Phnom Penh municipal police yesterday confirmed that a man who attended a rally marking World Teachers’ Day while armed with a press credential and a handgun is an undercover police officer.
“The armed man was a police agent,” Chuon Narin, deputy chief of the Phnom Penh municipal police, said. “He was allowed to carry a gun during his assignment investigating the demonstration in a public park.”
The officer – who wore a press credential purporting his employment as a reporter for a website called MID PP and a sales representative of Mongkolrith Import & Export Co, Ltd – was identified on the press badge as “Poerung Choeun”. As of press time, the Post could not confirm the officer’s true identity.
Choeun became conspicuous when he began taking photographs at Freedom Park during a demonstration organised by the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association (CITA).
Despite the city’s refusal to sanction the demonstration, about 200 union members gathered at the park, demanding the government increase their pay to at least 1 million riel ($250) per month.
They intended to march to the Ministry of Education with a petition supporting the platform, but were later stymied by a large contingent of military police who blocked streets connecting to Freedom Park.
When Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker Mu Sochua noticed Choeun photographing monks in attendance at the rally, she saw that he had what appeared to be a handgun holstered at his hip. When she confronted him, angry demonstrators grabbed the gun off Choeun, stripped him of his clothes and began beating him.
“When I saw his press pass, I was wondering, ‘Why does a man with a press pass have a gun with him?’” Sochua said in an interview yesterday following the incident.
After police separated Choeun from the mob he was taken to Calmette Hospital, where he was treated for minor injuries, according to a Calmette staff member who spoke on condition of anonymity.
After spending about an hour there, a man claiming to be Choeun’s boss from MID PP arrived and took him away, the doctor said.
A man who answered the phone at Mongkolrith Import & Export, but did not give his name, said that Choeun worked there but he had not seen him in weeks.
Phnom Penh deputy prosecutor Meas Chan Piseth later demanded to meet with the person who took the gun from Choeun, however CNRP chief whip Son Chhay, who turned the weapon over to police, said he was unsure of who actually pulled it off Choeun.
Chan Piseth yesterday said that the matter is already under investigation.
Infiltration of a pro-labour demonstration by undercover police offers happens routinely in Cambodia, said Kong Athit, vice president of the Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union.
“I’m not surprised, because all the time [police] do things like that,” Athit said yesterday. “They should not be there, according to the [spirit of public protests], they should not be there.”