When night falls around the railway track in Russei Keo district’s Tuol Sangke commune, for many residents, the area beyond their homes falls out of bounds.
Until sunrise, they remain behind closed doors, fearful of gangs of robbers that roam the dusty network of roads outside, residents said Monday.
“The gangsters rob people every day,” said Chhon Chheak, a former garment factory worker who was robbed of a gold ring and a watch five months ago.
Two men gripped him by the arms near the line of wooden-shack brothels along the railway line, while a third man rifled through his pockets at knife point.
The gangs often have between 10 and 20 members, and some provide security for the brothels, residents said.
The area has a larger gang culture than elsewhere in Phnom Penh because robbers target night workers outside local factories, said Kath Darasy, Tuol Sangke police chief.
Police patrol the area between 10 pm and 1 am, and 10 gang members have been arrested so far this year, he said.
“We have cracked down on them but some of them escaped from the police and are still at large because the police have no evidence,” he said. “People should inform the police immediately [of the robberies] and we will make arrests immediately.”
Residents said they generally do not bother reporting attacks.
“Police and village chiefs know these people,” said Ek Virak, an adviser to the Ministry of Defense living in the area.
“They can arrest them at any time but they are afraid for their security if they arrest them and the court releases them,” he said.
In an interview last month, a Jesuit Refugee Service English teacher said he was admitted to a hospital after being attacked near the railway at dusk on his way home several days previously.
A group of about four men chased the teacher for 100 meters before severely beating him with sticks and stones in an attempt to rob him. He declined to give his name for fear of being attacked again.
“The police can’t help us,” he said. “I’m looking for another house. I don’t want to stay here anymore.”