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Police pledge ‘no guns’ at today’s rallies

Six transport trailers carrying barbed wire sit on Street 19 next to Wat Botum park in Phnom Penh
Six transport trailers carrying barbed wire sit on Street 19 next to Wat Botum park in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

Police pledge ‘no guns’ at today’s rallies

National Police and military police officers deployed to International Human Rights Day events and an opposition rally in the capital today will not carry guns or live ammunition, spokesmen for the respective authorities said yesterday.

Effectively vowing to avoid a repeat of two fatal police shootings at separate protests and strikes since September, National Military Police spokesman Kheng Tito said hundreds of military police will take to the streets only to “maintain security and order”.

“No more than 500 troops will be deployed,” he told the Post. “They will have no guns or ammunition. [And] if it’s not necessary, they will not block the road.”

Likewise, National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith said police officers were not allowed to open fire today.

“We’re not allowing them to use guns,” he said.

Asked if officers would be carrying guns and live ammunition at all, Chantharith said: “No, we don’t allow them”.

The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party will lead three marches from different parts of the capital to Freedom Park this morning, where a mass demonstration will be held, while a group of activist monks and villagers will descend on the National Assembly to demand human rights be be respected after a 10-day walk from different parts of the country.

The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, meanwhile, has been granted permission to use Wat Phnom for a 5,000-person event at the same time that unions and other NGOs will gather in parkland on the riverside opposite the office of the Council for the Development of Cambodia.

Chantharith said a “lot of police” would be deployed – the precise number of which he did not divulge – but added that many of them would be traffic police.

“We’re worried about traffic jams,” he said. “So far, we don’t have any plans to block roads [with razor-wire] … but we are ready to respond to any emergencies.”

After a CNRP mass demonstration on September 15, police shot dead 29-year-old Mao Sok Chan at the capital’s Kbal Thnal overpass, which had been heavily blockaded for most of that day.

With that violence still fresh in many people’s minds, police opened fire on workers on strike from the SL Garment factory in Meanchey district last month, killing food vendor Eng Sokhom, 49, an innocent bystander.

A number of people in both incidents were treated in hospital after being shot by police bullets.

The crackdowns have been widely decried but remain largely unexplained by authorities, who have said both cases are being investigated.

Leading up to today’s marches, six trucks carrying the same razor-wire used to block major roads in Phnom Penh during previous CNRP mass demonstrations were parked near Wat Botum yesterday.

Post reporters, however, could see no other signs that police were planning to block roads near Freedom Park, Wat Phnom, the National Assembly, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house or major roads leading into Phnom Penh.

The Ministry of Interior has refused CHRAC and the CNRP permission to march to the National Assembly, but CNRP deputy president Kem Sokha, arriving back in Cambodia from the US yesterday, told reporters at Phnom Penh International Airport that the opposition would still do so.

“We have already informed the authorities, and they have an obligation to protect the safety of demonstrators. We will walk as planned,” he said.

The CNRP, which has permission to host 10,000 people at Freedom Park, also has a demonstration planned for Siem Reap later in the day.

City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche could not be reached yesterday.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MEAS SOKCHEA

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