Banteay Meanchey provincial police on Monday equipped more than 700 officers with riot gear as a precaution against potential demonstrations before and after the July 29 national elections.
The armaments, which include an unspecified number of shields, batons, smoke grenades, tear gas, guns and light weapons, were handed to 789 officers, while strategic training on riot prevention is being conducted nationwide.
Ath Khem, Banteay Meanchey provincial police chief, said the provision of the riot gear is meant to maintain security on Election Day, not to scare voters. Opposition groups, he added, may attempt to destroy the election.
“This is the objective of the government, the Interior Ministry and National Police. We ensure security during the elections. They [the opposition] have their own tricks. It is their business and they can say what they want, but it is the police’s duty to maintain security and social order,” Khem said.
According to a local newspaper, Khem said, the court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) had disseminated information along with pictures of ordnance explosions to scare the people, as well as incite them to cause social chaos.
Separately on Monday, a total of 240 special and reinforced intervention forces in Kampong Cham province underwent training that involved the use of smoke grenades in the event of violent protests.
Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Nicfec) director Sam Kuntheamy said on Tuesday that he was concerned over the provision of riot gear and demonstrations-related training in the run-up to the elections.
“We cannot see any actions that can disturb the elections. But the training seems to indicate that the situation during the elections is not good and that there are fears of potential protests or disturbances,” he said.
Cheam Channy, a former CNRP lawmaker, said the government’s move is to show it has weapons and forces to crack down on protests. “It can cause voters to worry about their safety,” he said.