In light of last weekend’s plane bombing at the international airport in Bangkok, Cambodian authorities are complaining that they are not involved in every aspect of security at Pochentong International Airport.
The authorities are upset because the Cambodia Airport Management Services, a subcontractor of Societe Concessionnaire de l’Aeroport, handles ground services at Pochentong, including X-ray checks for luggage.
Hem Theng, police chief at Pochentong, said Wednesday police should also be included in the X-ray checks. Police are responsible for conducting security checks for passengers and for examining the luggage of VIP customers only.
“They do not use police to control order and organization,” Hem Theng said, adding that he received a request from the government Tuesday to step up security at Pochentong and to report police activities at the airport.
“We are just checking people while an X-ray controlled by a private company’s security guards check for explosives. Our police are not allowed to do it.”
But Phillipe Rose, commercial and development manager for SCA, says of course the police and government are responsible for people’s security and safety.
He said SCA is responsible for the X-ray machine’s operations and maintenance, but it is up to authorities to take care of any security problems that arise.
“At most airports, it’s the airport staff that operates the X-ray machines, but the police come in if there is a problem,” Rose said. “Police have the responsibility to intervene. Security and safety is part of the government’s responsibility.”
Rose added SCA not only considers its role at Pochentong, but airport operations as a whole, including police security.
“Our policy is to definitely cooperate with police,” Rose said. “We look at everything. We don’t consider only our own part.”
Pok Sam El, secretary of state for the Secretariat of Civil Aviation, said CAMS has the expertise and training to adequately operate the X-ray machines.
“They [CAMS] select Cambodian security guards and experts from abroad to control the X-ray machine,” Pok Sam El said. “We take responsibility only for VIP and flying. When the plane lands, it’s all up to CAMS’ duties.”
A year ago, Royal Air Cambodge transferred its lucrative ground services at Pochentong Airport to the newly formed Airport Dedicated Services, a joint division of RAC and SCA, which is upgrading the airport in a $100-million project.
The joint division handles passenger transportation and baggage handling services at Pochentong. CAMS carries out the ground services operation.
Hem Theng said he could not assure that an incident similar to the Thai Airways bombing would not occur at Pochentong, since police are not standing by the X-ray machines.
The bomb on the Thai Airways flight Saturday exploded before newly elected Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra boarded the plane. Thai authorities have yet to determine a motive or identify suspects.
“Safety cannot be 100 percent guaranteed because we are not involved,” Hem Theng said. “And if there is a gap, who is responsible? The government is always burdened by responsibilities and the government gets the blame.”
Hem Theng and Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak also noted that a government subdecree names the national police as the force responsible for passengers’ safety at Pochentong.
Khieu Sopheak said he has been worried about security at Pochentong for a long time, and agreed with Hem Theng that police should take part in the X-ray machine security check process.
“If anything happens, the Interior Ministry would be the first one accused of failing to provide security,” Khieu Sopheak said.
Airline officials in Bangkok said an X-ray machine at the Bangkok airport was not functioning Saturday morning before the bomb exploded, but was back to normal before passengers began to check in.
Two weeks ago, a Pochentong security guard said, the sole X-ray machine at the airport broke and it took a few days to repair it.
In the meantime, security guards checked the luggage by hand.