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Gangs go for gold in PPenh

With a new police chief, are criminals taking advantage?

THIS week, heavily armed, seemingly well-trained gangs stole an estimated US$400,000 worth of gold from jewellery shops across the capital in three carefully coordinated daytime hits, which observers say belies a marked deterioration in the capital's security following the sudden death last month of National Police commissioner Hok Lundy.

"The perpetrators might believe that the police are demoralised and are busy restructuring themselves," said lawyer Sok Sam Oeun, director of the Cambodian Defenders Project. He could not provide any statistics on crime trends.

Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak said that an observed increase in serious crime was  not connected to the recent reshuffle at the National Police.

"Overall, crime is decreasing, and the fact that we have seen more serious crime recently is not connected to the death of Hok Lundy," he said, adding that he also did not have exact figures on crime rates in the capital.

Khieu Sopheak said the police are hunting for the perpetrators of this week's gold robberies, which took place Tuesday and Wednesday, but said that to bring crime down "prevention is better than investigating after the crimes have happened".

US embassy spokesman John Johnson said, "[We] have noticed a slight increase in purse-snatching and similar crimes against American citizens and other expatriates this year." But he added that  the embassy did not anticipate the change in police leadership to significanly affect crime rates.

"The embassy has a solid and cooperative relationship with the Cambodian National Police, and we expect that to continue under the leadership of Neth Savoeun," he said.

The new National Police commissioner, Neth Savoeun, was not a available for comment Thursday.

Sam Rainsy lawmaker Mu Sochua said that more severe crime was not a result of Hok Lundy's death but an inevitable by-product of the Kingdom's ongoing culture of impunity.

"Justice is for sale in our country for those who can pay," she said.

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