IN A brutal show of force, dozens of police and thugs dressed in civilian clothes descended on a peaceful vigil at Wat Phnom last night, and set upon the roughly 20 protesters with slingshots, batons and electric prods.
At least six people were injured, while an additional five were treated at Calmette Hospital for slight wounds. An unknown number of people – journalists and rights workers among them – sustained injuries from electric prods and marbles fired from slingshots by men in facemasks who appeared to be under police protection.
The forces arrived at about 10pm last night, just as the protesters were clearing up the area where they had staged a demonstration for peace – spelling out the word “justice” with candles.
As they left the area, according to witnesses, police and a group of young men began shooting marbles into the group with slingshots.
“They were hidden behind the stupa and wearing civilian clothing,” Boeung Kak activist Bo Chorvy said.
Several witnesses said the group appeared to be intent on catching high-profile activist Tep Vanny, who ran into a car when the clash began and was allowed through the gates of the US Embassy – only after the windows of the car had been smashed in by the attackers.
Her mother, Si Heap, was among those badly wounded after a longan-sized marble was slung between her eyes.
Also seriously injured was activist Nhet Khun, 73, who was shot in the chest with a marble and may have suffered a lung injury, according to witnesses at Calmette. Doctors were not immediately available for comment.
“The police arrived with [electric prods] and ran after me and my friend and began kicking him,” said Phan Chunreth, who sustained a head injury after being kicked to the ground by police. “It was the police who did that, but the other men came at us with sticks.”
As journalists and human rights workers approached the scene shortly after 10pm, thugs armed with electric batons, sticks and slingshots chased them down the street while police looked on. Several journalists and rights workers were shocked with the electric prods and hit with marbles as they ran away, while a Post journalist had his camera smashed.
According to Chorvy, a US Embassy vehicle attempted to enter the area but was forced to turn around by police.
Stunning as the brutality was, however, a marked lack of police presence chilled many. Unlike at the incidents at Stung Meanchey and the Kbal Thnal overpass, few – if any – officers were sent to the scene after violence broke out.
Over the course of an hour and a half, only a single truck carrying a dozen military police officers drove through the nearly deserted streets leading to Wat Phnom.
“I think they’re trying to kill all Cambodians,” an agitated Bopha Vi said, while watching the thugs wave tasers in the air in the distance. “The boys try to kill us and the police try too.”
Military police spokesman Kheng Tito said he was unaware of the incident but defended the actions saying, “the people wanted to do something, but our force stopped [them], would not allow them to do anything.”