Chhay Vitou, a Srah Chak commune security guard, is confused. But it’s not only because of the severe beating he suffered to his head during a violent opposition protest near Freedom Park on July 15.
The poorly paid security guard is still trying to determine why he was ordered to patrol the violent protest at Freedom Park last week and who should be held responsible for his thrashing.
“I do not know why they sent us to the protest that day,” Mr. Vitou, 45, said on Thursday from his bed at Calmette Hospital.
Bruises encircle Mr. Vitou’s right eye, which he still has trouble opening, and fresh bandages wrap around a deep head wound.
“We’ve never gone to help Daun Penh security before, or any other commune security officers. Maybe it was because of a lack of forces,” Mr. Vitou said.
“I still do not know who to put the blame on yet,” he added. “The government needs to find the perpetrators for me.”
Mr. Vitou was among an estimated 37 security guards injured—six seriously—when opposition protesters viciously retaliated against a group of blue- and tan-uniformed security guards sent to break up a protest to “free the Freedom Park.”
While the Daun Penh district security guards have established a reputation this year for their brutal attacks on protesters, the security force assembled for the July 15 protest was also composed of less seasoned guards from other precincts, according to Daun Penh district governor Kuoch Chamroeun.
He said that extra forces were needed because it was “absolutely clear” that the CNRP protesters, led by lawmaker-elect Mu Sochua, were intent on entering Freedom Park, flouting a ban on public demonstrations.
“Since they had announced that they would come to release the Freedom Park we called more security to go there on that day,” he said. “And sometimes we call for other districts to help us.”
But Mr. Chamroeun also said that the relatively inexperienced security guards from other jurisdictions would not have been deployed if authorities believed that violence was possible.
“We did not know about their planned intentional violence,” he said of the opposition demonstrators. “If we did know that, we would not bring our security to face them.”
Authorities arrested seven CNRP lawmakers-elect and a party activist following the violent clash. The Phnom Penh Municipal Court quickly charged them with leading an insurrection and incitement to commit a felony. After spending about a week behind bars, the CNRP officials were released on Tuesday, just hours after Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy signed a deal to end the country’s political deadlock.
The CPP has accused the CNRP of supplying wooden clubs to protesters. However, videos of the clash posted online clearly show rice sacks filled with wooden clubs being dispersed from a municipal truck and wielded by the security guards.
Mr. Vitou said he has no idea where the sticks came from.
“It was chaos,” said Mr. Vitou, who was punched, kicked and beaten.
Mr. Vitou, who earns $25 per month as a commune security guard and also works as a motodop, said he and other security guards broke away from the frontline of the protest as soon as tensions began to flare.
Suddenly, he said he was left alone, surrounded by angry men shouting at him.
“I was begging them to stop, but they just kept beating me and I lost consciousness,” Mr. Vitou said.
“We never expected this,” he added. “Our bosses never said it might be like that.”
Mr. Vitou said he did not know the name or have the phone number for his boss in the commune security force. Khim Vutha, head of the Daun Penh security guards, declined Thursday to discuss the violent protest.
Mr. Vitou said he would continue to work as a security guard, a job that normally entails clearing the streets of beggars and directing traffic.
“But,” he added, “I’ll think twice about agreeing to go to a Freedom Park protest.”