US Report Attacks Cambodian Drug Efforts

Cambodia will remain on the US State Department’s narco-nations blacklist for 2001, and regardless of the Cambodian government’s drug-fighting efforts, endemic corruption, a lack of trained law enforcement officers and a weak judicial system could mean it stays there for the foreseeable future.

Despite the bleak international assessment of Cambodia’s drug production and trafficking problems, drugs have yet to impact significantly on the general population and the country remains comparatively free of drug abuse, according to the report.

The State Department’s Inter­national Narcotics Control Strat­egy Report 2001, released Thurs­day, lists Cambodia alongside other drug-problem countries such as Afghanistan, Burma and Colombia.

The report details in blunt terms the reason why Cambodia is a “weak link” in regional anti-narcotics efforts.

A lack of competent personnel and “poor institutional capacity” that stretches from the police forces to the courts has resulted in “spotty and ineffective” anti-drug measures, report states.

“Cambodia needs substantial support in virtually every key area,” the report states.

“However, several factors constrain sustained advances in effective law enforcement of illegal drugs by the government, not the least of which is an acute shortage of trained personnel and high levels of official corruption, aggravated by abysmally low salaries for Cambodian civil servants,” the report adds.

But Cambodia is still the only country in Southeast Asia that does not have a significant do­mestic drug abuse problem.

The methamphetamine epidemic found in neighboring countries has not reached “crisis lev­els” in Cambodia, according to the report.

Cambodia’s continued presence on the State Department list would, under normal circumstances, require that foreign assistance be withheld.

But, as in previous years, sanctions have been waived, US Am­bassador Kent Wiedemann said Monday.

Suspending aid would more likely hamper rather than help US anti-narcotics efforts with Cambodia authorities, he added.

The certification “means that we are concerned with drug trafficking in Cambodia and continue to look for an increase in efforts to attack that problem,” Wiedemann said.

He said anti-drug efforts have had some affect but, there is still much more to be done, including the problem of money laundering.

Khieu Sopheak, deputy secretary-general of the National Auth­ority for Combating Drugs, said Monday Cambodia welcomes outside support to stem the drug problem, despite its continued presence on the US drug blacklist.

“We have the open door and an open heart to [support] from around the world to deal with the drug problem,” Khieu Sopheak said.

He said a lack of training and equip­ment are major obstacles to anti-narcotics law enforcement. “We also don’t want to be blamed for this,” Khieu Sopheak said.

Lour Ramin, also a deputy secretary general for combating drugs, said Monday the foremost problem is collusion be­tween drug traffickers and auth­orities.

But even if officials are suspected of involvement, police investigators’ lack of training and poor evidence gathering techniques hamper arrests and court convictions.

Officials “help them transit across Cambodia to other countries. But if we have no evidence to arrest them it is more dangerous for anti-drug police officers” who try to arrest them, Lour Ramin said.

Similarly, Cambodia’s anti-narcotics laws are too weak to deal with drug traffickers, who can avoid hefty prison sentences by paying relatively small fines, Lour Ramin said.

According to the report, “The judicial system is weak, and there have been numerous cases of defendants in important narcotics and other criminal cases having charges dropped inexplicably or being set free after paying very small fines.”

But the state department document also notes that, “Cambodian officials freely admit their shortcomings in the area of enforcement due to corruption and the lack of resources, and regularly appeal for US Government assistance, especially training.”

While Cambodia’s role in the international drug trade is a problem, domestic drug use is not as worrying, Lour Ramin said, noting that poverty prevents most average Cambodians from being able to purchase even the cheapest narcotics.

Heroin and cocaine use is more common among foreigners, and while amphetamine use has increased among Cambodians it has is largely contained to sex workers and young people in urban areas.

Similarly, marijuana, which is easily cultivated in Cambodia and a traditional ingredient in Khmer cooking, is not smoked by Cambodians, who believe it makes them too passive and nervous.

“Khmer people do not like to smoke marijuana because it makes them too nervous, like a chicken,” Lour Ramin said.

Ngorn Khim, deputy chief of municipal anti-drug police, said that the majority of heroin users arrested in Phnom Penh are ethnic Vietnamese.

According to Cambodian police figures listed in the State Department report, 124 people were arrested for drug-related offenses in 2000. Of that number, 81 were foreign and 43 were Cambodian.

 

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