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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Lundy's police act after Tea Banh refusal

Lundy's police act after Tea Banh refusal

AT 10am Tuesday, Sept 8, Brigadier-General Kun Sam Oeun accepted the order that he

and his 500 men from the Department of Intervention had been waiting to hear - and

were secretly training for - for the past fortnight.

At 1pm you will take 300 men and clear the protesters from outside the National Assembly,

Sam Oeun was told. Your men will not loot. They will not use their guns to shoot

at people unless they are first shot at.

The order came from National Police Chief General Hok Lundy.

Seventeen days' worth of unprecedented opposition protest - essentially and specifically

against Second Prime Minister Hun Sen; a remarkable, racist and ultimately doomed

event - was to be crushed.

Diplomacy was still being acted out at the offices of UN special representative Lakhan

Mehrotra even as the 500 riot policemen from the ministry's Department of Intervention

were checking their guns, batons and electric prods in their compound near the Monivong

bridge.

At exactly the moment of the police order, 10am, Interior co-Minister Sar Kheng's

adviser, Prum Sokha, was assuring Funcinpec spokeswoman Mu Sochua that, among other

things, violence would not be employed to shift the protesters.

Sokha did not know about the order that was playing down the line from Hun Sen, to

Lundy, to Sam Oeun. His boss Sar Kheng had been shunted aside from security responsibility

at least since the previous day, after persons unknown had tossed three grenades

at Hun Sen's house near Independence Monument.

The riot squad wasn't surprised at the order, the men told the Post later that day.

They'd been in training for exactly this since the demonstrations began and frankly

had gotten bored with the wait.

Snippets of the inside story as to how the CPP broke the 17-day "pro-democracy"

demonstration - and how the continuing street skirmishes between mobs of protesters

and police were being played out now as this special edition of the Post was being

published - reveal the apparent divisions within key police and military personalities

of the CPP.

The sit-in, at times involving up to tens of thousands of people, some living in

a veritable village named 'Democracy Square' outside the National Assembly, began

Aug 22 after a rally by opposition leader Sam Rainsy. It had continued unmolested

since.

But behind the scenes just six days after 'Democracy Square' had formed, on Aug 28,

Hun Sen told Defense Minister Tea Banh to break up the demonstration, according to

an experienced Australian source who obtained the information from two senior officers

serving under Banh. This was later independently confirmed by a CPP source. Banh

refused the request, saying it was a police matter, not a military one.

In the following days, the CPP publicly maintained a largely conciliatory attitude

toward the demonstration. Police security around the square was low-key in the days

up to Sept 5 and 6, and was in the hands of Sar Kheng. Security inside the demonstration

was left to the responsibility of camp organizers, largely Rainsy's people.

Rumors were rife throughout the sit-in: the police were coming with water cannons

and tear gas - at 5am, at noon, tonight, tomorrow night; cobras were going to be

let loose; an incident was going to be manufactured within the camp - a grenade,

a shooting - as an excuse for a police crackdown. None of these happened as predicted,

but most of them - except for the snakes - would eventually play out in some form.

CPP sources had told the Post after the first week of the demonstration that Hun

Sen appeared to have lost the initiative. One senior party official said protesters

were becoming so emboldened in the absence of police action against them that "there

is a danger this will really grow into a people's movement".

The rhetoric changed from demanding an electoral investigation, to the removal of

Hun Sen, to becoming virulently racist against the Vietnamese. Motorcades clogged

the streets and, said one foreign observer, "everyone was getting caught up

in the fever but, in hindsight, the crackdown just had to come".

One foreigner said that CPP officials had met in the past week in Kandal province,

extremely worried should the protest spread from nearby Phnom Penh.

In Takhmao - home to Hun Sen's "Tiger Den" compound - one woman said: "The

people in the villages near the fork road to Takhmao town have heard there would

be a demonstration... that people from Phnom Penh will walk to Takhmao and that [villagers]

are waiting and eager to join."

At 7am Sept 7 - the morning of the crackdown and three hours before Lundy's final

order - a loudspeaker was mounted in front of the provincial headquarters in Takhmao

and it was announced that "people should not go to the demonstration. They should

concentrate on earning their living".

Two fire trucks were deployed on the fork road and about 100 policemen and soldiers

were mobilized in the compound of the headquarters.

After the grenade incident at Hun Sen's residence Sept 7, Rainsy went to Mehrotra's

office within the Hotel Sofitel Cambodiana, where he remained once news of his possible

arrest surfaced. Ten police units were deployed at the gates in the afternoon, ready

to seize Rainsy if he left.

A crowd gathered outside the hotel gates that night demonstrating support for Rainsy.

The CPP then made another key decision: Phnom Penh First Deputy Governor Chea Sophara

was given the task of removing demonstrators from outside the hotel using armed municipal

police.

In the start of the street violence which has plagued the capital since, the police

kicked and beat demonstrators with rifle butts, creating mayhem among an already

unruly crowd that night.

Riot police who had been trained for the job said that it was very difficult to make

a success of such a night-time crackdown. "It was a cock-up," said one

Western journalist.

Plainclothes policemen loitering around the Cambodiana that night revealed themselves

after repeated and failed attempts by Sophara's police to disperse the crowd with

volleys of automatic gunfire mostly into the air and into the ground. One moto-driver

was killed. Some protesters were dragged out by plain-clothed police brandishing

revolvers, beaten up in the Cambodiana carpark and dragged away.

Sokha brokered a truce that night with Sochua and Rainsy in Mehrotra's office. The

parley between the three would continue the following morning until, unbeknownst

to any of them, Lundy took over.

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