Armed Security Doubled for Human Rights Day Rallies

The government will deploy double the usual number of armed security personnel on the streets of Phnom Penh on Tuesday to keep control of the large number of rallies planned in the city to celebrate International Human Rights Day, a military police official said Monday.

“We have [extra] forces for such events. It means that if on a normal day we have 100 armed men, on these extraordinary days—during political events or the like—we’ll increase the force…50 percent or 100 percent,” said Brigadier General Kheng Tito, spokesman for the national military police. 

Brig. Gen. Tito added that the deployment of the extra personnel, from outside of Phnom Penh, would be focused on the areas of the city where today’s rallies will be held, such as Koh Pich, Freedom Park and Olympic Stadium.

At least 100 troops from Prime Minister Hun Sen’s personal bodyguard unit (PMBU) also set up base at Chaktomuk Conference Hall on Monday.

“We came here this morning from Takhmau,” one of the troops said referring to the PMBU’s base at Mr. Hun Sen’s residence outside the city.

“We will head back once everything is finished,” he said, declining to give his name for fear of repercussions.

Asked why troops from the prime minister’s bodyguard unit had been brought into Phnom Penh ahead of human rights day rallies, Brig. Gen. Tito said that the PMBU is regularly called upon to provide support during large events.

“Whenever events take place, they always come to help. They are additional forces to help ensure security,” he said.

The Ministry of Interior on Sunday said that rallies planned by civil society groups, workers unions and the opposition CNRP would be allowed to go ahead, but that no groups would be allowed to march in the city.

However, CNRP spokesman Yem Ponhearith reiterated that the marches would proceed as planned today, estimating that 30,000 opposition supporters will turn out to form three groups that will follow CNRP President Sam Rainsy, Vice President Kem Sokha and lawmaker-elect Mu Sochua to Freedom Park to demand greater respect for human rights.

Mr. Ponhearith said he hoped the larger number of armed security personnel on the streets would be used to facilitate the many political rallies and not prevent them.

“It is their duty to ensure security tomorrow,” he said Monday.

In a statement issued Saturday, Amnesty International called on the Cambodian authorities to respect citizens’ right to peacefully assemble and urged them not to use potentially dangerous roadblocks or excessive force against protesters.

“Amnesty International is concerned that razor-wire roadblocks appear ready for use in parts of the capital, and calls on the Cambodian authorities to facilitate rather than restrict people from participating in peaceful assemblies around [International Human Rights Day],” the organization said.

The CNRP also plans to hold a rally and march through Siem Reap City in the afternoon, with the party insisting it will march to Angkor Wat. Provincial authorities have said the party will not be allowed to do so.

Siem Reap’s deputy provincial police chief Kann Sambath said that extra forces would also be deployed in the tourist hub to manage the CNRP’s first post-election protest in the province.

“For such an event, there will be more people than usual, so for example we will increase the police from 100 to 200 people to help ease traffic flow and ensure that no bad things happen,” Mr. Sambath said.

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