Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng used a public drug burning Wednesday as an opportunity to implore the international community to supply more aid to Cambodia’s law enforcement agencies.
More than 100 packages of heroin, weighing more than 35 kg and with a street value in the US of around $10 million, were ceremoniously torched by officials in the middle of Sothearos Boulevard near Hun Sen Park. Police uncovered the heroin in the walls and floor of a Tuol Kok district house in a raid last week.
Half of the 14 suspects arrested in connection with the raid were charged Tuesday, said Deputy Municipal Prosecutor Sok Roeun.
Sar Kheng, serving as acting prime minister while Hun Sen attended the Asean Summit in Bali, Indonesia, told officials and others assembled at the burning that the capture of the accused narcotics ring was evidence the nation “has now become a major illicit drug and chemical precursor trafficking route.”
He attributed the problem to crackdowns in neighboring countries, neglect by the international community and an inexperienced police force.
Cambodia, he said, has been “excluded from most international assistance.”
Cambodia receives help from several major industrialized nations, said Graham Shaw of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
Sar Kheng made specific requests for help from the UNODC, the Australian Federal Police and the American Drug Enforcement Administration—all groups, Shaw said, which have contributed to the training of Cambodian police forces.
Officials of UNODC and the Australian Federal Police declined to comment about how much material support they have provided.
Khieu Sopheak, secretary-general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, said that “we receive very little, very little assistance in comparison with other nations.”
Shaw agreed, but added that “it’s also up to the government to really push the agenda.”
“They should have really done more, much earlier…and they need to consistently show these kinds of results,” he said.
Khieu Sopheak called the nation’s law enforcement methods “ancient,” and said the country’s police forces need more sophisticated equipment and the opportunity to send officers to major overseas academies for long-term training.
This week is not the first time officials have asked the international community for help. Shaw said he hopes the current media attention will lead international donors to open their coffers.
But some donors may wait to see if prosecutors can make stick the charges against the suspects arrested last week.
Sok Roeun said only one of the seven indicted Tuesday was charged with both drug production and drug trafficking: Lim Samnang, 37, also known as Lim Sambath, Chea Sim, or Som Pao. Police and prosecutors have said he was a high-ranking official in the intelligence department of the Ministry of Defense.
Also charged with drug trafficking were three Cambodian citizens, Lin Veasna, Yin Keo and Hong Bora, and three Taiwanese nationals, Lee Chong Fu, Ching Kwang Chung and Hou Kun Ying.
There are some signs that last week’s successful operation may not have been an isolated incident.
On Tuesday, police in Daun Penh district arrested two Vietnamese nationals, Lim Tong, 39, and his wife, Te Im Yung, 36, in possession of 38 pills of methamphetamine and a homemade pill-making machine, said Daun Penh district Deputy Police Chief Nhem Sao Nol.
A Cambodian soldier arrested at the same time was later released, and police said they do not believe him to be connected to the operation.