o’smach commune, Oddar Meanchey province – Drug smuggling and the use of amphetamines and methamphetamines is growing in this squalid border town. Officials are worried it could explode in the coming months if the border crossing is opened full-time.
On Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays, Thai and Cambodian border officials are kept busy by busloads of Thais who come to O’Smach to gamble at the two glitzy, air conditioned hotel-casinos located just 100 meters from the border. Traveling the other way at the official crossing are Cambodians who shop in markets in Surin province.
Meanwhile, smuggling of automobiles, motorcycles, petroleum and drugs goes on seven days a week at another informal checkpoint nearby, said one NGO official.
It is easier to send goods illegally through O’Smach because there are few checkpoints along the road that leads to the provincial capital of Samrong and then on to Siem Reap, the official said.
“The drug problem has gotten worse since the election,” said Funcinpec commune council member Or Sophat. “The people here sell and use drugs. Police officials sell to people and ask them to sell to others.”
Border police official Pol Touch denied that police are involved. He said police are worried about an increase in drug use and smuggling.
“There are no anti-drugs police here,” he said. “We don’t have the means to fight it. [But] the Thais have dogs to sniff for drugs and explosives.”
If the border is opened full-time—which officials said could happen in the next year—more police will be sent to O’Smach to try to control the problem, said provincial governor Lay Virak. So far, the influx of yama (amphetamines) is not a big issue, he said.
Kong Rachana used yama when he worked with Thais and Cambodians last year on the construction of the sturdy, well-stocked market located just down the hill from the casinos.
The Thais asked him to help them buy the drug, which costs less than $1 per pill. Motorcycle taxi drivers always know where to buy yama, he said.
“I just took it every once in a while. It made me feel happy and not tired when I worked,” the 24-year-old said. “We would work without stopping.”
Several people said there are groups of teen-agers who use the drug recreationally, and occasionally get into fights. Other villagers use yama to keep them strong when they are cutting wood in the nearby forests, Or Sophat said.
Most of the yama comes from Poipet, Sisophon, Koh Kong province and places “inside”—the term used for provinces not along the Thai border, villagers said.
Some yama is smuggled into Thailand, several residents said. An attempted smuggling of 20 yama pills across the border last month landed two O’Smach women—and the infant children they were carrying—in a Surin province jail, where they are waiting to appear before the local court.
UN Drug Control and Crime Prevention officials based in Phnom Penh have not looked into whether there is a drug problem in O’Smach. But it is an “area of concern,” said UN drug official Graham Shaw.
He said there is evidence that amphetamines and heroin are brought into Cambodia from Laos and Burma via the Mekong River. Some is then transported through Cambodia and into Thailand, he said.
The Anlong Veng border checkpoint, also located in Oddar Meanchey province and a potentially major transit point, should also worry officials, a March 2001 UN drug report said.
In January, co-Minister of Interior Sar Kheng warned that drugs are becoming a serious problem. Also in January, an Associated Press report quoted Teng Savong, head of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, as saying the circulation of amphetamines, methamphetamines and ecstasy increased by almost 50 percent in 2001. But the numbers of amphetamine-type drugs in Cambodia still pales in comparison to Thailand’s, where hundreds of thousands of pills are seized in a single bust.
An increase in crime in former Khmer Rouge regions and other northwest areas has been blamed on the use of yama. Many Cambodian laborers return from Thailand as addicts or have mental problems as a result of long-term use of yama.