Sunday, June 22, 2008

33 tons of Ecstasy ingredients burned in Cambodia

Associated Press

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Cambodian authorities working with Australian police destroyed an enormous stockpile of 33 tons of safrole-rich oil, a key ingredient used in producing the synthetic drug Ecstasy, officials said today.

The amount could have been used to produce 245 million tablets of the drug. It had a potential street value of more than 7.6 billion Australian dollars (US$7.3 billion), the Australian Embassy said in a statement.

The oil, which is extracted from the roots of the sassafras tree, was burned over a three-day period starting Wednesday, said Lour Ramin, a police lieutenant general and secretary-general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs.

"If this oil had been used to produce Ecstasy tablets, millions of people would have suffered," he said.

Members of the Australian Federal Police oversaw the burning of the oil in a remote village in Cambodia's Pursat province, about 100 miles northwest of the capital, Phnom Penh, he said.

"These seizures demonstrate that Cambodia faces the challenges of suppressing drug production for regional export, as well as challenges faced as a transit center for regional and international drug market," Philip Hunter, an official from Australian Federal Police, said at the ceremony.

The destruction "was a significant blow to the trade of illicit drugs in the region," Hunter was quoted saying in the embassy statement.

At the request of the Cambodian government, an Australian police team of four technicians and two forensic chemists traveled to Pursat province this week to help destroy the oil, it said.

Cambodian authorities have been working since 2002 to stem the distillation of the oil and since then have succeeded in detecting and dismantling more than 50 clandestine laboratories capable of producing up to 15 gallons of oil a day, it said.

In addition to cracking down on the drug trade, Cambodian officials are trying to preserve the sassafras tree, which is classified as a rare species that grows mainly in Cambodia's Cardamom Mountains, said Lour Ramin. To distill oil from the tree's roots, the entire tree is cut down.

No comments: