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HRW presses for gendarmerie chief's firing

Human Rights Watch urged donors yesterday to call for Cambodia’s military police commander to be removed from any role in the state security forces after he told his subordinates that he “learned from Hitler”.

In a statement, the international NGO lambasted comments made by Sao Sokha, a “long-time stalwart of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party”, during an annual meeting of Phnom Penh’s military police earlier this month.

Sokha, HRW said, “admitted using force against the opposition for political reasons, publicly invoking tactics used by Adolf Hitler”.

“Sokha praised the gendarmerie’s role in forcibly dispersing anti-government demonstrations on January 3, 2014, when they shot at workers and other protesters who resisted dispersal, killing five people.”

Sokha told the Post last week that while he said he “learned from Hitler”, he was encouraging his subordinates “to learn about him and not follow him”.

But Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW's Asia division, said that the rights group was “confident that there was no misinterpretation”.

“Sokha is simply trying to spin his way out of his heinous comment that holds up the tactics of one of the 20th century’s worst genocidal maniacs as worthy of being copied.”

In yesterday’s statement, HRW said that under Sokha’s leadership “the gendarmerie has been systematically abusive” and frequently “involved in violently breaking up peaceful political and social protest gatherings”.

Brad Adams, HRW's Asia director, said Sokha is “incapable of political neutrality or leading the gendarmerie as anything other than a force of CPP repression”.

Opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua said that “regardless of clarifications”, Sokha should answer questions about the training of the military police and their use of lethal force.

Speaking yesterday, Sokha said he had “nothing much more to say about this issue”, and called on HRW to move its focus elsewhere.

HRW should “look at the situation in Syria and Iraq and the current issues in the Middle East and Ukraine, don’t ask about Cambodia”, he said.

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