Report Claims Drug Activity Is Increasing; Officials Skeptical

Cambodian drug use, production and trafficking are growing, a US State Department report released Friday warned.

However, a senior anti-drug police official rejected the report’s findings Sunday, and a UN official in Phnom Penh cautioned that there might not be enough data available to reach the conclusions in the report.

The annual State Department report warned that crackdowns in Thailand and China have led to more drugs being trafficked through Cambodia. The Cambodian government is dedicated to stemming the flow of narcotics, the report said, but limited resources and lack of training handicap efforts.

It also warned that corruption makes Cambodia vulnerable to the drug trade.

According to the report, Cam­bodia has “an increased production capability” for drugs like methamphetamine. To support the claim, the report cited the 2007 discovery of a Kompong Speu province drug laboratory.

“Many experts believe additional clandestine labs…are operating in the country,” the report stated.

Moek Dara, secretary-general of the National Authority for Com­bating Drugs, disputed the findings of the report.

“The number of the criminals is 6,500 people, which is the same as the number of the drug users in 2007,” Moek Dara said. “It is really hard when we catch many criminals; people think that a lot of crime happens.”

The US State Department report, however, pointed out that NACD official estimates only show the number of drug users in contact with authorities, and may not reflect the true situation.

Moek Dara added that “only the big lab in Kompong Speu happened, and we have seen no other so far.”

Lars Pedersen, officer in charge of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime in Cambodia, said determining whe­ther drug production is on the rise “is very, very difficult because of the nature of the information here.”

“The data and information that we have is so limited,” he said.

Kompong Speu was “the only real manufacturing place that was found,” he added.

Pedersen said official government statistics show that the drug problem has worsened over the past decade but that it may have begun to stabilize in recent years.

According to the statistics that are cited in the report, methamphetamines account for about 80 percent of drug use. And about 80 percent of drug users are younger than 26.

Reasons for using amphetamine-type stimulants in Cambodia vary from construction workers trying to maximize their working day to urban middle class youths looking to en­hance sex, said Graham Shaw, technical adviser for the World Health Organization.

“We’re seeing a massive increase in crystal meth use, which began in the first quarter of 2006,” said David Harding, a technical adviser at NGO Friends International.

The US State Department report found that the need for drug treatment services far outstrips supply. The report also criticized government-run drug treatment centers, which it said rely on confinement, military-style drills, exercise and religious discipline. According to the report, as of September 2008, there were 10 treatment centers for men but none for women.

  (Additional reporting by Phorn Bopha)

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