Prime Minister Hun Sen blasted Kampot provincial officials Saturday for not doing enough to prevent the establishment of the recently discovered marijuana plantations in the province.
His comments came in the third visit to remote parts of the southern province by government officials and journalists in a week. Authorities are publicizing the destruction campaigns and posturing to receive aid money from donors to combat drug production and consumption.
Hun Sen also accused the National Authority for Combating Drugs of being ineffective, calling the first operation Feb 19 to cut down plantations on Phnom Thlan Muroi (100 Python Mountain) in Kampot province a media stunt.
For his part, Kampot Governor Ly Sou, a Funcinpec appointee, defended his actions Sunday, saying he was powerless to act against an RCAF lieutenant colonel who he alleged controlled the former Khmer Rouge area and protected the plantation.
Speaking at the burning of marijuana plants in Kampot’s remote Chhuk district Saturday, Hun Sen—dressed in full military camouflage uniform with four stars—called the governor Ly Sou and the Chhuk district governor “weak” officials who could not control the drug situation in their areas of administration.
Excuses that provincial officials’ were afraid to enter the former Khmer Rouge controlled area because of armed local militia, could not be tolerated either, said Hun Sen, according to a television broadcast of his visit.
“Is this a marijuana state? In the marijuana state we cannot enter inside its borders,” said Hun Sen of Chhuk district.
Hun Sen claimed aerial estimates show as much as 60 hectares of land in the area was used to cultivate marijuana. “I want to know, that if you [provincial officials] hesitate because of harassment, shouldn’t you be demoted from your posts in Kampot? [Because] if you acknowledge that it is a state that you cannot enter, means you should not be in control of administration,” said Hun Sen.
Ly Sou admitted Sunday he knew of the plantations’ existence for a number of months but did not have the power to move against them. “[Hun Sen] really blamed us very seriously, but I don’t know what to do because the area is controlled by the army and we cannot go in,” he said.
The plantations were protected by Kampot-based military and police officials who worked with a Chinese businessman and Thai partners who financed the operation, Ly Sou said. “We reported the plantation verbally…but we were warned that if we reported the operation and it was destroyed we would be destroyed ourselves,” he said.
Keow Tha, Kampot deputy police chief, was suspended Tuesday for suspected involvement in the marijuana growing operation, Ly Sou confirmed Thursday.
Ly Sou on Sunday put the blame on the leader of Ko Sla, a remote former Khmer Rouge settlement in Chouk district some 40 km north of Kampot town. He accused Lin Chhan, now an RCAF deputy commander for Military Region 3, of involvement with the plantations.
“It is a fact Lin Chhan protected that plantation….That area is growing [marijuana] with the help of his men,” Ly Sou claimed.
Lin Chhan told reporters Feb 19 at the first crop bust that he was not responsible for the marijuana plantations. He was not present at the next visit by Phnom Penh officials on Thursday.
General Pol Saroeun, an RCAF deputy commander-in-chief, said Saturday that between 350 and 400 workers tended the 31 hectares of marijuana which was destroyed in the two separate raids on plantations in Thlan Muroi, Daskor and Skea communes, Chhuk district, Kampot.
Nine and a half tons of dried marijuana, two houses and 61 huts were also destroyed, Pol Saroeun said, according to the television broadcast.
The marijuana was allegedly grown by Swedish, Chinese and Thai nationals who were granted permission to grow fruit in the hillside farming area, Agence France-Presse reported.
Kun Kim, a newly-appointed RCAF deputy commander-in-chief, said Thursday at the second trip with journalists to eradicate the plantations that former Khmer Rouge forces protected the plantations, lending support to Ly Sou’s allegations. “Even though we say it is a Chinese businessman there is still some involvement by a military commander….And some of the Khmer Rouge defectors,” he said.
Lin Chhan, the former Khmer Rouge commander, and some 60 soldiers from the former rebel zone at Ko Sla took part in the first operation Feb 19 to cut down some 7 hectares of marijuana found at Thlan Muroi. Hun Sen blasted that operation, stating it was just for the media and ineffective in destroying plantations.
It was led by Khieu Sopheak, deputy secretary general of the national drug authority, and Keo Samuon, commander of Military Region 3. “[The drug authority] should learn more experience because a few hours after you cut it down and walked away, the marijuana was cut and ready for the owners to collect,” said Hun Sen adding that the authority took two months to organize the failed operation.
Khieu Sopheak could not be contacted Sunday. Lour Ramin, also a deputy secretary general of the drug authority, said Sunday he had not heard Hun Sen’s comments.
Skadavy Mathly Roun, a former member of the drug authority and now an adviser to the authority, said Sunday that the operation was delayed pending funding from the Council of Ministers.
Skadavy Mathly Roun welcomed the prime minister’s new initiative to crackdown on marijuana noting that high-ranking officials who are involved in the drug business are now more vulnerable to arrest than ever before.