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Cambodia 2019 Crime & Safety Report


 

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh.

 

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Cambodia at Level 1, indicating that travelers should exercise normal precautions while in the country. Exercise increased caution in Phnom Penh due to crime; and in very remote areas of Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, Pursat, Siem Reap, Pailin, and Kampong Thom provinces due to land mines.

 

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

 

The U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

 

Review OSAC’s Cambodia-specific webpage for original OSAC reports, consular alerts, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

 

Crime Threats

 

There is serious risk from crime in Phnom Penh. Criminal activity in Cambodia, especially Phnom Penh, remained high in 2018, with approximately the same level of violence and frequency of incidents as the prior year. The majority of the crimes are opportunistic and for financial gain, such as cell phone or motorbike thefts. Criminals specifically target Westerners for crimes motivated by financial gain, although perpetrators rarely intend to use violence or cause physical harm. Pickpocketing and purse snatching are commonplace, with pedestrians and tuk tuk (two-wheeled cart pulled by a motor scooter commonly used for local transportation) passengers the prime victims. Pickpockets also target transportation centers, market areas, special events, the riverfront area, and crowded buses traveling to the provinces. Embassy employees have been the victims of purse and cell phone snatchings. When snatchings occur, bystanders often attempt to apprehend the snatchers, usually pursuing, and, if successful, detaining (and often beating) the suspects until police arrive.

 

Avoid wearing expensive jewelry and carrying bags that are easy to snatch, and walk against traffic where possible. Only take tuk tuks with a cage or physical barrier to the outside to discourage thefts, and closely guard items that criminals can easily grab. In addition, never leave valuables or passports stored in luggage out of reach or sight, such as under a bus or in a tuk tuk. Criminals have robbed patrons withdrawing money from ATMs on the street; only use ATMs inside hotels, banks, or other enclosed spaces.

 

Motorbike thefts also occur, with thieves sometimes using force to steal moving motorbikes. These crimes, along with cell phone thefts and other petty thievery, continue at critical levels; criminals often meet resistance with escalating violence. The relative of a U.S. Embassy staff member suffered a broken collarbone when pushed off his motorbike at night during a robbery. In a number of other cases, thieves brandished edged weapons or firearms to steal motorbikes from their victims, usually after dark.

 

Violent crimes, including armed robberies, do occur. Nighttime robberies are more common than robberies in the daytime. There were a number of reports of shootings and stabbings during armed robberies. While most of the victims of armed robberies and other violent crimes, such as sexual assault, are Cambodian, foreigners should also exercise caution. Visitors should also recognize that excessive consumption of alcohol could make them more vulnerable to being a victim of a crime, especially at night. In the event of an armed confrontation, victims should immediately hand over the property and attempt to leave the area to avoid escalation or injury.

 

Youth gangs operating throughout Phnom Penh commit many of the phone and purse snatchings. These gangs can be violent and sometimes attack each other over turf battles or perceived insults. Late night altercations between rival gangs occur on occasion, including at least one culminating near the U.S. Embassy that ended only when a police officer fired into the air to disperse the group. Such altercations, however, are rare in areas where foreigners gather.

 

Nighttime burglaries of occupied apartments in areas of Phnom Penh where foreigners live increased in the final months of 2018, including apartments as high as the fifth floor, accessed through unsecured windows. Locals and foreigners alike were the victims in such cases.

 

National and transnational organized crime (especially involving human, drug, and wildlife trafficking) continues to be a problem in Cambodia. The port city of Sihanoukville has seen a significant rise in Chinese influence and residents with large property investments, including hotels and casinos catering to Chinese tourists. The number of Chinese perpetrators and victims of crime increased dramatically in 2018, with Chinese making up the vast majority of foreigners arrested for committing crimes in Cambodia, per late 2018CNP reporting. Fights between rival groups of Chinese have occurred in Sihanoukville and elsewhere. The number of Chinese individuals arrested for both consuming and selling illegal drugs, especially methamphetamine, has also increased. Chinese groups have established online fraud operations targeting Chinese living in China, with Cambodian authorities arresting a number and turning them over to Chinese authorities.

