Civil society groups on Monday expressed concerns that Cambodia is becoming a major trafficking route and production hub for illegal narcotics.
The groups noted an increasing number of reports of drug trafficking in the country and regionally.
Yong Kim Eng, president of the People Center for Development and Peace, said drug trafficking groups had also moved into rural areas, whereas in the past they had largely kept to urban centers.
“If there is a person using drugs in the family, everything will be destroyed – poverty, insecurity, both in the society and family, youths addicted to drugs, a shortage of human resources, which will slow down development and economic growth.”
He added that there was mounting evidence that drug cartels were turning to Cambodia as a production base, drawn by lax law enforcement and prevention.
“[D]rug trafficking is a serious issue, especially when only small-time people are arrested, but not the big guys,” he added.
Pin Sokhom, a project coordinator with NGO Mith Samlanh, said advances in technology had made producing drugs easier and harder to detect.
“The more advanced technology is, the easier it is to produce drugs… I think in the future Cambodia will become a drug production country while it does not yet have up-to-date tools to crack down on drug dealing.”
Officials estimate there are 17,000 regular drug users in the country, although the figure is likely far higher, according to NGOs.
Khieu Saman, director of the Interior Ministry's anti-drug trafficking department, said the government was doing all it could to go after drug pushers. “We have put down many big cases since 2007... Our authorities are quite competent.”
Earlier this month, Hun Sen called for a nationwide crackdown on drug dealers and traffickers, following a meeting with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, whose own ‘war on drugs’ has led to thousands of extra-judicial executions since he took office.