In an effort to squash a recent surge in crime, the municipality on Sunday announced plans to check every house in the capital for illegal weapons.
Beginning Nov 1, local officials and police are to go door to door to ask residents if they have any illegal weapons. Police will “take a census of weapons and explosives at state institutions, factories, businesses, and people’s residences,” according to an announcement from the municipality.
“This is the best way to prevent random shooting and ensure public security in the city,” Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Chea Sophara said.
But the plan raises questions and warnings by human rights workers as to how the searches will be carried out.
“The searches have to be in accordance with the law,” a human rights official said. “Before you can search houses [police] have to have a court order.”
Chea Sophara said police will only enter houses and search if they get good enough evidence that someone is hiding illegal weapons. All illegal weapons and explosives found will be confiscated and the violators charged in court.
Chea Sophara said he hoped to reduce by 70 percent the number of illegal weapons and explosives in the city. From now until Nov 1, the municipality will offer cash rewards for anyone who turns in weapons or explosives to commune or district authorities.
The announcement comes in response to a letter from US Ambassador Kenneth Quinn to Chea Sophara about a recent surge in crime against foreigners. Quinn also sent letters on the same subject to co-Minister of the Interior Sar Kheng and National Police Director-General Hok Lundy, an embassy official said.
Since Oct 1, police have reported at least 15 robberies or assaults against foreigners in the capital.
On Friday, police said they would step up patrols in the city at night and crack down on teen-age gangs, the group police blames for the robberies.
In addition, kidnappings of Cambodian and Chinese-Cambodian businessmen continues to be a major problem, police said. Last week, police reported six kidnappings; all but one of the victims were released. Two escaped and three paid an unknown amount of ransom, Khuon Sophon said.
On Friday night, Iev Sovann, deputy secretary-general of the National Treasury, was abducted from his car on Street 128 in Don Penh district by three armed men in RCAF uniforms, Khuon Sophan said. As of Sunday night, Iev Sovann was still being held by kidnappers, police said.
Chea Sophara said the crackdown on illegal weapons was also an effort to cut off “activists” from the northwestern part of the country from “sneaking into the city.”
“If we do not take action in time, the situation could become a repeat of the events of July 5 and 6,” Chea Sophara said.
In September 1996 the Interior Ministry attempted to register all of the weapons in the city and threatened to confiscate illegal weapons and explosives. The plan collapsed because of problems with the computerized database built to keep track of gun licenses.
(Additional reporting by Mhari Saito)