Minister of Interior Sar Kheng instructed authorities to continue their crackdown on illegal gambling and drugs, while warning officials including law enforcement officers not to associate themselves with the crime.

Separately, Sar Kheng also denied allegations of the concentration of power by his ministry.

Speaking at the inauguration of a new school building in Battambang province on October 10, the minister said drug offences were a social illness and a crime with a long history, and action must be taken as it poses the danger of Cambodia becoming a drug-ravaged society.

Sar Kheng noted that the government has launched a campaign to crack down on certain offences such as online gambling because it leads to other worse crimes like human trafficking, torture, kidnapping, confinement, arms trafficking and money laundering.

He emphasised that although it is impossible to prevent all crime from taking place, it could be reduced to a minimum. He warned law enforcement authorities to distance themselves from the crime.

“In Thailand, a former policeman who used drugs and was trafficking drugs was fired. A few months later, he got a gun and shot to death 34 children and then killed himself after shooting his wife and children. This is one example of what can happen with drugs.

“I request that the National Authority for Combating Drugs [NACD] take this case as a lesson and use it to educate people throughout the country and let everyone know that we cannot underestimate drugs,” he said.

Sar Kheng noted that about 90 per cent of drug production in Cambodia was for export, with the remaining 10 per cent sold in the country. All relevant authorities, he urged, must unite to prevent the production of drugs so that the Kingdom does not turn into a major drug exporter.

He also advised local authorities to prevent the spread of drugs in schools and asked parents to join hands to successfully prevent this from happening.

“Especially in rural areas, please help prevent drugs from attacking our villages and communes and schools, particularly schools with children aged 13 and older. Parents also have a duty to protect their children and keep them out of trouble with the police and authorities.

“The parents are living with their children every day, so why not help to monitor them. Sometimes children disappear from home, but do not go to school and instead use morphine or opium or distribute drugs. If we all work together, we can protect our children from them,” he said.

Regarding the crackdown on gambling, Sar Kheng said local authorities must responsibly take action and find the real perpetrators of these activities for punishment.

“With gambling, I would suggest that local authorities actively inspect any suspected gambling dens and do not wait for your superiors to shout at you about it. We have the ‘safe village-commune policy, so do your jobs in accordance with the law,” he said.

Am Sam Ath, deputy director of rights group LICADHO, echoed Sar Kheng’s call, saying that law enforcement authorities must not get involved in drug crime.

“The main problem is that all law enforcement officers must stay away from drugs and gambling, as it is a serious problem if there’s any official behind it or getting paid to ignore it. This is a requirement to enforce the law effectively,” he said.

Sam Ath said drugs and gambling issues are not the problems in and of themselves necessarily, but they could lead to human trafficking and other large-scale crimes carried out by criminal organisations. The issue requires a high commitment to the suppression and prevention of these activities, especially by strengthening cooperation mechanisms between relevant authorities in the country, and they should start by eliminating corruption.

Sar Kheng also rejected claims by unnamed senior government officials that his ministry is power hungry or is seeking to consolidate power.

“What exactly shows the interior ministry is mobilising power? Some ministers are so stupid as to see it that way. Actually, they are not stupid; they are smart, but in the wrong ways.

“They [ministers] do not want to transfer power because they are afraid of losing their personal interests,” he said, citing road construction projects as an example.

“They said they spent $1 million on the construction, when in fact it only cost $40,000! I strongly condemn such practices.

“I hate to draw the curtains to reveal [corrupt practices], but in some cases I just can’t stand it. They made these [power concentration] accusations about me. I have to reject because they are wrong. What the interior ministry is trying to do is serve the people,” he said.