Senior provincial police officials investigating a recent wave of armed robberies may face demotion if they do not make arrests in the cases, Interior Minister Sar Kheng said on Tuesday, while admitting the weapons used in those crimes may have been stolen from the state.
Mr. Kheng’s comments were made three days after thieves staged three separate armed attacks in Kandal, Battambang and Pursat provinces, resulting in the theft of more than $300,000 worth of gold and money and the murder of a 31-year-old woman—the latest in a spate of violent robberies in the country.
“I regard this as a test for Battambang, Pursat and Kandal provinces to find [the suspects],” Mr. Kheng said during an event at the Interior Ministry in Phnom Penh, adding that the crimes seemed like the work of a “syndicate.”
“I want to say that everything must be done and [the robbers] found,” he continued, adding that the provincial police chiefs would be the first to face the consequences if the perpetrators were not tracked down.
“If you cannot find the offenders, you have to remove your rank by yourselves because it is not normal. Robbery is not normal, so please be cautious,” Mr. Kheng said.
At least one AK-47 assault rifle was used in all three incidents on Saturday, according to police. Mr. Kheng said that it was possible that the weapons had at one time belonged to the military.
“We should pay attention to weapons and explosives control. It seems we are careless recently, especially after the event of the border dispute between Cambodia and Thailand,” he said, referring to intermittent fighting near Preah Vihear temple between 2008 and 2011.
While some of the weapons moved by the military from its armories to the front lines in Preah Vihear province made it to their destination, Mr. Kheng said that some had disappeared.
“At that time some weapons were allowed to be used. Sometimes, they could not reach their destination and be returned after the event,” he said.
The AK-47 is the standard-issue weapon for members of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, and is also used by both police and military police officers.
Battambang provincial police chief Sar Thet and Pursat provincial police chief Sarun Chanthy could not be reached for comment on Tuesday, while Kandal provincial police chief Eav Chamroeun declined to comment.