Overall Crime and Safety Situation
Criminal activity remained high in 2013, with an increase in both the level of violence and the frequency of incidents involving U.S. Embassy personnel. The majority of the crimes committed in Cambodia were opportunistic and for financial gain. Further compounding issues of safety and security within the country were endemic corruption within the Cambodian National Police (CNP) and the judicial system. Public perception regarding the CNP’s abilities often led to vigilante-style justice.
Violent crimes, especially armed robberies, continue to occur. The frequency of armed robberies involving weapons continued at high levels. Criminals will typically use force, to include deadly force, when confronted with a victim that attempts to resist. Westerners have reported being threatened at gunpoint despite complying with the robbers. Startling examples of violence during the year included two separate incidents involving American and Japanese tourists who were each shot by assailants after giving up their valuables.
There were also numerous shootings and stabbings that occurred throughout the country at the hands of criminals operating with little fear of being caught. There were numerous reports of shootings during armed robberies throughout the year. Frequent random gunfire incidents, as well as gunfire exchanges due to traffic accidents, occurred throughout the year.
Although they are not typically targeted specifically, Westerners continued to be victims of these crimes. There was an increase in 2013 in the number of reports the Regional Security Office (RSO) received from Embassy personnel, NGO workers, and other expatriates regarding residential break-ins and “snatch-and-grab” thefts while the victim was riding in a tuk-tuk. While the chances of being a victim at night increased dramatically, daytime robberies were very common: pickpocketing and purse snatching were rampant, especially while riding in tuk-tuks (three-wheeled vehicles commonly used for local transportation).
Transportation centers, market areas, special events, the river front area, and crowded buses traveling to the provinces are prime areas for pickpockets. Thefts of motorbikes and cell phones and other petty thievery continued at previous high levels, with resistance often being met with escalating violence.
Youth gangs continued to operate unimpeded throughout Phnom Penh. These gangs could be violent and typically attacked each other over turf battles or perceived insults, with instances in which innocent civilians were injured or killed after getting caught in the middle of the confrontations.
Organized crime, both national and transnational, continued to plague Cambodia.
Overall Road Safety Situation
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Cambodia averaged six deaths per day on its roadways, an extremely high number given the limited number of vehicles and paved roads. While road infrastructure in major urban areas is acceptable, drivers are required to exercise extreme caution when operating motor vehicles at night, as reduced traffic allowed others to drive at high rates of speed, very often while under the influence of alcohol, significantly contributing to the large number of vehicle accidents and fatalities. Outside of major urban areas, U.S. Embassy personnel are prohibited from driving during hours of darkness, as rural roads often deteriorate due to rainy-season flooding; usually lack lighting, painted dividing lines, and proper guard rails; and are plagued by other hazardous driving conditions, such as livestock and the lack of operational headlights on other vehicles.
Anecdotal evidence provided to the RSO by local clinics pointed to a rise in the number of Westerners injured by thieves yanking victims out of moving tuk-tuks while trying to snatch their belongings.
Although there has been increased regulation of vehicle safety standards, traffic accidents continued to be a significant threat and a primary cause of fatalities in Phnom Penh. Most Cambodians lack driver training, are extremely negligent, and often drive at excessive speeds. Vehicle travel to rural provinces could be dangerous, especially at night, as livestock typically sleep on the road, and motor vehicles are routinely operated without headlights or reflective devices. Temporary visitors operating a vehicle must have a valid driver’s license from their country of residence and local third-party insurance, while foreigners resident in Cambodia must also have a locally issued license.
Always remove the keys when you exit a vehicle. Avoid driving after dark, especially outside of urban areas. Keep car windows closed and doors locked. Vehicle break-ins are a frequent occurrence in Phnom Penh. Criminals will steal mirrors, spare tires, lights, trim, and accessories off of expensive vehicles.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
Cultural and personal ties between the United States and Cambodia are strong and growing, and there is very little evidence of anti-American sentiment.
Following the disputed July 2013 national elections, demonstrations by opposition party activists and others attracted unprecedented numbers of supporters. Although opposition-related demonstrations remained peaceful, a bystander was shot during a clash between security forces and civilians at a road block in September 2013, and clashes took place between security forces and labor protesters in November 2013 and again in January 2014 that resulted in numerous injuries and up to seven deaths. Days after the July 2013 national elections, an improvised explosive device (IED) was found near the parliament building, and three grenades were found in a park about one city block from the U.S. Embassy. There were no casualties in either case, as the devices were rendered safe. Two other devices, one at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court and another at the Cambodian People’s Party headquarters in Kampong Speu, exploded in the middle of the night without causing injuries. No arrests have been made in any of these cases. There were no indications that these explosives were directed at U.S. or other Western interests, but such incidents could result in harm to innocent bystanders.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
Concerns persisted over the potential for Muslim extremist-related terrorist activity. There were no terrorist attacks reported in Cambodia during the year, but very porous borders allowed potentially easy travel by terrorists.
Over the past decade, demonstrations had been limited to a city block (Freedom Park) designated for this purpose near the U.S. Embassy and were tightly regulated. Political activities have turned violent, and the possibility for politically-motivated violence remains. In 2013, the intensity of demonstrations over labor, land, and political disputes increased. Security forces, whose members lacked meaningful training in controlling large demonstrations, were ill-equipped to deal with many of these situations, resulting in lack of enforcement in some cases and prompt escalation to deadly force in others. Police or military units in 2013 resorted to live fire on several occassions in an effort to gain control of labor protests during which violence had broken out, resulting in deaths and injuries.
During the monsoon season (May-October), heavy rains caused sporadic flooding in parts of the country and along the city streets in Phnom Penh, making many roads and bridges impassable.
