Violent crimes in Phnom Penh in the first nine months of this year have already surpassed the total for all of 1997, according to municipal figures.
Between January and October, 297 people died as victims of crime, compared with 284 in all of 1997, municipal statistics received recently showed.
The reason, the municipality said in a statement, is that “the use of illegal weapons has increased, creating insecurity and public disorder.”
It was not clear whether the figure includes deaths and injuries during opposition party protests that filled the capital’s streets in September.
Police confirm that 115 of the deaths so far this year involved unregistered weapons. Illegal weapons also have played a role in 130 injuries since January.
Meanwhile, First Deputy Governor Chea Sophara said Monday that a citywide census of weapons is 30 percent complete with census takers reporting 50,000 weapons counted so far—only 216 of which are legal.
At this rate, the city could be estimated to have about 150,000 illegal and unregistered weapons, or about one for every seven people. These figures would only include numbers that people are reporting to authorities.
The census is part of a citywide anti-crime initiative Chea Sophara ordered last month. At the end of the three month survey, Phnom Penh residents will be asked to surrender all unregistered weapons.
As the gun-counting continued, the city’s de facto leader announced a change of plan.
Chea Sophara said that all the weapons will be destroyed—a reversal of his earlier statement that they would be stored at the Ministry of Defense. This initial plan was heavily criticized by human rights officials.
“The decision was made because I am worried they will sell the weapons,” putting them back on the streets, Chea Sophara said.
So far, the city has collected 185 weapons from people in a buy-back program that is expected to end in January, Chea Sophara said. He said he recognized that part of the crime problem is caused by low-paid municipal police and soldiers with weapons.
“I cannot fight this kind of corruption. These sort of small soldiers are not making money, they have only rice for eating.” Chea Sophara called on police leaders and soldiers to stop carrying weapons in public while off-duty.
“They have weapons and they must respect the law. If you have a weapon then you should leave your weapon in the police headquarters,” Chea Sophara said.