poipet, Banteay Meanchey – Initially, it looked as though the national government’s crackdown last year on the possession of guns helped to reduce crime in this area long known for its wild west mentality.
Recently, however, criminals have been resorting to other means to rob and kill people, such as with axes, knives and hammers, officials say.
“When the new millennium came, there was more violence,” said Men Phirum, chief of security for military police in O’Chrov district, which includes Poipet.
Officials blame resurgent crime on socio-economic problems, such as land disputes, drug addiction and dire poverty.
Although comparative statistics were not readily available, anecdotal information would seem to support the conclusion that crime is again on the rise. In the first week of January alone, there was a murder, two armed robberies and one grenade explosion, Men Phirum said.
At 4 am on a recent Friday, a man wielding an ax attempted to rob a motorbike taxi-driver, but the driver was a soldier who always carries a grenade, Men Phirum said. The robber got scared and fled.
Sar Chamrong, O’Chrov’s district chief, says economic factors are causing poor people to commit more crimes. “If more investors come to this area and create jobs, crime would go down,” he said.
Many from other provinces come here in search of a better life. Because Poipet is next door to the Thai border, there are many jobs available involving trade, smuggling and other border-related activities.
Still, most people here earn only a few dollars a day if that. Residents live on the roadside, or in squatter areas in homes that use cardboard and empty rice bags for walls.
Their desperate situation often causes them to turn to drugs, officials say. Many of the young children here are addicted to glue sniffing, while the adults smoke yama, a Thai-produced drug with many of the same properties as amphetamines.
Sar Chamrong hopes more casinos will come to Poipet, creating jobs and spurring the creation of other businesses, such as hotels and restaurants. Poipet has three casinos located near the border, and two others are under construction.
In Phnom Penh, all but one casino was closed because authorities believed they contributed to crime such as kidnappings.
Local authorities are also working on a master plan for Poipet development, laying out plans for a sewage system.
But Khieu Phalla, a communication, organization and education officer for NGO Norweigan People’s Aid located in Poipet, said the future looks grim.
“People here are becoming poorer and poorer,” he said. “People don’t have clothes and have no money to buy medicine or travel to a hospital. There are 100,000 problems here.”