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District Leaders Struggle to Stop Street Beggar Backers

Va Sonyka / Khmer Times Share:
Two children working on the streets take a rest. The government is trying to crack down on the people who put them there.KT Photo: Fabien Mouret

PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – The sight of people selling flowers or begging at major intersections is ubiquitous in Phnom Penh.

But police are having trouble arresting the people behind these networks of sellers and beggars, claiming the gangsters in charge are pros at keeping their involvement hidden. 

Street people as well as beggars can be seen begging and selling small handicrafts along important streets and at busy traffic lights in the city, and most of them live in the Chamkarmon district and in Daun Penh district. 

According to the Social Affairs ministry, the district governors in each area have rounded up these groups numerous times each year, only to find them all back on the street selling as soon as they are let out of prison. 

District officials admitted openly that they know high-level gang leaders are backing the groups of beggars, but said finding evidence to tie them to the groups was difficult. 

“It is hard to talk about this, but there are some cases where people have filed complaints,” said governor of Chamkarmon district Prom Somkhan. “So far, people reported that they have seen the masterminds behind the cases.” 

Mr. Somkhan said people have seen the men who bring these people to different intersections across the city, and have even arrested them. But, he said, giving someone a ride is not illegal. 

In general, district-level officials cannot accuse the suspects of anything concrete, forcing them to hand the cases off to the Social Affairs Ministry for them to investigate and take to court, Mr. Somkhan added.
But Mr. Somkhan said the district has been working with the communes and officials from the Social Affairs Ministry to deal with the issue. 

Kuoch Chamroeun, Daun Penh district governor, said that his district has a number of these cases, but that it was hard to accuse the people behind it of anything illegitimate. 

“There are some cases where some organizations that work with street people could be involved, however we cannot not accuse them, because ‘mastermind’ is too strong of a word to call them,” Mr. Chamroeun said. 

“Some of them [beggars] just return, and some have changed their job after they were educated by the Ministry,” Mr. Chamroeun said.  However, he added that there was nothing they could do at the district level to punish people for returning to begging, other than resending them to the Social Affairs ministry. 

Mr. Chamroeun echoed Mr. Somkhan’s statements, saying it was hard to nail down the people behind an organization using such a transient population for money.

“It is hard to clarify because the investigation revealed nothing on this,” he said. “We can’t accuse them in court. But some perpetrators we have arrested are from the group.”

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