Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Political parties pledge to eliminate illegal drug trafficking ahead of commune election

Cambodia's authorities prepare confiscated drugs before they burn them during a ceremony to mark International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, in Phnom Penh, Picture taken June 26, 2019. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang
Cambodia's authorities prepare confiscated drugs before they burn them during a ceremony to mark International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, in Phnom Penh, Picture taken June 26, 2019. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

Tucked behind the Cambodia-China Friendship Hospital in Phnom Penh’s Teuk Thla commune, Borey Kamkor village is one of countless small communities struggling as a growing number of residents have become drug users and sellers. With villagers seeing impacts on their health and security, many say curtailing drug trafficking has become a top electoral priority for the June 5 commune election.

“Other villagers want the drug trafficking completely eradicated in the village,” said Yus Theary, 55. “It’s good that political parties have a drug eradication policy because we only want security.”

Nearly every day, said Theary, she has seen police crack down on illegal drug use. Still, the problem remains rampant.

“I felt pity on children who use drugs. I always see youth wearing school uniforms come here to buy drugs,” she said. “[But] collusion between police and drug dealers is one of the reasons that drug trafficking in the village remains.”

With signs that Cambodia is on its way to becoming a drug-producing country, as well as a drug-transit country, political parties contesting the commune council elections have all expressed a commitment to eradicating illegal drug use and trafficking at the grassroots level.

Thach Setha, vice-president of Candlelight Party, said the issue of illegal drugs is currently one of the most pressing concerns for Cambodian citizens.

“It is extremely dangerous, affecting people’s daily lives, the future of youth, and causing insecurity at the local level,” he said.

Supporters of the Candlelight Party take part in a local commune election campaign in Phnom Penh, Picture taken May 31, 2022. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

Setha said combating illegal drugs at the local level requires strengthening local police capacity, providing better pay, and enacting better enforcement to prevent corruption. “It is important for the authorities to be clean and not corrupt, so we can crack down.”

Sam Inn, secretary-general of the Grassroots Democratic Party, said addressing the spread of illegal drugs is one of the party’s priorities. He, too, pointed to corruption as a chief cause.

“Corruption is the cause behind the spread of illegal drug use and drug trafficking to villages and communes,” Inn said. “We must fight against corruption, we must begin with honest commune chiefs who refuse to cooperate, collude, or accept money from drug dealers.”

He said GDP commune chiefs will create a monitoring committee with participation from local people from every commune to help monitor the management of the work of commune leaders.

Grassroots Democratic Party takes part in a local commune election campaign in Kandal province, Picture taken May 21, 2022. CamboJA/ Sovann Sreypich

Meanwhile, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party — which holds virtually every commune councilor seat in the country since the opposition CNRP was dissolved in 2017 and their seats distributed among the remaining parties — has pledged to prevent community drug spread if re-elected.

CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan said the party has been strengthening its “safe village-commune principles” to ensure security and safety in the commune.

“We have continued to tackle all forms of illegal drug activities. We are not ignoring the issue,” he said.

“The ruling party does not tolerate the activity of illegal drugs as authorities are constantly monitoring and if any cases occur, they crack down.”

The Cambodian People’s Party installs a campaign tent to hold a campaign in Boeng Kak II commune, Tuol Kork district, Phnom Penh. Photo taken on June 1, 2022. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

But Nhoeun Raden, spokesman for Funcinpec, noted that despite the safe village-commune policy, drugs have continued to spread, particularly in remote and poor communities.

“Corruption in the community is an issue that we must work on together to prevent [drug spreading],” he said. “We must eradicate corruption, especially nepotism which hinders development in communes.”

According to the UNODC, Cambodia has become a major transit country for drug trafficking. On their website, UNODC notes that the “number of illicit drug users — particularly of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) — has grown sharply.”

On May 19, anti-drugs officials uncovered three illegal drug processing factories in Kampong Speu and Phnom Penh, seizing more than 1,400 kilograms of drugs and more than 11 tons of chemicals and arresting four Taiwanese nationals linked to the cases.

Minister of Interior Sar Kheng earlier this year ordered authorities to increase their efforts to counter drug trafficking.

The rise in domestic drug production and trafficking has led to a rise in drug crimes among minors. Kheng noted that in 2021, 1,422 underage youths were arrested, and most of the cases related to drugs.

According to Kheng, Cambodian authorities carried out a total of 6,308 cases involving illicit drug trafficking, arresting 13,979 people in 2021.

A Funcinpec Party member shows a portrait of the party president to people as they take part in a local commune election campaign in Phnom Penh, Picture taken June 1, 2022. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

San Chey,​ Executive Director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability (ANSA), said based on the latest report from the National Authority of Combating Drugs, illegal drug use in villages is growing.

He said that establishing a clear policy at the local level to combat illegal drug use and trafficking is badly needed.

“They are worried about their children being involved with drugs,” he said. “Illegal drug trafficking as well as gambling are actually linked to corruption.”