Gov’t Fires Drug Official

Em Sam An has been fired from his job as Cambodia’s top anti-drug official, three weeks after his personal assistant was arrested for drug dealing.

Em Sam An was unavailable for comment Sunday. But Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng confirmed that Em Sam An was removed Saturday from his post as head of the National Authority for Combating Drugs.

“Previously, the government was criticized for not doing well enough fighting drugs. It is a common thing in government to change officials to have better results,” Sar Kheng said.

Em Sam An will be replaced by General Teng Savong, deputy national police chief, Sar Kheng said. Although Em Sam An is out of the NACD, he retains his position as secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior.

Foreign law enforcement sources said the firing is an en­couraging sign that Cambodia is beginning to take the drug threat more seriously.

“Any move by the government that will help in fighting drug trafficking is welcome,” said Bengt Juhlin, director of the UN Office of Drug Control and Crime Pre­vention. But he cautioned that if there are high officials still in place who are involved in drug trafficking, “we expect them to be arrested, too.”

In late September, Dr Sandro Calvani of the UN International Drug Control Program issued a sharp warning to Cambodian officials that the conflict in Afghanistan could mean increased drug activity in Cambodia.

The closing of Afghanistan’s borders has disrupted the international trade in opium, and drug dealers are looking for new sources and new routes, he said.

Cambodia’s poverty, combined with its weak judicial system and extensive network of rivers, made it attractive to criminal organizations looking for low-risk places to do business, Calvani said.

About a week later, police arrested Colonel Sok Sophak of the NACD along with a Municipal Court clerk and two others on suspicion of smuggling 14,000 amphetamine and codeine pills.

Sok Sophak, who was Em Sam An’s personal assistant, was arrested at the Pacific Hotel in Phnom Penh with two others; a fourth suspect was arrested the next day.

Police said they confiscated three pistols, four AK-47 assault rifles, two cars and two telephones, along with a large quantity of pills. Police believe the alleged drug ring had existed for some time, moving drugs from Laos to Kompong Cham, after which the drugs headed in two directions: east to Vietnam and south to Phnom Penh.



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