The military police have defended their decision to leave the scene of a violent confrontation involving foreigners and their bodyguards on Sisowath Quay on July 14 night, which halted traffic for around 30 minutes and involved a handgun being brandished.
The confrontation, which drew a crowd of more than a hundred and developed out of a minor traffic dispute between a Mercedes and a local taxi, pitted two young men, who appeared to be ethnic Chinese, and a South Asian man, backed up by armed bodyguards, against two Australian tourists in the taxi.
After the military police withdrew from the confrontation, a Cambodia Daily reporter had a handgun drawn on him by one of the young men, who were described by police as foreign businessmen, and was attacked by another for taking a photograph of the incident.
“If they had shot guns we would have arrested them,” Daun Penh District Military Police Commander Tong Piseth said of his officers, who were seen initially arriving at the scene at around 11:30 pm.
“We called the foreigner police officers to take charge and we left—it is not our job,” Tong Piseth said, adding that the presence of bodyguards, and their apparently powerful employers, had not influenced his officers’ decision to leave.
Daun Penh District Police Chief Phan Pheng said that according to reports he had received, the three young men with bodyguards were either foreign business or garment factory owners and that his police officers arrived at the scene late, when the confrontation had ended.
The confrontation began when a silver-colored Mercedes without a license plate stopped on Sisowath Quay blocking the path of the Toyota Camry taxi carrying two foreign tourists. One vehicle had apparently cut in front of the other and a young ethnic-Chinese man in his early 20s had emerged from the Mercedes and was standing in the middle of Sisowath Quay demanding to fight one of the taxi’s passengers, an Australian in his mid-50s, on the quay’s grass verge.
Around four military police officers arrived at the scene and placed themselves between the Mercedes owner and the Australian, who was outside the taxi, bare-chested and belligerently shouting back at the young Chinese man.
Two military police officers communicated by two-way radio, while the young Chinese man threatened one of the military police officers not to intervene, telling him at least once in poor English, “I kill you tomorrow.”
Military police quietly left the scene after the arrival of a green Toyota Land Cruiser carrying two more young men in their 20s, acquaintances of the man in the Mercedes.
With the departure of the military police, one of the young men in the Land Cruiser began to bash a two-way ICOM radio against the front passenger window of the taxi demanding that the tourists get out and fight his friend, who was now sitting on the hood of the taxi. Getting off the hood, the young Chinese man offered the Cambodian taxi driver $100 to dump his two passengers so that he could fight them.
The driver refused, and when a Cambodia Daily reporter took a photograph of the standoff, the enraged young man with the ICOM ran to the Land Cruiser where he appeared to retrieve a handgun. As onlookers scattered from around the reporter, one of the bodyguards-all of whom had mostly kept out of the dispute—wrestled with the young man to take the gun from his grip, which after a short struggle he was successful in doing.
With the situation appearing to deteriorate, one of the Australians jumped from the taxi and fled on foot and was pursued by the first young man, who later returned and attacked the reporter, demanding that he hand over his mobile phone camera. While the reporter was in a chokehold the foreigners in the taxi escaped.
Daun Penh District Deputy Military Police Chief Sun Sam Oeun said July 17 that his officers left the scene of the conflict because of the language barrier.
“It was difficult to communicate. We could not understand. Our military police don’t speak their language,” Sun Sam Oeun said, adding that his officer called the Municipal Foreigner Police before leaving.
Municipal Foreigner Police Chief Mom Sitha said July 18 that neither the military police nor district police reported any incident involving foreigners on Sisowath Quay.
Municipal Police Chief Touch Naruth said the military police were obliged to intervene in the conflict. “I will investigate the case,” he added.
Foreign investors are permitted to have armed bodyguards in Cambodia, but their behavior is still governed by law, Interior Ministry Bodyguard Department Director Suon Chheangly said.
“If the bodyguards and the business people breach the law they will be punished according to the law,” Suon Chheangly said, though he added that he had no reports of any incident involving foreign businessmen and bodyguards on July 14 night.