US Report: Cambodia a Drug Haven

An estimated 300 kg to 600 kg of heroin passed through Cam­bodia each month during 2003 en route to international markets, according to a report re­leased this week by the US State Department.

The International Narcotics Control Strategy report 2003, which was released by the State Department’s Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, also expressed concern for the growing popularity of amphetamine-type stimulants among middle-class Cambodian youth.

The report cited figures and other information gathered by the UN.

Transit of these drugs through Cambodia has significantly increased, with about 100,000 meth­amphetamine tablets entering the country each day, 75 percent of which were bound for neighboring Thailand, the report said.

“The number of drug-related investigations, arrests and seizures in Cambodia increased in 2003. However, it is unclear whether this reflects increased effectiveness of law enforcement or simply an escalation in drug activity,” the report stated.

Last year’s State Department report said that in 2002 Cambo­dian police seized a total of 130,000 methamphetamine tab­lets and only 1.9 kg of heroin.

A large majority of the drugs trafficked through Cambodia originate in the so-called Golden Triangle—the area where the borders of Thailand, Laos and Burma meet. Much of the re­gion’s illegal substances are produced there.

Cambodia’s porous borders and weak judicial system make the country an attractive route for drug traffickers, the report added.

Commenting on the estimates in the latest report, Graham Shaw, program officer for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in Phnom Penh, said the figures may be “conservative.”

“It may be more than that, but it’s difficult to tell,” Shaw said on Wednesday.

“The street price of [all drugs in Cambodia] is falling, which could indicate the amount of use is going up,” he said.

In October, police seized 35 kg of heroin and 5 kg of amphetamine powder during a raid on a house in the Tuol Kok district of Phnom Penh.

An RCAF intelligence chief, Major General Dom Hak, was arrested along with RCAF Lieutenant Colonel Muon Sok­han.

Police reported at the time that three other Cambodians and three Taiwanese were also charged with trafficking and producing drugs.

However, Dom Hak and Muon Sokhan were released 10 days later because court officials could find no evidence, co-Minister of Defense Tea Banh said at the time.

“We did not have enough evidence to implicate [Dom Hak],” Sok Roeun, deputy prosecutor of Phnom Penh Municipal Court, said on Wednesday. He would not elaborate.

But an investigation into the involvement of other suspects continues, said Kong Set, investigating judge at the court.

Kong Set said he could not remember how many suspects in the case were still in prison and awaiting trial.

The US report was unsparing in its criticism of the courts’ handling of drug cases.

“The judicial system is weak, and there have been numerous cases of defendants in important criminal cases having charges against them dropped after paying relatively small fines,” the report stated.

Lour Ramin, deputy secretary general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, said on Wednesday that Cambodia’s drug problem was imported from its neighbors.

“The increase is because Cambodia is affected by other countries,” Lour Ramin said. “Other countries produce drugs and they come through Cambo­dia,” he said.

“We are trying to amend the drug laws because they are weak,” he added.

Cambodia is making efforts to train law enforcement officials to crack down on drug activity, the State Department also noted.

Arrests for drug-related crimes rose from 240 in 2002 to 305 in 2003, according to the report.

“Its difficult to say—we would love to say the increase in seizures had to do with police training,” Shaw said, adding that the benefits of increased law enforcement training might take a few years pay off.

The corruption level in Cambodia, due to low salaries is also slowing down the process, Shaw said, adding that drug traffickers are better funded than their counterparts in the police force.

“Traffickers have better equipment than law enforcement,” he said. “It’s not a fair fight.”

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