Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday closed the nation’s first collaborative drug workshop involving health, education and law enforcement officials with an appeal to the donor community for support of treatment programs for Cambodian drug addicts.
“Presently we do no yet have enough necessary services to govern the treatment and rehabilitation of people who are addicted to drugs in Cambodia. We are lacking budget and technical experience to develop this service,” he said. “I would like to appeal to our development partners in the community and donors to help Cambodia to develop all these services which can give us the ability to help integrate the people who are the victims of drugs.”
Recent figures from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime show that drug use in Cambodia is on the rise. Dr Sandro Calvani, a Bangkok-based representative of the UNODC, attributed the increase to pre-existing psychological and economic stress imposed by the Khmer Rouge. He also said that the price of drugs in Cambodia is dropping due to the anti-drug campaign in Thailand, which has sent drug prices there soaring.
Although the Cambodian government has strengthened its efforts to crack down on drug users, Calvani said a strong drug-control policy still does not exist in Cambodia.
“These kinds of things do not change from one day to the other in a country where the civil administration is so weak. We are starting here from such a low level of government capacity that the needs are not [met],” Calvani said.
Prevention appeared to top the list of priorities at the close of the two-day workshop, somewhat relegating the thorny issue of prosecuting drug traffickers and their ringleaders in Cambodian courts.
While police arrests of traffickers and drug seizures are common, prosecutions are rare, say local and international anti-drug officials.
National and international anti-narcotics officials blame the imbalance between the quantity of drugs trafficked through Cambodia, the frequent number of seizures and the small number of prosecutions of powerful officials who protect drug smuggler networks.
Calvani said he was impressed with the commitments reached at the workshop.
That such commitments may fall short of action—such as prosecutions—Calvani said it had also taken other countries in the region decades to tackle similar problems.
Calvani said he was impressed to hear one provincial governor call for the arrest of the “big guys” involved in drug trafficking.
“That means people are starting to talk about the subject,” said Calvani, adding that in Thailand people would not make such calls in public.
Ten Cambodian drug enforcement officials will travel to Thailand next week to learn about the country’s latest anti-drug efforts, said Ngan Chamroeun of the National Authority for Combating Drugs.
In February Thailand initiated a forceful anti-drug campaign, which has resulted in more than 2,000 deaths.
Hun Sen attacked the Thai government earlier this year, accusing it of using the war on drugs to target Cambodians crossing the border to Thailand.
When asked whether Cambodia’s campaign on drugs would turn as bloody as Thailand’s, Ngan Chamroeun shrugged.
“We will gain a lot of experience [from the trip to Thailand],” he said.
(Additional reporting by Kevin Doyle)