Report Says Heroin, Drug Trade Booming

Weak law enforcement and increased crackdowns in nearby countries has made drug trafficking a “growth industry” for Cam­bodia, with profits from the trade carrying a potentially destabilizing effect on the country’s economy, a UN report declared.

The UN International Drug Control Program’s March 2001 country profile named Cambodia one of the world’s largest suppliers of marijuana, with the value of illicit exports estimated to match that of the garment industry, the country’s top legal export.

It also said that “significant quantities” of Southeast Asian heroin, as well as amphetamines made in Burma’s Shan state, are smuggled through Cambodia on its way to markets abroad.

“The country has become a safe haven for criminal organizations…of such proportions that they could seriously undermine the country’s fragile developmental efforts,” the report said.

The report also noted that organized crime is part of the dilemma of corruption, “which affects virtually all levels of government. Law enforcement bodies and the armed forces are parts of the core of this phenomenon and many officials see their ranks as business opportunities…”

Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak denied that some soldiers and police assist the trade. He said Cambodia’s drug laws and jail sentences are not tough enough, but he denied that Cambodia has a large drug problem. He said trafficking has declined slightly since 1998.

“There are no big gangsters in Cambodia, like in Colombia,” he said. “We are just very small.”

The report said Cambod­ia has begun to play a role in regional cooperation on drug control and that the government has intentions to fight drug trafficking.

The report said the principal trafficking groups are ethnic Chinese from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau and China; Thais, Vietnamese and other Southeast Asians; and Africans.

Amphetamine production and use among school-age children has grown rapidly in just the last few years, the report said. While the drug used to be mostly smuggled from Thailand, it is now made in a number of Cambodian provinces, the report said.

Cambodia’s location south of Laos, another weak law enforcer, makes it convenient for traffickers, the report said.

Most heroin enters the country from Laos. It is then sent with marijuana and amphetamines to the US, Canada, Europe, Austral­ia and Vietnam through shipping containers out of Sihanoukville or by small boats that transfer the drugs to larger ships waiting offshore near Koh Kong.

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