A hundreds-strong mob descended on three Phnom Penh traffic police officers Thursday morning and destroyed a police motorcycle after the officers allegedly injured a teenage boy, witnesses said.
The officers, who were stationed at an intersection near Olympic Stadium, escaped injury by fleeing through a pagoda compound, witnesses said.
High school student In Sambor, 16, alleged that the officers knocked him from the back of his friend’s moving motorbike, injuring his lower back and scraping his hands.
Police denied that version of events, saying In Sambor fell from the motorcycle because of his friend’s reckless driving.
Though the cause of the accident is disputed, the teenager’s tumble to the asphalt sparked the rage of onlookers, who converged on the three officers and proceeded to smash their police motorcycle after the officers fled on foot.
The crowd also doused the bike with gasoline, but did not set it ablaze.
Traffic ground to a halt as the mob swirled for about 20 minutes, until it was dispersed by about a dozen unarmed Prampi Makara district police officers.
Members of the mob said they were angry at the general bad behavior of Phnom Penh’s traffic police.
Traffic police are deployed around the city “like nets to fish every street for money,” said one motorcycle taxi driver who declined to reveal his name.
A street vendor at the intersection who gave her name only as Channy said she had witnessed the police pull In Sambor off the moving motorcycle.
“If the police did not grab the boy and cause him to fall from the motorbike, then why did they run away from the crowd?” she asked.
Tin Praseur, municipal traffic police chief, said the teenager fell from the bike when the driver was attempting a reckless, high-speed maneuver to dodge his officers.
The motorcycle was also traveling against the direction of the traffic, Tin Praseur said.
“It is not their fault and they did not hit anyone,” he said of his men, adding that this was the first time that a mob has ever rallied against the traffic police.
Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said he was not aware of the incident, but said he was confident that municipal police would investigate it thoroughly.
Socheata Sann, road safety program manager for Handicap International, said there is a general lack of respect for traffic police officers and that complaints against them are very common.
Many people complain that officers charge far too much in fines when they stop drivers, she said.
A major factor coloring the public’s poor opinion of the traffic police, however, is the general lack of knowledge concerning the rules of the road and the fines they must pay for breaking laws, she said.
“The lack of respect is not only because of the traffic police but also the people themselves…if [drivers] do something wrong they must pay the penalty,” she added.
SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann said a mistrust of both law enforcement agents and the judiciary is all too common among the public, because they are often perceived as forces for oppressing poorer elements of society.
“I do not support the mob, but I just want to warn the government to take some action,” he said. “Not just to put [mob members] in jail, but to think of the root causes of their anger.”