Police chiefs in three provinces have been given an ultimatum from Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng – put a stop to armed robberies or step down.
Mr. Kheng, who is also the Interior Minister, pointed the finger at the police chiefs of Battambang, Kandal and Pursat provinces.
“Don’t wait for me to fire you,” he told them during a meeting of the National Committee for Traffic Safety yesterday. “The police chiefs in those provinces must crack down on armed robbery and if they do not succeed they have to step down,” the deputy premier said, stressing that armed robbery is a serious crime.
Mr. Kheng’s ultimatum follows a spike in reported cases of armed robberies in the three provinces, including one on Saturday in Pursat that left the owner of a Wing money transfer shop dead. Three men entered her shop in Kravanh district and shot her before stealing about $30,000. She bled to death. On the same day in Battambang, armed thieves stole about $300,000 worth of gold and jewelry from vendors in Phsar Nath market, and in Kandal province four armed men robbed the home of a military officer. Three had assault rifles and one wielded a pistol during the home invasion in Prek Takov commune, police said. They made off with about $30,000 in cash, jewelry and electronic devices.
Pursat police chief Sarun Chanthy said he was doing his best. Officers are searching for the men who killed the owner of the money transfer shop but have not uncovered any clues that could lead to an arrest, he said. “We are trying our best and we will listen to Samdech Sar Kheng. We will follow his orders,” Mr. Chanthy said.
Police in Pursat always ensure the safety of its residents, Mr. Chanthy said. They are never careless, are always on patrol and have made every commune safe, he added.
Mr. Kheng’s ultimatum follows a speech by Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday in which he said he had told the Justice Ministry to review applications for pardons by people convicted of robbery or drug offenses. The number of repeat offenders is rising, Mr. Hun Sen said. The speech followed widespread reporting over the weekend on crimes in the three provinces and Phnom Penh.
“Armed robbers and drug dealers should not be pardoned so easily,” Mr. Hun Sen said, citing a report from police that said an increasing number of crimes were being committed by people who had been released from prison.
Following the speech, Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana called for a meeting of prosecutors countrywide on December 18 at the ministry to collect data on cases of armed robbery committed by prisoners who had been pardoned.
Am Sam Ath, a senior investigator for rights group Licadho, said that Mr. Kheng’s ultimatum to the police chiefs showed that authorities must take responsibility for their failures. If they cannot protect the residents of their provinces they should resign from their jobs, he said.
“What I regret is that he takes action after something happened. He should say this before [crimes] occur,” Mr. Sam Ath said.
Violent crimes, especially armed robberies, are commonplace, according to the Cambodia 2015 Crime and Safety Report released in April. While the chances of being a victim increase dramatically at night, daytime robberies are also very common, the report says, adding that a high level of robberies are committed by armed criminals.