S IHANOUKVILLE - About one hundred police and army officials and provincial governors made a commitment towards a big improvement in the security situation along Routes 3 and 4 and in Siem Reap at an inter-ministerial security meeting in Sihanoukville which concluded on Oct 16.
The participants came from 9 provinces and cities: Siem Reap, Kandal, Kampong Speu, Takeo, Kampot, Koh Kong, Phnom Penh, Kep and Sihanoukville.
The Ministries of Interior and Defense have committed themselves to improved security on the two routes and Siem Reap, which are seen as centers of investment and tourism.
A security rearrangement will begin with cracking down on illegal checkpoints along the roads.
"We have to guarantee maximum security, so as not to let tourists and investors be afraid," Co-Interior Minister You Hokry, said, adding: "When we talk about security, we mean to include illegal checkpoints as well."
While Routes 3 and 4 have grabbed the headlines because of the kidnappings of foreigners, throwing cigarettes to, and paying unnecessary fees to armed men flanking the highways is a routine requirement for drivers on all routes outside the capital.
The government's rogue soldiers see illegal checkpoints as a means of augmenting their almost non-existent salaries.
"This indicates that discipline and control of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and police have been loose."
"Forces that were supposed to get rid of illegal checkpoints have created more instead," acknowledged Co-Interior Minister Sar Kheng.
"Investment and tourism are the main objectives of the government's policies.
"To achieve that objective there must be a long-term security and peace in the countryside," he added.
According to the proposals drawn from group discussions, the ministries of interior and defense, in cooperation with provincial authorities, will begin to clear up all illegal checkpoints.
They will be replaced by checkpoints authorized by the provincial authorities and approved by the two ministries.
On all national routes, the authorized checkpoints will be posted at agreed intervals and patrol teams will be formed to inspect them.
Any incidents relating to security will come under the purview of the authorities in the areas where checkpoints are situated.
"We will set up official checkpoints and inspect them so that there won't be any extortion," said Hokry.
He added that a joint command under the provincial governor, police and operational commander of the provincial troops will also be formed to respond to security needs.
But Secretary of State for Înformation Khieu Kanharith was cautious. "The question still remains: how to make sure that the new authorized checkpoints will not extort money from travelers also?" he asked.
Co-Defence MinisterTea Banh, also spoke about military equipment to be provided for the new security arrangement.
He expressed concern about how to equip the checkpoints and said that the Royal government's ongoing effort to purchase arms from other countries had been a failure.
Sar Kheng also said that illegal checkpoints along mainland roads and waterways have increased in number.
Some provincial governors and their security officers came under indirect criticism from him for what he described as negative aspects of their performance.
The co-minister said reports about acts of banditry and insecurity in the provinces have not been substantial or timely.
He also appeared skeptical about the figure of 1,173 robberies and criminal cases over six months nationwide of which 26 percent were found to involve government police and soldiers.