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 Friday.
The oil, which is extracted from the roots of the sassafras tree, was burned over a three-day period starting Wednesday.
It was enough to produce more than 200 million Ecstasy pills worth hundreds of millions of dollars, said Lour Ramin, secretary-general of Cambodia’s National Authority for Combatting 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, Lour Ramin 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,” Phil Hunter, an official from Australian Federal Police, said at the ceremony.
Cambodian authorities requested the help of Australian police, who have trained the Cambodians in anti-trafficking and destroying drugs, Lour Ramin said.
Authorities have been confiscating the oil since 2005 from Kampot, Pursat and Battambang provinces in Cambodia’s southwest and northwest.
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.