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Overseas Security Advisory Council
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Cambodia 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Cambodia. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Cambodia page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

 

Travel Advisory

 

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Cambodia at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions. 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. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

 

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

 

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Phnom Penh as being a CRITICAL-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Criminal activity in Cambodia, especially Phnom Penh, remained high in 2019, with approximately the same level of violence and frequency of incidents as the year prior. The majority of crimes committed are opportunistic property crimes committed for financial gain, such as cell phone or motorbike thefts. Although criminals specifically target Westerners for crimes motivated by financial gain, perpetrators rarely seek to intentionally use violence or cause physical harm. All forms of criminal activity are more common at night than during the day.

 

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 being 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. However, criminal violence in connection to these thefts often follows active victim resistance. The Embassy advises its staff to avoid resisting and to give up their valuables when confronted. Review OSAC’s report, All That You Should Leave Behind.

 

Visitors to Cambodia should avoid wearing expensive jewelry and carrying bags that are easy to snatch. Pedestrians should walk against traffic where possible in order to maintain better visibility of their surroundings. When using tuk tuks, choose one with a cage or physical barrier around the passenger compartment in order to discourage thefts. Tuk tuk passengers should closely guard easily grabbed items. In addition, never leave valuables or passports stored in luggage out of reach or out of sight, such as the luggage compartment under a bus. Motorbike thefts are a frequent occurrence, with thieves sometimes forcing other motorbikes to crash in order to steal the bike. Robberies have occurred at ATMs; avoid ATMs inside hotels, banks, or other enclosed spaces. These crimes, along with other forms of petty thievery, continue at critical levels; resistance is often met with escalating violence. Residential burglaries in areas where foreigners live continue to present a threat. In at least two recent instances, authorities caught a burglar attempting a second burglary of the same residence.

 

Violent crimes, including assault and sexual violence, do occur. There were a number of reports of shootings and stabbings during 2019. While most of the victims of violent crime are Cambodian, foreigners have also been victims. Excessive consumption of alcohol or use of illegal drugs could make you more vulnerable to becoming a victim of a crime, especially at night. In the event of an armed confrontation, immediately hand over the property and attempt to leave the area to avoid escalation or injury.

 

National and transnational organized crime involving drug, wildlife, and human trafficking continues to be a problem in Cambodia. The port city of Sihanoukville continues to see a significant rise in Chinese influence and residents with large property investments, including hotels and casinos catering to Chinese tourists. The number of Chinese citizens who were both perpetrators and victims of crime continued to rise in 2019. Crimes of theft, assault, kidnapping, and murder have all occurred. Following a crackdown in Chinese-run online gambling parlors in Sihanoukville in late 2019, crime levels appear to have dropped. It is unclear if this trend will continue.

 

Cambodia is a dollarized economy; fake U.S. currency continues to be an issue. Several U.S. nationals, including official U.S. government travelers, have reported receiving fake $100 bills from ATMs and currency exchange booths. The bills are also referred to as “ghost money” and are good color photocopies of actual $100 notes with the notation “Copy” or “Novelty currency, not legal tender” added, making them novelty rather than counterfeit bills. Local residents use these bills as offerings, especially during Chinese New Year, and can buy them in bulk at local markets in Phnom Penh. Always immediately inspect and feel the bills you receive from an ATM, bank, exchange booth, or store to make sure that they are genuine. Immediately photographed any fake bills coming from an ATM as evidence, along with your ATM receipt and a photo of the victim standing at the ATM, then 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 attempting 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. Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud, and Taking Credit.

 

There have been occasional reported incidents that thieves spike foreigners’ drinks in some establishments to incapacitate victims in order to rob or assault them. While the problem does not appear widespread in Cambodia, exercise caution, especially if out drinking alone. Review OSAC’s report, Shaken: The Don'ts of Alcohol Abroad

 

No areas of Phnom Penh or Cambodia are off limits for U.S. Embassy personnel.

 

Cybersecurity Issues

 

The Chinese government provides both a significant level of surveillance technology and cyber security training needed to the Cambodian government. The Cambodian government has been extremely receptive to this type of assistance and is highly likely to adopt many of the practices and technologies currently used by China today. This includes 5G technology provided by Huawei. This may result in security vulnerabilities that allow for increased monitoring of local citizens as well as foreign nationals. Given this risk, network security managers, and those responsible for digital and cyber security, should familiarize themselves with the digital environment in the country to ensure they have a good understanding of their physical and cybersecurity posture. Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?

