Cambodian authorities bust Chinese drug traffickers in Phnom Penh and 3 provinces

Cambodia authorities have arrested 11 Chinese nationals on suspicion of illegal drug trafficking, confiscating hundreds of metric tons of narcotics and drug precursors during raids in Phnom Penh and three other provinces, national police said Wednesday.

Agents from Cambodia’s National Authority for Combating Drugs worked with local authorities in the capital and in Svay Rieng, Prey Veng and Kandal provinces to arrest the suspects, who were allegedly operating large-scale narcotics factories.

The raids took place July 4-9 in seven locations, according to information posted on the website of the General Commissariat of National Police. The factories had allegedly been operating for the past three months, authorities said. Agents confiscated two metric tons of the hallucinogenic drug Ketamine, 300 tons of precursors, and drug-producing equipment.

Police are sending the 11 suspects to court for processing, according to the national police.

Lt. Gen. Mak Chito, deputy national police commissioner in charge of drug crimes, said the suspects had been importing the precursors and equipment from Vietnam through Phnom Penh’s port since April 7. They then distributed drug ingredients to different locations for production.

“They hid those ingredients in containers,” he told RFA. “Those chemical ingredients are banned [in Cambodia]. The finished products were intended for shipment to Taiwan and Australia. They are using Cambodia as a place to produce the drugs,” he said.

Mak Chito said many others suspected of illegal drug trafficking are now fleeing Cambodia. He also said there has been no indication that local authorities colluded with the suspects.

NGOs have called on government authorities to enact tougher measures against Chinese drug lords operating in Cambodia, as methamphetamine use continues to surge in the country, RFA reported a week ago following news of the arrest in Sihanoukville of seven Chinese nationals who set up a factory in the coastal province to make the drugs from smuggled ingredients.

During that operation, authorities seized several tons of drug precursors and production equipment during the arrests.

Am Sam Ath, chief of general affairs for the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (Licadho), urged authorities to conduct a transparent investigation into suspected drug operations, including whether local authorities were involved.

Illegal drug trafficking threatens Cambodia’s national security and economic development, Am Sam Ath also said.

“If there are suspected factories, [authorities] have to take action in advance to prevent them [from operating],” he said. “We have seen loopholes when it comes to authorities cracking down on them.”

Am Sam Ath urged routine factory inspections to prevent suspects from using the places of operation to produce illegal drugs.

Yong Kim Eng, President of The People's Centre for Development and Peace, an NGO that advocates for human rights and democracy, said Chinese illegal drug operations in Cambodia have detrimentally affected the country’s reputation and that authorities have failed to effectively combat it because of corruption.

“This is a tragedy for Cambodia to be used by Chinese to produce illegal drugs,” he told RFA. “We must be vigilant.”

During a National Day for Combating Drugs on June 26, Cambodian Interior Minister Sar Kheng said that police seized a combined total of more than 100 metric tons of finished drugs and drug ingredients from 2020 to 2021.

However, of the nearly 10,000 metric tons of the finished drugs that were seized, only 6,000 were destroyed, he said.

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