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Rights Commission Blasts Bribery in Fire-Fighting

The Hong-Kong based Asian Human Rights Commission censured Cambodian firefighters Monday, accusing them of taking bribes to put out blazes.

The Rights Commission called for an investigation of the firefighters involved in an April 11 conflagration that swept through Tuk Thla commune on the outskirts of Phnom Penh and destroyed 450 homes, leaving thousands without shelter for the Khmer New Year.

Villagers said at the time firefighters refused to battle the blaze because they were not paid bribes. Officials have said the roadways between the shanty homes were too narrow for their trucks.

Two more fires burned in the week following the Tuk Thla disaster, one at Naga Casino in Phnom Penh and another in Psar Damko commune, where 44 homes were destroyed.

The Rights Commission said in a statement Monday both residential fires were followed by accusations of bribe demands.

“The Cambodian government cannot ignore this problem and continue to condone such bribery,” the rights group said. “It is all the more imperative for it to address this issue and stamp out any corruption in the fire service.”

The group called for an immediate investigation into the bribery allegations and for the government to “take action against those firemen involved.”

Interior Ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Khieu Sopheak said neither the government nor the ministry condoned bribery, though he did not deny such practices may exist.

Bribe demands “might occur,” he said, but “as a principal, the ministry does not allow [firemen] to do that, and we are please to be receiving complaints from the real victims.”