City Steps Up Sweep of Street People for Holiday

A Phnom Penh City Hall campaign to clear central Phnom Penh of street-sellers and beggars escalated over the weekend despite the city having no proper system in place to take care of those collected.

In June, City Hall said a failed vagrant sweep would not recommence until a viable plan to accommodate those rounded up was developed. The announcement came after two NGOs who had agreed to help the municipality complained about its methods, which included rounding up children and the elderly in caged vans.

Since then, there have been sporadic attempts to rid the streets of beggars and sellers. But efforts intensified on Sunday, when Daun Penh’s notorious district security guards, who have been enlisted to help clear vagrants from the streets, collected 27 people.

Kim Vutha, head of the district security force, said his guards would continue to round up vagrants in the lead-up to Pchum Ben in order to “maintain public security and safety.”

But it is unclear where those people are being taken.

Sorn Sophal, director of the municipal social affairs department, said those detained had been “re-educated” and were no longer in the hands of authorities.

“We have already sent them to NGOs to receive education and training. I do not remember the names of the NGOs,” he said.

However, the two NGOs who partnered with City Hall to assist those who are rounded up, Pour un Sourire d’Enfant (PSE) and Mith Samlanh, said they were unaware Monday of what had happened to the group.

James Sutherland, the international communications coordinator for Friends International, a partner organization of Mith Samlanh, said there has been a lack of communication between authorities and the organizations.

“Mith Samlanh and PSE are supposed to be working together [with authorities] on this issue and we will continue to work with them but it is frustrating,” he said.

PSE program director Pin Sarapich said police, not district security guards, should carry out the campaign.

“We want to work with City Hall and we don’t want any people to be hurt or just arrested because they are on the streets,” he said.

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