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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Foreigners at risk as robberies skyrocket

Foreigners at risk as robberies skyrocket

THE Australian Embassy has issued a new warning about robberies of foreigners at

night, while NGO security officials report at least six cases in the past fortnight.

"The incidence of armed robbery of expatriates is on the increase," the

embassy said in a April 12 notice to Australians.

Noting at least five reported robberies in the first two weeks of April, the embassy

said that several night spots popular with foreigners seemed to have been targeted.

"Expatriates are urged to be alert at all times, especially when traveling at

night," the statement said, adding that foreigners were advised to travel in

groups and observe a "self-imposed" curfew of 11pm.

Barnaby Jones, editor of a weekly NGO security bulletin and himself a robbery victim

last Friday, said six more cases had been reported to him since April 3.

On Apr 4, French journalist Marie-Christine Courtés, who arrived in Cambodia

only days earlier, was robbed on street 59 at around midnight by two armed men on

a moped.

On Apr 9, Declan O'Leary, an Irishman who teaches at the Faculty of Architecture,

was held up by two Khmers on a motorbike near the corner of streets 19 and 178, after

he left Happy Herb's pizzeria at 10:30pm. "I would rate Phnom Penh a safe city,

but it's getting worse," he said.

"I have heard from moto-taxi drivers who I use regularly that there is a gang

of eight robbers on motorbikes working the riverfront."

The same night, Jones confirmed, two Britons were robbed on 174 street on the way

to the Heart of Darkness pub.

Later that night, two Landcruisers were stolen from the International Committee for

the Red Cross garage near Calmette Hospital by two armed men who gagged and hooded

two watchmen.

On April 12 three French people were held up at gunpoint near the Independence Monument.

Nicole Mingat, proprietor of l'Atmosphere cafe, said the three had just left the

bar about 1am when they were accosted by one man on a motorcycle.

The robber netted $2000 from one of the victims, who had just collected his monthly

pay.

Mingat said she had heard of other robberies of French nationals in the area recently.

"These incidents happened in unusual circumstances. This is normally the safest

neighborhood in Phnom Penh. But that night, because of the New Year festivities,

no policemen were patrolling the area."

On April 13, American journalist Mick Elmore was robbed at about 9:20pm while riding

home on his bicycle near Wat Phnom.

"I noticed there was a neatly dressed Khmer man following me slowly on a motorbike.

When I tried to turn back, he cut me off, pulled out a gun which had no wooden stock

and asked me for money.

"When I produced $16 in change and my press card, he looked unimpressed, but

took them anyway."

Embassies in Phnom Penh, however, differed on the extent of danger to foreigners.

"We stick to our advice that Phnom Penh is not safe," said an Australian

Embassy spokesman, adding that the security statement was a response to "an

increase in the level of insecurity here...over the past month."

Franck Gellet of the French Embassy was not perturbed by reports that French citizens

had been robbed. "I reiterate the Embassy's view that, in Phnom Penh, French

people do not feel insecure here. On the contrary, we feel that it is a safe city.

If some French people have been victims, it is because these incidents were purely

circumstantial."

Barnaby Jones, the NGO security man robbed at 1am on Mao Tse Tung Bld on the same

night as the three French people, said he didn't consider Phnom Penh dangerous but

it was becoming more risky.

Jones, who earlier in the evening had attended an Australian Embassy briefing at

which its security statement was issued, said he had failed to heed the advice to

"tuck myself up in bed early".

"It was the first time I'd been robbed of anything anywhere," he said of

the Khmer man in a flowery shirt who bailed him up at gunpoint.

"I did follow the advice we give out - I put my hands in the air."

"I would have shown you the security advisory which was handed to me at the

Australian Embassy," he added, "except it got stolen."

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