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Deadly drug bust highlights lack of police training

The fatal shooting of two police officers during a botched drug raid last month has highlighted a lack of training and funds for Cambodia’s police force, according to foreign advisors who say it is unclear whether lower-ranking police officials were benefiting from donor law enforcement aid.

The double murders of officers Chhoeng Virak and Sreng Bunareth, who died in a hail of bullets fired by an already handcuffed suspect, has further raised questions over the preparedness of Cambodia’s police force.

Three other officers were seriously wounded on April 22 after the suspect, Kep Samon – who is also reported to be a police officer – surprised them by pulling a handgun out of his pants pocket and opening fire, after he had been taken into custody following a drugs raid in Phnom Penh’s Phsar Thmei II commune.

Rod Broadhurst, an Australian criminologist with more than 10 years’ involvement with Cambodia, said Cambodia’s police force remains plagued by funding and manpower shortages despite years of foreign assistance.

Since 1997, the Kingdom has received tens of millions of dollars from Australia alone to train and equip its police force through the Cambodian Criminal Justice Assistance Program (CCJAP).

“There have been all sorts of problems with resources and training, and there is a shortage of well-trained police at the commune level,” said Broadhurst, who was involved in the first phase of the program from 1997 to 2002.

He praised the work of the CCJAP but said the program’s implementation and training was still haphazard at the lower levels of the police force.

“[CCJAP] has prepared sensible procedural and training manuals, which have allowed police in Cambodia to be trained to a reasonably professional standard,” he said. “The problem, obviously, is whether or not that’s been able to cascade down throughout the force.”

Australia’s current team leader of the CCJAP, Larry Proud, said the program’s focus has also shifted away from the basic procedural training that would have applied in the shootings.

“We’re mostly concerned with developing the executive level of the organisation,” he said.

No internal police investigation into the handling of Samon’s arrest is expected.

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