Crossing Cambodia

Monday, November 19, 2007

Accident aftermath

The main traffic related news of the last few days, has been the tragic incident, which resulted in the death of a French woman, who was here 'interning' Crossing Cambodia believes. At least big news in Phnom Penh.

Just to recap (though a link to an AFP report of the accident on KI Media is here): The victim was on the back of a moto, during mid-day. So-called purse snatchers try to steal her purse, but are only able to drag her off the motorcycle into the path of a minivan which could not avoid her, resulting in her death. But both culprits as well as the driver of moto and van have disappeared, the police are trying to explain that this was just a traffic accident.

Besides this line, there are quite a few aspects related to this incident: the KI Media site (in the aforementioned article) has 21 reactions so far (mostly lamented the lack of law and order in Hun Sen's era) and Khmer 440 has currently more than 6 pages of comments on their forum (mostly pointing out the lack of security, though (tastelessly) also commenting on how a purse over the shoulder can add attraction to the female physique).

Though I have some comments myself, today's (November 19, 2007) Cambodia Daily 'Letter to the Editor' captures quite a bit of what I would like to add. As these letters are less often available on the i-net, this is the whole letter:
'Take Steps to make Phnom Penh Safer.
I have been very sadden to learn that another victim, this time a French woman, Aurelia Lacroix, has died from a tragedy caused most likely by bag-snatchers who dragged her into the path of an approaching mini-van on one of the main Phnom Penh roads.
I'd first like to offer my heartfelt condolences to the family of Ms. Lacroix and other victims of such crimes. Also I would like to appeal to the national police to take more immediate and appropriate measures to stop high-speed bag snatchings and other far too common crimes like robbing and killing people for their motorbikes, or the snatching of belongings.
This recent incident has arguably worsened perceptions of security among the Phnom Penh residents and tourists.
Many people recommend that the following measures should be taken:
  • More policemen should be deployed to regularly patrol the roads.
  • Surveillance camera's should be installed at various corners of the main streets or other public places that have a high prevalence of crimes.
  • Greater means of communication are needed to catch the thieves.
  • Individuals providing public transport - especially tuk-tuk, motorbike taxi and cyclo drivers - should be encouraged to cooperate more with the police,as they are often very close to the crime scenes.
  • The police should be physically and financially equipped to do their jobs. Police should be fairly paid, more careful attention should be paid to them, and rewards should be offered to motivate them.
If the above recommendations are genuinely followed, everyone will surely be proud of the national police and enjoy living in a more peaceful and secure environment. Not only would a state of good security win applause from Cambodians but it would also attract more tourists, increasing employment for local people.

Muong Nareth, Phnom Penh'.

Crossing Cambodia would like to agree with the assumption that these kind (or worse) of unfortunate incidents are commonplace in Cambodia and they are by no means confined to just these knacks of the wood; the same happens daily, down under, in Europe or North America; the only difference is that this time the victim is a foreigner.

Does this mean that this sort of crime should be ignored? Certainly not, but the culture of impunity in Cambodia is very much pervasive. Changing this is difficult, though with the Khmer Rouge (leaders) now publicly on trial, it seems that there is more willingness of officials to tackle those living on the wrong side of the law, irrespective of their (financial) power, but being a CPP party member is still very much relevant as to claim immunity. In time, the above process will hopefully result in better policing on the streets. The letter writer fails to notice that the tools for policing are there in the form of laws. The lack of policing is not due to lack of incentives or facilities but a lack of willingness.

One aspect which does not seem to take much notice, is that the victim had no helmet (Phnom Penh Post published a photo of victim after the accident, which stirred up a lot of controversy). Despite this being required by law as well as being advised nearly on all sites giving advice on traffic (related) issues. Without knowing the exact causes of her death, I can not say for sure, but possibly the outcome might have been different has she been wearing a helmet.

Ensuring general safety on the roads is the task of police (as enforcers) and the administration (by providing 'tools' and encouraging the process). In that the Cambodian authorities have dismally failed. Let's hope the this accident helps the authorities to get their priorities right: ensuring public safety is a must for any government, where ever, when ever.

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