Stricter controls on guns – including those carried by police – will be put in place following a spate of violent crimes involving firearms in recent weeks.
The announcement, made yesterday by Phnom Penh police chief Chhoun Sovann, included the passing of a sub-decree that will prohibit police and other security forces from keeping their guns with them while they are off duty.
The crackdown will also involve more street-level checks on vehicles, and an audit of gun licences.
“People who do not have the right to carry a weapon, when they finish their work, must hand their weapons to their department unit,” Sovann said. “When we check them they say it is legal, but it is completely illegal because they have no right to take the weapon [home] with them.”
Sovann referred to a recent case in Phnom Penh’s Chamkarmon district in which an off-duty police officer used his government-issued firearm to fatally shoot three people, including a local village chief.
He went on to say it was the authorities who were often guilty of firing their weapons irresponsibly, adding that parties where alcohol is consumed are hotspots for gun crime.
“People who have no legal right to carry [a gun] will have them confiscated.”
The move comes more than three years after an order from Prime Minister Hun Sen to provincial governors that powerful officials and those close to them must be punished if they fire their guns or wield other deadly weapons in public.
The early 1990s saw countless guns fall into civilian hands as the civil war wound down. Since 1998, the government has embarked on a gun amnesty and confiscation drive that it claims has seen hundreds of thousands of weapons taken off the streets.
But while overall recorded gun crime was down this year compared with 2014, the number of those killed with firearms went up, according to official figures.
He added that the crime wave might be related to increased drug smuggling and advised anti-drug police to cooperate further with their counterparts in other departments.
“People often don’t dare assist the authorities because they are afraid the perpetrators will seek revenge, and they don’t have time to take part in a trial,” he said, calling for more community policing.
Spokesmen for the Ministry of Interior and National Police could not be reached.
Eng Hy, a military police spokesman, said high-ranking officers, such as colonels, will still be allowed to keep their weapons off duty, but lower-ranking officers will need to hand them over when they sign off.
“People who shoot freely will face punishment. If they injure anyone, they will face justice.”
Am Sam Ath, of the rights group Licadho, said it was common for officials and their families to illegally use guns “because they have power, and we do not see those people arrested because of that power”.