phnom thlan muroi, Kampot province – Anti-narcotics officials backed by military personnel chopped down and burned hundreds of mature marijuana plants from a plantation covering seven hectares of mountainous terrain here Saturday.
Situated north of Kampot town in Chhouk district, the sophisticated marijuana plantation was cut into thick jungle on remote Phnom Thlan Muroi (100 Python Mountain), Lieutenant Colonel Lin Chhan, deputy commander of Military Region 3, said during the operation.
Khieu Sopheak, deputy secretary general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, and Keo Samuon, commander of Military Region 3, accompanied journalists by helicopter to the site, some 100 km from Phnom Penh.
Authorities said they raided the plantation in an area controlled by former Khmer Rouge early last week following a tip from locals. But those who farmed it and the masterminds who organized it have yet to been apprehended, said Khieu Sopheak.
“They are not the simple citizens,” said Khieu Sopheak of the plantation owners who stood to make tens of thousands of dollars profit from the operation.
While soldiers poured gasoline over piles of the marijuana plants Saturday, Khieu Sopheak reiterated the government’s determination to destroy Cambodia’s drug menace.
He said the government needed more international assistance to fight drug producers and traffickers.
This plantation was financed by foreign investors who hired poor local farmers, the general said.
“The workers, they are the victims. Cambodia is a victim…. Cambodia is being transformed into a place for producing marijuana and exporting it,” said Khieu Sopheak, who warned Cambodia could face international isolation if the drug trade is not curbed.
Dotted over the seven hectares of connecting fields, well constructed wooden houses were built for the plantation’s laborers.
Bags of fertilizer still littered the area Saturday as well as discarded medicine bottles, clothes, food and other signs showing the operation was well organized and probably in operation for at least a number of months. Plastic water pipes serviced the irrigation system which fed the well- tended marijuana plants.
Most of the plants in the fields were cut down or pulled up Saturday morning, but soldiers were still working to destroy the crop when the helicopter carrying journalists departed. Samples were taken back to the capital by journalists and some police and army staff.
It is not known how many people worked at the plantation or how long it was in operation, said Keo Samuon. Khieu Sopheak admitted preventing the return of the unscrupulous marijuana growers would be a challenge.
“This is a very remote region here, and though this is fertile and good for rice, potatoes, corn and other crops, I do not think people will come to settle here,” Khieu Sopheak said.
According to RCAF’s Hong Muen, no danger confronted the troops when they arrived but the work of cutting down the crop has taken its toll as five soldiers fell severely sick and were carried back to Ko Sla village.