 

Several U.S. travelers, including official US government travelers, have reported receiving fake $100 bills from ATMs and, on one occasion, from an exchange booth at the international airport. The bills are also referred to as “ghost money,” and are good color photocopies of actual $100 notes with the notation “COPY” added, making them novelty rather than counterfeit bills. Locals use these bills as offerings, especially during Chinese New Year, and can buy them in bulk at local markets. Travelers should always immediately inspect and feel the bills they receive from an ATM, bank, exchange booth, or store to make sure they are genuine. Immediately photograph any fake bills that come from an ATM as evidence, along with the receipt and a photo of the victim standing at the ATM, and take them to the bank operating the ATM. In the cases reported by U.S. citizens to the Embassy, the victim did not immediately notice that the bills were fake, and only discovered the problem several days later, when they attempted to use them at a local business. When they reported this to the bank, the bank claimed the bills had not come from their ATM, and refused to refund the money.

 

 

There have been occasional reported reports of thieves spiking foreigners’ drinks in some establishments to incapacitate victims and rob or assault them. While the problem does not appear to be widespread in Cambodia, exercise caution, especially if out drinking alone. For further information on consuming alcohol abroad, see OSAC’s report, Shaken: The Don'ts of Alcohol Abroad

 

No areas of Cambodia are off limits for Embassy personnel.

 

Some U.S. citizens have reported threats of personal injury, extortion, detention, or kidnapping related to personal business disputes, in particular those involving real estate. If you are planning to engage in real estate deals or other significant financial transactions, please proceed with caution and retain the appropriate legal counsel.

 

Transportation-Safety Situation

 

Road Safety and Road Conditions

 

Driving in Cambodia can be very hazardous. Drivers widely ignore traffic laws, and police haphazardly enforce them. Drivers routinely run red lights and stop signs, drive the wrong way down one-way streets, and frequently fail to turn their headlights on after dark. The city streets are crowded with cars, tuk tuks, and large numbers of motor scooters (motos) weaving unpredictably through traffic, creating hazards. Many streets have poor lighting. Parked vehicles or food stands usually occupy Phnom Penh’s sidewalks, forcing pedestrians to walk in the streets and adding to the dangers.

 

Minor traffic accidents are quite common in Phnom Penh. In general, traffic moves very slowly during daylight hours, but speeds increase as traffic thins at night. Drunk drivers are also a hazard, especially at night. If involved in an accident, drivers generally attempt to flee the scene in their vehicle or on foot. Drivers also routinely use cell phones while driving, leading to distraction. Motos often carry three or more people, including children. Helmet use, while increasing, is not widespread.

 

Driving in the countryside can also be hazardous, and emergency medical care is almost non-existent. Motos, pedestrians, slow moving trucks, and livestock share the roads in the countryside, creating additional hazards. The risk of accidents increases at night. For this reason, personnel assigned to the U.S. Embassy Phnom Penh may not drive after dark between or outside of major population centers.

 

Public Transportation Conditions

 

U.S. Embassy personnel in Phnom Penh may take tuk tuks, taxis, local and intercity buses, and ferries. Embassy policy prohibits personnel from using moto taxis, since there are no licensed moto taxi drivers and no helmets for passengers. Tuk tuks are the most common form of public transportation within Phnom Penh, but the number of metered taxis is growing. Two ridesharing apps, Grab and PassApp, are also rapidly gaining in popularity. Customers can order a three-wheeled covered rickshaw, traditional tuk tuk, sedan, or SUV with these apps. The biggest concern with tuk tuks and rickshaws is purse or phone snatchings. Passengers should keep phones, bags and valuables out of sight while riding in a tuk tuk or rickshaw, and be on the lookout for snatchers on motos who reach in to grab valuables, especially cell phones, from unsuspecting riders. While some taxis have meters, passengers taking tuk tuks should negotiate the fare with the driver in advance, since the traditional tuk tuks do not have meters. On the rivers or off the coast, only take ferries with life jackets for each passenger. Regardless of the mode of transportation, guard your belongings closely.

