Svay Rieng provincial authorities refused to take responsibility Monday for a group of thugs armed with wooden clubs who worked together with police and soldiers on Sunday to prevent a group of nationalist activists from visiting a post demarcating the eastern border with Vietnam.
Opposition lawmaker Real Camerin led about 2,500 supporters to visit border marker 203 in Kompong Ro district on Sunday, but the club-wielding men—who openly chatted with police and were backed by armed soldiers—stopped all but 100 from venturing beyond their line about 1 km from the post.
The security operation, which blocked the path around a narrow body of water in the midst of Cambodian rice fields, included a police officer who counted the 100 people allowed to pass through the line of plainclothes thugs and soldiers behind them.
Both Chieng Am, the provincial governor, and Hou Vathanak, the deputy governor who directed security on Sunday, declined to comment on the presence of the thugs Monday.
Koeng Khorn, the provincial police chief, would not acknowledge that the plainclothes men were working with police.
“We had our police there,” Mr. Khorn said, adding that claims by the CNRP-led activists that the police were working together with the thugs were “up to them.”
“But you can look at the pictures and watch the video clips and then report through that,” he said.
Mr. Camerin, the lawmaker, said he believed the plainclothes men—all wearing thick red-cotton bracelets—were sent to cause a violent incident if his entire group attempted to go beyond the designated watercourse.
“Some were soldiers who took off their uniforms and put on civilian clothes, while others were civilians,” he said. “They intended to cause violence.”
But the thugs, speaking to reporters on Sunday, said they came to prevent violence from breaking out closer to the border.
“I was ordered to come,” said one of the men, clasping a heavy wooden baton and declining to give his name or specify who the orders came from.
“We have come here to prevent the people from going to make violence, to allow the government to solve this issue. If they go onward, it would make the problem get worse.”
Another of the men, who also would not give his name, said that allowing the activists to venture to the border post would only create problems with Vietnam.
“It’s a dangerous place, we can’t let you go,” he said.
“We are just people who came here,” he added. “No one ordered us.”
Koy Pisey, deputy director of the secretariat of the National Authority in Charge of Border Affairs, denied that the government had deployed the thugs to intimidate the opposition delegation.
“The government would not do that,” she said.
“The government put authorities there to provide security for the people because we were afraid incidents would happen and would not be prevented, so they provided security for them.”