National Military Police Commander Sao Sokha hit out for the first time yesterday at reports that he claims to draw inspiration from Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler, arguing that his comments were misinterpreted.
During an annual meeting of Phnom Penh’s military police on Thursday, local media reported that the commander told the crowd he “learned from Hitler”.
Sokha was reported as saying that, if “someone acts like a czar, doing foolish things”, the military police were ready to launch immediate security operations.
“Speaking frankly, I learned from Hitler. Germany, after World War I, was not allowed by the international community to have more than 100,000 soldiers, but the Nazis and Hitler did whatever so they could wage World War II,” he was reported as saying.
His comments were widely circulated and condemned, with rights groups, opposition figures and Germany’s ambassador, Joachim Baron von Marschall, lambasting the commander’s seeming praise of a genocidal regime that was responsible for the systematic murder of millions of “undesirables”.
But, speaking out yesterday, Sokha said his comments, first reported in The Cambodia Daily, had been misunderstood.
Sokha acknowledged that he “raised the name of Hitler” and said that he learned from him, but said the lesson was far from inspirational.
“Our vision is to educate the people to walk on the right path. I just raised Hitler to [encourage people] to learn about him and not follow him,” he told the Post. “What I was saying was to teach them [the military police] to learn what is bad and what is good; among those Hitler is one lesson to be learnt.”
Sokha said that, as head of the military police, he had a “responsibility” to teach his subordinates about such lessons in history so they are not repeated.
Cambodians need to “know, understand, and be careful” so that the Kingdom does not fall into the grips of extremist nationalist ideologies, he said.
“The killing of people and the racism and persecution of another religion is what Hitler did.… I neither admire him nor follow him, and I am not saying my subordinates should either. I am not Hitler,” he added.
Sokha referred to the anti-Vietnamese riots during the 1970 coup and the deaths of Vietnamese nationals and Cham Muslims under Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime as reasons there were lessons to learn from Nazism.
Military police spokesman Kheng Tito, who attended Thursday’s meeting, said he interpreted his superior’s remarks as an effort to teach “the armed forces not to follow the bad methods of Hitler”.
“Like Pol Pot,” he added. “He followed the methods of Hitler and that is why he killed many people.”
But despite claims that the comments had been taken out of context, opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua continued yesterday to condemn the remarks, which were made amid speeches defending the authorities’ violent crackdown on protests last January.
“If [there is] someone who is in charge of armed forces who says he learned from Hitler, it is still of concern to us,” she said.
The German ambassador did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ALICE CUDDY