2nd Fire Hits Immigration Police Headquarters

Less than a month after a suspicious fire destroyed a building at the Immigration Police headquarters, authorities say a second building was deliberately torch­ed, but little damage resulted.

Police officers discovered a small blaze in one of the compound’s buildings around 4 am Thursday, authorities confirmed Sunday. The fire scorched a one-meter section of the building’s wooden siding but appeared Sunday to have done little damage.

It was started by rags soaked in kerosene, Lieutenant General Sau Phan of the Ministry of Interior said Sunday.

Sau Phan is also heading an investigation into the Aug 22 blaze that gutted a building housing the “bureau of information” and the “bureau of technical surveillance,” at the immigration police headquarters. That building contained immigration documents for thousands of foreigners in Cambodia.

“It is very strange as no one is allowed on that compound, and before the immigrants were held there, there were no fires,” Sau Phan said.

The first fire occurred just four days after the Chinese were arrested Aug 19.

Two Vietnamese and 185 Chi­nese male suspects are being held at the fire-sabatoged compound, while 33 Chinese females and one Vietnamese woman suspect are being held at the municipal immigration police headquarters in central Phnom Penh.

Authorities initially blamed an electrical malfunction for the first blaze and are waiting for a report from Electricite du Cambodge, Sau Phan said. He also said police have no suspects in Thurs­day’s fire.

Guards at the compound told reporters Sunday that they saw no one start this most recent fire, despite a heavy, 24-hour guard that was increased following the Aug 29 escape of four of the Chinese.

Teng Savong, deputy director general of the National Police, said Sunday the fire was started deliberately and said it may have been part of an attempt to release the 200-plus Chinese, who are crowded into about a dozen small rooms in a two-story building near the back of the compound.

“The first fire left us with nothing to investigate….But this second fire could lead us further in our investigation,” said Teng Savong adding, “It could have been an opportunity to set the [Chinese] free.”

According to both Phnom Penh’s First Deputy Governor Chea Sophara and an immigration police official who did not wish to be named, the Chinese immigrants were observed Wed­nesday before the fire preparing their belongings to leave the police compound.

But Chief of Immigration Police Prok Saroeun said Sunday that it was too early to reach a conclusion about Thursday’s fire without an investigation.

“We cannot say whether it is an intentional act or someone trying to fool someone else….We need a full investigation from the committee,” Prok Saroeun said.

Chea Sophara also said Sunday the second fire may have been an attempt to disrupt the prosecution of the Chinese on immigration law violations.

Though illegal Chinese have been routinely arrested in Cam­bodia, they are usually deported without going to court. The expected legal case against the 200-plus Chinese is the first time illegal immigrants will be dealt with judicially, government officials have said.

No firm trial date has been set, but the Chinese are expected to go to court within two weeks, according to Kan Chheoun and Yet Chaktriya, municipal court prosecutors.

Earlier this month Chea Sophara and other officials who asked not to be identified claimed several top Cambodian authorities, including a high-ranking National Police official and a Cambodian diplomat, were involved in a highly organized human smuggling ring and are tied to the 200-plus Chinese.

Systematic processing of Chinese nationals who leave their country illegally has been going on for years and creates tens of thousands of dollars per month for some senior officials, Chea Sophara has said.

(Additional reporting Pin Sisovann)


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