With huge crowds attending the annual Water Festival that concluded Thursday, police found themselves busy directing traffic, catching pickpockets—and finding lost tourists.
The riverfront became a sort of missing persons bureau, police said.
“Some people asked us to find husbands, and some asked us to find wives,” said Daun Penh Police Officer Penh Vuthy.
Reports of the missing began each day around the time the boat races started, police said.
Problems peaked around 12:30 pm and again with the evening fireworks. “When the parents’ attention is drawn by the fireworks, their kids—who are small and obstructed by the crowd—run away from them,” Daun Penh Officer Nhim Yoeun said.
There were about 50 missing person incidents, most easily resolved, police said. Authorities used walkie-talkies to communicate, and broadcast names, descriptions and nicknames of missing people over the loudspeaker.
In some cases, passersby found lost, crying children and dropped them off at police checkpoints, authorities said.
One of those was Ly Ply, 3, the son of an ethnic Cham butcher. The toddler became lost around 5 pm Wednesday in front of the National Assembly. Festivalgoers dropped him off at the police checkpoint in front of the Royal Palace an hour later.
It was a case that required officers to shift from crimefighters to babysitters.
“He cried and often ran out of our headquarters. We bought him some candy and a balloon to stop him from crying,” Nhim Yoeun said.
The boy cried so much that police could not get his name, Nhim Yoeun said. Instead, they broadcast his description—shorts, T-shirt, short hair—and a guess at his age over the loudspeakers.
Eventually, the festival itself calmed the boy down, police said.
“An hour later, the fireworks began, and he stopped crying and was laughing happily,” Nhim Yoeun said.
When his worried mother came to collect the boy, Ly Ply was sleeping peacefully in an officer’s hammock, Nhim Yoeun said.
Two children, however, remained missing Thursday, police said. Authorities identified the girls as Thy Hay, 10, from Kien Svay district in Kandal province, and Sok Chen, 8, of Phnom Penh.
Overall, “This year’s crimes were very low compared to last year’s,” Phnom Penh Police Commissioner Suorn Chheang Ly said. The Ministry of Interior deployed 3,000 officers around the capital, he said.