Cambodia has a significant and growing illegal drug problem that includes increasing levels of consumption, trafficking, and production of dangerous drugs. Recent trends indicate that Cambodia produces narcotics destined for both local and regional markets. Cambodia set new records in 2013 for criminal cases involving cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines, and all evidence suggests these trends will continue.
Police are poorly paid, poorly trained, and lack the resources and equipment to perform their duties.
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
Traffic police routinely stop foreigners and Cambodians alike for minor traffic violations, both real and alleged, and ask for bribes. The U.S. Embassy advises U.S. citizens to politely decline any request to pay a bribe.
Where to Turn to for Assistance if you Become a Victim of Crime
Foreign victims of crime report a difficult time navigating the confusing jurisdictional authorities to file an official report or complaint with the appropriate office. Even when victims were successful in identifying the correct office with which to file a report, police routinely charged a filing fee, resulting in many crimes going unreported and official crime statistics being artificially low. Even so, the U.S. Embassy advises U.S. citizens to report crimes committed against them whenever possible to the local police station as well as to the Embassy’s Consular Section.
Local Police Emergency Numbers (Country Code 855 – If using the country code to call from overseas, drop the initial “0” of the telephone number.)
Phnom Penh (Municipal Central Command Post): 012-999-999/011-567-656
Siem Reap: 017-808-886
Sihanoukville: 077-222-277 or 097-7222-277
Various Police/Security Agencies
There are several private security services operating in Phnom Penh. None are associated with the U.S. Embassy Guard Force.
Medical and ambulance services in Phnom Penh are minimal and well below U.S. standards. Dial 119 to access the local EMS system. While most ambulance services are operated by private hospitals, they only provide transportation – not emergency treatment.
Travelers are strongly recommended to carry adequate medical evacuation insurance. The cost of a private medevac flight to Bangkok or Singapore can be extremely expensive.
Contact Information for Recommended Local Hospitals and Clinics
(Country Code 855 – If using the country code to call from overseas, drop the initial “0” of the telephone number.)
Royal Rattanak Hospital: 023-365-555
SOS International Clinic: 023-216-911, 023-215-911, 023-216-959
For both medical and dental emergencies
Calmette Hospital: 023-426-948
A local government hospital, not to Western standards
European Dental Clinic: 023-211-363, 023-362-656, 018-812-055
Naga Medical Center: 011-811-175
American Medical Centre: 012-891-613, 023-991-863
Recommended Air Ambulance Services
Air ambulance services can be arranged out of Bangkok through SOS International or Royal Rattanak Hospital.
CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
Mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue fever, malaria, and Japanese encephalitis were common in all parts of Cambodia, including urban areas. In 2013, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported at least 13 deaths stemming from the H5N1 Virus (“Bird Flu”), with a total of 24 confirmed cases, making Cambodia the hardest hit country in the world for the year. The prevalence rates for tuberculosis, hepatitis, and HIV/AIDS were high among the general population, but even more so among high-risk groups.
For vaccine and health guidance, please visit the CDC at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/cambodia.
How to Avoid Becoming a Victim
Areas to be Avoided
Phnom Penh can be dangerous after hours. Late-night movement should be avoided. Although no establishments are “off-limits,” U.S. Embassy employees are prohibited from frequenting establishments that exist primarily to support the sex trade.
U.S. Embassy employees are prohibited from ordering food items from local restaurants that contain marijuana or other illicit ingredients, which are usually marketed under the term “happy,” particularly “happy pizza.”
Best Situational Awareness Practices
Americans who followed sound personal security procedures, including employing 24-hour residential guards and basic physical security measures, were victimized far less often than the general population.
Avoid carrying wallets or passports in back pockets. If at all possible, purses should not be carried. If a purse or bag is carried, keep it closed and in front of the wearer. Passports and ID should be photocopied and the original kept someplace safe.
Do not walk the streets at night. Avoid transport by moto-taxis. Do not get into taxis that are already occupied. Avoid dimly lit areas.
Socialize at reputable restaurants and bars. Credit cards are rarely used, except at major international hotels and restaurants, and it is best not to carry them with you. Avoid wearing expensive looking jewelry. Individuals are advised to carry only what they are willing to lose and to take the path of least resistance if confronted by an armed robber. Do not resist if you are the victim of a robbery.
Install metal grills on all doors and windows at residences. Keep all doors and windows closed and locked. Ensure the residence has adequate lighting around the perimeter. Know how to use alarm systems. Hire 24-hour guard protection from a reputable company.
Avoid giving money to beggars and children. The children are typically forced to beg by their parents to support a drug habit. Word spreads fast, and you may soon find yourself surrounded and under siege by other people wanting money. Many are pickpockets working in groups.
Keep a low profile. Report any incidents to the Embassy’s Consular Section.
U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information
Embassy Contact Numbers
(Country Code 855 – If using the country code to call from overseas, drop the initial “0” of the telephone number.)
Post One: 023-728-111
Regional Security Office: 023-728-110
Embassy after-hours Duty Officer: 012-814-800
We strongly recommend that U.S. citizens traveling to or residing in Cambodia enroll in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP enrollment gives U.S. citizens the latest security updates and makes it easier for the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to contact them in an emergency. Those without Internet access may enroll directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
Regularly monitor the State Department’s website, where you can find current Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts, and the Worldwide Caution. Read the Country Specific Information for Cambodia. For additional information, refer to “A Safe Trip Abroad” on the State Department’s website. Contact the U.S. Embassy for up-to-date information on travel restrictions. You can also call 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or 1-202-501-4444 from other countries. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). Follow us on Twitter and Facebook, and download our free Smart Traveler iPhone App to have travel information at your fingertips.
OSAC Country Council Information
The Cambodia OSAC Country Council meets quarterly. The points of contact are:
Luis A. Matus, RSO
Joseph F. Mahoney, ARSO