SIHANOUKVILLE (Khmer Times) – Successful recent operations on the coast signal that Chuon Narin, the new police chief is following through on his promise to crack down on the province’s illicit drug trade.
Last week, Charles Emery, a British resident here, was arrested during a raid by General Narin and officers acting on an anonymous tip-off.
The British national is accused of running distribution rings for methamphetamine (called yama on the street), ketamine, cannabis and other narcotics.
Last week, Khmer Times published a report on a growing trend of unexplained and mysterious deaths of foreigners here, many linked to narcotics. Some foreigners apparently come here after hearing of the city’s reputation for offering cheap and easy-to-find drugs.
New Task Force
The arrival of Brigadier General Narin in April has heralded regular anti-drug raids. His police have arrested traffickers and seized significant amounts of methamphetamines, heroin and cannabis. The new chief often leads these raids personally. Recently, he said he had appointed more officials to deal with Sihanoukville’s “growing drug problem, ” adding to a new “anti-drugs task-force.”
A prominent local businessman in Sihanoukville, close to municipal authorities and the police, spoke highly of the chief’s recent actions.
“There’s a new sheriff in town here, and he doesn’t want to make the lives of ordinary people hard,” he said. “He just wants to clean out the scum.”
Biggest Seizure in Years
In Phnom Penh last week, anti-drug cops made Cambodia’s biggest drug bust in years, seizing 55 kilograms of methamphetamine and heroin. The drugs had an estimated street value of $3 million.
The heroin came from the drug-producing “Golden Triangle” region – where the borders of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos meet. It is believed that some of these drugs were destined for users on Cambodia’s coast.
In 2013, Cambodia set a record for criminal cases involving drugs. Now, this trend appears to be rising, according to foreign consular officials.
Kingdom of Dope
Recent seizures and arrests indicate a worsening drug problem for Cambodia, according to officials and international agencies. The US Department of State believe that Cambodia has a “worsening and growing” drug problem that and includes rising “levels of consumption, trafficking and production.”
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has expressed alarm about the growing drug problem across Southeast Asia. Crackdowns on drug trafficking in China and Thailand seem to be pushing drug flow through Cambodia, foreign diplomats say.
Coastal Kids Suffering
A new battlefront in Cambodia’s war on drugs must be the protection of children, who are being increasingly affected, NGOs warn.
According to Maggie Eno, Coordinator of M’lop Tapang, an NGO working with street children in Sihanoukville for over a decade, drug usage is an increasingly malignant problem for the city’s poorest children.
“Kids using hard drugs is a growing problem here, and meth has become the most common drug of use in our target area,” she said.
“In 2003, when we started the charity, the problem was limited to glue sniffing. But now it’s methamphetamines due to its easy accessibility and low cost.”
“Children tell us that they use meth to relieve their feelings of anxiety and stress and because it stops them feeling hungry,” said Ms. Eno. Juveniles at risk of addiction usually are also dealing with challenges such as recovery from traumas, such as violence or sexual abuse.
Treat Addicts, Don’t Jail Them
M’lop Tapang welcomes the police crackdown on trafficking and supply. But they say a more delicate approach is required to deal with the issues of usage and addiction.
“We have to address the reasons why people turn to drug use,” Ms. Eno told Khmer Times. “The police should be commended for tackling suppliers, making it harder to access these harmful drugs. This is what they should be doing, instead of arresting the drug user, who most often needs help and support to overcome their addiction.”
But assistance for drug addicts in Cambodia remains a difficult and controversial issue. Reform of narcotics legislation is needed and much is to be done to effectively treat, reform, and reintegrate drug-users, UNODC says.
“From our experience, behind every young drug user, there is a traumatic or tragic story of neglect, poverty or abuse,” says Ms. Eno.
“Arresting them with no effective support or rehabilitation systems in place will not stop them using drugs again.”