Interior Ministry Rejects Request To End Use of District Guards

Responding to a letter from opposition lawmakers calling for the government to stop deploying notoriously violent district security guards to suppress protests, the Interior Ministry said it would instead look into the legality of the CNRP’s security detail.

In a letter to the Interior Ministry late last month, eight CNRP lawmakers said the use of unidentified security guards to suppress demonstrations was illegal, and must be stopped.

Daun Penh district security guards surround and beat a man on May 1, 2014, shortly after a Labor Day march in Phnom Penh. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Daun Penh district security guards surround and beat a man on May 1, 2014, shortly after a Labor Day march in Phnom Penh. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“We as lawmakers see that the use by authorities of district security guards and unidentified security guards to crack down on peaceful rallies, demonstrations and strikes is an illegal act and action must be taken immediately to remove them and the ones using violence must be punished,” the letter said.

In a response dated Thursday, Interior Minister Sar Kheng wrote that the ministry would do no such thing, and blamed protesters for causing any violent confrontations with what he described as volunteer “neighborhood watchers.”

“While our police officer numbers are very few and completely unable to respond to demands of practical necessity, the group of neighborhood watchers has actively contributed to intervening in the interests of the local population, especially for public order,” the letter said.

Mr. Kheng explained that the group originated during a 2010 program meant to increase safety and security at the village and commune level, and praised its members for work such as directing traffic around funerals and weddings.

“And the Phnom Penh municipal neighborhood watch was not created to quell peaceful assembly, demonstrations or strikes as mentioned by the CNRP,” the letter said, going on to blame the CNRP for past violence.

CNRP leaders made “psychological war to bring out people to hold demonstrations many times for almost a year,” it said, citing prolonged mass demonstrations after the 2013 national election.

In fact, the state security guards, particularly those deployed in Daun Penh district, have repeatedly set upon peaceful protesters—sometimes arbitrarily, and other times in response to verbal insults or because protesters refuse to follow their orders.

Concluding his letter, Mr. Kheng wrote that the CNRP’s security guards, who are ever-present when party leaders appear in public, were due for a review. The interior minister said the CNRP’s guards numbered in the hundreds, dressing in matching uniforms and carrying walkie-talkies as if they were authorities.

“The ministry will review the related legal organization of the CNRP’s security forces and give instructions for correct implementation in accordance with legal standards,” he wrote.

CNRP lawmakers Son Chhay and Mu Sochua, who signed the initial letter, could not be reached on Monday. Long Ry, head of security for the party, referred questions to CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann.

Mr. Sovann declined to comment on the letter or Mr. Kheng’s response, but said the party would not allow any government review of its security detail.

“These are our people—nothing related to the law. What law requires them to review our security?” he said. “This is a private matter—nothing related to the public.”

(Additional reporting by Colin Meyn)

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