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Lose the plate: top cop


Top cop orders delayed crackdown on use of police and military licence plates by civilians; critics say practice too ingrained.

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A Toyota Camry with RCAF plates in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. Civilian cars are not, by law, allowed army plates.

NATIONAL Police Chief Neth Savoeun has ordered police across the country to start punishing, as of May, any civilians or low-ranking police or army officers whose vehicles bear police or military licence plates.

In a letter dated February 4, Neth Savoeun said the use of police or military plates should be restricted to top-ranking officials in those departments and decried the use of their emblems by enterprising individuals.

The crackdown would also apply to vehicles with no plates at all, he added.

Neither Neth Savoeun nor his office's spokesman, Keat Chantharith, could be reached for additional comment Tuesday.

Chev Hak, the deputy chief of Phnom Penh's traffic police, said Tuesday he had not yet received a copy of the directive, but supported its goal, saying such posturing by civilians was clearly illegal.

"The Ministry of Interior will ask all regular and military police to cooperate to check all licence plates," he said.

Law already on the books

A February 2007 traffic law made the use of military and police licence plates by civilians punishable by two to five years in prison and a fine of four million to 10 million riel (US$969 to $2,423), and gave offenders a year to switch to regular plates before incurring the penalty. It applied the same terms to the use of a fake driver's licence or vehicle ownership card.

Keo Savin, director of land transport at the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, agreed police and army licence plates should be limited to vehicles of high-ranking officials.

"Some civilians use the plates anyway, even though the law has made it clear they cannot do this," he said.

He said he did not know how many vehicles were displaying police or RCAF number plates in the country.

While his office has distributed millions of standard licence plates and keeps a weekly tab on the number of newly issued, police and military plates are doled out by their respective bodies, he said.

It's an elite ... way of saying I'm above the law, so don't touch me.

"It is their internal matter, and I think they do not want the figures on it released," he said.

More than 1.8 million vehicles have received licence plates from his ministry, he said.

Mu Sochua, a lawmaker and deputy secretary general of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, attributed the popularity among civilians of using police or military labels to the impunity they carry on the streets.

"It's an elite signature, a way of saying I'm above the law, so don't touch me. And this trickles down to civilians who see how people in cars with these  plates are able to behave without concern for punishment," she said.

She said an earnest effort to enforce the law, not more stern words about it, was needed. She added that a real crackdown on illegally procured plates was "beyond" the National Police chief, given how pervasive the practice has become.



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