US Sites Cambodia as Location for Drug Trafficking, Production

With the discovery last April of a large-scale methamphetamine-production laboratory in Kom­pong Speu province, Cambodia established its role as a location for illegal drug production, consumption and trafficking, according to the US State Department’s 2008 Inter­national Narcotics Control Strategy Report.

The report, released Friday, gives Cam­bodia’s counter-narcot­ics efforts a mixed re­view, stating that although the country ex­celled in its handling of the Kom­pong Speu lab and in­creased the budget of the Natio­nal Authority for Com­bating Drugs, the country’s continuing struggle with corruption and its “weak” judicial system makes it vulnerable to illicit drug activities.

“[C]ontinuing concerns about corruption, lack of capacity, and continuing low counternarcotics funding levels-even with the budget increase-hamper government efforts,” the report states.

The discovery of the laboratory also “confirmed suspicions that in recent years the country’s narcotics problem has grown from transit and consumption to production as well,” the report says. “Many ex­perts believe that additional clandestine labs are operating in the country.”

In January, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court handed down more than 150 years in prison terms to seven people for their in­volvement in the lab. However last August, controversy had en­gulfed the case when Oum Chhay, an advisor to National Assembly and CPP Honorary President Heng Sam­rin, apparently leapt to his death from the second story of the Interior Ministry’s anti-drug department.

Oum Chhay had been arrested a week earlier for his alleged involvement in the lab. The In­terior Min­istry declared his death a suicide.

“Some observers allege that [Oum Chhay] was murdered, noting with suspicion that he was being supervised by three guards at the time of his death, and that the fall was from a second-story window in which he landed on his back,” the US report says. “It is difficult to assess the credibility of these claims.”

Corruption continues to weaken Cambodia’s ju­dicial system, ac­cording to the report, which claims that there were numerous cases drop­ped after defendants paid relatively small fines.

Citing the NACD, the report also states that amphetamine-type stimulants are still Cam­bodia’s most prevalent illicit drug while heroin use is also a “significant problem among a relatively small number of users.”

Lour Ramin, secretary-general for the NACD, said that although he had not read the US report, his office is certain that there are drug production laboratories within the country similar to the one found in Kom­pong Speu, but that locating them has been difficult.

“Normally where there is one, there are two,” he said, adding that amphetamine-type stimulants are also being trafficked into Cambodia from Burma and Afghanistan.

CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap agreed with the report’s assertion that the judicial system is “weak.”

“We all recognize that it is weak,” he said. “We are reviewing punishments for people in the judiciary system who commit wrongdoings.”

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