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A group of city hall security members gather during the clearance of CNRP tents from Freedom Park earlier this month
A group of city hall security members gather during the clearance of CNRP tents from Freedom Park earlier this month. Scott Howes

Untrained guards rule at protests

Security guards that have forcibly detained protesters in the capital in recent weeks include large numbers of men who have received no government security training, Phnom Penh municipal spokesman Long Dimanche said yesterday.

In an effort to recruit civilian “public order” officers, Dimanche told the Post, the Ministry of Interior had issued a directive telling City Hall to stop hiring security guards through private companies.

“The people who have applied for this job, we have not given them technical security training, but we have given them legal and administrative training,” he said.

Dimanche would not elaborate on what that training has involved, the size of the force at City Hall’s disposal or when the directive was issued.

As crackdowns on public gatherings have intensified since the fatal shooting of at least four striking garment workers by authorities on January 3, an increasing number of security personnel in nondescript uniforms have joined those in familiar Daun Penh district security attire to forcibly break up demonstrations and make arrests.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan told the Post on Tuesday that security guards involved in detaining protesters had been hired by City Hall.

“They are working at private security [firms] and are hired by City Hall to enforce public order. I don’t see what’s wrong with that,” he said.

But Dimanche said yesterday that while City Hall had recruited directly from a private firm in the past, it no longer did so.

“Previously, City Hall hired security guards from a private company,” he said. “But the Ministry of Interior has told us we can select people [in Phnom Penh] to replace that private company in order to protect public order.”

In turn, City Hall had instructed its districts – including Daun Penh – to follow the directive, he added.

“The Ministry of Interior has allowed us to prepare a uniform for them. They are instructed not to crack down or arrest people, but they can help the police to manage public order or to stop people acting in a certain way. If the people don’t listen, the guards can detain them and take them to police.”

Siphan said he still believed City Hall hired security guards from private firms but acknowledged that some now seemed to be dressing differently.

“I used to see that security guards always had uniforms. The way [City Hall] hires people – the Ministry of Interior is in charge of that.

“From what I understand, private security is regulated by the ministry – they have their own procedures. If you want to register, you have to have a licence and [know] how to [act].”

But even some of those security guards in clearly marked Daun Penh district uniforms on Phnom Penh’s Riverside yesterday said they had received no security training for the job and were not even sure where their salaries were coming from.

“I did not sign a contract with the Daun Penh district,” said one young man who declined to give his name. “I just know that at the end of each month, my team leader – a Daun Penh district officer – gives me some money.

“I’ve never been given security training. My friend just asked me to come here and work with him without signing anything.”

A man who said he was in charge of Daun Penh security guards who patrol areas from Wat Phnom to the Royal Palace said his team had been employed directly by the district since about 2000.

“Our uniforms and logo are easily recognisable to Phnom Penh authorities and the Ministry of Interior,” he said.

Meanchey district governor Kouch Chamroeun said he had been aware of a Ministry of Interior push to build up a group of “public order” officers from the community, but that edict had come some years ago.

Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak could not be reached for comment. Sak Setha, secretary of state at the ministry, referred questions to the National Police, whose spokesman, Kirth Chantharith, also could not be reached.

Brigadier General Kheng Tito, spokesman for the National Military Police, said he had no issues with the role municipal and district security guards were playing in cracking down on protesters, saying they were hired to “maintain public order in the city” and did “good things” on orders from their bosses.

But acting president of Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA) Sok Chhun Oeung, who was detained by men in blue uniforms and black helmets near the Royal Palace on Sunday, said authorities were playing a dangerous game.

“I’m very concerned that these people have never been properly trained but are hired in this period of increased protests,” he said. “They follow orders from their bosses, but they don’t care about injuries during the crackdowns.

“We need authorities to say who they are and put them on official state contracts.”

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