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Ahead of New Year Revelry, Safety Concerns

Cambodian dancers perform during a merit making ceremony Tuesday, April 12, 2011, at Cambodia's Ministry of Information in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The ceremony was held in advance of Cambodian New Year's celebration which lasts for three days, from April 14

Government officials said Tuesday they are worried about a high number of traffic fatalities and other dangers over the Khmer New Year, but were not optimistic they would be able to lower the death toll.

Last year, 49 people were killed and 530 others injured in accidents over the holiday, due mostly to drunken or reckless driving.

“I am very worried about traffic accidents,” said Ung Chun Hour, director of the general secretariat for the National Road Safety Committee. “We’re instructing them to take care of their driving, such as no drunk driving, no fast driving, and in particular motorcyclists must wear a helmet.”

“But we have little hope in reducing the traffic accidents,” he said. “We must continue our efforts, but we have no money to show jokes or distribute leaflets related to protection against traffic accidents.”

Security officials are also watching out for other dangers during the holiday.

Khieu Sopheak, a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said provincial and city authorities are to ban the play fights of water and baby powder during the New Year. The annual tradition has caused accidents in the past.

Khieu Sopheak will also be on the lookout for another annual problem, rural gang violence, which can surge during New Year revelry.

“We will not allow trouble from gangsters or thieves or robbers,” he said. “And each police post around the country is standing by to prevent these bad activities in Buddhist pagodas, entertainment sites and along the roads.”

Authorities in border provinces with Thailand, which celebrates its New Year at the same time, have also been put on alert to prevent incidents, he said.

Some 1,650 police officers will be on guard in Phnom Penh, said Touch Naroth, chief of municipal police.