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Drug Trafficking Operations Smaller, Harder To Find, Police Say

A Cambodian police officer stands next to equipment used to make various drugs, which were seized in raids earlier this year in eastern and southern Cambodia, on the outskirt of Phnom Penh, file photo.

Cambodian authorities say drug trafficking in the country is transforming into numerous, small-scale operations, making policing for the crime increasingly difficult.

“Big operations have been split into smaller scale,” Meas Sovann, head of the Drug Addict Relief Association, told VOA Khmer. “It has been split into small groups, mixing users with distributors.”

Police have recorded 93 different drug trafficking cases in the last three months, ranging from the cities of Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville, to the provinces, and involving parties as diverse as taxi drivers, workers and students.

“There are no big cases now,” said Sun Bunthorn, deputy police commissioner for Preah Sihanouk province. “Cases that we have cracked down on are not big. Those who traffics it directly from Phnom Penh are in the amount of one or two grams. There is no big ringleader like before.”

Much of the drug trade now includes methamphetamines, which can be bought cheaply, including nightclubs frequented by foreigners and red-light districts in towns and provinces.

Two local operators in Sihanoukville have been arrested before, but they return to drug-dealing “because it’s easy to make money,” Sun Bunthorn said.

Cambodia has a national policy goal to reduce drug use and trafficking, but so far its policies have not succeeded. Even official numbers show an uptick: from 818 trafficking cases last year to 889 this year.

Residents in Sihanoukville say they are worried drug use is becoming more common with young Cambodians.

“What we’ve learnt from some girls who had that problem is that they were cheated into believing that the drug was a diet medicine to make their bodies slim,” said Ly Dy, a member of Sihanouk provincial council. “They believed it and started to use it, and once they are addicted it was hard to stop. They would use whatever they get their hands on.”

Locals in Sihanoukville report armed groups protecting local traffickers, but Sun Bunthorn said he has been “very strict” on combating drug crimes since he took up his position. “I have never been negligent,” he said.

Khieu Saman, director of the Ministry of Interiors anti-drug department, said he too has taken the issue seriously. “We have cracked down a lot,” he said. “To whoever violates the law on drug trafficking: I will enforce the law.”