New Year Crackdown on Drugs Sees 71 Arrests

Police have arrested 71 people across 10 districts in Phnom Penh in the opening salvo of the government’s promised 2017 crackdown on drugs, officials said on Monday.

Deputy Phnom Penh police chief Prom Santhor said that municipal officers made the arrests in 12 separate cases, although he said he could not remember how many of the suspects were drug users, dealers or traffickers.

“Those 71 people have been detained at district police stations and the Phnom Penh municipal headquarters of the anti-drug bureau,” Mr. Santhor said.

“In response to the government’s campaign to combat drugs, we will carry out raids everyday like a steady drizzle of rain,” he added, using a Khmer idiom.

Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered a six-month assault on the drug trade last month, noting that the number of identified drug addicts had risen 30 percent from the year before.

The plan promised increased arrests, better rehabilitation programs, and broader educational initiatives to curtail drug use. It requires Cambodian border officials to work with counterparts in neighboring countries—particularly Laos, the source of much of the country’s methamphetamines—to stem the flow of illicit drugs moving into the country.

As part of the effort, officials said they conducted a multiday raid from Saturday to Monday in Sen Sok district’s Trapang Chhouk village, a neighborhood notorious for its density of drug users and dealers.

District police chief Mok Hong declined to comment on the village raids, but told the online Fresh News service that officials had arrested 29 drug users and dealers on Saturday and another 13 on Sunday. A separate raid in Khmuonh commune netted 10 more suspects, he told the government-aligned site.

Meas Vyrith, secretary-general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD), said that officials had started in Phnom Penh, but would soon expand the effort nationwide.

“Phnom Penh has started first and we will issue reports once a week,” he said. Police “crack down every day and we will add our effort to theirs,” he said of anti-drug officials.

NACD Chairman Ke Kim Yan said after a meeting at the Interior Ministry on Monday that authorities were preparing for the planned influx of drug addicts with a new rehabilitation center.

“In the future, we will build a national rehabilitation center in Preah Sihanouk province,” he said. “We already have 20 hectares of land.”

“Previously, the cost was going to be $4 million, but now we might need more money,” he said, adding that the construction could begin as early as next month if they raise funds.

Interior Minister Sar Kheng said last month that authorities would use Correctional Center 4 in Pursat province specifically for drug convicts, housing them separately from other prisoners to prevent the spread of drug use.

The country currently has seven state-run and three private rehab centers, according to a post on the National Police’s website last week, though officials have previously placed the number far higher.

The centers are widely regarded as ill-equipped to deal with the spike in methamphetamine users, many of whom are poor urban dwellers. The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, along with other experts in the field, have long urged a more community-oriented approach to rehabilitation.

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