Kampot provincial police have announced measures to contain a recent spike in antisocial behaviour by “unruly’ youth. Officials say the province has been plagued by recent violence among so-called “gang members”, who often fight with weapons such as knives and machetes.

Several social observers have praised the administration’s swift actions to restore social order, noting that members of the public have expressed their fears that their frequent brawls could lead to wider violence.

The Kampot police announced that a 2am curfew would be in effect for all suspected gang members from September 7 onwards. The police of the province’s nine towns and districts announced plans to mount patrols and round up any suspects believed to be involved in “chaotic activities”.

“The suspects will be held at police stations and educated about the wrongness of their actions,” said the September 7 notice.

“After 2am, we will round up gang members and hold them at the police station. The following morning we would release them into the custody of their parents, who would guarantee their good manners. This measure will apply to all nine towns and districts,” it added.

Provincial police chief Mao Chanmathurith explained that the measures are not meant to stifle the rights or freedom of anyone but to protect public safety, saying he is concerned that gang members who gather in public places may cause trouble.

“What we are doing targets only gang members who gather in public places and may cause trouble. We have already conducted similar operations. Has our police force ever taken anyone to the police station for no reason?” he asked rhetorically.

“I want to reiterate that we work tirelessly – day and night – to protect the safety of the people and ensure social order. Please don’t mistake these measures for something else,” he added, while calling on the general public to cooperate.

Police in Kandal province’s Kien Svay district have announced similar measures, saying that from September 10, district and commune forces would patrol the streets and round up any young people who appear suspicious, including those who gather to smoke e-cigarettes.

“All residents of the district should be informed that police patrols will round up gang members, as well as young people who gather to smoke e-cigarettes or conduct other suspicious behaviour,” said the police in a notice.

Cambodian Institute for Democracy president Pa Chanroeun noted that he has recently observed a concerning rise in the number of young people becoming involved in street fights in the provinces and Phnom Penh, as well as on the grounds of some schools.

He regarded the phenomena as a social issue, suggesting that immediate measures be introduced to restore social order. He added that the police need to strengthen the implementation of the “safe village-commune” policy, as well as stamping out alcohol and drug-related activities.

“This is a social issue and social violence, especially among youth. This reflects a social crisis and could lead to a moral decline in society,” he said.

“Such a situation also suggests learning failures. School brawls are a reflection of a weak education system, as they illustrate a decline in discipline and morality,” he added.

San Chey, executive director of the NGO Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, cautioned that any measures taken by the police should be based on clear principles in order to avoid any accusations of discrimination or injustice.

He said nationwide police measures to curb offences more promptly and efficiently may increase the public’s trust.

“The police should consider two important factors – gatherings that could lead to gang violence, and the possession of weapons. Of course the police must be quick to respond to either of these scenarios, but it is also critical that the public report any such incidents as soon as they notice them,” he added.