What is going on? Since the election there has been a spate of armed robberies on
the property of the international community not to mention the theft of UNTAC equipment
awaiting shipment overseas.
In many cases there has been a strong suggestion of complicity and of connivance
at high levels of either government or the military. One recent incident is particularly
On Dec. 7, while traveling from Siem Reap to Sisophon in a Toyota Land cruiser, three
senior officials of UNHCR were suddenly stopped by a man wearing a uniform and carrying
a B-40 rocket-propelled grenade launcher.
This happened just before crossing a normally-guarded bridge. When the car stopped
three other men in civilian clothes came out of the bush armed with AK-47s.
The men were extremely aggressive and threatening with their weapons.
They ordered the three and their driver out of the car and then herded them towards
a ditch. Meanwhile, two of the robbers drove the car off in the direction of Sisophon.
The others kept shouting and motioning the three UNHCR men to get off the road and
into the ditch.
They understandably refused having seen that the driver, who did so, was roughed
up and his valuables taken.
Fearing worse to come, the three decided to run for their lives up the road. Except
for a single shot, they were not pursued and finally arrived in Sisophon to report
the theft of the vehicle as well as passports, credit cards, etc.
The matter was taken up personally by Serge Ducasse, UNHCR head of mission, and an
official letter urging action, both to recover the car and arrest the culprits, was
sent to H.E. Sar Kheng, deputy prime minister and minister of interior.
There events might have stayed. However, the vehicle was seen by the driver the next
day in Battambang without a license plate.
As the authorities were being alerted, the car was driven away.
A short while later the vehicle was seen again with a new registration plate: 3423
in white letters on the red background usually reserved for the army.
The Toyota was eventually tracked down in Krakor district where it had been stripped.
The three people in the car - not those involved in the original armed robbery -
were arrested and taken to Pursat police station.
The circumstantial evidence for military conspiracy is extremely strong: All the
bridges in the area are now guarded by soldiers; the UNHCR people noted that the
bridge where the incident took place was the only one to be bereft of guards. Next,
the car having the conspicuous military number plate.
The international community, seriously disturbed by the implications of the affair,
will watch how the government treats the incident.
On several recent occasions, heads of international agencies have expressed concern
about the security situation and its relation to the speed of disbursement of foreign
assistance for development.
Cambodia and its tragic past have engendered a considerable amount of sympathy for
the country in the outside world.
If the government does not take sufficient steps to meet the concern of the international
community working in the country, if it does not give a clear indication that it
will restore confidence, then Cambodia will run the risk of losing the interest of
many outside donors.
More importantly, all countries have an independent security grading for foreign
Cambodia desperately needs foreign investment. But if the government cannot keep
its own house in order, if it cannot resolve an obvious power struggle between civilian
ministries and military, then it will only have itself to blame if outsiders draw
their own conclusions.
Cambodia should remember the world does not owe it a living.