Cambodia's National Police will bolster its forces with the addition of thousands of new officers by the end of the year, it was revealed yesterday, a recruitment drive rights groups were quick to bill as an attempt by the ruling party to shore up loyalty among the ranks.
More than 4,500 new recruits are to be added to the force by September, in order to “keep public order” and for “society’s security”, according to a new sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday and made public a day later.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said yesterday that the recruitment drive was needed to freshen the ranks, as many older cops had recently retired or died.
And while the new recruits will fill a variety of roles, an unspecified number are destined to join the ranks of the Kingdom’s riot police, he said.
Asked if they could be used to crack down on protests like those that followed the contested 2013 election, Sopheak did not mince words.
“We don’t recruit them for praying,” he said.“These forces serve the government because the armed forces protect the constitution and the government.”
Sopheak insisted, however, that Cambodia’s security forces remained politically neutral and would serve the government of the day.
But rights groups yesterday, while conceding a nationwide spike in violent crime, were quick to cast doubt over the independence of the security services.
“It is an excuse that the [police] protect the government and constitution; in fact, they protect the [ruling] party,” said Am Sam Ath, senior investigator for rights group Licadho.
Last year, an expansion of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party central committee blurred those lines to many observers as nearly 100 senior military and police officials were added to the body.
Hun Sen in July then publicly called on the military to clamp down on any group attempting to displace the ruling party, saying that the “armed forces must be loyal to the government” in the event of a “colour revolution”, a seeming reference to a series of popular movements in the former Soviet sphere and the Middle East.
A week later, Defence Minister Tea Banh echoed the premier’s statement, telling soldiers to suppress any such movements, before pointedly making reference to the opposition party and its trips to disputed sections of Cambodia’s border with Vietnam at the time.
Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, yesterday described the Interior Ministry’s declaration that the country’s police force was neutral as “laughable”, saying via email that the government had no intention of professionalising what acts as an independent security force.
“Rather than pursue the sort of community policing policies that would emphasise quality of response over quantity of officers, the Cambodian government has decided to waste more taxpayer money with increased recruitment justified by vague rationales that make no sense.”
Contacted yesterday, opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party spokesman Yem Ponhearith, would not be drawn into the questions over the neutrality of the armed forces.
“The CNRP considers that because of the increasing population, there is a need to recruit police forces to keep public order and prevent violence. We fully support it,” he said.
Ponhearith said he could not comment on what the influx of new recruits might mean for the lead-up to the 2018 election.
Additional reporting by Daniel de Carteret