Night Spots Look for Ways To Stay Open

Some nightclub and karaoke parlor owners in Siem Reap town are planning to turn their establishments into massage parlors to get around Prime Minister Hun Sen’s recent order that all nightclubs in the country close their doors at 6 pm today.

At least 20 nightclubs and karaoke clubs are scheduled to be closed in Siem Reap. Several owners said they would reopen as massage parlors because businesses such as brothels and casinos are not covered by Hun Sen‘s broad measure to crack down on night entertainment establishments, said Un Oeurn, first dep­uty governor of Siem Reap province.

Ung Oeurn said he met with provincial officials to discuss how local police will begin monitoring the massage parlors to ensure they are “legitimate,” adding that Siem Reap province may start a new task force to police such businesses.

The government is relying primarily on district and municipal police to enforce Hun Sen’s new directive, but the Ministry of Interior will provide more police at the local level “if needed,” said co-Minister of Interior You Hockry.

Meanwhile, Phnom Penh municipal officials and police Wednesday and Thursday served virtually every bar, karaoke parlor and discotheque registered with the city as a “nightclub” with an official order demanding the owners close their establishments  today or face penalties.

“[Today], when the deadline comes, the municipal and military police will be sent to the bars and nightclubs and will close them. If the owners defy the ban, they will have a problem,” said Sok Leakhana, deputy municipal chief. He said the penalty for clubs that defy the order have not been decided.

Government officials Thursday continued to question whether closing nightclubs will help Cambodia.

“Many people—even people in the government—say [closing all clubs is a bad idea,” said an official with the Ministry of Tourism who asked not to be named. “The government needs to recognize the bad clubs and close them, not all nightclubs.”

The tourism industry, already hurt by the Sept 11 attacks in the US, is bound to be damaged more because of the directive, the official said. The number of tourists who visited Cambodia during September is down 20 percent from September of 2000, and the number is likely to go down even more once tourists hear Cambodia is cracking down on all night life, the official said.

“My worry is that by closing all nightclubs because of problems with drug trafficking or gangs or prostitution, there will be a perception that Cambodia is dangerous and filled with gangsters and drugs, and that is not the case. These clubs do not represent all of Cambodia,” the official said.

Ung Oeurn disagreed with the tourism official. He said tourism—in Siem Reap province at least—will not be affected too severely by the closings,  because most tourists only visit the Angkor Wat temples and do not spend their time in karaoke parlors.

“Only the local people go to karaoke parlors,” Ung Oeurn said. He estimated about 400 to 500 nightclub workers in Siem Reap could suddenly face unemployment.

Mu Sochua, minister of Women’s and Veterans’ Affairs, is also concerned about workers who could face unemployment. The ministry, the Cambodia Defenders Project, Licadho, the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center and other human rights organizations held an emergency meeting Wednesday night to discuss how to provide services such as counseling and shelter to the estimated 30,000 women and children who will be affected by the order.

With only 10 shelters in Phnom Penh and fewer in the provinces,  Mu Sochua said the women leaving the karaoke parlors and nightclubs—which she says are often times fronts for prostitution—will most likely lack the funds for adequate housing.

According to Pierre Legros of Afesip, whose French acronym stands for Agency Women in Precarious Situations, “the girls will find a job another way. They can be sex workers in the streets. I’m sure we will see more prostitutes in garden parks.”

(Additional reporting by Brian Calvert)


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