 

Aviation/Airport Conditions

 

There are no specific security concerns with Phnom Penh International Airport (PNH). Fixed-price taxi service from the airport, currently $15 to downtown Phnom Penh, is reliable and safe. The U.S. Embassy is not aware of specific scams or problems with theft at the airport. There were several reports of travelers arriving at PNH having their luggage stolen out of their open tuk tuk as they departed the airport parking lot; for this reason, take taxis and not tuk tuks from the airport to downtown Phnom Penh.

 

Other Travel Conditions

 

The safety record of ferries seems to have improved in recent years, but overcrowding and lack of sufficient life jackets for all passengers remains a concern. The U.S. Embassy does not prohibit Embassy personnel from using ferries, advises caution.

 

Terrorism Threat

 

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

 

There is minimal risk from terrorism in Phnom Penh. No local, regional, or international terrorist groups pose a specific threat to Cambodia or to U.S. interests in Cambodia.

 

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

 

There is no specific anti-U.S. or anti-Western sentiment among the population in Cambodia. In recent months, government leaders have criticized the United States over its principled opposition to the government’s anti-democratic crackdown, and revived complaints over the United States’ Vietnam War legacy in Cambodia. Nevertheless, Cambodians in general view the United States quite favorably, and there have been no incidents of anti-U.S. protests in Phnom Penh in the last three years.

 

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

 

There is moderate risk from civil unrest in Phnom Penh. The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has been in power for nearly 40 years, with most of that time under the leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen. The CPP routinely uses the levers of government, especially the judiciary and police, to intimidate government critics and opposition parties, by charging and sentencing opposition leaders with crimes, including corruption, adultery, treason, and defamation. Provincial governments have stifled political debate by refusing to grant permits for civil society and opposition party demonstrations or gatherings. Following the well-run June 2017 local elections, in which the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) came close to winning a majority of votes, the Cambodian government in September 2017 launched an anti-democratic crackdown, arresting CNRP leader Kem Sokha on charges of treason, outlawing the CNRP, banning several domestic and international NGOs while intimidating others, and shuttering or severely restricting most independent media outlets.

 

The Cambodian government’s banning of the CNRP effectively removed any meaningful opposition to the CPP in advance of the July 2018 national elections. As a result, the CPP won all of the seats in the National Assembly, although 20 political parties enjoying the tacit support of the CPP competed in the elections. The government has since taken a harder line against remaining CNRP activists, with intimidation tactics most often involving the police and the courts. The likelihood of political unrest has diminished, as most Cambodians are afraid to take to the streets to voice political opposition, and many opposition and civic leaders now live in exile.

 

Civil Unrest 

 

Protesters in the last three years have staged, or attempted to stage, peaceful demonstrations outside of government ministries, Phnom Penh City Hall, opposition political party headquarters, international organizations such as the World Bank, and the Prime Minister’s residence in Phnom Penh. The marches usually mean to draw attention to a specific grievance, such as working conditions in garment factories, land seizures, or the arrest of specific opposition party figures or journalists. The government has responded in numbers significant enough to prevent violence or protests. For instance, in 2016, the government stopped CNRP supporters planning to march from the countryside to CNRP headquarters in Phnom Penh and into the city with massive roadblocks on the outskirts of the city and downtown. In every event with the potential to trigger civil unrest since then – such as the lead up to the 2017 commune elections, the arrest of Kem Sokha, and the banning of the CNRP – the government threatened, or deployed, similar displays of force designed to quell any demonstrations. There were no significant incidents of civil unrest in 2018.

 

Religious/Ethnic Violence

 

Cambodia is ethnically homogenous, with the majority of the population Buddhist and Khmer. As such, there is not significant religious or ethnic violence among Cambodians. However, the growing numbers of Chinese coming to Cambodia is creating the possibility of future ethnic tension. Many Cambodians are concerned over the rise of Chinese influence and residents in Cambodia.

