Minister of Interior Sar Kheng warned that drug problems are sweeping Cambodia, thereby necessitating strict law enforcement by the National Police and municipal and provincial governors.

He made the remarks on February 9 at while presiding over a meeting to review the results of road safety work in 2021 and the work direction for 2022 of the National Road Safety Committee (NRSC) at the Ministry of Public Works and Transport.

“Here I want to raise an issue concerning the drug problem. The drug culture is invading Cambodia and the police are having to carry out many operations to prevent the situation from worsening,” he said.

He complimented the National Police, municipal and provincial governors and all police chiefs on working hard to enforce the laws relating to drug offences.

“Please continue working together to protect social order and security from the drug menace which is attacking our society, just as Covid-19 has done,” he added.

Sar Kheng said that while the Covid-19 problem will disappear one day, the public health issues relating to drug use are difficult to eliminate because this is a problem which is ongoing. It remains necessary to focus on enforcing the laws on drug offences which were already in place, he added.

“Out of 38,000 current prison inmates, more than 20,000, or nearly 55 per cent, were involved with drugs. What can we do to solve this problem?” he asked.

He said there are several problems related to drug offences, with the first being the overcrowding of prisons. The second issue was with drug rehabilitation, because many drug offenders were addicts, who were as much victims as criminals. Not all inmates were dealers or traffickers.

“This is a problem I and my colleagues have been thinking about. We do not know how to treat the whole issue of drugs and overcrowding, however we think there are some measures we can take,” he said.

He added that many countries have places where drug addicts are made to work. This work could include growing vegetables and rice, for example. Eight hours labour a day would be a healthy, productive use of these addicts time, he said, and the interior ministry was looking into this.

In most provincial prisons, there are only from 20 to 50 drug addicted inmates, so it would be possible to transfer them to a place where they could farm or do regular, productive work, he said.

“I don’t believe that a scheme such as this would be too difficult to administer, so please, I would like all governors and provincial police chiefs to please look into this together,” he said.

“When it comes to the rehabilitation of drug addicts, the National Authority for Combating Drugs is the leading institution. However, we must have the support and participation of all,” he added.

According to a report on the enforcement of drug offences for the year 2021, seizures of drugs generally decreased, but the number of major drug busts increased, with 80 tonnes of drugs and chemical compounds seized, including many dangerous large-scale automatic processing machines. Most of the busts took place in Phnom Penh and the provinces bordering Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

The report said that throughout 2021, the police had made arrests in 6,308 drug offences, a decrease of 4,153 cases, or about 40 per cent, over the previous year.