Drug Crackdown Nets More Than 650 People in First Week

More than 650 people were arrested for drug-related crimes nationwide in the first week of the government’s anti-drug campaign, which officials say aims to suppress drug trafficking while boosting rehabilitation services for drug users.

Over the first seven days of the year, 261 cases resulted in the arrest of 652 people, including 371 suspected drug traffickers and 281 alleged drug users, said Chhay Kim Khoeun, a senior National Police official working on a new anti-drug committee.

“We have educated some people who just used drugs one or two times. And some people who were arrested, we have sent to court or centers for drug addicts,” Lieutenant General Kim Khoeun said.

He declined to provide more details on the arrests and referred additional questions to Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesmen. Spokesmen for the court and Justice Ministry either could not be reached or referred questions to other officials who could not be reached.

The stepped-up anti-drug measures, announced last month in response to reports of rising abuse, will include increased law enforcement, rehabilitation and education, officials have said.

About 70 people were arrested for drug crimes in Phnom Penh over the first weekend of the crackdown, deputy Phnom Penh police chief Prom Santhor said last week.

“In response to the government’s campaign to combat drugs, we will carry out raids everyday like a steady drizzle of rain,” he said at the time.

Officials have proposed new rehabilitation centers to be built across the country, and a special prison to keep drug users away from non-users. Cambodia currently has seven state-run and three private rehab centers, which have come under criticism for being compulsory even though international best practice leans heavily toward voluntary and community-based programs.

Pin Sokhom, drug program manager at NGO Mith Samlanh, said the organization’s drop-in center saw a rise in the number of drug users coming in last week for services like their needle-exchange program. He attributed the change to the difficulty service providers were now having reaching fearful drug users.

“They are afraid and they try to hide from the police,” Mr. Sokhom said, adding that users were constantly on the move. “It’s hard for the outreach team to find them on the street.”

(Additional reporting by Matt Surrusco)

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