Cambodia is being increasingly used by international criminal organizations smuggling drugs, which are targeting Southeast Asia as a new market to peddle cocaine, a new report from the U.N.’s agency on narcotics warns.
“The manufacture, trafficking and use of illicit drugs is a significant and worsening problem in Cambodia,” the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says in its annual drug report for the Asia-Pacific region, released in Bangkok yesterday.
The report lists familiar concerns about the use of methamphetamines and crystal methamphetamines, the manufacture of these drugs in Cambodia and the activities of gangs smuggling them to and from the country. But recent seizures of cocaine, both in Cambodia and elsewhere in the region, point to a worrying new trend, the U.N. report says.
“Cocaine traffickers are targeting the large and untapped cocaine market in East and South-East Asia,” it says. “Large quantities of cocaine have been seized in several countries in recent years and Cambodia, Philippines, Vietnam and Hong Kong…have emerged as transit locations for cocaine trafficking.”
Although it says cocaine use in Asia remains limited, the report notes a massive 650 kg seizure of cocaine in Hong Kong in July “destined for markets in China and South-East Asia.”
“Before 2012, the quantities of cocaine seized in Cambodia had remained limited,” the report says, adding that the roughly 30 kg of cocaine seized in August at Phnom Penh’s airport eclipsed previous seizures by some way and that the cocaine was most likely bound for Thailand. Another 11 kg of cocaine was seized at Siem Reap airport in October.
“Cocaine is smuggled into Cambodia by air and post from a number of countries in South America, North America, West Africa and South-East Asia for export to other countries along overland routes,” the report says.
Olivier Lermet, UNODC’s Cambodia country manager, said by email that drug traffickers use Cambodia as a transit point.
“Generally using porous and very long land borders, mules [through] airports and maritime routes,” Mr. Lermet said.
“Mexican and Colombian cartels, in collaboration with West African syndicates are clearly targeting the region as an expanding market,” he said.
“The volumes of cocaine seized and the estimated consumption is still very limited compared to amphetamine [type substances],” he added.
As well as West Africans, members of Chinese drug syndicates, often based in Taiwan, also use Cambodia as a hub, the report says. It cited Cambodian government figures saying that 20 Chinese nationals and 10 Nigerian nationals were arrested for drug offenses in 2011.
Khieu Samon, anti-drug police chief at the Ministry of Interior, said that 2012 had been a bumper year for seizures because Cambodian authorities have focused on high up figures in drug syndicates.
“We confiscated 56 kilograms of drugs by cracking down on the right targets, the ringleaders,” he said.
Authorities in Australia and Taiwan have also intercepted large heroin shipments coming from Cambodia this year.
The UNODC report says heroin is transported into Cambodia via the border with Laos, and that Afghanistan-produced heroin also transits through the country. But Cambodian police report hardly any seizures of heroin—only 2.1 kg was seized in 2011. Mr. Samon said that police were aware that heroin was coming into the country from the Golden Triangle.
“But the drug dealers are not stupid so we can’t arrest them easily, they are finding ways to do their smuggling,” he said.