International efforts to develop Cambodia are being seriously undermined by the country’s growing drug problem, a new UN report claims.
Drug abuse among Cambodians is on the increase, while trafficking in methamphetamine tablets continues its steady march upward, mirroring the wave of pill abuse witnessed in Thailand in the mid-1990s.
Hundreds of kilograms of heroin are also reportedly being trans-shipped through Cambodia, and cannabis production—largely wiped out in the late 1990s—has begun again in earnest, according to the UN report on the Cambodian drug situation in 2002.
While the report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime paints a dark picture of Cambodia’s battle against drug trafficking and use, the UN notes that police seizures of methamphetamine pills increased 82 percent in 2002 compared with the previous year.
However, the country’s ill-equipped and inadequately trained law enforcement agencies are facing increasingly organized criminal networks that have links to powerful Cambodian business, military and political groups, the report claims.
“The repercussions of this escalating drug abuse and trafficking situation upon the socio-economic development of Cambodia will be devastating,” the report states.
“The impact of many billions of dollars in development assistance provided by the international community will be severely compromised if effective drug awareness, prevention and suppression activities are not undertaken immediately,” it adds.
The year 2002 saw Cambodia increase as a transit point for heroin from the Golden Triangle drug-producing region and as a producer of domestic cannabis, it states.
Various “indicators” suggest that hundreds of kilograms of heroin, methamphetamines, morphine and Ecstasy are being smuggled from Laos into Stung Treng province, the UN claims.
The majority of the drug shipments are transported by small speed boats on the Mekong River to Kompong Cham province and then by road to Phnom Penh or to Vietnam. A small amount of heroin, it appears, is smuggled on a regular basis by air from Phnom Penh to Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
“Much of the heroin transiting Cambodia originates in the Golden Triangle and…the final destination for the substance is North America, Australasia as well as the countries of Southeast Asia,” the UN says.
The UN report was compiled before last week’s seizure of 24 kg of heroin that arrived in Sydney from Cambodia. Cambodian officials said Tuesday the haul was part of a sting operation and they were poised to make arrests.
The UN report also cites a 2002 Mith Samlanh/Friends survey undertaken with the International HIV/AIDS Alliance that found a dramatic increase in the use of injected drugs by Phnom Penh street children. In 2001, just 4 percent of street children reported injecting drugs; in 2002 that figure had jumped to 18 percent.
Methamphetamines—which have been smuggled into Cambodia from Thailand for several years—also appear to have increased in 2002, spurred by the lure of large profits for smugglers, the UN states.
Former Khmer Rouge areas on the northwestern border with Thailand, including the Samlot, Sampou Luon, Phnom Preak and Malai areas, have emerged as methamphetamine smuggling “hot spots,” the UN states.
The Sihanoukville port was also singled out in the report as a major exit point for illegal drugs, particularly sea containers laden with Cambodian cannabis.
Based on seizures of containers in the US, Canada and Hong Kong, drugs passing through Sihanoukville have increased, “especially…cannabis which has once again appeared to have dramatically increased following a relative reduction in cultivation and export in the late 1990s.”
Unlike the large cannabis plantations uncovered by the government in 1999, gangs involved in the production of marijuana have moved to small-scale farms in remote areas. The gangs encourage unknowing Cambodian farmers to grow cannabis, which is later exported to countries in the region and further afield, the UN says.
Graham Shaw of the local UN Office for Drugs and Crime said the Cambodian government accepts the scale of the problem and the difficulty it faces in dealing with the drug scourge.
International assistance to support anti-drug efforts is crucial, Shaw said. “Everybody agrees that the socio-economic fabric of the country could be destroyed if drugs place a stranglehold on young people,” Shaw said.
Drug addicts cannot hold down jobs or study and turn to crime to feed their habit, Shaw said.
Currently, Cambodia has no facilities for counseling, treatment or rehabilitation except for a small NGO-run project, he added.
Khieu Sopheak, deputy secretary-general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, said earlier this week that a delegation from the International Narcotics Control Board agreed last week to help Cambodia in its search for assistance to stamp out drugs.