Interior Minister Sar Kheng has launched a scathing attack on Preah Sihanouk’s provincial governor and police chief, accusing them of doing nothing to address a spate of violent crimes.
Speaking yesterday, the deputy prime minister warned the men they could no longer drag their feet and must “act swiftly” to protect foreigners and Cambodians in the coastal province, which over the past three months has seen a violent robbery, an attempted shooting and a vicious brawl – the last connected to alleged Russian gangsters.
“Things have happened, but they take no notice until the orders have been issued from the top level and operation teams have been sent, which means they are bad,” Kheng said at the closing ceremony of a drug-monitoring conference in the capital.
“And what does the police chief [Seang Kosal] do? He sleeps in the province and does not open his eyes to see [what is going on] in Koh Rong, [where] foreigners are robbed and shot,” he added, referring to the violent March 19 robbery on the island.
“Cambodia looks so bad.… When we advertise [Kingdom of Wonder], “wonder” in what way? If [tourists] come, they are robbed and treated badly.”
Responding yesterday, Preah Sihanouk Provincial Governor Chhet Sokhun said the men involved in the Koh Rong attack, which saw two Canadians and a Finnish national beaten and robbed of $4,000, had been arrested and charged.
He added: “Currently, we have more restrictions to make sure no crimes happen in the province.”
However, during his speech, Kheng said he was told by local authorities there were only three police officers and some military police protecting the popular tourist island.
Accusing the authorities of shirking responsibility, he said: “This cannot be a joke, because this is a Cambodian opportunity. We cannot easily capture peace and political stability”.
Kheng’s comments follow a warning last week by National Police chief Neth Savoeun, who threatened to fire police officers across the country if their negligence led to crimes such as armed robberies.
Sihanoukville police on Monday arrested another man, Russian Andrei Tcekhanskii, allegedly involved in the vicious February 13 brawl at the city’s Queenco Hotel, which left Moldovan national Mihai Bulgar with a stab wound to his torso.
Sihanoukville deputy provincial police chief Kol Phally said Tcekhanskii was suspected of being among the group involved in the fight, connected with a row over ticket-sale profits for the ultimately scrapped East European kaZantip music festival.
Local hotelier and vice president of the Sihanoukville Tourist Association Douglas McColl said yesterday that police needed to continue to take concerted action.
He said negative press surrounding the recent crimes, combined with a drop in the euro and Russian ruble, could combine to hurt local businesses dependent on tourism.
“Over the last few months, we’ve seen an escalation from petty crime into something completely different,” McColl said.
“And this is not good for anybody. What you are now getting is people associating Sihanoukville with Russian mafia; although this is not the reality, the impact on perception is enormous.”
In recent months, Sihanoukville has been rocked by a feud between rival Russian businessmen Sergei Polonsky, a property tycoon and wanted man in Russia, and longtime Cambodia-based expatriate Nikolai Doroshenko. The feud, which has included allegations of attempted assassinations, last week saw Doroshenko arrested on fraud charges.