K Speu Drug Cleanup Set To Begin Thursday

The cleanup of tons of dangerous chemicals found during an April police raid on an illegal drug laboratory in Kompong Speu province is finally set to begin Thursday, officials said Tuesday.

Before the cleanup, which will be conducted by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the National Authority for Combating Drugs, Interior Minister Sar Kheng will preside over a ceremony at the site Thursday, according to an agenda issued by the Interior Ministry.

On April 1, police arrested 18 peo­ple during raids in Phnom Penh and Treng Trayoeng commune in Kompong Speu’s Phnom Sruoch district, confiscating 4 tons of dangerous chemicals that authorities said were to be used for manufacturing methamphetamines. In June, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court charged RCAF Major Ge­ne­ral Chum Tong Heng with colluding in the alleged drug production.

Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak claimed Tuesday that the laboratory had enough chemicals to manufacture approximately 2.8 billion pills. “It is one of the biggest clandestine laboratories in Asia in 2007,” he said.

UNODC officer in charge of project Lars Pederson said some of the chemicals are dangerous, noting that his agency built a roof over the site because there are 2,000 liters of thionyl chloride, which could ex­plode if it came in contact with water.

Khieu Sopheak said it took more than four months to begin the cleanup because experts from the UNODC, the US and Australia need­­ed to assess the situation.

The US and Australia each provided half of the estimated $120,000 needed to dispose of the chemicals, Pederson added. US Embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle wrote by e-mail Tuesday that the US is considering providing more funds for the clean­up, ex­press­ing confidence that the UNODC would handle it appropriately.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court Prosecutor Ouk Savuth declined to comment Tuesday on the criminal case against those arrested in connection to the lab, but said that details will be revealed during Thursday’s ceremony.

   (Additional reporting by Saing Soenthrith)


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