 

Transportation-Safety Situation

 

Road Safety and Road Conditions

 

Driving in Cambodia can be hazardous. Drivers widely ignore traffic laws and police only haphazardly enforce them. Drivers routinely run red lights and stop signs, drive the wrong way down one-way streets, and frequently fail to use headlights after dark. The city streets are crowded with cars, tuk tuks, and large numbers of moto scooters weaving unpredictably through traffic, creating hazards. Many streets have poorly lighting. While Phnom Penh has sidewalks, parked vehicles or food stands usually occupy them, increasing the danger by forcing pedestrians to walk in the streets.

 

Minor traffic accidents are quite common in Phnom Penh. In general, traffic moves very slowly in Phnom Penh 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 limited in availability. Moto scooters, pedestrians, slow moving trucks, and sometimes 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 may not drive after dark outside of major population centers. Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

 

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 ride-sharing 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 app provides the additional security measure of identifying the fare (in advance), the vehicle, the driver, and the passenger’s progress along their intended route. The Embassy encourages staff to use these apps for these reasons. However, continually monitoring your route using a phone risks making the phone vulnerable to theft. Maintain situational awareness if using a phone to monitor your route. 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. Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

 

Aviation/Airport Conditions

 

There are no specific security concerns with Phnom Penh’s international airport (PNH). Fixed-price taxi service from the airport, currently $15-$20 to downtown Phnom Penh, is reliable and safe. The U.S. Embassy is not aware of scams or problems with theft at the airport. There were several reports of travelers arriving at the airport 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

 

Whether plying the rivers or to traveling to islands off the coast, only take ferries with enough life jackets for each passenger. Regardless of the mode of transportation, watch your belongings closely. The safety record of ferries seems to have improved in recent years, but overcrowding and lack of life jackets for all passengers remains a concern. The U.S. Embassy does not prohibit Embassy personnel from using ferries, but advises caution.

 

Terrorism Threat

 

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Phnom Penh as being a LOW-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. No local, regional, or international terrorist groups pose a specific threat to Cambodia or to U.S. government interests in Cambodia. However, terrorist groups including ISIS, al-Qa'ida, their associates, and those inspired by such organizations are intent on attacking U.S. citizens wherever they are. Extremists may use conventional or non-conventional weapons to target U.S. government and private interests.

 

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

 

There is no specific anti-U.S. or anti-Western sentiment among the population in Cambodia. The Cambodian public generally views the United States 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

 

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Phnom Penh as being a MEDIUM-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has been in power for over 39 years, for 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, treason, and defamation. Provincial governments have stifled political debate by refusing to grant permits for civil society and opposition party members to demonstrate or gather. Following local elections in 2017, in which the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) came close to winning a majority of votes, the Cambodian government 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 many independent media outlets.

 

The Cambodian government’s banning of the CNRP effectively removed any meaningful opposition to the CPP in advance of the 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. 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.

 

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 draw attention to a specific grievance, such as working conditions in garment factories, land seizures, or the arrest of opposition party figures or journalists. The government has responded in numbers significant enough to prevent violence. 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. Since then, for every event with the potential to trigger civil unrest, such as the 2017 commune elections, the arrest of Kem Sokha, or the banning of the CNRP, the government threatened, or deployed, similar displays of force designed to quell any real protest. There were no significant incidents of civil unrest in 2019. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.

 

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 nationals coming to Cambodia is creating the possibility of ethnic tension in the future. 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, both from wild animals and stray dogs. 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, able to test an animal for rabies.

 

Land mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) exist in remote, rural areas throughout Cambodia, 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. Do not touch anything that resembles a mine or UXO. Any traveler finding possible UXO should notify the Cambodia Mine Action Center at 012-800-473/023-995-437.

 

Critical Infrastructure

 

The roads and bridges in major cities are generally in good shape. However, local construction sites do not follow U.S. safety standards when it comes to the moving and storage of construction equipment. Exercise extra caution around construction sites. The further you get from the cities, the more road and bridge conditions deteriorate. Those traveling by vehicle should carry a full-size spare, and the basic equipment to perform a “self-recovery” if the vehicle becomes stuck.

 

There are hotels of varying costs in Phnom Penh, from inexpensive backpacker hostels to upscale five-star international chains. In many cases, hotels and hostels do not meet Western fire codes or standards. Learn the location of fire exits and walk the path of the emergency escape route to ensure you are familiar with the route and that there are no obstacles to an emergency exit. Review OSAC’s reports, Hotels: The Inns and Outs, Considerations for Hotel Security, and Fire Safety Abroad.

