Interior Minister Sar Kheng on Monday said that Cambodians are becoming increasingly exposed to drugs because foreign syndicates are taking advantage of the fact that the Kingdom does not have a death penalty for trafficking.
Speaking at a meeting with Battambang provincial officials, Mr Kheng said the country remains vulnerable to cross-border drug trafficking, noting that the spread of illegal drugs is causing many social issues in Cambodia.
He said that some Asean countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore have the death penalty for trafficking, prompting international drug syndicates to operate out of Cambodia.
“During the leadership of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin, about 2,800 people involved in drugs were executed while in the Philippines authorities have gunned down more than 10,000 people who committed drugs crimes,” Mr Kheng said. “So the drug traffickers come to operate their business in Cambodia.”
He cited a report from the National Authority for Combating Drugs that said police have confiscated more than 700 kilograms of illegal drugs in the Kingdom since 2017.
Mr Kheng also said that a large number of inmates are drug dealers and users, causing overcrowding and associated problems in prisons, noting that this has led to criticism of government ministries over prison overcrowding.
“Currently, there are 30,000 inmates in prisons, one-third of whom have tested positive for drug use,” he said. “People are continuing to be affected by drug trafficking and drug use, especially those who live near the Cambodia-Laos border.”
Mr Kheng urged authorities to work harder to crack down on drug crimes at the Cambodia-Laos border and prevent drugs from entering the Kingdom.
He noted that drug rings operating in Laos also smuggle drugs to China, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Mr Kheng urged officials to strengthen cooperation with neighboring countries to stop the flow of drugs and arrest drug traffickers, noting that drug trafficking is more prevalent at tourist sites such as in Siem Reap and Preah Sihanouk provinces.
According to a police report last year, foreigners involved in drug offences came from 24 different countries including Vietnam, China, France, Australia, Colombia, Nigeria, Russia, the US, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, Slovenia, Taiwan and England.
Justice ministry spokesman Chin Malin yesterday said the death penalty, which is applied in some Asean countries, has played an important part in reducing the drug menace, but noted that it has not completely stopped people from using drugs.
“The country’s constitution forbids the death penalty and we cannot move backwards to amend it,” he said. “I believe it’s important to strictly enforce the laws and strengthen the capacity of our officials in combating and preventing drug use and trafficking.”
Am Sam Ath, deputy director of monitoring and protection at rights group Licadho, yesterday said judicial reforms are needed to address the drug issue.
“Having a death penalty will not eliminate drug trafficking and I believe the best way is to reform the way public officials tackle the problem,” he said. “Police must not be afraid to arrest powerful people behind the drugs business.”