Interior Minister Sar Kheng on Wednesday called for increased vigilance at border checkpoints in Stung Treng province, where he says local officials have been seduced into colluding with traffickers transporting drugs from the Golden Triangle into Cambodia.
Speaking to a crowd of mostly police and government officials at the closing ceremony of the annual meeting of the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD), Mr. Kheng said that despite arrests being made at the border, trafficking rings remained firmly intact.
“We are very regretful and disappointed that our small officials do not have the will and responsibility [to arrest ringleaders], that they have become involved with drug traffickers…and have interfered in cracking down on drug [smugglers],” Mr. Kheng said.
“The normal people cannot [traffic drugs] unless the powerful people do. We confiscate only small amounts of drugs and arrest normal people but cannot arrest the ringleaders.”
“Please, all officials work hard to stop [drug trafficking]. We must identify ringleaders and their powerful accomplices in order to arrest the big traffickers.”
Mr. Kheng said that a number of police had been arrested and sentenced in the past for colluding with traffickers.
In light of Stung Treng authorities’ failure to properly enforce the law, Lieutenant General Meas Vyrith, secretary-general of the NACD, said that new techniques were being used to stop the flow of drugs across the border.
“We have extended into the local communes and asked the common people to report suspicious behavior, and that has led to many arrests,” Lt. Gen. Vyrith said.
“International drug syndicates are smuggling the drugs across the border from [the] Golden Triangle but the local people have helped us to make some big busts.”
Nou Hour, Stung Treng provincial anti-drug police chief, said Wednesday that police had already busted about 15 cross-border drug-trafficking cases in 2014, with four Laotians and more than 20 Cambodians arrested.
“The drug cases involved with Cambodian people are mostly small cases…in fact, we have never arrested any ringleaders, only people working on commission,” Mr. Hour said.
“Ringleaders always hire the people to bring the drugs across the border.”
Much of the illicit product being smuggled across the border ends up on the market in Phnom Penh, according to officials, creating a scourge that Mr. Kheng says is a visible blight on society.
“I have observed that beggars have increased in Phnom Penh and people with mental illnesses walking the streets with nowhere to go. This is caused by drug use,” he said.
“Driving from [the Ministry of Interior] to Pochentong [Phnom Penh International Airport], I saw two or three people with mental illness staring at trees carrying dirty bags on their backs.”
Mr. Kheng also pointed to corrupt officials in drug rehabilitation centers, which he says are also contributing to the country’s increasing drug problem.
“Even though [drug rehabilitation centers] are like prisons, we still have some bad officials distributing drugs there, which means the addict can never abandon the drugs.”