Interior Minister Sar Kheng yesterday put officials in Preah Sihanouk on notice about illegal fishing off the coast, accusing the province’s power brokers of turning a blind eye.
Speaking during a transfer-of-power ceremony for outgoing governor Chhit Sokhon and his replacement, Yun Min, Kheng issued a stern warning to soldiers, police, fishery officials and provincial authorities who pocket cash while allowing “illegal immigrants” to fish in Cambodian waters.
“I know the cases – [they] give permission to illegal immigrants to fish, and they want me to solve the problem,” he said. “I will not solve it. So that means that you are committing the crime. You do not consider protecting [our] security at sea, but you protect traders.”
Kheng promised to install an observation team to monitor the maritime border police amid reports of corrupt officials allowing illegal fishing.
“I encourage the good part [of the work], but the bad part – you have to take responsibility; it doesn’t mean that working on ocean issues [permits you] to pocket money for a living and become rich,” he said. “Protect the sea for the nation and people, not for your own benefit. I want to be clear on this.”
Bun Narith, provincial coordinator for local rights group Licadho, said corruption on Cambodia’s oceans is a major issue facing the country’s coast, particularly in Preah Sihanouk.
“We see authorities allow Vietnamese and Thai [nationals] to fish in Cambodian waters, which is illegal,” he said. “Sometimes, they allow goods transported via the sea without [levying] taxes for the government.
This damages national benefits and only [benefits] their individual interests or their group.”
Kheng also used the speech to call for increased safeguards on security and public order, both in Sihanoukville and the capital, noting that fighting between “Russians” in the past had instilled fear in locals while authorities turned a blind eye.
He explicitly mentioned Russian tycoon Sergei Polonsky, who was arrested and deported in May over an expired visa, but who lived freely in Cambodia prior to his ousting.
“I don’t mean to speak only about authorities here [in Preah Sihanouk province], but also authorities in Phnom Penh, [must] protect,” he said.
Kheng noted, though, that crime in the province has seen a reduction after Chuon Narin had been named provincial police chief in May.
Kol Phally, deputy provincial police chief, yesterday confirmed a dip in crime in the province.
“There is no more fighting between Russians, or other nationalities,” he said. “Robbery, especially, has reduced a lot,” he added.