National Police Commissioner Hok Lundy on Sunday moved to quash rumors of a dispute with Phnom Penh’s former police commissioner Heng Pov, and said that the recent arrests of police officers were disciplinary action for their offenses.
Ten officers have been arrested in the past two weeks on charges of allegedly beating a suspect to death in police custody, assassinating judge Sok Sethamony in 2003 and attempting to kill both National Military Police Commander Sao Sokha and municipal court chief prosecutor Ouk Savouth.
On Friday, Hang Chheang, the father of two of the arrested officers, fueled rumors of a dispute between the national police commissioner and his former deputy when he told reporters that his sons were pawns in a dispute between senior police officers.
Rumors of a dispute have circulated since Heng Pov’s removal as municipal police commissioner last month, and have escalated with the arrests.
“I don’t have a dispute with Heng Pov,” Hok Lundy said by telephone. “He is just my subordinate and his rank is three times smaller than mine—I am the head of the police. I don’t need to have a dispute with him.”
Commenting on the arrested police officers, Hok Lundy said: “Now, if any police officer commits wrongdoing, I must fire them from the police.”
On Jan 13, Heng Pov was abruptly removed from his position as Municipal Police Commissioner by way of promotion to undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Interior.
Contacted on Sunday, Heng Pov denied reports that have circulated in Phnom Penh that he had fled the country.
“I am in the country. I am not going anywhere. I work every day,” Heng Pov said.
Heng Pov declined to comment on the rumors of a dispute with Hok Lundy or the rash of arrests that have taken place in the municipal police force following his promotion.
“I don’t have any comment,” he said.
On Friday, municipal police official Hang Vutha, his brother Municipal Criminal Section deputy police chief Hang Vuthy and Interior Ministry penal police officer Oum Samkheng were charged with the 2003 killing of Judge Sok Sethamony.
The three have also allegedly admitted to attempting to kill both Sao Sokha and Phnom Penh Municipal Chief Prosecutor Ouk Savouth, Sao Sokha said Friday.
Six other municipal police officers were jailed on Jan 28 for allegedly beating a woman to death while detained under suspicion of stealing a bracelet. They then allegedly sent her body by cyclo to a wat for cremation without filing any reports.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, suggested that the police culture in Cambodia may have its origins in the espionage tactics and guerrilla warfare learned before democracy was introduced to Cambodia.
“After war, maybe sometimes those people still exist. Maybe they think it is the right thing to do if the boss orders them,” he said.
Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development, applauded the recent arrests but added that the events raised questions about the police force and other unsolved crimes.
“The cases that surface are the ones they want to surface,” she said.