Ratanakkiri Police Nab Drug Smuggler in Operation

Ratanakkiri provincial anti-drug police on Wednesday arrested a serial drug smuggler with more than a kilogram of crystal methamphetamine, concluding a monthlong undercover operation that marked the unit’s biggest bust to date.

The drug squad had been attempting to conduct a sting to arrest Sev Tul, 49, since sometime last month, when they first noticed he was making regular trips from Ratanakkiri into Stung Treng province, a known drug corridor that connects the Golden Triangle with Cambodia and the rest of the world.

Mr. Tul was arrested by undercover police in Stung Treng City’s Samakki commune.

“We spent more than a month trying to persuade the suspect to meet with us, but he kept changing his mind [at the last minute]: ‘Not now, I’m busy, maybe tomorrow,’” said Tep Samith, deputy bureau chief of Ratanakkiri’s anti-drug police.

When the suspect finally agreed to meet with, and sell to, the undercover police, the Ratanakkiri provincial prosecutor contacted his Stung Treng counterpart and arranged assistance in the arrest.

“When he [Mr. Tul] showed up, he was arrested with 1 kg of methamphetamine,” Mr. Samith said, adding that the seizure was his unit’s largest recorded bust.

Mr. Samith said that two accomplices of Mr. Tul escaped arrest by fleeing into the forest.

In 2012 and 2013, methamphetamine was the most commonly seized drug in Cambodia, according to the National Authority on Combating Drugs (NACD). Police confiscated a total of 17.3 kg of methamphetamine pills and 32.4 kg of methamphetamine powder last year, NACD figures show.

Police believe the methamphetamine seized Wednesday originated in Laos, which is increasingly being used as a conduit for drugs to Cambodia, whose lax law enforcement and corrupt officials make it an enticing transit point for international drug smugglers.

Contacted on Thursday, Van Songvath, Ratanakkiri’s deputy provincial police chief, said his officers were questioning Mr. Tul about the identities of the two escaped men.

Mr. Songvath said police have made a concerted effort to crack down on cross-border drug runners following Interior Minister Sar Kheng’s call in March for border officials to disrupt the drug route through Stung Treng.

At the annual meeting of the NACD, Mr. Kheng said that low-level officials had stymied anti-drug action by colluding with traffickers and urged authorities to focus on tracking down ringleaders, and not only mules.

But according to Meas Vyrith, secretary-general of the NACD, enforcement officers are always one step behind in their efforts to shut down smugglers, who are constantly coming up with new ways of evading detection and arrest.

Contacted on Thursday, Mr. Vyrith said that while the number of drug busts was rising, this could be the result of increased vigilance, rather than a higher rate of smuggling.

Thanks to improved training workshops in the border provinces of Stung Treng and Preah Vihear, he said, enforcement officers had recently unlocked the latest in a long line of smugglers’ tricks.

“Now, they use boats, or maybe speedboats, to drive down the Mekong with the drugs in a plastic bag [attached to] a small rope,” Mr. Vyrith said.

When authorities approach, the smugglers drop the bag into the river as police conduct a search.

“When we check the boat, we find nothing…. This is the new strategy they are using,” Mr. Vyrith said. “The drug smugglers are always smarter than our enforcement officers.”

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