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Crime wave hits beach town

Crime wave hits beach town

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090409_02.jpg

Despite official statistics that claim otherwise, many foreign residents of Sihanoukville say violence has spiked in their town.

Photo by:

TRACEY SHELTON

Tourists walk along a beach in Sihanoukville. Foreign residents have complained about a rise in muggings and bag-snatchings.

RECENTLY, Kate Fitch has been put in a headlock, punched in the face and pulled off of a motorbike taxi in Sihanoukville, but she says it's not just bad luck. Muggings and violent bag-snatchings have become routine in the tourist-dependent town, she and others say.

"I've never ever seen so much unnecessary, random violence," Fitch, said, adding that nowadays in Sihanoukville, "Nobody feels safe".

Residents and business owners in the beach town have told the Post that a sharp rise in the number of violent crimes - especially against foreign residents - have made many afraid to go out alone or at night, putting a damper on city's once-lively nightlife.

"People aren't really wanting to go out at night," said Chantel Prince, a Sihanoukville resident and victim of a bag-snatching.

To the surprise of many, Tak Vanntha, the police chief in Preah Sihanouk province, announced that crime in the first quarter of 2009 was down from the same period last year.

In 2008, there were 25 reported crimes, while so far this year, there have been 23.

Upon hearing this statistic, one business owner who wished to remain anonymous called the number "laughable".

Tak Vanntha said the police have been actively patrolling the town's most popular beaches, saying, "We have deployed police at all the main tourist places like beaches ... [in order] to guarantee that tourists are safe to enjoy their visit in our province".

But another business owner who also wished to remain anonymous for fear of police reprisal said that two-thirds of motorbike bag snatchings seem to happen on a one-kilometre stretch of road and could be prevented.

"I would like to see more police patrolling at night. I feel like these crimes can be easily stopped," he said.

Sbong Sarath, the governor of Preah Sihanouk, said that during the three days of Khmer New Year, "in order to strengthen security, police forces will be deployed at 12 popular locations during the holidays", adding that there would be a 24-hour police presence.

A third business owner, again wishing to remain anonymous, called this three-day effort a "Band-Aid on a land mine".

The expat community has come together to try and ensure its own security and the safety of visitors.

"Now, we all help each other get home," Prince said. "People aren't going home alone."

In addition, two beachside businesses have been circulating a petition in both Khmer and English addressed to the minister of tourism, which has already garnered at least 90 signatures.

The petition states: "There has been a marked increase of street crime and violence in the Ochheuteal and Serendipity area in the last two months, and has affected us all directly or indirectly".

Tourism has dropped in Preah Sihanouk province by 9 percent in the first three months of 2009 compared with the first quarter of last year, and many businesses are concerned that stories of violent crime will only exacerbate the town's financial woes.

The German Foreign Ministry is already warning its citizens about crime in Sihanoukville.

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