UNDERFINANCED and overworked, police are hard-pressed to combat a growing number
of international crime syndicates taking advantage of the country's lawlessness and
laxity, a top police official said.
"We have a lot of criminals wanted by Interpol here-for trafficking of weapons,
humans, drugs. But our budget is very limited, we have nothing," Police General
Skadavy M. Ly Roun said in an interview at his decrepit, peeling office in Phnom
His latest case- a swoop on a Phnom Penh villa-is typical of what Cambodia's Interpol,
an agency funded by the Interior Ministry and separate from regular police, is up
against, he said.
On Christmas day, police raided the villa expecting to find a handful of Chinese,
who had been under surveillance for three days for suspected involvement in a Chinese
Instead, they discovered more than 80 Chinese crowded into the villa. They also found
fake Chinese and Cambodian immigration stamps, 26 fake Chinese passports, a phone
book listing suspected criminal contacts in Europe, South America, the United States
and Africa, and a small stash of amphetamines.
The group included the suspected chiefs of alleged Chinese crime syndicates in Cambodia,
Hong Kong and China. It is also believed to have links with a Hong Kong-Cambodian
tourism and investment firm being investigated by authorities from China, Hong Kong
and the Netherlands for suspected human trafficking activities, Interpol officials
The sudden complexity of the case soon became a problem.
"We didn't have enough cars to transport them," said General Skadavy. "And
no one in the government wanted to get involved with it, having to provide them food,"
He ended up bringing them to the old building that houses the Cambodian Interpol
and began making inquiries - which wasn't easy either.
Authorities in Hong Kong and China wanted details about the case but Cambodia's Interpol
has one fax machine which was donated and because of a lack of funds, sending outgoing
massages was impossible.
Skadavy had to borrow the Chinese Embassy's phone to call Beijing because the call
Skadavy, whose work also includes overseeing the Interior Ministry's anti-drug work,
is paid about $30 per month in salary, plus less then $2 a day for travel allowances.
The 63 other staff at the Cambodian Interpol make even less, and the dilapidated
complex offices have only folding chairs for furnishings, with no phones in sight.
Corruption is also a problem for Interpol, as well as an enticement to criminals.
With most police averaging a salary of about $20 per month, the chances of officials
accepting bribes run high, officials say.
That presents a dangerous situation given Cambodia's growing reputation as a haven
for international criminals, noted Skadavy.
"This is big money, big finance, and big organization we are facing now... we
need to join an international operation because our capability is very limited,"
He appealed to other nations to help Cambodia combat the problem.
"I hope 1997 will be a good year to cooperate with other countries..."