Interior Minister Sar Kheng on Wednesday ordered police across the country to focus on investigating and arresting the leaders of illegal-drug syndicates rather than low-level traffickers and users.
Speaking at the close of the annual meeting of the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD) in Phnom Penh, Mr. Kheng said the authority’s latest report on drug-related arrests showed few major busts in 2014.
“But we cannot say there are no big smugglers when we simply could not arrest them,” he said.
“We made arrests mostly in small cases, of low-level traffickers,” he added. “This is a problem.”
Mr. Kheng asked police throughout Cambodia to refocus their efforts on finding and apprehending the heads of drug-trafficking rings and their immediate subordinates.
“I think we must crack down on the ringleaders,” he said.
According to Mr. Kheng, drug syndicates tend to operate more frequently when they think police are not monitoring them, and called on police to stay vigilant.
“When the police are careless, [traffickers] are more active,” he said.
NACD Secretary-General Meas Vyrith said it was difficult for police to arrest the heads of major syndicates because officers were inadequately trained.
“The big fish have many tactics; it is difficult to find and arrest them,” he said. “Law enforcement needs more training for arresting the criminals of the syndicates that have more experience than them.”
Lt. Gen. Vyrith added that when police do arrest the heads of drug syndicates, they are often unable to compile enough evidence for a court to convict them. He said the Justice Ministry had promised to provide additional training to police in order to address the problem.
Lt. Gen. Vyrith said it was also difficult to target the leaders of drug gangs because they distance themselves from their product and delegate much of the work to low-level dealers.
“When we arrest people who are the…masterminds, they never leave any evidence and the police officials do not have the ability to collect the evidence and make the case,” he said.
David Harding, a drug treatment officer at Friends International, said police tended to target low-level dealers and users in order to increase the number of arrests their departments make.
“I think often what happens is that there is an initiative to crack down on drug use, drug trafficking, drug dealing,” Mr. Harding said. “It then becomes the job of the authorities to show very clearly that they are responding to this instruction.”
On Tuesday, Lt. Gen. Vyrith said that in 2014 there was a 72 percent increase in the number of drug-related arrests year on year, but a 50 percent drop in the volume of drugs seized.
Mr. Harding said this could be due to the fact that police were mainly targeting users.
“There is always more drug users than these other groups, therefore there can be a possibility the authorities will target drug users to maximize arrests,” he said.