As police prepared to send more than 100 suspected drug dealers and users to court Monday, the notorious Phnom Penh slum where they were arrested in two separate raids last week remained a hive of illicit activity.
Trapaing Chhouk village, a labyrinth of shanties built over a fetid pond in Sen Sok district, was surrounded by police and military police on Friday and 88 suspects were taken away in trucks to face drug-related charges. Two days earlier, on Wednesday, 26 people were nabbed in a similar operation.
While the village in Toek Thla commune was virtually empty on Friday after many residents fled during the raid, peddlers were back at work Monday.
However, commune chief Tann Narin said police would continue their campaign to shut down the sale of crystal methamphetamine, or “ice,” in the slum.
“Phnom Penh police have a plan to go and raid that area once every week,” Mr. Narin said. “We will work hard to clear the drug problem in that area, but we can only crack down step by step.”
Born Sam Ath, the deputy municipal police chief who coordinated Friday’s raid, declined to comment except to say that the suspects, who are being held at the district police station, would be handed over to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court when the necessary paperwork is completed.
In the span of about two hours Monday, hundreds of people—mostly young men—filed through Trapaing Chhouk, often staying for just a few minutes. Menacing-looking men with walkie-talkies stood guard outside the narrow entrances to wooden walkways that lead to the center of the village.
A young man who was seen bringing small plastic bags to waiting moto-taxi drivers ushered a reporter down one of the walkways before reneging on his invitation after the reporter began to take photographs. A man seated halfway down the walkway quickly pulled a door closed.
Down another walkway, Hang Kun, a firefighter who lives in the village, told of how his meth-addicted teenage son was taken away in Friday’s raid.
“He tried to escape here with many others,” he said, pointing to an unsteady bridge made of pallets and pieces of timber, half sunk in the swamp beneath. “But the police, they took everyone they could catch, even people who were just walking around.”
Mr. Kun said his 17-year-old son had developed a “mental illness” after two years of smoking ice, and that children as young as 13 had become hooked on the drug in Trapaing Chhouk.
On the fringes of the village—where residents say addicts can rent rooms to use drugs after making a purchase—vendors and shop owners, all of whom declined to be named, said the recent raids were only for show.
“They can arrest those people, but it won’t stop the business,” said a fishmonger. “It is the same as before—you can see.”
A man who charged people to park their motorbikes in his shophouse across the road from one of the wooden walkways said there was only one way to control the drug haven.
“If police really want to clear this area of drugs, they can burn it down.”