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Highway Robbery Replaces Warfare as Biggest Security Threat

Highway Robbery Replaces Warfare as Biggest Security Threat

(AP)-As the civil war subsides in many parts of Cambodia, armed bandits have become

the biggest security threat.

To deter the increasing number of violent attacks, U.N. military units will start

patroling roads in the country and set up roadblocks, according to Eric Falt, spokesperson

for the U.N. Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC). The units will be empowered

to search and detain suspects, he said.

U.N. officers say many of the bandits are military deserters or poorly paid soldiers

idled by the truce between the government and the three resistance factions.

In the northwest provinces bordering Thailand, large numbers of deserters from all

four factions have formed heavily-armed bandit groups, said Falt.

"All the factions are losing control over their troops," said a U.N. official

who spoke on condition he not be named.

Near the city of Stung Treng in the northeast, unidentified soldiers firing automatic

weapons ambushed a truck in early July, killing seven civilians and injuring several

others.

One of the riskier areas is southern Kampot province, where rogue government soldiers

wielding assault rifles routinely block the main Route 3 to demand money and cigarettes

from motorists.

On July 28 in Kompong Trach village in Kampot, a farmer's 17-year-old son was killed

trying to protect his mother from bandits who attacked their house, said Falt. In

nearby Phum Tuk Meas village on July 21, a band massacred eight ethnic Vietnamese,

fleeing with food, rice, and a bicycle.

The vast majority of Cambodia's 450,000 soldiers and militiamen are still roaming

about and armed because the Khmer Rouge has refused to cooperate with the U.N. peace

accord.

The accord called for soldiers to report to cantonments and begin disarming in June,

but the Khmer Rouge has said it will not comply until the Phnom Penh government is

dissolved and all Vietnamese troops had withdrawn from the country. Vietnam officially

withdrew in 1989 and the Khmer Rouge have yet to prove Vietnamese soldiers were left

behind.

The other three factions are hesitant to disarm without the participation of the

Khmer Rouge, blamed for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Cambodians in the

1970s.

In Kampot, villagers complain about Khmer Rouge bandits descending from mountain

hideouts. Last week Khmer Rouge kidnappers freed five people after their families

handed over 100 kilograms of rice, penicillin, and an intravenous drip, said Capt.

Philippe Marconnet, commander of a French UNTAC unit based along Route 3.

"Military problems are far surpassed by [banditry]," he said. "People

cannot go out at night."

Phnom Penh government soldier Dim Sareoun, 23, was recently seen blocking Route 3.

"They don't pay me enough so I have to ask from cars," he said. "Sometimes

I can get 100 riels [about 10 U.S. cents]-sometimes they give me two cigarettes."

The French soldiers regularly patrol Route 3 to create a more secure atmosphere.

First Lieut. Detlef Katlus, the German commander of the unarmed U.N. civilian police

in Kampot, said he does not dare venture on Route 3 at night without a French escort.

A Cambodian senior local government administrator, Neth Huon, said he also is stopped

by government soldiers demanding cigarettes.

A major problem is the huge number of weapons in the country after more than two

decades of conflict, said French Capt. Guillaume Ancel, a U.N. military observer

in Kampot.

"You can't imagine how many weapons there are here," he said. "You

can find every kind of Kalashnikov [rifles]-Czech, Yugoslavian, Chinese. . .It's

enough for years of war.

"Here weapons are power," he said. "You have the power to go on the

road and demand money."

But also, fortunately for victim Nop Ham, 35, the weapons provide a means of self

defense.

The man, still visibly angry, was recovering at Kampot hospital a few days after

a group of 10 bandits wearing army shirts shot him twice.

He shot dead one assailant and injured another, but lost three gold bars and 50,000

riels (about U.S. $33).

Nop Ham said the band first barged into his mother's house next door, hit her and

broke two of her teeth. The men, armed with assault rifles and hatchets, then broke

down the walls of Nop Ham's seaside farmhouse, shouting "Kill him!"

"They were lining up to finish us off, to shoot a second time and I shot them,"

he said. "I am not sorry. If I hadn't killed them, they would have killed me.

They are barbarians. . .The government cannot protect us."

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