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Protesters chant on Veng Sreng Boulevard in front of fires during protests that turned violent in Phnom Penh
Protesters chant on Veng Sreng Boulevard in front of fires during protests that turned violent in Phnom Penh last month. Pha Lina

Protests ‘degrading security’

High-ranking government officials expounded on the detrimental effect political and labour demonstrations are having on Cambodia’s security during an annual meeting of police officials yesterday.

In a speech to about 500 police in leadership positions, Interior Minister Sar Kheng said demonstrations, which have exploded since July’s national election, are breeding opportunistic extremists who incite violence, destroy property and create situations that lead to deaths and injuries.

Kheng listed striking garment workers as well as land and human rights activists as complicit in degrading security in Cambodia last year.

After Kheng’s speech, Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak noted six deaths as a result of clashes between police and “anarchists”.

“Regrettably, six people were killed in clashes,” Sopheak said, noting one man who was killed in a clash at the Kbal Thnal overpass in September, one woman killed during a demonstration-turned-riot near the Stung Meanchey bridge in November and four people killed during a demonstration supporting a national garment worker strike on Veng Sreng Boulevard last month. “Eighty police and military police were … wounded.”

All six deaths to which Sopheak referred occurred when authorities opened fire on demonstrators with live ammunition.

Upon hearing of Sopheak’s comments, Cambodian Center for Human Rights president Ou Virak noted that demonstrations are protected under Cambodia’s right to free expression. The fact that police enforce laws based upon the whims of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party rather than what is on the books, however, does harm social security, he said.

“There’s the demonstration law and there’s the ruling party deciding whatever they want,” Virak said, observing that laws on demonstrations seem to be enforced in an ad hoc fashion. “That’s a recipe for disaster.”

Cambodia National Rescue Party spokesman Yim Sovann also decried Kheng’s comments, arguing that the country was not necessarily stable before the elections and demonstrations that followed.

“We found that in the heart of Cambodian people, it was fake political stability, because it occurred through intimidation,” Sovann said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SEAN TEEHAN

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