UN Says 2012 Set Record for Cambodia Drug Busts

There were record numbers of seizures of crystal methamphetamine and cocaine last year in Cambodia, which continues to be targeted by transnational and Asian drug trafficking groups for the production of illicit drugs, the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in a new report released Friday.

The report, entitled Patterns and Trends of Amphetamine-Type Stimulants and Other Drugs—Challenges for Asia and the Pacific 2013, also states that Cambodia is a hotbed for the manufacture and transit of am­phetamine-type stimulants (ATS) and other illegal drugs and that the use of meth­amphetamine in both crystalline and pill form is on the rise.

“Crystalline methamphetamine and cocaine seizures in Cambodia in 2012 are the highest ever reported from the country. The manufacture, trafficking and use of ATS is significant and is becoming increasingly problematic in Cambodia,” the report says.

“A large share of cocaine smuggled into Cambodia is destined for Thailand and other markets in the region,” the UNODC said, adding that some 41 kg of co­caine was seized last year, up from 1.1 kg in 2011.

The report also says that in 2012 a total of 33.5 kg of crystalline methamphetamine was seized, a 75 percent increase compared to the previous year when 19.1 kg was seized.

“This signifies the highest amount ever reported by the country,” the report says.

In addition, “a large and growing majority of persons arrested for drug-related offenses or persons submitted for drug treatment in­volve methamphetamine,” it continues.

The rise in seizures was evident in the raids of a “significant number” of labs producing either precursor chemicals such as safrole oil, an ingredient that can be found in the meas prov tree, as well as methamphetamine and MDMA. Most of these labs were in Phnom Penh.

“[H]owever, due to the paucity of data, the full extent of illicit drug manufacture in Cambodia is unknown,” the report says.

Still, “Transnational organized crim­inal groups, particularly from Asia and West Africa, continue to use Cambodia to manufacture and tran­sit ATS, their precursor chemicals, and other illicit drugs such as co­caine and heroin,” the report states.

“The illicit harvesting and export of safrole-rich oils…which can be used as a precursor for MDMA, remains an environmental and law enforcement concern.”

Looking beyond the production of illegal substances, the UNODC says statistics on the number of drug users in Cam­bodia are inconsistent.

The report notes that the number given by the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD) in 2012 was 4,057, but was amended in March 2013 to an estimate in excess of 10,000 users.

The NACD’s secretary-general, Lieutenant General Meas Vyrith, said by telephone yesterday that the number is “between 5,000 to 6,000 drug users in the whole of the country.”

In March, NGO Mith Samlanh estimated that at least 40 percent of the estimated 20,000 street children in Phnom Penh were using drugs.

The UNODC report found that there had been an uptick in the number of users who inject drugs. In line with that view, the number of HIV cases among the injecting population of drug users had also risen from 24.1 percent among 1,900 injecting drug users in 2011 to 24.8 per­cent in 2012, according to the National AIDS Authority of Cambodia.

To combat drug use around the country, there are 13 “temporary centers for drug education and rehabilitation”—six of which are run by the government with the remaining seven operating privately.

“However, international and government agencies are concerned that drug treatment centers in Cambodia do not have sufficient treatment focus,” the report says.

According to Lt. Gen. Vyrith, a joint-government/UNODC community based treatment program in Banteay Meanchey, Stung Treng and Battambang provinces “has been successful and will expand” further.

Clay Nayton, a community-based treatment officer with the UNODC in Cambodia, said the establishment of the program has proven a viable alternative to the country’s drug centers, providing support for 1,200 drug users.

“The program has been running for close to three years and offers a human rights based ap­proach and viable alternative to compulsory state-run rehabilitation centers,” Mr. Nayton said.

While drug-related arrests decreased 25 percent from 2,381 people in 2011 to 1,788 people in 2012, the number of arrests is still significantly greater than the average of 517 arrests recorded between 2006 and 2010, the report says.

Lt. Gen. Vyrith said he does not have figures related to seizures this year, but said the numbers could likely be higher than 2012.

“Comparing the first nine months of this year to last year, we have had more crackdowns on drugs be­cause our officials are paying more attention to carrying out the law and law enforcement,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Khuon Narim)

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