 

Economic Concerns

 

Violation of intellectual property rights remains a concern in Cambodia. Counterfeit goods of all kinds are available. Most banks in Phnom Penh can exchange U.S. dollars for Cambodian riel, but exchange is not always necessary; U.S. dollars are accepted 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

 

The Cambodian government has demonstrated that it is fully capable of performing surveillance, and surveils political opposition groups. U.S. private-sector organizations should have no expectation of privacy, which makes the discussion of proprietary or sensitive information difficult. Protect all financial and personal information. Do not discuss travel plans or other business in an open venue. Be alert to any unusual surveillance or activity near the places you visit frequently. Vary your routes and times.

 

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 attention and, on at least one occasion, unwanted physical contact. Sexual assaults involving foreigners have occurred recently. Women should avoid traveling alone to remote areas such as into the jungle or islands. There have been reports of sexual assaults near drinking establishments and the possible use of date rape drugs to incapacitate female travelers. There have been reports of sexual assault of both foreigners and locals. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for female travelers.

 

While there are no legal restrictions on same-sex sexual relations or the organization of LGBTI events in Cambodia, same sex marriage is not legal. While Cambodians are relatively tolerant toward foreigners, LGBTI Cambodians routinely face discrimination and harassment, especially outside major urban areas. Cambodians generally frown upon public displays of affection for couples of any sexual orientation. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

 

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 that have been 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. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

 

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. nationals, have received prison sentences for drug-related crimes.

 

Kidnapping Threat

 

Traditional kidnapping and extortion schemes exist in Cambodia, with Cambodians being the majority of kidnappers and victims. In 2019, several kidnapping cases involved Chinese victims and perpetrators. Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

 

Police Response

 

Police capability, responsiveness, and professionalism are substandard compared to that in the United States. Police units are often under-funded, under-staffed, poorly equipped or trained, and suffer from limited resources and corruption. Many crimes go unreported or forgo full investigation. Police often cite a lack of adequate transportation as an excuse for slow response. Few police officers speak English. In the event that a foreigner is the victim of a robbery, it is unlikely that the police will recover the stolen property. Different divisions of the Cambodian National Police wear tan or green uniforms. Cambodian traffic police wear blue uniforms.

 

Enforcement of traffic regulations is often haphazard or a means to solicit bribes. Police will often signal motorists to pull over and pay a spot fine. Low pay and low morale create an environment in which even bribes of a few dollars can make allegations disappear. Do not pay bribes, and do not comply with requests to pay on-the-spot fines.

 

If an officer persists, comply with instructions, identify yourself as a U.S. citizen, and obtain the officer’s name and badge number. Politely ask to speak with a supervisor and/or request they take you to police headquarters for further processing. Police must notify the Embassy when arresting or detaining a U.S. citizen; however, delayed notifications are common. If arrested, assert this right and request to speak with a representative from the U.S. Embassy by calling 855-23-728-402.

 

The emergency line in PHNOM PENH is 119. Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

 

In 2017, the Cambodian government announced the creation of a national police hotline for foreign nationals in Cambodia, staffed 24/7 with both 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

 

In general, the Cambodian health care system has very low capacity for dealing with emergency medical situations outside of major population centers. The medical infrastructure in Phnom Penh continues to make incremental improvements, but many gaps remain. 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 (e.g. opening an airway, 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 respond, further compounding the potential for poor outcomes.

 

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 have poor training, there is an inadequate system of credentialing, and there is very little sub-specialty care (e.g. neonatal care, trauma surgery) even at international medical facilities.

 

Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the U.S. Embassy website.

 

Insurance Guidance

 

Travelers are strongly encouraged to carry comprehensive travelers’ insurance with medical evacuation (medevac) capability, and to carry that proof of insurance on their person while traveling. Let others in your traveling party know about the insurance coverage and where they can find proof should you be unconscious or otherwise unable to serve as your own healthcare advocate. Review the State Department’s webpage on insurance overseas.

 

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

 

According to the CDC, travelers to Cambodia should receive vaccinations against Japanese encephalitis, Hepatitis A, typhoid, and yellow fever. Avoid eating street food in Phnom Penh. Avoid tap water and ice cubes outside of urban areas. Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Traveling with Medication, I’m Drinking What in My Water?, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad

 

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Cambodia.

 

OSAC Country Council Information

 

The OSAC Cambodia Country Council launched in 2019. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s East Asia Pacific team with any questions or to join.

 

U.S. Embassy Contact Information


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

Hours of Operation: Monday through Friday 0800-1700

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


Embassy Operator: +855-23-728-402, 051

Emergency calls after normal business hours: +855-23-728-000

American Citizen Services Section: ACSPhnompenh@state.gov

State Department Emergency Line: +1-202-501-4444

 

Helpful Information

 

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

 

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