Military police detained 14 children being cared for by one of the country's largest children's charities after they attacked each other with Samurai swords, injuring a 10 year-old- boy and briefly terrorizing a provincial town, authorities said yesterday.
Chief of military police for the southern province of Kampong Speu, Men Sibon, told reporters that his men had been called to the provincial center for local non-government organization (NGO) Mith Samlanh/Friends on Nov. 2 after two gangs of children as young as 10 attacked each other in an apparent dispute over territory.
The 14 children and young adults involved had all been members of the charity's drug program and were recovering from drug addictions, mainly to methamphetamines, under the organization's auspices, according to police.
"The two groups of eight and six children respectively became angry when they saw each other and produced Samurai swords and sticks and began attacking each other," Men Sibon said.
"They started inside the NGO's center, but they quickly spilled out of the gate and into the streets, and when they could not be controlled, the NGO called us to help," Men Sibon said.
He said one 10-year-old boy involved in the altercation was rescued and treated for minor sword wounds after he jumped into the nearby river to evade his attackers.
All 14 were detained by military police and had their heads shaved as a warning not to fight again before being released without charge on Nov. 3 after the NGO petitioned the provincial governor to allow it to deal with the matter itself, he added.
"The problem arose because the NGO did not educate these people well. All these children they take from everywhere to teach not to use drugs, but they cannot," Men Sibon said. "It is no joke educating drug users. It isn't easy. You need skill."
He said military police had expressed concern to the provincial government that the center was causing problems in the area, which lies just 40km from Phnom Penh, due to an apparent inability of staff to control those in its care, and had questioned how the children came to be in possession of weapons.
Friends had already featured in local media earlier this year when Khmer-language newspapers reported police had arrested a teenaged female on charges of dealing methamphetamines from one of its centers in Phnom Penh.
Mith Samlanh drug program team leader Ouch Tath Amatak said he was unaware of any fighting at his organization's provincial center, but added that the rules of the NGO would have required the children involved to leave the NGO's care immediately if there had been a disturbance.
Mith Samlanh is one of the largest local NGOs in Cambodia, receiving funding from a range of international donors for work with street children including harm reduction and drug education and recovery programs.
The organization has previously been awarded the Order of Australia for its humanitarian work.
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