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A line of VN4 personnel carriers on display at the military games on Phnom Penh’s Koh Pich last week.
A line of VN4 personnel carriers on display at the military games on Phnom Penh’s Koh Pich last week. Mech Dara

Military police machines

Cambodia's National Military Police last year acquired three armoured personnel carriers from China equipped with tear-gas cannons, an acquisition made with an eye to maintaining “public order”, a military official confirmed yesterday.

The APCs were photographed recently at the military “sports day” on the capital’s Koh Pich.

Military police spokesman Eng Hy yesterday said the equipment had been supplied by China mid-year, though could not say if they were a gift or had been purchased.

Hy referred questions about their acquisition to the Defence Ministry, whose spokesman was unreachable.

“We will [use] them for public order and to protect security,” Hy said, before hanging up.

Of the vehicles photographed in Phnom Penh, Jon Grevatt, Asia-Pacific industry reporter for defence analyst IHS Janes, said they were definitely VN4s, a light armoured vehicle manufactured in China by the China North Industries Corporation (Norinco).

Spokespeople from the Chinese Embassy, and the embassy’s defence attaché section, did not respond to queries about the supply of the vehicles by press time.

Grevatt said the VN4s were likely second-hand and donated by China, one of the Kingdom’s largest donors of military aid.

“China would donate the vehicles and Cambodia would pay for shipping. China is recapitalising all its major platforms, so it has hundreds of vehicles to spare and it makes sense for them to ship a few over to Cambodia.”

Grevatt said the model was relatively new, with the first batch of more than 100 sent in 2012 to Venezuela where, according to online reports, it was used by security forces in a crackdown against anti-government protests in 2014. The government of Kenya also acquired 30 of the vehicles last year, according to an IHS Janes article.

The 9-tonne 4x4s were fitted with a 12.7mm heavy machine gun and smoke grenade launchers, according to armyrecognition.com.

Grevatt said the vehicles pictured in Cambodia appear “optimised for internal security”, citing the mesh covered windows.

“That means obviously insurgency and the like and internal unrest,” he said.

A military police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he believed the three APCs which he said were acquired in June or July – would be used to confront demonstrations. “These can fire about 500 metres and would be used to crack down on protesters,” he said.

“It is easy for military police to use them because they do not have to come face to face with protesters and rocks.”

Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said the fact that the gendarmerie saw a need for “heavy crowd suppression vehicles” was “profoundly disturbing”.

“This clearly looks like overkill when considering the vast majority of protests over the past 5 years have been entirely peaceful,” he said, via email. “There’s no escaping the serious questions this procurement raises about the government’s perception of the political situation going into national elections scheduled for 2018. What exactly do they think they are preparing for?”

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