Celebration Starts Early for Khmer New Year

Boys and girls in sopping shirts, wet asphalt and a street littered with small plastic bags near Chaktomuk primary school all offer ample evidence that the Khmer New Year is near.

Giddy children and teenagers have started celebrating the holiday by tossing water and talcum powder at each other.

But just as spirits heighten with the Khmer New Year holiday, which begins April 13, so does crime and police say they plan to be on high alert as the three-day celebration approaches.

Jewelry theft, home burglaries, traffic accidents and house fires typically increase, as people leave home to pay their religious re­spects and visit relatives.

This year in particular, officials say they worry about holiday-related crime. High rice and gas prices may mean money is in short supply in more households, said Chan Soveth, chief investigator for local rights group Adhoc.

Alcohol consumption also tends to increase, and more people gamble, playing Klah Klok and other traditional card games, which can lead people to commit crimes, he said.

Police officials said house fires are also common this time of year because of candles and incense lit at family shrines. Home burglary rates rise too, because thieves know people are away from home for the holiday.

Deputy Municipal Governor Mann Chhoeun said this week that police anticipate that traffic accidents will increase in the coming weeks as millions of people take to the roads to visit relatives.

Touch Naruth, Phnom Penh municipal police chief, said his officers plan to step up patrols during the holidays and will put special emphasis on the streets around pagodas.

Daun Penh district police chief Yim Socheat said his officers will not be taking a holiday.

The hope is, Yim Socheat said, that an increased police presence will make it safer for those who hold impromptu dance parties on the streets and the droves of people who travel to pagodas with offerings.

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