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With Floods Come a Crime Wave, Officials Say

A man pulls a giant jar in flood waters on a street in Kandal province September 30, 2011. Some 141 people have died in Cambodia since Aug. 13 in the worst flooding along the Mekong River in 11 years after heavy rain swamped homes, washed away bridges and

Police and human rights groups say violent crime has spiked in the period since severe flooding began in August, as criminals take advantage of a distracted security force.

The capital and many other places across the country have been inundated in recent weeks. Kheng Tito, a military police spokesman, said criminals are taking advantage of the floods, which slow police, to commit crimes.

“These cases happen when we are busy with floods and natural disasters,” he said. “So the criminal takes this opportunity to commit a crime. But these crimes are very small. Most of these are robberies that cause minor injuries.”

However, not all of the crimes are small. An apparent surge in violent crime has come in with the floodwater.

On Monday, a young woman was seized by gunman as she drove along Russian Boulevard in Phnom Penh, according to witnesses. Two men broke the window of her luxury Lexus and took her, witnesses said. A police spokesman said the crime has not been reported.

On Friday, the son of So Phon, an undersecretary of state of the Ministry of Interior, was kidnapped near his home in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district. Police said four kidnappers armed with AK-47s and pistols took him and demanded a $1 million ransom for his release. So Phon declined to comment further, but he said police are now investigating the crime.

And last month, at least two people were shot by unknown gunmen in Dangkor district, one a young woman and the other a market vendor.

Police officials said the crime surge belies steadily declining numbers. Year-on-year numbers show a decrease in crime for the first nine months of 2011.

Chan Saveth, an investigator for the rights group Adhoc, said in the first six months of 2011, security was better than the year before. But recently, there have been cases of killings and kidnappings, he said.

One Phnom Penh resident, who asked to remain anonymous for her safety, said killing a person in the capital was as easy as “killing a bird.” “We are worried about our safety when we go out to work,” she said.