crystal methamphetamine.
Mr. Kim Yan and Interior Minister Sar Kheng on Thursday took turns tossing out criticisms, with the minister pointing fingers at Phnom Penh municipal police chief Chuon Sovann, who is also a deputy National Police commissioner, for failing to submit an anti-drug strategic plan for the capital.
“I just want to remind you,” Mr. Kheng said, as General Sovann sat in the audience. “It’s a mechanism for implementation and you start complaining. Why don’t you create the mechanism?”
Phnom Penh is a “drug hotspot, but you did not have an action plan to send to me,” the minister said.
“I want to remind you that if we use the word ‘campaign,’ we must undertake a special action,” he continued. “If six months are over and the situation is still serious, we must set up a second, third or fourth plan.”
After leaving the meeting room, Gen. Sovann told reporters that his officers handled over 300 drug cases and arrested more than 816 people in Phnom Penh last month.
“The drug issue is part of a cluster of problems and not only the police can stop it,” he said.
When asked why police officers had been caught in drug crimes, the police chief declined to comment and walked away from reporters.