ANYONE could guess that he was nervous - talking to a reporter could mean trouble
and he'd already had plenty of that.
Within the last month he had been kidnapped at gun point by uniformed men and told:
"Come up with the money or we'll kill you."
"I don't want to tell you too much," he said, demanding anonymity. "If
I do they will know who it is and they might come back."
He is a Chinese businessman who claims as many as 40 traders have been kidnapped
or robbed in the capital so far this year. Though businessmen - and their families
- of various nationalities are at risk, the latest spate of kidnappings has heavily
targeted the Chinese.
Speaking through an interpreter he told a story of violence, fear and extortion -
and of a community considering its future in Cambodia.
He was fortunate - his family came up with the "tens of thousands" of dollars
his abducters demanded to secure his release. But he remains angry and frustrated.
"The authorities know about this, but they are doing nothing. People are not
coming here to invest anymore," he said of Chinese traders from throughout the
"Everybody has lost confidence in the authorities - even the local Chinese are
not interested in investment. This is very bad for business."
A number of Cambodian officials approached by the Post declined to comment on the
Criminal Police Chief Mok Chito said he was too busy. Thong Lim, Head of Criminal
Police at the Ministry of Interior, said he was not authorised to talk. Heng Hak,
the Ministry's official spokesman, said he was unaware of the problem.
However, a cursory examination of the Cambodian press supports the assertion that
the problem is getting out of hand. Among others, local newspapers have reported
the following recent events.
The shooting of Sear Veng Yon and his wife, Om Moy, by two men in police uniforms.
The couple were killed on the stairs of their flat in what police describe as a revenge
The kidnapping of 61-year-old Song Heng on May 8 who was bundled into a car by a
gang of armed men. Witnesses observe Heng's children were prosperous traders. Heng
was released 24 hours later having paid a $40,000 cash ransom at Wat Phnom at midnight.
$50,000 stolen at gunpoint by armed men who bail up the Ly Huor Exchange Gold Trading
A businessman paid $70,000 to kidnappers for the release of his son.
A number of Chinese traders operating from the Olympic market agreed that the situation
is "very bad." Said one: "I am very frightened for my family, but
I don't know what to do... I do not want to put my money in the bank because I do
not trust the bank. So I have to keep it at home and the robbers know this.
"The police can not do anything because they have very low salaries - maybe
they need to rob to feed their families," he laughed.
A Western security official confirmed that the Chinese business community have been
singled out by at least one organized gang.
"It's unlikely that the situation will get any better," he said, "because
there is no political will to address the problem. And it's almost certain that some
military and police elements are involved."
An experienced Human Rights investigator agreed, citing one case where an associate
was held by police for six weeks before a $6,000 ransom was collected.
He said the situation would not improve because law enforcement was generally under
resourced and their was no tradition of what Westerners would call professionalism.
"You have to remember that in Cambodia there is no State - even the leadership
cannot predict continued loyalty for certain...
"Political links are based on family links, society is a configuration of clans
and sub-clans with flexible allegiance - it's all about status and wealth.
"There is no 'state', so any instrument of power, any armed force, cannot strengthen
the 'state'. Any instrument of power is, in effect, a power unto itself and it will
serve its own interests. In Cambodia, impunity is a plague."