The governor of Kampot province and the top military commander for the area disagreed this week on how remote tracts of land were able to be used for marijuana plantations.
The two officials’ conflicting accounts on why 31 hectares of marijuana were cultivated without the intervention of authorities follows Prime Minister Hun Sen’s blistering verbal attack on the province’s administrators Saturday for allowing the illegal crops to develop.
No arrests have been made since government officials raided remote marijuana farms in Kampot province at least three times in the past two weeks. One man authorities want to question, provincial police deputy chief Keo Tha, has fled, claimed a senior Interior Ministry official, who asked not to be named.
Kampot Governor Ly Sou, a Funcinpec appointee, said it was beyond his capacity to crackdown on the former Khmer Rouge zone where the ganja was grown.
“What the First Deputy Governor Chhim Chuon (CPP) said is right—we were not allowed go into that area,” Ly Sou said Monday. “Although the Khmer Rouge defected to the government, that area was still under their control.”
He said Kampot province’s isolated Chhuk district was like the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Pailin, which exists in northwestern Cambodia with effective autonomy. However, General Keo Samuon, commander of Military Region 3, which includes Kampot province, said Wednesday that no areas of Kampot were off limits to his forces.
The governor simply did not want to travel to the remote region where the plantations were located, said Keo Samuon, a CPP appointee.
“Nobody banned [the governor],” Keo Samuon said. “He does not want to go because the journey there is very difficult, there is no road and a high level of malaria.”
Keo Samuon also denied the governor’s claim that the former Khmer Rouge commander who controls the zone now for the government army, Lieutenant Colonel Lin Chhan, was responsible for the plantations.
“[Lin Chhan] is a witness in the case only,” Keo Samuon said. “He did not know about the marijuana in that area. He knew someone wanted to plant durian trees there, but he was in Vietnam for his wife’s health treatment [during planting].”
The senior Interior Ministry official said Tuesday that Lin Chhan has written a letter to the Prime Minister Hun Sen maintaining that villagers had originally grown durian in the area and then switched to marijuana.
The Interior official claimed that Lin Chhan and Keo Tha are just two of many officials believed linked to the illicit operations.
In a prepared speech, National Police Director General Hok Lundy said pot-growing foreigners received help from officials.
“This operation is the result of the network of foreign drug traffickers and local drug criminals who conspired with officials in the military and police,” Hok Lundy said in the remarks released Monday.
Teng Savong, the deputy director general of the National Police, said Monday that authorities suspect Kampot policemen, local militiamen and a high ranking official were involved. Teng Savong did not provide names of the suspects. The investigation is ongoing, he said, adding a special committee would be formed.