The roads surrounding Independence Monument will once again be blocked off as a planned three-day opposition rally kicks off this morning, but military police maintained yesterday that they will not be as tightly enforced as they were when frustration over delays erupted into violence last month.
National Military Police spokesman Kheng Tito said that while security forces will be deployed, Phnom Penh Municipal Military Police had been instructed to be more accommodating and not discriminate against the opposition.
“Thousands of military police were instructed by their commander to pay strong attention to maintain peace and stability for the rally of the CNRP and, in order to avoid any violence, individual military police were instructed not to talk with the protesters while on duty,” Tito said.
“Having learned about the roadblocks from the previous demonstration, this time we will not be as strict as before, and we will not create any problem that would anger people.”
City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche was quick, however, to lay the onus for security on the opposition, saying that while the government’s position had seemingly softened with its decision to allow 1,000 demonstrators to deliver petitions to embassies, the CNRP would be expected to abide by other strictures, including a 10,000-person limit at Freedom Park and a 6pm curfew for the event.
“The CNRP must take responsibility to keep the protest under control in order to ensure peace, non-violence, and that it doesn’t affect national security and public order, life, and public and private property,” he said.
John Muller, of the private security firm Global Security Solutions, said “keep[ing] the public informed” is the best way to prevent frustrations from boiling over, as they did on September 15, when commuter Mao Sok Chan was shot dead by police during a traffic jam caused by barricades on the Monivong Bridge.
“You can find out where the roadblocks are going to be, where they plan to do vehicle checks, so if they release that information in advance [it would be good],” he said.
Nonetheless, Muller added, it was worth noting that injuries had remained low during last month’s mass protest – with the exception of the “embarrassing” attack on protesters at Wat Phnom by plainclothes men.
National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith yesterday declined to say how many officers would be deployed today, but said that if “there are more protesters, then there will be more police also”.
However, more protesters are not likely to be a problem, said Cambodian Center for Human Rights president Ou Virak, who noted that a combination of disenchantment over the opposition’s overtures towards compromise and simple fatigue would keep some demonstrators home.
“I think the number will be declining a bit compared to the previous three-day protest,” he said. “I think some people are fatigued. I think a lot of protest people are tired, because the protests didn’t lead to the results that they wanted.”