 

Post-specific Concerns

 

Environmental Hazards

 

Flooding remains the most significant environmental hazard for Phnom Penh. During the rainy season, streets can become impassible, causing major traffic delays. The standing water on the streets often contains sewage. Rabies is a large concern in Cambodia, from wild animals and stray dogs alike. Anyone bitten by a dog or wild animal should seek medical attention immediately. There is only one facility in the entire country, the Pasteur Institute of Cambodia in Phnom Penh, which can test an animal for rabies.

 

Land mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) exist in remote, rural areas throughout Cambodia, and especially in Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, Pursat, Siem Reap, and Kampong Thom provinces. Travelers in these regions should never walk in forested areas or even in dry rice paddies without a local guide, and should stick to clearly marked paths. Areas around small bridges on secondary roads are particularly dangerous. Travelers should not touch anything that resembles a mine or UXO; notify the Cambodia Mine Action Center at 012-800-473/023-995-437.

 

Critical Infrastructure

 

In many cases, hotels and hostels do not meet Western fire codes or standards.

 

Economic Concerns

 

There is not significant concern in Cambodia about economic espionage. Counterfeit goods of all kinds are available. Most banks in Phnom Penh can exchange U.S. dollars for Cambodian riel, but merchants accept U.S. dollars everywhere in Phnom Penh, with small change provided in riel. Some counterfeit U.S. bills have circulated in Phnom Penh in the past year.

 

Privacy Concerns

 

There is in general no widespread government surveillance of individuals or property. However, the government has demonstrated that it is capable of surveilling, including online, in an overt manner, individuals it deems critical of the government.

 

Personal Identity Concerns

 

In general, there is tacit acceptance of individuals with different sexual orientations, races, nationalities, genders and disabilities.

 

Women walking alone in some parts of the city have reported receiving unwanted stares and, on at least one occasion, unwanted physical contact. There have been reports of sexual assaults near drinking establishments and possible date rape drugs to incapacitate female travelers.

 

There are no legal restrictions on same-sex sexual relations or the organization of LGBTI events in Cambodia.

 

While in Cambodia, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different from what they find in the United States. Currently, except for buildings and hotels built under international standards, most public places and public transportation are not accessible. Persons with disabilities will face difficulties with Cambodia’s sidewalks, rest rooms, road crossings, and tourist areas.

 

Drug-related Crimes

 

Cambodia is source, transit, and destination country for illegal drugs. Marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and other illegal drugs are available. Some criminals are also drug users who turn to crime to finance their drug purchases. A number of foreign citizens, including U.S. citizens, are in jail in Cambodia on drug charges.

 

Kidnapping Threat

 

Traditional kidnapping and extortion schemes exist in Cambodia, with Cambodians the majority of kidnappers and victims. In 2018, there were several cases of wealthy Chinese kidnapped by other Chinese in Cambodia for ransom. For more information, consider OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

 

Other Concerns

 

There are freedom of speech restrictions in Cambodia. Anyone who criticizes or insults the King by any means could face between one to five years in prison. This ban includes insults, or criticism made online and via social media. 

 

Police Response

 

Officers of the Cambodia National Police do not receive adequate pay or training, and are not always responsive to requests for assistance. In the event that a foreigner is the victim of a robbery, it is unlikely that the police will recover any stolen property. Different divisions of the Cambodian National Police wear tan or green uniforms. Cambodian traffic police wear blue uniforms.

 

U.S. citizens who are subject of police detention or harassment should request immediate contact with the U.S. Embassy.

 

Crime Victim Assistance

 

The Cambodian government in 2017 announced the creation of a national police hotline for foreign nationals in Cambodia, staffed 24/7 with Khmer and English speakers. The national hotline number is (031) 201-2345, with the same number available using the WhatsApp social media application. The email address for the hotline is fad-info@police.gov.kh.

