Reported murders and kidnappings dipped in 2002, but robbery and rape peaked slightly in Cambodia in the same period, the Ministry of Interior announced during the first day of its annual meeting in Phnom Penh on Monday.
Cambodia’s drug smuggling and human trafficking problems also featured prominently in the meeting, which overviewed five years of Interior Ministry crime- fighting efforts and was attended by senior police officials and co-Ministers Sar Kheng and You Hockry.
According to statistics presented at the meeting, reported serious and minor crimes have fallen overall since 1998, but figures for rape and robbery increased between 2001 and 2002.
A total of 1,419 robberies and 279 cases of rape were reported to police in 2002, up from 1,296 and 218 in 2001.
In the same period, murders dropped from 560 in 2001 to 527 in 2002. Kidnappings were also down from 44 cases in 2001 to 32 last year.
In 1998, a total of 874 murders and 130 kidnappings were reported to police.
Nuth Sa An, Interior Ministry Secretary-General, told the meeting of more than 100 police and interior officials that the majority of criminals in Cambodia were long-time offenders and youths who left school early or were homeless and were involved with drugs and gambling.
Figures for “white-collar crime” such as corruption and bribery—which are endemic in Cambodia society—were not included among the key statistics released at Monday’s meeting.
Sar Kheng told the conference that almost 104,000 firearms have been destroyed in the government’s efforts to rid society of illegal guns.
Human trafficking was also a priority for the government, said Sar Kheng, who criticized the US for not recognizing Phnom Penh’s efforts to curb the illegal business.
Sar Kheng also warned that foreign aid was being jeopardized by human smuggling networks.
“Up to now, we have been criticized from outside. The responsibility falls on the government and the Ministry of Interior as the major ministry responsible against human trafficking,” Sar Kheng said in his opening address.
“If Cambodia still ignores and does not pay more attention on human trafficking it could curb or cause foreign countries to cut their aid to Cambodia,” he said.
In January, the US State Department warned that Phnom Penh must do more to stop human trafficking or Cambodia would be reduced to a “Tier 3” country in the US State Department’s annual global trafficking report, which comes out in June.
The Tier 3 category is assigned to countries that are not complying with minimum standards laid down by the US on government efforts to stamp out trafficking.
Tier 3 countries can be the target of US government sanctions. A senior Interior Ministry official said on Monday that Washington’s criticism of Cambodia’s human smuggling record was unwarranted and not constructive, and he called on the US to provide evidence of Cambodia’s wrongdoing.
If sanctions were imposed, the official said, Cambodia could react by suspending its agreement to accept the return of 1,400 convicted Cambodian felons from the US who are being deported under a controversial program ordered by Washington.
“The US should take account of Cambodia’s good gesture,” in accepting the deportees, the official said.
Efforts to crack down on drug smuggling also featured in Sar Kheng’s address.
Poor enforcement of Cambodia’s anti-drugs laws—coupled with Thailand’s current, vigorous anti-narcotics operation—could encourage traffickers to relocate to Cambodia, Sar Kheng said.
(Additional reporting by Kevin Doyle)