The National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD) has confiscated more than 90 tonnes of illegal drugs since the beginning of 2021. More than six tonnes of the contraband were set alight near the Koh Pich Convention and Exhibition Centre in Phnom Penh to mark the June 26 International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, with the remaining slated for incineration later.

Speaking at the event, Minister of Interior Sar Kheng said that in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, geopolitical rivalries among the great powers and the prolonged Russia-Ukraine conflict, the issue of illegal drugs was easily overlooked. But Cambodia would not forget, he said, and has actually increased its efforts to fight them.

At the peak of the pandemic in 2020-21, Cambodian authorities had made many arrests for drug-related offences, with 21,566 happening in 2020 and 13,979 in 2021.

Sar Kheng said that the amount of drugs seized during the Covid-19 crisis represented a significant increase when compared to 2018 and 2019.

Despite restrictions on large gatherings, the government had continued to broadcast announcements which warned the public about the dangers of drugs.

More attention has also been paid to the treatment and rehabilitation of drug addicts, with new facilities opening and an increase in the training of staff at the existing ones. One notable success was fact that Covid-19 was prevented from gaining a foothold in the centres, he added.

He said that despite these successes – and the rise in the number of arrests and seizures – the production and trafficking of drugs continued to increase.

“Drug gangs are not only trying to smuggle drugs across and into Cambodia, but are attempting to establish drug production facilities on Cambodian soil,” he said.

Prime Minister Hun Sen also issued a statement to mark the occasion, encouraging wider participation in anti-drug actions. It was not just the responsibility of the police and armed forces – every member of society should be playing a part.

“I call on all compatriots, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren, especially parents and guardians, to participate more actively in solving the problems that affect our communities,” he said.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court prosecutor Chreung Khmao said that drugs which were burned on June 26 were destroyed safely. The court had issued an order calling for their destruction. The remaining drugs would be destroyed elsewhere he said, as their chemical composition meant it was unsafe to burn them.

“I am glad the authorities prevented these drugs from reaching the streets of the Kingdom. They could have caused serious problems, especially among the youth, who are our future,” he said.

Phnom Penh governor Khuong Sreng said that in the first three months of 2022, authorities had arrested 349 suspects for drug offences. They had also sent 1,314 drug users to rehabilitation centres and seven for treatment in the community. A total of 1,176 former addicts were reintegrated into society over the same period, he noted.