 

Medical Emergencies

 

Medical facilities and services in Cambodia in general do not meet international standards. Phnom Penh and Siem Reap each have a limited number of internationally run clinics and hospitals that can provide basic medical care and stabilization. Medical care outside of these two cities is almost non-existent. Local pharmacies provide a limited supply of prescription and over-the-counter medications, but because the quality of locally obtained medications can vary greatly, make sure to bring a supply of your medications that is adequate for the duration of your stay in Cambodia. You should be wary of purchasing local medication. Counterfeit medication is readily available, often indiscernible from authentic medication, and potentially lethal.

 

The medical infrastructure in Phnom Penh continues to make incremental improvements, but many gaps remain. In general, the Cambodian health care system has very low capacity for dealing with emergency medical situations outside of major population centers.

 

Emergency transportation to a hospital, trauma care, and the national blood bank are underdeveloped and inconsistent. There are multiple reports of poorly trained emergency medical personnel conducting emergency procedures, such as opening an airway or controlling severe bleeding, incorrectly or not at all, resulting in death. Local ambulances and many local hospitals also demand payment for service before they will even respond, further compounding the potential for poor outcomes. The potential for surviving a major vehicle accident or life-threatening medical emergency in Cambodia is less than 50%. It is likely even lower considering lack of neurosurgical and orthopedic expertise.

 

While the National Blood Bank can produce basic quality blood products, donations are routinely below the amounts needed. The National Blood Bank admits that it can only supply about one-third of the Nation’s blood supply needs. With such a limited supply, it is also only able to produce basic blood product, which limits the advancement of medical procedures in country.

 

In addition, there are many other significant weaknesses in the medical infrastructure in Cambodia. For example, a very limited number of clinics and hospitals meet international standards, and these facilities are only in urban settings (e.g. Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Sihanoukville); in general, local physicians are poorly trained, with an inadequate system of credentialing, and there is very little sub-specialty care (e.g. neonatal care, trauma surgery) even at international medical facilities.

 

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

 

·         Royal Phnom Penh Hospital: 023-991-000, 023-991-000

·         Calmette Hospital: 023-724-417, 023-724-418

·         Central Hospital: 023-214-955, 023-214-966)

·         SOS Clinic: For medical, not surgical, emergencies: 023-216-911 or 012-816-911. For emergencies: 023-216-911 or 012-816-911.

 

Available Air Ambulance Services

 

There are no reliable Cambodia-based air ambulance services. Both Royal Phnom Penh Hospital and Royal Angkor Hospital in Siem Reap can arrange air ambulance service to Bangkok. Other air ambulance providers are:

 

Asia Air Ambulance: +66 8989 69000

Pacific Flight Services: +65 8484 5168

International SOS: +44 208 762 8133 x1

 

Note that the above services general operate on a provider-to-provider basis and often require payment for services in advance.

 

Insurance Guidance

 

Obtain comprehensive travel insurance, including coverage for medical evacuation (medevac), before travel.

 

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

 

 

Avoid eating street food in Phnom Penh. Avoid tap water and ice cubes outside of urban areas.

 

According to the CDC, travelers to Cambodia should receive vaccinations against Japanese encephalitis, Hepatitis A, typhoid, and yellow fever.

 

OSAC Country Council Information

 

Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Asia-Pacific team with any questions.

 

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

 

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

 

#1, St. 96 (entrance on St. 51 between St. 96 and 102), Phnom Penh

Monday-Friday 0800-1700

Emergency after-hours telephone: +855-23-728-000

Email: ACSPhnompenh@state.gov

Website: https://kh.usembassy.gov/

 

Embassy/Consulate Contact Numbers

 

U.S. Embassy Phnom Penh Switchboard: +855 23 728-000

Marine Post One: +855 23 728-111

Regional Security Office: +855 23 728-110

 

Embassy/Consulate Guidance

 

Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive security messages and make it easier to locate you in an emergency. 

 

Additional Resource: Cambodia Country Information Sheet

 

 

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