Cambodian authorities have arrested two military generals linked to a “major” drug trafficking ring, police said Tuesday, as the country’s anti-narcotics task force battles internal corruption and increased trade in stimulants across the Mekong region.
National police spokesman General Kirth Chantharith said Lay Virak and Khun Rouen, both active duty two-star generals who also work as advisors within the defense ministry, were detained Monday while exchanging nearly 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of methamphetamine, a powerful stimulant.
Police also arrested two suspected drug traffickers and seized two AK-47 assault rifles in the raid, which came 10 months after another high-profile arrest triggered intensive investigations.
Kirth Chantharith said the men were arrested after nine months of surveillance, sending a strong message to would-be traffickers on the determination of investigators.
“We have more than doubled our efforts to suppress the drug trafficking business after the arrest of [former deputy director for the National Authority for Combating Drugs] General Meuk Dara,” he said.
General Meuk Dara was arrested in January, along with two senior police officers, and charged with accepting bribes in drug cases.
“All government officials, regardless of their rank, are dealt with by our law enforcement whenever they break the law.”
Acting head of the anti-drug department at the Ministry of Interior General Khieu Samon said Tuesday that the raid had broken up a “sophisticated network” of drug traffickers.
“After we received approval from the state prosecutor, we cooperated [with other agencies], obtained evidence, and arrested the suspects. We are now building a case according to the law,” he said.
Khieu Samon said his department is still searching for other members of the network.
The “successful” raid was welcomed by various groups, including the Cambodian rehabilitation center Association to Help Drug Addicts.
“While there are plenty of drug users in Cambodia’s rural areas, trends in drug abuse and availability often emanate from Phnom Penh and other major cities,” association director Meas Sovann said.
Speed on the rise
Cambodia became a popular trafficking point for methamphetamine (amphetamine's parent drug) and other narcotics after neighboring Thailand toughened its stance on illegal drugs in 2002.
But amphetamine-type stimulants have emerged as the primary illicit drug threat across East and Southeast Asian countries in recent years, displacing plant-based drugs such as heroin, opium, and cannabis, according to a September report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
In four countries of the Greater Mekong subregion—Laos, Burma, Thailand, and China—there was a four-fold increase in methamphetamine pills seized—from 32 million to 133 million—in just three years between 2008-2010, according to UNODC.
At the same time, the amount of amphetamine produced in the region has increased dramatically. Using the proxy indicator of laboratories seized, UNODC said the number of amphetamine labs seized in Southeast Asia grew nearly tenfold from 49 in 2005 to 458 in 2009.
Cambodia’s latest arrests come as ministers from China and Southeast Asian nations agreed on Monday to take joint action to secure transportation along the Mekong River after 13 Chinese sailors were brutally murdered in the region in an incident some say has links to the amphetamine trade.
The Oct. 5 attacks occurred in the notorious "Golden Triangle" drug smuggling area straddling the borders of Burma, Thailand, and Laos.
The sailors were found with their hands tied behind their backs, blindfolded with adhesive tape and shot or with their throats slit, according to Chinese and Thai media.
Their bodies were found near Chiang Rai in northern Thailand and among the recovered cargo were nearly a million amphetamine tablets worth 100 million baht (U.S. $3.22 million).
Nine soldiers from Thailand thought to be linked to a Burmese drug kingpin have been detained as suspects in the killings.
Reported by Sok Serey for RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Vuthy Huot and Hassan Abukasem. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.