Minister Blames Authorities in Sihanoukville for Crime Wave

Interior Minister Sar Kheng took aim at officials in Preah Sihanouk province Wednesday, accusing them of sleeping on the job while violent criminals ruined the reputation of one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations.

Closing the annual meeting of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, Mr. Kheng said that local authorities had failed in their duties, pointing to the brutal attack and robbery of two expatriates on Koh Rong island last month.

“There are about 500 tourists and many restaurants on Koh Rong, and the provincial governor has not thought about how to provide security for them,” he said, noting that there had been only three police and a few military police patrolling the island.

The March 19 robbery on Koh Rong followed a spate of crimes in the coastal city involving foreigners, including brawls, stabbings and a drive-by shooting. The engine bay of a car also exploded in a suspected attack.

On March 22, a special delegation of Interior Ministry officials led an operation to arrest four suspects in the Koh Rong assault, a job that Mr. Kheng said Wednesday should not have required national-level assistance.

“What did the provincial police chief do?” he asked. “He was sleeping in the province and did not open his eyes to wonder ‘How is Koh Rong?’

“[The crime] happened but they did not make any arrest until we sent national-level police. It means that they are weak,” he said.

Mr. Kheng said the reputation of Cambodia’s top coastal destination was being soiled by the spike in crime and called for authorities to alleviate any negative perceptions among foreigners.

“From overseas, how do they see Cambodia?” he said. “We promote Cambodia as the kingdom of wonder, but how is it if they come and get robbed or they come and get injured?”

Contacted Wednesday, Seang Kosal, the provincial police chief, refused to respond directly to the minister’s criticism, saying only that he had increased security on Koh Rong.

“Twelve days ago, we sent 30 police officers led by the deputy provincial police chief to provide security on the island,” he said.

Provincial governor Chhit Sokhon declined to comment.

The new dispatch of police to Koh Rong includes a team of maritime border patrol officers, according to Kirth Chantharith, spokesman for the National Police.

(Additional reporting by Colin Meyn)

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