Provincial officials in Battambang province vowed Tuesday to confiscate a 20-ton haul of yellow vine powder that is reportedly in Samlot district awaiting export to Thailand.
Production of yellow vine powder, used legally as an ingredient in cosmetics and traditional medicine but illegally as a precursor chemical in the drug ecstasy, has boomed in recent years in the mountainous regions of the northwest.
A campaign to close clandestine yellow vine factories was launched last year in Battambang and Pursat province after it was discovered acid-laced waste from the processing plants was being discharged into rivers and streams.
“I will investigate and crack down on it,” Battambang Governor Prach Chan said.
He said the powder was likely produced elsewhere and transported to Samlot because of its proximity to the Thai border.
A staff member of an NGO based in the northwest said on condition of anonymity that the 20-ton haul had been transported from the Veal Veng district of Pursat province.
Pursat Governor Ung Samy denied that production of the environmentally dangerous powder was continuing in his province.
Authorities last year conducted tests on samples of yellow vine powder—tons of which was exported to Vietnam—but could ascertain no addictive properties, said Pich Chivon, director of the Interior Ministry’s anti-drug police.
New tests are being conducted to determine if the yellow vine variety produced in Cambodia can be used in the production of ecstasy, said Graham Shaw of the UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention.
Shaw said at least two factories have been licensed in Cambodia to produce the powder, which is legal if it’s used for the right purposes.
David Mead, representative for environmental watchdog Conservation International, said about 20 clandestine yellow vine factories have been destroyed by authorities in the Cardamom Mountains.
The operations, which were funded by CI, were to prevent trees being cut to establish factories and waste being disposed in mountain streams.
(Additional reporting by Richard Sine and Kevin Doyle)