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Kidnapping wave peaks after fighting

Kidnapping wave peaks after fighting

AT least 50 people have been kidnapped for ransom in Phnom Penh during the last six

months, according to police officials.

One security official close to investigations said early this month that the situation

had become "much worse" following the July 5-6 fighting in Phnom Penh,

with up to five cases reported to police each week.

"But that's just the tip of the problem - many people will deal with kidnappers

without telling the authorities," he said.

Ransom amounts demanded by kidnappers had also risen dramatically.

"Late last month a local businessman involved in construction was snatched and

his abductors demanded $300,000 dollars. In the end he was released after his family

paid $120,000 in cash."

Police officials described two other recent kidnappings in the capital, one involving

the snatching of the 13-year-old son of a local businessman.

Head of Cambodian Interpol General Mathly Run Skadavy confirmed the trends.

He said the main offenders seem-ed to be Khmers who had lived in France, Australia

or the United States but returned to Cambodia after falling foul of the law in their

adopted homes.

"Cambodia is like a warehouse of criminals. Our lax immigration laws make it

very easy for criminals to come and live here," Skadavy said.

"But I have to be frank with you. One of the biggest problems is corrupt policemen

and soldiers. These people come back to Cambodia with money, [and] they pay the policemen

and soldiers, even to kill people."

General Skadavy said there were three main kidnapping gangs in Phnom Penh, the largest

of which comprised about 100 Cambodian, Lao and Vietnamese expatriates who formed

a gang, the Asian Boyz, in California.

The second, he said, comprised of gangsters from Macao while a third was headed by

"Cambodian military and police officials".

He declined to reveal the identities of those officials but confirmed a group of

10 police and soldiers had been arrested Aug 23-24.

But he implied that he believed the police would be able to move against such officials,

since the ouster of First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

"Before we were powerless - the two Prime Ministers meant we really had two

police forces and often we could not approach them [criminals].

"But Hun Sen has given the green light now to go after kidnappers, whoever they

are," Skadavy said.

Other Ministry of Interior chiefs said the Second Prime Minister's campaign against

crime was proving successful. General Mao Chandara said he believed that kidnappings

were down 80% since Hun Sen announced his crackdown, while General Heng Hak said

victims' families were more willing to contact the police now.

"Before, people were afraid to report to the police, but now people help us

because we protect them from any retaliation."

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