Investigation Into Man Shot Dead During Protest Yields Nothing

A week after one man was shot dead and several others injured during a standoff between the armed forces and protesters, an investigation into who was responsible is no closer to conclusion, an Interior Ministry spokesman said Sunday.

“I don’t have any updates on this,” said Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak. “They are doing their job, but I don’t have any information.”

On September 15, at the end of a day of demonstrations by the opposition CNRP against official election results, security forces opened fire on a group of protesters and commuters who had grown angry at barricades preventing them from returning home. Reporters at the scene witnessed riot police and military police armed with tear gas, smoke grenades and guns.

Although police have continuously denied that security forces were armed, the clash ended with the death of 29-year-old Mao Sok Chan, who was shot in the head.

Security experts last week said the armed forces were undoubtedly at fault for the violence.

“Deadly force is not an appropriate response to the use of non-deadly force (most rock throwing is considered non-deadly force),” Michael Scott, a professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School and expert in policing techniques, said in an email.

Even if citizens were using lethal weapons, security forces should not engage in the “use of deadly force [and should] not harm innocent persons in a crowd,” Mr. Scott said, adding that the police force’s actions had demonstrated “disproportionate force” to the rocks being thrown by protesters.

Paul Townsend, a consultant for Crowd Dynamics—a British company that advises governments and event planners on mass movement safety—said shooting into the air is more likely to incite panic than calm.

“In terms of calming the crowd and giving them the most information as you can, firing shots in the air doesn’t do that,” he said.

Mr. Townsend added that authorities should have informed the people beforehand of any barricades around the city and of the bridge being closed.

“It’s all about getting information out to the crowd and doing that before the mood of the crowd changes,” Mr. Townsend said.

Chan Soveth, deputy head of local rights group Adhoc’s monitoring program, said security forces in Cambodia are poorly trained on crowd control, especially during demonstrations.

“Whenever the government agencies use heavy arms in cracking down on demonstrators and land protesters…they never take responsibility for the dead victims,” Mr. Soveth said.

A similar situation occurred in May 2012 in Kratie province when security forces wielding guns swarmed into Broma village to stop a land protest and shot dead a 14-year-old girl. Officials later said that the shooting was an accident and that no investigation was necessary.

Military police spokesman Brigadier General Kheng Tito defended the armed forces’ training.

“But at some events we cannot avoid cracking down with heavy arms,” Brig. Gen. Tito said. “Such an incident is not predictable. We don’t want to see any deaths as a result of any clash between protesters and armed forces.”

He again claimed that none of the officers involved in the September 15 clash had guns on them.

Still, Chiv Sokvy, the wife of the slain man, said Sunday the government must find and prosecute her husband’s killer.

“It’s been seven days and no one has asked me or told me anything about the investigation,” Ms. Sokvy said.

(Additional reporting by Ben Woods and Eang Mengleng)

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