Festival Minus Vagrants a Big Success, Officials Say

The rounding-up of vagrants, arrests of pickpockets and a drop in deadly traffic accidents combined to make this year’s Water Festival holiday a resounding success, officials said on Wednesday.

Last week, Sorn Sophal, Phnom Penh’s social affairs department director, vowed to rid the city’s streets of beggars—ranging from the disabled to the homeless—who typically descend on the capital as millions celebrate the annual festival.

Mr. Sophal said on Wednesday that his threats seemed to have kept many vagrants away, as his officials corraled between 20 and 30 beggars from the streets—about a third of the predicted figure.

“We could not round up more like we expected because those people understood about public order,” he said.

All those rounded up were sent to the city’s notorious Prey Speu detention center—long riddled with reports of physical and sexual abuse perpetrated by staff—to be “educated,” Mr. Sophal said, adding that he believed those detained were likely being forced to beg.

“They use children and disabled people to beg for money,” he said of the alleged beggar ringleaders. “They are not poor people and they use child and disabled labor.”

National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith branded the festival—which he claimed attracted 3 million people over three days, in comparison to 500,000 when the festival was last held in 2014—a “big success.”

In a video posted to Facebook, General Chantharith said that deadly traffic accidents had dropped by about half in comparison to 2014, with 34 crashed across the country resulting in 14 deaths and 42 injuries. Two years ago, 66 crashes led to 28 deaths and 99 injuries, he said.

He also hailed the work of police officers who arrested 16 pickpockets during the festival, which generally sees a hike in petty crime.

“If we compare it to previous years, we achieved a big success,” he added. “The security situation is better…and public order is also better.”

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