Hun Manet Says Army Has a Drug Problem, Pushes for Strict Measures

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Hun Manet, in a photo posted to his Facebook page on April 17, 2022.
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Army commander Hun Manet said the military will have low tolerance for repeat drug users, a rare acknowledgement of drug use in the armed forces.

Hun Manet posted a video to this Facebook page on July 19 where he acknowledged that some soldiers in the Cambodian army were addicted to drugs and that leadership had been lenient with personnel leading to repeated use of drugs.

“Now for the army, I ask for very strict discipline. When there is a problem, we must cut out the problem immediately. … In some units, they are tolerating it too many times,” he said in the video. 

“When there are cases, they tolerate them, send them for rehabilitation and when they return, they are still using it,” Manet said.

The admission is a rare insight into the internal issues of the Cambodian military, which is otherwise very opaque. A public anti-drug campaign over the last five and half years has been used by the government to score political points by arresting, detaining and imprisoning tens of thousands of people.

Manet spoke of one soldier who resumed using drugs after going to rehab and the effects it had on his mental health, with the Army commander blaming himself for not doing enough to help the man.

He said soldiers using drugs would be allowed to return to the fold if they went to rehab and did not use again. But for personnel involved in distributing drugs there would be no leniency.

“Some people say this is an emotionless [approach] and I am not understanding them, but I told them that understanding has a limit,” Manet said. 

The Cambodia Daily reported in 2014 that two soldiers were convicted and sentenced to life in prison for “producing drugs, dealing illicit drugs, and trafficking drugs.” A soldier was arrested in 2016 for allegedly trafficking 1 kilogram of drugs.

Royal Cambodian Armed Forces spokesperson Mao Phalla said the Army had put in place a monitoring team that would test suspected drug users in the force. Soldiers found to be using drugs would be allowed to go to rehab, he said, but if they returned and resumed the consumption of drugs the Army would take action. 

“The unit will take action or dismiss [them] from the army — this is his excellency Hun Manet’s order,” Phalla said.

Phalla said he was unaware of how many people had been found to be using drugs in the past or if any of them had been dismissed from the Army.

He only added that the monitoring of drug use would be similar to that employed to look for Covid-19 cases — if there was a suspicion the Army would test the soldier. 

“It is based on the unit’s report, when the unit is suspicious, they will call for the test. If the unit does not report anything, it means that there are no cases.”

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