Written by Sam Rith
Wednesday, 24 December 2008
After a spate of armed robberies in Phnom Penh, gold sellers fear for their lives and livelihoods. Many vendors say there is nothing more they can do to ensure their safety
GOLD and diamond vendors across the Kingdom are operating in a state of constant fear after a slew of robberies in Phnom Penh last week, which included three carefully coordinated daytime hits where heavily armed gangs stole an estimated US$400,000 worth of gold.
"We were very concerned when we heard about the recent robberies. We are now having meetings with our security guards about having 24-hour guards to improve our security," a vendor at Mokod Pich Gold Shop near Central Market, who identified herself only as Nary, told the Post.
Many vendors, however, say private guards are not enough.
Lim Kong, 55, the proprietor of Lim Kong Diamond & Jewelry Shop, said even though her shop had security guards, she did not think they would serve as a deterrent as the majority of the current robberies have been perpetrated by heavily armed gangs.
Last month, she said, one of the gold shops near her shop was robbed by an armed gang that was not deterred by the shop's armed security guards.
"They were not scared of the guards because they all had guns," she said.
"They stopped their car in front of the shop, came into the shop and just took all the gold, valuables and money."
Govt slow to react
" They were not scared of the guards, because they all had guns. "
Many gold sellers blame the government for not doing more. "So far, I have not heard of any robbers being arrested," Lim Kong said.
Chheng Sophors, an investigator with the rights group Licadho, said authorities have been slow to react.
Suon Sareth, executive secretary of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC), pointed out that robberies increased after the death of National Police chief Hok Lundy.
But, Khieu Sopheak, spokesman at the Ministry of Interior, has steadfastly denied the connection. "The recent upsurge in serious crime has nothing to do with the death of Hok Lundy."
Fears of gold heists have spread from the capital to the provinces.
Hok Layny, owner of an eponymous gold and diamond shop in Siem Reap, said that now she is always worried about her safety.
"Even though I have security guards at my shop, I remain afraid for the safety of my shop," she said.
Lin Leang Nguon, 44, whose wife sells gold at Phsar Ler in Kampong Chhnang province, said he constantly worries about his wife's safety after he heard about the robberies in Phnom Penh. He said Kampong Chhnang province had a series of gold robberies in 2003, and he does not want that to happen again.
CHRAC's Suon Sareth emphasised that these robberies do not just alarm gold sellers but instill a sense of fear across the general populace.
Chheng Sophors agreed. "The government should not let such robberies happen because they threaten the security of the society as a whole," he said.
A personal assistant to the newly appointed National Police chief said Tuesday that Neth Savoeun had already ordered Phnom Penh's municipal police chief and heads of provincial police to crack down on armed robbery.
But he would not elaborate what the crackdown would entail.