Interior Minister Sar Kheng yesterday defended the notoriously violent security guards employed by Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district to keep order and crack down on protests, saying they were necessary to help understaffed police.
Wearing black motorcycle helmets and wielding batons, the Daun Penh guards spent much of 2014 enforcing the government’s decree banning gatherings of more than 10 people by attacking anyone who defied it. Speaking at an event at the Sofitel Hotel, Kheng said the guards were necessary during the time of postelection upheaval and did not deserve the criticism often directed at them.
“It was historic in our country, as we never had a gathering of hundreds of thousands of people in Phnom Penh . . . [the opposition] said there was 400,000,” Kheng said, rejecting claims the guards used disproportionate force to stop protests.
“They were outnumbered, because . . . we had only a few police. Therefore, there was a need for the help of the volunteers,” he continued. “The security guards . . . had no intention to do anything more than helping the authorities, including the National Police forces, which were understaffed.”
Whatever their intention, the guards gained a reputation for chasing after activists, civil society members and journalists swinging their batons. In May 2014, one split open the skull of opposition lawmaker Nhay Chamroeun at a protest. Another guard struck the head of journalist Lay Samean, who now works for the Post and was covering the protest.
Both required extended hospitalisation and treatment abroad.