Daylight robbery

January 27, 2013

I love working in a newsroom. The unholy levels of cynicism, mixed with daily helpings of the worst the world has to offer, keeps me very entertained. You just have to laugh, a lot. When coupled with trying to get to grips with a country as broken, corrupt and generally foreign as Cambodia, it becomes almost irresistible. Although the sheer scale of the corruption and injustice here does grind a bit after a while.

 

But yesterday I had my mind boggled by a story so ludicrous as to make my head nearly explode. There had been a bank robbery in a tiny town a couple of hours outside Phnom Penh. The armed raiders (access to assault rifles here is NRA-paradise easy) got half-way through, but, somehow, the police turned up to foil it.

This led to a stand-off, where the robbers barricaded themselves in the bank, with hostages, and proceeded to take pot shots at the law. In Hollywood, this is the point at which some troubled but savant hostage negotiator would roll in and save the day. But this is Cambodia. The filth opened negotiations by shouting at the bank, and were given a demand: the robbers wanted some crystal meth.

Crystal meth, for those of you unacquainted with it, is a form of amphetamine, wildly popular among the underclasses worldwide. It is a horrible, jangly drug, which gives you manic energy and enthusiasm, but leaves you prone to poor impulse control, mood swings and terrible judgement. You wouldn’t want to deal with a librarian on meth, let alone a gang of cornered robbers with hostages and AK-47s.

So what did the local police do? Yes, that’s right, they gave them some.

You might wonder how the Cambodian police came to have instant access to a pile of crystal meth. If you knew the Cambodian police, you probably wouldn’t. But you would have to wonder about the thinking behind giving a gang of violent criminals a drug quite so viciously unpleasant, in a situation like that. It’s not like pouring petrol on a fire: more like firing a depleted-uranium-tipped Exocet rocket into one.

Eventually the robbers ran out of meth, and the police had to send to Phnom Penh for some more. Late in the evening, the robbers asked for motorbikes; when these were provided, they rode off into a rubber plantation, fell off, and were arrested.

There was a lot of laughter in the newsroom as the story filtered in. But a lot of head-shaking too. What an extraordinary country.

 

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