Military Police Commander ‘Learned From Hitler’

National Military Police Commander Sao Sokha told an annual meeting of Phnom Penh’s military police Thursday that he learned how to maintain social order by studying Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler, and that he draws inspiration from the rise of Germany under the leader’s authoritarian rule in the 1930s.

At the same meeting, Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatvong also recounted how he conspired with General Sokha and the National Police chief in January 2014 to begin the bloody suppression of street protests led by “the enemy—in other words, the opposition party.”

From left, Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatvong, national military police Commander Sao Sokha and municipal Commander Rath Srieng arrive at the Phnom Penh military police headquarters for the municipal force's annual meeting Thursday afternoon. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
From left, Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatvong, national military police Commander Sao Sokha and municipal Commander Rath Srieng arrive at the Phnom Penh military police headquarters for the municipal force’s annual meeting Thursday afternoon. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Speaking to gathered military police forces at their municipal headquarters, Gen. Sokha said that he made sure the military police were always ready to launch security operations at a moment’s notice, in case “someone acts like a czar, doing foolish things.”

“Speaking frankly, I learned from Hitler. Germany, after World War I, was not allowed by the international community to have more than 100,000 soldiers, but the Nazis and Hitler did whatever so they could wage World War II,” Gen. Sokha said.

The national military police commander said he had also drawn on the guerrilla warfare tactics used by Vietnamese Communists in their wars against the French and U.S.

“I learned from the Vietnamese guerrillas to take small numbers to fight against the big, but that cannot be for winning, but to destroy them,” Gen. Sokha said. “If we want to win, we have to take big numbers to fight against the small.”

“The trick of the destroyers ran very deep. Their tricks were to push Cambodia into turmoil and to destroy the election results, and to bring change,” he said, referring to the opposition CNRP’s protests, which were crushed in January 2014.

“‘Change’ was to topple [the government]. They wanted to topple, so they had to create chaos to topple,” he said.

“They were not successful.”

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy was, by late 2013, leading daily street demonstrations demanding Prime Minister Hun Sen step down, and had drawn many garment workers taking part in a separate nationwide strike to join the protests.

Then, on January 2, elite military paratroopers broke up one strike protest in Phnom Penh. The following day, military police descended on the city’s industrial Veng Sreng Street, killing five striking workers and injuring more than 40 in a barrage of AK-47 fire, ending both the strikes and protests.

On January 4, military police ringed Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park, the base for the daily demonstrations led by Mr. Rainsy, and a ban on public gathering was announced.

Mr. Socheatvong said Thursday that the repression was necessary to avoid harm to society, and recounted how he watched as protests swelled.

“We are in charge of the capital and we want the capital to have stability and good security but the enemy—in other words, the opposition party—wanted to push the situation into further conflict,” the Phnom Penh governor recounted.

“Therefore, one wanted to prevent [trouble], while another wanted to cause trouble, and if the leaders were not serious and clear, it would have fallen into a situation not like today,” he said, in a reference to the current political calm.

Mr. Socheatvong said that the protesters had grown increasingly daring, pretending to be on the same side as police and military police forces deployed to watch over their activities while the government allowed the daily protests.

“It was not a simple event. At that time, the situation in Phnom Penh was getting bigger and bigger, after they pushed the armed forces by giving them roses and flowers, and this thing or that thing—they wanted to weaken them,” he said.

Mr. Socheatvong noted that Mr. Rainsy’s movement had already drawn together the striking garment workers and was threatening to “spill” into the education sector, creating a serious threat that the government might lose control.

The governor said he called together Gen. Sokha and National Police Chief Neth Savoeun for a meeting.

“We discussed among the three of us—that being Sao Sokha, Neth Savoeun and myself—that it was time already, and we could not let it continue. We could not blow the smoke away and had to put out the fire,” Mr. Socheatvong explained.

“The three of us agreed that I would inform the top levels, and I sent a message immediately, and received a phone call from the leader of the government to take urgent action.”

Neither Mr. Rainsy, the opposition leader, nor opposition spokesman Yim Sovann could be reached for comment Thursday.

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