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
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
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
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
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.