Phnom Penh Governor Pa Socheatvong yesterday passed out hundreds of millions of riel – purportedly provided by Prime Minister Hun Sen – to more than 2,000 police officials as a token of thanks for their work in maintaining order in the 12 months since the 2013 general elections.
Since the July 28 poll last year, the capital has been rocked by frequent demonstrations – many related to the election results and the ongoing fight for improved wages in the garment sector.
Police crackdowns have resulted in countless injuries and the deaths of at least seven civilians, some of them not even participants in the unrest.
According to City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche, however, Socheatvong praised the 2,400 officials at a gathering at the Olympic Stadium for preventing a slide into lawlessness.
“The political deadlock after the national election went on for more than a year, and caused many demonstrations and strikes, and sometimes, those strikes and demonstrations nearly caused Phnom Penh to fall into anarchy and a chaotic situation,” Socheatvong said, according to city spokesman Long Dimanche.
At the gathering, Phnom Penh police chief Chhuon Sovann thanked the police for managing the year’s demonstrations – of which there were 445, he added, 80 of which were instigated by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party – and commiserated with attendees over the abuse they suffered.
“On top of the forceful clashing with the protesters, the police forces were cursed and insulted seriously,” he said.
Dimanche said that at the ceremony, attendees with the rank of deputy district chief or lower were each given 100,000 riel (about $25). Those above that rank were each given 200,000.
Am Sam Ath, a legal adviser with the rights group Licadho, said that offering incentives to officials for performing their duties well was understandable.
“However, previously, the prevention of gatherings and demonstrations caused many deaths and injuries, so offering money as encouragement for that could cause confusion and criticism,” he said.