Spate of Alleged Drug Criminals Dying in Provisional Detention

A Laotian man arrested and charged for trafficking more than 2 kg of crystal methamphetamine into Cambodia died on the way to the hospital within days of his detention, police said, the latest case of a drug trafficker dying while incarcerated.

Pheng Phannangor, 50, was arrested on Thursday evening as he entered Cambodia from Laos through a forest 10 km from the border, according to Kong Kimsun, deputy head of the provincial police’s anti-crime office. He was later charged with drug trafficking and sent to the provisional prison on Saturday.

By Monday, he was having trouble breathing, likely due to drug withdrawal, said a Stung Treng provincial prison official, who spoke to Sorn Keo, spokesman and deputy director of the government’s general department of prisons’ correctional department.

Pheng Phannangor was then sent to the provincial referral hospital but died on the way, Mr. Keo said.

“After he came in, he had symptoms of breathing difficulties and suffocation,” Mr. Keo said. “We gave him first aid but while taking him to hospital he died,” he said.

Mr. Keo added that in general “drug users are likely to have issues with the respiratory system.”

A doctor concluded that he had died from a heart attack and would investigate any flaws in the prison’s operation, Mr. Keo said. “If there are issues, we will improve them,” he said.

Pheng Phannangor’s death came just a week after a Cambodian businessman accused of being the leader of a major drug-trafficking ring died at Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital three months after being sent to Prey Sar prison. Syla Loy, who had the honorific of oknha, died from encephalitis and HIV.

In January, 52-year-old American Mikhail Grafman, who was arrested for drug production, died at a hospital in Sihanoukville from drug abuse and chronic kidney failure about a month after being provisionally jailed. Pin Sokhom, drug program manager at NGO Mith Samlanh, said drug addicts were expected to exhibit withdrawal symptoms. In general, prisons have doctors ready to treat people experiencing problems, he said.

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