Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Wanted: big trucks for a big crowd

Wanted: big trucks for a big crowd

A protester holds on to a barricade as he is blasted with water from a fire truck in Phnom Penh last year
A protester holds on to a barricade as he is blasted with water from a fire truck in Phnom Penh last year. The government will purchase two water-cannon trucks for use by the National Police in demonstrations. Pha Lina

Wanted: big trucks for a big crowd

With the spectre of potential garment-sector unrest on the horizon and emboldened communities protesting land disputes, the National Police is buying what appear to be the authorities’ first water-cannon trucks designed specifically to control demonstrations.

And despite widespread concerns over the use of excessive force by security forces over the past year, they are making no effort to hide it.

In advertisements in yesterday’s Post and Post Khmer newspapers, the Ministry of Interior announced public bidding for two top-of-the-line Tata Daweoo water-cannon trucks “to be used against demonstration”.

The DWC model trucks can carry up to 10,000 litres of water and can shoot at a range of 50 metres.

“The said trucks are manufactured in Korea in 2014, with 100% quality, to be provided to national police forces for use in security, safety and social order protection operation,” the notice continues.

National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith and Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak could not be reached for further details despite repeated calls.

Authorities have used water cannons a handful of times over the past 18 months, but they have been mounted on traditional fire trucks.

In May last year, a woman was knocked unconscious after a water cannon was used on land-rights protesters who had blocked Monivong Boulevard.

It was also deployed when political demonstrators clashed with police along the riverside in September last year and during a garment worker riot in Stung Meanchey in November that saw one woman killed after police opened fire.

Other procurement notices put out from the MOI yesterday request 25 Nissan pickup trucks for the same “social order” purposes. The ministry is also procuring more shields, electric batons and protective clothing for police.

An official at the MOI’s procurement office who would not give his name said that the water cannon would be used “against demonstrators who have incited” others.

“It’s an issue for police to protect security and keep public order for the nation.”

Phnom Penh deputy police chief Chuon Narin said the capital’s police had not specifically requested the new gear.

“In Phnom Penh, as of now, we have enough [equipment],” he said, adding, however, that he supported their purchase.

“I think even in a developed country, their governments must have this equipment. So why must a developing country like us not have it? It’s for public order.”

But Ramana Sorn, freedom of expression project coordinator at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the purchase of water cannon trucks represented a “concerning trend”.

Cambodia pledged before the UN Human Rights Council in January that it would “ensure that people could demonstrate safely without fear or intimidation” and accepted a number of recommendations on the right to freedom of assembly, she said in an email.

“This recent case is truly against the spirit of those recommendations,” she said. “Water cannons are dangerous and the authorities’ lack of control over the use of force by law enforcement makes water cannons even more dangerous.”

While CCHR believes water cannons should “never be used by law enforcement”, the group declined to discuss other methods of crowd control it would recommend in violent protest situations.

John Muller, managing director of Global Security Solutions, a Phnom Penh-based private security firm, said that despite their risks, water cannons were a far better option than firing even rubber bullets.

“Most other countries still feel water-cannon technology is most suitable in terms of achieving the desired results and minimising injury,” he said.

But Nay Vanda, deputy head of human rights and legal aid at watchdog Adhoc, said the purchase was “ridiculous”.

”It depends on how you use it, but I don’t think they demand two big cannons to spray the water weakly.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Omicron patients can stay home: PM

    The Ministry of Health has issued a directive on the treatment of people who have tested positive for the highly transmissible Omicron coronavirus variant, following a suggestion from Prime Minister Hun Sen on the night of January 21. The directive permits home quarantine for those who

  • The effects of the USD interest rate hike on Cambodian economy

    Experts weigh in on the effect of a potential interest rate expansion by the US Federal Reserve on a highly dollarised Cambodia Anticipation of the US Federal Reserve’s interest rate hike in March is putting developing economies on edge, a recent blog post by

  • Cambodia’s first ever anime festival kicks off Jan 22 at capital’s F3 centre

    Phnom Penh's first ever Anime Festival will bring together fans, artists, shops and other local businesses with ties to the Japanese animation style for cosplay competitions, online games, pop-up shops and more on January 22, with Friends Futures Factory (F3) hosting. F3 is a project that

  • Hun Sen gets 4th Covid shot, urges compatriots to follow

    Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany on January 14 received their fourth dose of Covid-19 vaccine and called on compatriots to follow suit as the Omicron coronavirus variant continues to spread in the community. This marks the launch of Cambodia's fourth-dose vaccination campaign,

  • Fourth dose Covid booster drive jabs 43K in two days

    In the first two days of the fourth-dose Covid-19 vaccination campaign, more than 43,000 people volunteered to get the jabs, while over 4.6 million people have received a third shot. Health ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine said that fourth-dose vaccinations, which began on January 14 exclusively with the Pfizer

  • Singapore backs Cambodia's efforts on Myanmar

    Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong supports Cambodia in its efforts to seek a solution to the ongoing Myanmar crisis as the chair of ASEAN. Lee expressed his support during a meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen via videoconference on January 14, with the talks focused