Police said this week they were addressing crime in Sihanoukville at “the root,” and insisted the public had no need to worry about the coastal area that had become a hotbed of violent crimes including kidnapping, robbery, drugs, and large scale human trafficking.
The most recent arrests came on June 15, when six men were arrested on charges of trafficking and possessing an illegal weapon. The police also confiscated dozens of weapons.
Speaking at a press conference on June 25, Preah Sihanouk provincial police chief Chuon Narin said the latest arrests came after a shootout in which one police officer was injured.
“In the past, we did not crack down on crime at the root, but now we have addressed the public’s doubts… I want to send a message to the public that we will not make people worry about security,” he said.
Narin told CamboJA that the crimes in Sihanoukville are not unique to the province, noting that authorities had cracked down on traffickers and organized crime in Phnom Penh and Kandal provinces, as well as in Ratanakiri and Oddar Meanchey.
He insisted that crime in Sihanoukville was the exception, not the rule, and that the police had been proactive in stopping illegal activity in recent months. In March, Interior Minister Sar Kheng ordered an end to crime in Preah Sihanouk by the commune elections.
“Sihanoukville is always linked to the crimes, but it is not. The claim should be stopped,” Narin told CamboJA. “We have cracked down on many illegal activities, what we have done was not reported positively.”
Some 400 Vietnamese citizens who had been tricked and sold to traffickers in Cambodia have been rescued and repatriated this year thus far, according to a report by Vietnamese VN Express.
The Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (Central), said they have recorded dozens of cases of local and foreign workers trafficked as laborers for Chinese casinos. Last year, they recorded 32 cases of Cambodian, Thai, and Vietnamese workers who had been trafficked and forced to work for illegal online gambling rings – many of them headed by Chinese gangs.
Sihanoukville’s governor, Kuoch Chamroeun, also pledged last week to crack down on any crime happening in the province.
“We would like to announce here that we will not tolerate it and will bring those involved in weapons smuggling to prosecute whether they are Cambodians or foreigners,” he said.
Like Narin, though, Chamroeun insisted there had been disinformation related to crime in the province, leading to an unfair perception of danger.
Van Vath, 50, a Tuk-Tuk driver in Sihanoukville said the crackdown in recent weeks did appear to be having an impact.
“I saw authorities confiscating dozens of weapons and noted that tourism activity at night seems quiet,” he said.
“Before there were the issues of robbery and kidnapping but now it looks quiet. Now, I see authorities conducting more crackdowns on gangsters,” he said.
Preah Sihanouk provincial administration spokesman Kheang Phearum told CamboJA that the activities of the construction sector have resumed but the number of Chinese investors and Chinese workers remains small due to COVID-19 restrictions in China.
“Regarding public safety and security, authorities have managed it well,” he added.
Sreng Vanly, Licadho coordinator to Preah Sihanouk province, said that the latest crackdown was an important step.
“We see authorities conducting security check to reduce crime and we also want further measures,” he said, adding that the rapidly growing casino industry has led to a vast array of organized crime — much of it committed by Chinese criminal enterprises.
A research study by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime released last year shows that China’s BRI investment in Cambodia has raised the risk of increased illicit trade in Sihanoukville — where many of these projects are centered.
The report said Sihanoukville “has been transformed through substantial Chinese investment into an enclave of Chinese-run casinos, restaurants, high-rise office buildings and power plants, and is becoming increasingly established as an illicit economic hub”.
It also alleges that the city “is vulnerable to the trafficking of environmental commodities, often involving Chinese and Vietnamese criminal networks.”