THE head of Cambodia's gendarmerie, Sao Sokha, announced March 27 that his men would
no longer be responsible for investigating, arresting and detaining civilians who
have breached the law. That follows a Royal decree signed January 10 by then acting
head of state and Senate President Chea Sim.
"Commanders, deputy commanders and ranking officials from the department of
the Gendarmerie Royal Khmer will be responsible only for criminal matters related
to military affairs," said Sokha.
He said the amendments to Articles 36, 38, 90 and 91 of the UNTAC Penal Code would
only be enforceable once the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defense had
studied the Royal decree and drawn up an advisory paper for the gendarmerie.
That meeting, he said, would take place soon, but he gave no firm date. Sokha declined
to comment when asked about the politics behind the decree.
"I don't want to talk about possible reasons behind the law, because I could
be accused of being partial to one or other political party," said Sokha.
Dr Kao Kim Hourn, executive director of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and
Peace, said the move was positive in terms of separating the responsibilities of
the police and the gendarmerie. Until now, their roles had overlapped, which led
to poor coordination of investigations.
"We need the police and the gendarmerie to have specific mandates, so that there
is no confusion in terms of who is doing what," said Kim Hourn. "They need
to cooperate among themselves so that they can share information and responsibilities.
"I hope that the leaders [of the two institutions] will try to make sure they
will work together, otherwise things could get difficult," he said. "[The
gendarmerie] is a public institution, and we need to institutionalize it further
just like any other institution."
Kim Hourn said there was a perception that the gendarmerie had strengthened its role
in recent years, and some felt it might have gained too much power.
The gendarmerie was formed by King Norodom Sihanouk in 1993 with assistance from
the French government. A sub-decree issued December 1994 widened its ambit to cover
crime committed by military personnel and civilians alike.