Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Civil Society Laud Crackdown On Gangs By Police But Question Effectiveness​

Phnom Penh municipal police raided a group of gangsters on May 24, 2024. (Hun Manet’s Facebook)
Phnom Penh municipal police raided a group of gangsters on May 24, 2024. (Hun Manet’s Facebook)

The authorities are tightening measures and cracking down on gangs which cause social unrest, a move which has won the support of the public. However, they were doubtful that implementation was effective as it appeared to be “one-off” and did not seem targeted.

Between May 23 and June 13, 2024, the national police under the Ministry of Interior cracked down on 227 gangs and arrested 885 youths. The authorities built up a case for most of the arrests to be sent to court, which has “almost doubled” from previous operations, according to Interior Ministry spokesperson Touch Sokhak.

The crackdown follows Prime Minister Hun Manet’s order to relevant authorities, as well as provincial governors to crack down on “gangsters”.

“I call on the prosecution and judiciary to ensure strict enforcement of the law when dealing with the case of gangsters to improve the effectiveness of the operation,” Hun Manet said on May 23.

He also urged parents to monitor their children and educate them because “some of the gangsters are only 14 or 15 years old”.

“I call on parents as well as guardians to work hard to educate, monitor and discipline your children. This work must be carried out in schools and at home,” he said.

According to Hun Manet’s Facebook page on May 24, the Phnom Penh municipal police launched an operation to arrest eight youths of “Jak Sluy” group, confiscating swords, knives and drugs near the railway in Toul Kork district.

The Phnom Penh municipal police also identified targets in 14 districts in the capital city and were determined to take legal measures to prevent and stop gang activities in the “most serious” way. It hoped to strengthen security, safety and public order in accordance with the “safe village, commune and sangkat” policy.

Shopkeeper Sereymony, 40, in Doeum Kor market, said gangsters caused a lot of problems. She is always worried about her daughter’s safety, who is in her 10th grade, when she returns home from school. She was afraid that the gang may rob or harm her.

“I’m scared everyday. If they rob […] it’s very risky [as she could] fall or lose her arms or legs,” she said. “I ask the authorities to help stop more children, seen in the media at only 12 or 13 years old [in gangs], from fighting each other,” Sereymony said.

A 60-year-old father living in Tuol Kork district, who declined to be named, said the crackdown on the gangs is a good thing because he worries about his safety when traveling on the streets.

“I am afraid that they might knock us off our motorbikes. Sometimes, they try to rob us; sometimes, they just beat us up for fun. We don’t know where their anger comes from, and sometimes they just come and attack us,” he said, adding that people risk being harmed by gang members “even if they do nothing to provoke them”.

He said those who committed serious crimes should be sent to court without exception. “Gangsters need to be controlled […] If they don’t go to school, we need to educate them,” he added.

He told CamboJA News that in an area near his house, when gangsters caused social unrest by drinking and shouting in the middle of the night, the local authorities were reluctant to take action, because arresting them was “difficult” as they have to provide them food, an act which they say was “useless”.

”They [local authorities] said it is very difficult to arrest and cook food for them. It’s a waste of time,” he added, stressing that the issue must be addressed by officers in higher ranks as the local authorities are unable to crack down on them.

Phnom Penh municipal police raided a group of gangsters on May 24, 2024. (Hun Manet’s Facebook)

Solve root cause to eliminate gangsterism

Political analyst Meas Nee said there is a lot of delay in the resolution of gangsterism, and that “simply catching and educating children as they were not old enough cannot effectively suppress the activities”.

He added that taking stern measures to crack down on gangsters is one way, but the authorities must also eliminate the root cause of gangsterism.

“If we keep arresting gangsters and putting them in jail but don’t find and solve the root cause, children will only end up in prison. It will be even more difficult for those who work in prisons,” said Nee.

Most of these gangsters are involved in alcohol and drug use, causing children to drop out of school at an early age.

“I support [the operation] but we need to ensure justice and that the legal system is fair when judging children. When we arrest them, we must not hurt children who were not aware [of gangsterism],” said Meas Nee.“Let the relevant authorities look at each case clearly; not just arrest a whole group and imprison them.”

In order to be effective, the authorities also need to check on “corruption that always happens with arrests and releases”.

Nee said Cambodia also needs to look at role models among politicians. “If our politicians are stubborn, they will imitate it.”

‘Can return home if offense is minor’

Meanwhile, Interior Ministry’s Sokhak said the crackdown on gangs has been ongoing for some time now, denying that it was a “one-time” operation or only when the prime minister instructs them. The authorities have been implementing measures such as youth education, administrative strategies to strengthen and control targets, and taking legal action.

He urged citizens and civil societies to follow the authorities’ crackdown via regular disseminations by his ministry which highlight the suppression of criminal activities.

Sokhak explained that if a gang member commits a criminal offense, the authorities will build a case to be sent to court and continue the proceedings until the trial.

However, the ministry will educate, advise and develop a contract for guardians to “guarantee that their ward or child does not commit a crime” and allow them to return home if the action was minor, not serious or not a criminal offense, he said.

Impact of alcohol advertising on children

Yong Kim Eng, executive director of the People’s Center for Development and Peace, said many factors lead to gangsterism, but the most important is social factors which have a negative effect on children. It includes public advertisements of alcohol that alert children about drinking from an early age.

“While traveling on the street, you only see alcohol billboards […] they are taught from an early age on the street [to consume alcohol],” Kim Eng said, adding that it is the responsibility of the state to reduce the promotion of alcohol.

He also found child imprisonment to be a bad thing because it can ruin their future, causing them to lose their education and making it difficult for them to find work when they are released.

“Imprisonment is not a good option. […] education is enough […] and imprisonment without education will make them worse,” added Kim Eng.